Response to "A New Civil War"
Looking over articles on video games at an excellent site (www.pointlesswasteoftime.com), I came across an article that less resembled journalism than a deeply offensive, elitist diatribe. http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/civilwar.html. As an exercise, I've decided to respond to it.
"Revolution does not begin with spilled blood and falling buildings. It begins in the minds of the countless uninformed dumbasses required to fuel any good uprising. If you were to go back to see the seeds of revolt germinating in any of history's rebellions, you would need only to listen to the contentious conversations of the common man, in the pubs and at the university and in the bath houses."
What information would one need to know to want to assert one's rights? What special certification is needed to detect tyranny? Answer: None. A simple honesty that intellectuals like Dr. Albert Oxford do not have.
Looking at the public press run by common men during revolutionary times (the Levellers, union press, worker's co-ops in the modern day, etc.), one can agree or disagree, but it is certainly unfair to call them "uninformed dumbasses".
"But today we have the internet, wherein millions converse in virtual pubs and universities and bath houses and here is where we see the first tendrils of smoke on the American meltdown fuse.
We out here in the rest of the world knew it was just a matter of time. Your country was born, after all, over a bloody revolt based on a tax on soft drinks. Violent defiance is etched into your DNA. You long to be the Luke Skywalker that destroys the Death Star, the Neo who brings down Skyynet. You do not look for common ground and compromise; you hunt for the one irreconcilable difference that will justify becoming the gun-slinging Diehard Mclean of your dreams. "
A clinical observation about an entire culture gained from two movies and a highly selective look at the Internet? Not only is this a terrible sample size, but it is performed by someone who (as we shall see later) is not qualified to make clinical statements about anybody. And then he has the audacity to bandy about qualifications as if a Ph. D makes someone infallible.
In any respect, it is not his right to demean the importance that the Americans put on the regulations they felt were too stringent. Monarchy is illegitimate. And to equate revolution to gain one's rights with infantile violence fantasies is to deeply misunderstand liberty.
What genetic evidence does he have that American's DNA even at the time was intrinsically motivated to violence? None. How can he explain how "America" is not a common genetic pool but a cultural and political entity that has seen endless changes in its racial composition, even if his previous claim was true? He cannot. And what scientific qualification does he have to make this judgment? Why could it not be that Americans make rational decisions and he's wrong?
"Do a Google search for terms like "Bush" and "message board" and "Haliburton" and "fuck you" and browse the hundreds of thousands of internet forum postings that result. There is an acidic ocean of online screaming matches out there boiling as we speak, Right vs. Left, Bush vs. Anti-Bush, being conducted by millions of apoplectic web surfers. And everywhere you see that imaginary line on which every American thinks he must stand to one side or the other, like picking teams for an American game of Freedom Ball or whatever it is you play there in your country."
Very true. Acrid debate characterizes all sorts of fora. One can find the same thing in European message boards too. This is simply bad debating, not a cultural phenomenon.
"There was a time when the average American's TV news intake consisted of one of three nightly newscasts, each hosted by a grizzled old journalist who had tasted mud clots with foot soldiers in Korea. Their print news came from their local newspaper. You see, back then not just any Harry Knowles* could take to the keyboard and command a gargantuan audience. "
So we should hearken to the days of the 50s when unabashed anti-Communist propaganda could be run thoughtlessly? Media homogenization and one voice is good?
"*Note: For the purpose of this discussion, a "Harry Knowles" will be defined as any uneducated new-media opinion jockey with a massive American following rivaled only by the author of the McDonald's Value Meal menu. I could have easily referred to this person as a Matt Drudge but have chosen not to for arbitrary reasons. There was a sort of stupidity filter back then, so that the fringe rantings and conspiracy theories could be pushed to the margins where normal people were ashamed to tread. You all had your differences, but all sat down to watch the same news and thus were fed the same worldview. "
Not at all. Read your local newspaper, even before the 80s. Letters to the editor have always been of a variety of quality. And journalists have hidden behind a facade of "professionalism" writing incredible propaganda: see Bennett, Chomsky, Herman, FAIR, etc.
"With the birth of cable and talk radio and, most significantly, the internet, the sphincter of news has been stretched wide to allow a torrent of bad journalism to flow forth. It turns out that, after all, Americans were better off with no information than this flood of bad information in which you now float. The ignorant citizen was content in the knowledge that he was ignorant. Today's American, on the other hand, spends much of the day reading blatantly-biased ox droppings and then thinks he is well-read as a result. "
Who is he to make this judgment? Yes, people should read a variety of sources, but this can be hashed out in argument: if people are open-minded, then they will discover that they were reading biased information. In my political discussions, I have managed to change perceptions, offer alternative viewpoints, etc. Further, this should be the case even assuming total rationality: see my post on Prima Facia Plausibility and Rationality.
