A Level Gaze

"What effect must it have on a nation if it learns no foreign languages? Probably much the same as that which a total withdrawal from society has upon an individual."
--G.C. Lichtenberg



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Wednesday, August 14, 2002
 
One of the great faults of this age is that a great many people have become convinced they are incapable of grasping current events. No one feels himself smart or informed enough to be trusted with independent assessments of his environment; we need academics and ‘pundits’ for that. The glib shall lead us. Ugh. The complexity of the obvious is stressed at every moment, facts are multiplied, and sloppy but thorough argotization of every field disqualifies all but specialists from comment. What should be a tip-off that the whole show is mostly a sham is that these 'specialists,' who are supposed to know, who are paid to know, often disagree with one another on every issue, their mutual starting point of 'conventional wisdom' being largely content-free.

It is assumed in media circles nowadays that every speaker on every topic has a political affiliation. It is assumed that everything said by said speakers will be in accord with their political views. The inescapable inference is that there is a higher authority to which our academics and pundits answer which trumps mere objectivity. The last assumption is that the two sides will never come to agreement about anything but the most screamingly obvious points. The truth is never really at issue, as honest, best-guess approximations almost invariably fall into the no-man's-land between Left and Right. When the debate is between Right and Center, as has become routine, the centrist position is tainted a priori by virtue of its being one of the two poles.

Where it turns ridiculous is that practically all votes are cast by laymen. Our system presupposes, at the very least, that citizens will vote according to their interests. But many actual and potential voters are unable to define their interests, much less determine which candidate in a given race is more likely to foster them. For those unable or unwilling to dig around the spin and form some semblance of their own opinions, all they've got are the media.

Possibly one reason so many people don't vote is because they don't feel knowledgeable enough to make the right choices, and they don't trust the media to help them. Many of those who do vote jump on the political bandwagon of either of the parties, often for cosmetic or hazy ideological reasons bearing little relation to their interests. People who say "well, all politicians are full of crap, anyway," are indirectly indicting the media as well for their inability or unwillingness to cut through the "crap."

Did the Republican rump--the non-wealthy, anti-tax, knee-jerk anti-big government types--really think things would be better for them under a party that was mostly concerned with lowering the taxes of the rich and gutting government services and protections? As for the party line about increasing investment by giving the rich more of 'their own money,' since when did the rump start thinking long-term? Did anyone in the mainstream media, save for a few lonely voices, point out the contradictions in Bush's tax plan? Did everyone in the media point out the obvious fact that he was counting the same money twice in his plan to privatize Social Security? The answer to both questions is no, which is why the rump didn’t know any better. The same holds true for the attention paid to the Clinton “scandals.”

Concentration of the media among a few wealthy owners has created a great incentive to get citizens to give up thinking for themselves. It is they and their friends who will receive the tax cuts and government contracts, it is they who will fatten their profits by eliminating regulations, unions, and workplace safeguards. Best of all, gab-fests cost less to produce than ‘real’ news programs. The media has blinded the sheep, and with reassuring words and pats on the head, leads them to slaughter.