Friday, 29 July 2011

Media and Politics: Mutual Problems

I may be an egalitarian along economic principles but in terms of social interactions I am all about equity. By this I mean that in public debate, from governance to science, such matters cannot be subjected to the tyranny of the majority. While it is necessary that everyone is both involved and contributing to society, and we should all have an equal say come Election Day, we should not simply go with public preconceptions, it is that thinking that has lead to the stagnation of western civilization as we know it today.

The Press by the 1960's was a force of morality; the reporters put a moral to their story as they tried to make sense of what was occurring in the world for those at home. As the 60's progressed many new entrants to the field of journalism were believes in the core values of the 60's and sought to change the world is showing the injustices abroad to spur domestic audiences into action. A good example of this would be the Biafra civil war in Nigeria where the Starving African motif was developed and has since been used to spur the aid campaigns for decades. What began was a moralizing the world were there became good (War Victims and Rebels primarily) and bad (Western Backed dictatorships and general totalitarianism).

As for the Domestic front, well by the 70's the same basic moral system was developing as a narrative, a slew of expose's on various old established institutions (Unions, Police forces, Hospitals and businesses) began to show that while many of these vanguards to society were supposed to look after us, some were, and many could be greedy and self interested, putting us at risk.  Though done with the best interests, what this would gradually create was a kind of pseudo egalitarianism and appraisal of individuality that would erode the ideals of the welfare state but more importantly serve to ultimately paralyze both Journalism and Politics as a force for good.

How this occurred was largely by politicians and journalists being consumed in their own fire. Firstly the rise of the New Right, now there are many forces at play here, such as Evangelical Christians and the Lower Middle classes depending on country. But I would say what largely triggered this was the resurgence of classical liberalism under the guise of modernity of Neoliberals. It is basically the same thing as classical liberalism never mind the guff, it’s about equity over equality, of there being no more than the individual and powers (And I mean all powers but mainly state in this context) must be limited to ensure the liberty of the individual. How did it come back? Reagan and Thatcher, both cast themselves as political outsiders, untainted by the establishment who were going to come in and liberate the creative’s in our society so that their work could better everyone. I won't go into the fallacies of that today, but the point here is that it was a throw back of the 60's, tearing down the old institutions so that power would be wielded by the forces of change, which were driven by the promise of reward of the sweat of their own brow.

The Right were then in part lucky and in part just impressive in a dark, depressing sort of way. This was a potent combination that would tap into the aspirations of many skilled working classes and many more artsy middle class left voters who had been educated by the same ideas that came from the 60's. This was followed up in England by the selling off of council homes which made a lot of the working classes wealth holders for the first time as they bought their homes cheap but could sell them for a much higher price as the market readjusted. Meanwhile the Unions were defeated, old press moguls were forced out while new more aggressive business types moved in like Murdoch. Both Thatcher and Murdoch despised the idea of elitism and saw it as nothing but self serving cliques disguised as public servants. Though no hard time can be pinned down I would say that as we neared the end of the 80's what we had seen was a beaten system, the state had been thrown into disrepute first by journalists then by oligarchs and ministers. Since then, people have had increasing lack of faith in politicians, the Oligarchs of Neoliberals have steadily grown more unpopular and now in light of the Phone Hacking Scandal we begin to see the last vestiges of respect for the journalistic establishment (At the very least on the tabloid side) worn away. Still, to understand why it has taken 20 years for this to occur, well, it was simply a longer journey, but I still cannot help but feel that as it is they who report the news it is also they who can paint themselves in the best light.

The Long Journey starts with the death of morality in journalism. The Rwandan Genocides are where the moral vision of journalism came crashing to an end, this was a situation where both groups within disgusting fault, Hutu and Tutsi had both engaged in a disgusting genocide conflict that had wrought untold destruction on Rwanda and general instability on the region. In this mess, there became no way to moralise and without such a narrative to follow the Journalists began to loose their power. When they lost their power, the same virus of individual freedom began to take hold.

You see while Neoliberals holds many factors akin to that of Classical Liberalism, it probably holds more in similarity with that of Isaiah Berlins Negative liberty only held in an absolutist manner. You see when it turned out elites were all allegedly self interested and the Individual was raised above all else all that then mattered was satisfying one’s self interest. The game became an acceptance that everyone was basically greedy and so we needed to strike a balance of mutual self interest, everything became a transaction, I mean today what we hear about hospitals is often rather eerie. Patients have become consumers and Doctors have become providers, they are now selling a service, the Doctor has no elevated status as a healer, he is just another provider.

The Individual has become the consumer, the consumer only wishes his needs be satisfied, but he alone will decide what he needs, and he is his own small god. This is truly a disastrous thing to happen in the modern age for us, because while I do not believe you need overarching authority to be a moral person I do think that when people are never challenged on their preconceptions you get stagnation. Right now we have so many ineffective policies that are just impossible to resolve by a matter of rational discourse, take Drugs policy, it is no more than a money trap, most experts agree that many drugs are not nearly as harmful as public preconceptions have of them and even those that are not are not being dealt with by a "war" on drugs. Yes we go on, with cross party consensus. We are spilling billions into a campaign that is not even getting results and no-one questions it, because that would go up against peoples wishes. Journalists have almost utterly given up in offering real opinions, most of journalism now is rigid left right biases and even those are contradictory positions to hold in many ways, you certainly can't deviate from the mean.

I suppose the final destination of this has been the stat isocracy we have today. Ultimately the real political power is in statistics companies as they monitor public opinion to which politicians will act accordingly, which I reiterate is a bad thing, many people were deeply against decriminalising homosexuality in the 1970's but in the face of this Roy Jenkins still did it, and it was the right thing to do, very few would dispute that today. But without people brave enough to do the right thing we will be stuck in a world of sophistries, where what is important is how something is conveyed not how correct something is. This is why above all we need equity in ideas, without the brightest in their fields being listened too we will end up with a lot of very flawed preconceptions that may have no bearing on how our society actually operates.

Phew that took a while, thanks for bearing with me on this; I wanted this to be out before I did anything more relevant to what is going on today as it can act as a reference point to future articles.

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