Saturday, December 18, 2004

Saturday morning reading

It's Saturday. Slow news day, so far.
Traffic to the blog is slow on a good day, but practically no one but me, myself and I on Saturday, so I can indulge in whatever obscure content strikes my fancy.

This morning I came across an excellent essay in Policy Review Online, linked by Imshin, an example of why I keep up with a few sites that may seem trivial most of the time, but happen to belong to some very smart people. I have great respect for curious, questioning, open-minded people who do not seem to have too many boundaries to their intellect. That is not to say I and they always reach the same conclusions, but because they do not fear looking at issues from all angles, theirs is a world of ideas rich with variety.

I am not ashamed to say that I have to read through some things more than once. I don't always catch what is being said the first time.
This essay is one of those pieces. Some ideas are bigger than soundbites and one-liners. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love a good aphorism, but I also have great respect for notions that do not fit into a single paragraph.

I haven't at this point done all my homework. I don't know, for example, who Kaplan is (really, except I know the name from having subscribed to the Atlantic for years before the internets came along...), and I am not familiar with all the footnotes and other litererary references. But that does not stop me from reading and sharing what I have found so far. I am capable of recognizing clear thinking, good writing and pursuasive arguments, even if I don't agree with everything I read.

Here is a string of copy/paste lines which caught my eye from the essay. At a glance, any one of them would make a good springboard for discussion. Not for the feint of heart, here is an intellectual box of Whitman's candy...

...Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power (1960)...

...six ingredients necessary for oppression: secrecy, physical brutality, swift reaction, the right to question and to demand answers, the right to judge and condemn, and the right to pardon and show mercy. Ours is not an age of democracy, or an age of terrorism, but an age of mass media, without which the current strain of terrorism would be toothless in any case.

Like the priests of ancient Egypt, the rhetoricians of ancient Greece and Rome, and the theologians of medieval Europe, the media represent a class of bright and ambitious people whose social and economic stature gives them the influence to undermine political authority.

The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety; Machiavelli wondered whether any government could remain useful if it actually practiced the morality it preached.

Just as journalists are not bureaucratically accountable for their views - disseminated with all the power brought to bear by new technology - global cosmopolitans are increasingly unaccountable to geographical space, or to a specific government, or even to fellow voters. Their friends and acquaintances are spread throughout the planet, and with less of a stake in geography, they are dull to pleas of national interest even as they are alive to those of "humanity." That is to say, they represent the well-worried.

It is the investigative journalist who has inherited the mantle of the old left, whatever the ideological proclivities of individual practitioners of the trade. The investigative journalist is never interested in the 90 per cent of activities that are going right, nor especially in the 10 per cent that are going wrong, but only in the 1 per cent that are morally reprehensible. Because he always seems to define even the most
heroic institutions by their worst iniquities, his target is authority itself. Disclaimers notwithstanding, he is the soul of the left incarnate.

When every major domestic policy decision or military operation is characterized on the basis of its worst flaws, leaders become increasingly risk averse, for they know that anything even vaguely heroic, simply by definition, must masquerade as failure until such time as there is no electoral benefit to be gained from it.

Like the saints in medieval icons who were worshipped with incense and burning candles beginning around 500 A.D., television newscasters are, in the words of art and social critic John Berger, the "epitome of the disembodied."

As with medieval churchmen, the media class of the well-worried has a tendency to confuse morality with sanctimony...

...the media confuse victimization with
moral right...

The heroism of someone like Jessica Lynch is acceptable to the journalistic horde because it is joined to her victimhood. the next war, while the media provide the global cosmopolitan perspective, the troops themselves may well provide the American one. The fact is that most grunts can't stand to be portrayed as victims. The quietly mounting trend of American soldiers and Marines writing about their experiences and posting them on weblogs rather than having their experiences interpreted by transnational journalists is proof enough.

There is more. Much more. And that does not include the concluding paragraph.

Thanks, Imshin. This is much better than a latke recipe. But don't stop posting recipes.

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