Closed-mindedness, sectarianism, etc. are as old as human politics.
"The ignorant can be trusting and thus can be governed. The misinformed are impossible to govern because they cannot be talked out of the skewed rubbish they think they know. For example, by 1998 I was receiving e-mail forwards declaring that Bill Clinton had commited 49 murders. A great many of my educated American colleagues forwarded me this message with the subject line, "makes you think, doesn't it?" "
And being "governed" is a good thing? I thought democracy meant that people should have their opinions expressed. But ignorance and malleability to state doctrine is good to this European intellectual.
"No, it does not. Now, I shall not engage in some partisan bicker over the moral character of your former president. For the sake of discussion, let us assume that Mr. Clinton was more ruthless and bloodthirsty than Vlad the Impaler. It would still be a physical impossibility to so perfectly cover up that many killings disguised as "suicides" and "accidents" under the eyes of local law enforcement and federal investigators and scandal-hungry journalists and opportunistic Republicans in your Parliament. "
These are factual assumptions. The people doing the studying here answer the factual assumptions with arguments that Dr. Oxford does not respond to. Yes, people were willing to bring down the President, but Palast among others has shown that those hunting Clinton didn't want more widespread damage to the system, so they were willing to tolerate it except for scandals that did not reflect badly on Clinton.
And of the media? One can have caveats about the propaganda model and still buy Palast's summation: A quote from Mike Iskoff passing accusations against Clinton (Iskoff being a reporter from Newsweek) saying "...no one gives a shit"; and, from p. 14 in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, "Investigative reports share three things: They are risky, they upset the wisdom of the established order and they are very expensive to produce. Do profit-conscious enterprises, where media companies or widget firms, seek extra costs, extra risk and the opportunity to be attacked?"
"Or, to put it more simply, Mr. Clinton was unable to keep the wraps on the tongue-lashing of his Minority Whip by an intern, but he was able to perfectly silence a crime 1,000 times as large and involving 1,000 times as many knowing parties? And it was kept absolutely hidden from all of the hundreds of rather powerful men who were desperate to see him led from the Oval Office in handcuffs? Everyone, in fact, except some anonymous e-mailer?"
First of all, why 1000? A few individuals could easily have killed those people.
Were someone to point out that in Russia dissidents were killed (dissidents like, say, Fred Hampton and all the victims of COINTELPRO, as an American example), no one serious would reply "How did they keep it under wraps?!" A well-concealed conspiracy can be difficult to find, and even if it were found, reporting would not happen. If it is true that America's politics are similarly keyed to power structures (say, corporate rule), then the same thing would happen. It would be an empirical matter.
"I have a double doctorate in American Historical studies and Internet Analysis. Could I not also write this if I were some 14 year-old masturbation enthusiast or a ranting homeless man posting from the public library whilst flicking lice out of his beard? How would you know? "
What would it matter? As the Adam Smith Institute endlessly points out in their brilliant series on logical fallacies, all that matters is the content of the argument.
"Even worse, the internet disease has spread to the actual paper pulp publications. They were losing readership to the New Media and had to market to this new demographic of "stupid" readers. A wonderful example of this emerged in the Summer of 2004 with the Swift Boat Veterans controversy, wherein a group of John Kerry's comrades from Vietnam came forth and alleged that Mr. Kerry's war medals were won, not based on valor in combat, but on a single victorious pie-eating contest. "
This could easily indicate media bias: The fact that, while the medal accusations were largely rebuffed, they were seriously entertained, and the fact (well established, not just by one memo that CBS couldn't quite verify) that George W. Bush used his father's influence to avoid the war entirely and couldn't even do the tasks required by the Texas Air Force, could easily demonstrate that the media has an intrinsic leaning towards defending the incumbent. Given how frequently incumbents win and the massive corporate support for Bush, this is very likely.
"This is a story that would never have seen the light of day in the old days of actual journalism, but was pushed by the Drudge Report and talk radio until the ink-press publications were forced to acknowledge it. The new pseudo-media dragged the old media to a place that, right or wrong, it had no desire to go. Which brings me to... "
So the media had to acknowledge an important issue that affected American voters' perception? Oh no!
"The phenomenon that will form the first real cracks in your Democracy begins here. There has begun a strange sort of anti-cynicism where the average American will believe nothing the politicians from the opposing party tell them, but will believe any piece of rubbish they read on a website ("Socialists are building concentration camps to imprison American patriots!" "The 9/11 plane that flew into the Pentagon was an elaborate hoax!") as long as it supports the political party they have aligned themselves with. "
The selectivity that Dr. Oxford utilizes is demonstrated most impressively here. Yes, some people on the right and the left fall to this level. Others, on both the right AND the left, debunk the people in their own groups. http://www.zmag.org/conspirthdebate.htm has multiple articles and discussions on conspiracy theories. I happen to believe there are questions about 9/11, as does the 9/11 Commission. But even if the story told is 100% true, it would not justify a single Administration action by that fact alone. It would not justify 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead. And so on.
More to come.
"Never mind the hundreds of people involved in such an operation. American military and civillians at home and in the Middle East, Pakistanis living in the area, Afghanis living in the area, journalists from America and Al Jazeera covering the war, politicians in all of the involved countries. Hundreds of people, many of whom detest Bush like a vampire detests the sun, all safely holding in the one secret that could undo his presidency and change the course of human civilization away from what many see as a one-way train to Destructionburg. On top of all that, Al Queada doesn't release a tape proclaiming that their leader has been captured and that Bush is keeping it secret? The one revelation that could bring down their nemesis more effectively than an assassin's bullet? Of course I know that your opinion on this matter is based entirely on which side of the Imaginary Line you stand. This is my point; to dismiss any rumored charge against Bush in the presence of certain opinionated people brings a response of, "that man's capable of anything!"
Bush is likely capable of many things, not anything, of course.
I have personally seen tapes from the Iraqi Resistance (saved on my computer) that have, to the best of my knowledge, never been aired on national TV. I have seen the tape of an American diplomat greenlighting the invasion of Kuwait. Again, remember Palast's limits: Cost, unpopularity, and risk. Remember Chomsky/Herman's limits (as they say in Manufacturing Consent): "The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news "filters," fall under the following headings: (1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power; (4) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media; and (5) "anticommunism" as a national religion and control mechanism."
The upshot of this? The OBL story could very well be true, and it would not run in dominant media. The investigative work on the Florida election ran prominently in British media and in American literature; it was buried in American media. If Oxford can make incredibly controversial claims about an entire nation, why can't others presume much less controversial things about a far smaller group (media)?
Some things to bear in mind:
*http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=48291/ "A recent survey revealed that 70% of television reporters have had stories they were working on cancelled by producers due to the fact that those stories would negatively impact the parent company in some way."
*http://www.johnnydepp.com/bushliar.htm "Anti-war actor Tim Robbins has had promotions cancelled in America since he spoke out. And actress Margot Kidder also found her career in freefall after publicly opposing the first Gulf War."
His link argues "It's not that all talkbackers are retarded". Someone proclaiming their seriousness calling people he disapproves of retarded? Incredibly classy.
"Let us say that tomorrow one of your good friends mentions that the people in the next town over are all thieves, and tells a story of how his spinning rims were stolen off of his SUV while he was still in it. Then, another friend relates a similar story, having his wallet stolen while walking the street. Your Uncle, the next week, says he won't even travel to parts of said town any longer, because he had his shoes stolen, and he was running at the time. Would you or would you not lock your doors when travelling to this other town? Did you buy your first DVD player because you read about it somewhere, or because one of your friends got one and thus made you want one? Does not the first real urge to buy the newest video game console come only after you play one at a friend's house? Americans are sponges that absorb the opinions of their peers. The more popular the peer, the more you are influenced, the more you admire and adopt their opinions as your own. My American goth nephew did not pick out his clothes by chance. He picked them out because they are what other goth teens are wearing. "
1) A few examples does not a sociological thesis make.
2) Where is the proof that Europe, Japan, the Third World, etc. don't do the same thing? Group pressures have always been strong.
3) Conflating someone's decisions that one makes given the testimony of trusted friends as being congruent with being a "sponge" is idiocy.
"Who is influencing the opinions of American youth today? It is a core of cyber peers, massively popular untrained and uneducated writers on the internet that, together, command an audience of tens of millions of future voters and leaders and fighters. They do not have editors or real publishing costs. They answer to no one. They relate to the web surfers as friends. "
Even recent mainstream studies I hardly agree with say something very different: American youth are often either apolitical or heavily influenced by "mainstream" media. One study said that First Amendment values were at an all-time low among American youth.
Yes, many bloggers are untrained; yet at blogs.zmag.org you can read the blogs of professors. Legal services and organizations like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have blogrolls. Frankly, given how apolitical Americans have been for quite some time, any change is going to be better. I put involvement, whether I think it's right or wrong, as a premium. Dr. Oxford would prefer people not to get involved if they do not meet his standards. Highly illustrative.
"And, they are morons. They are an army of Harry Knowles. Together they have a readership that dwarfs the New York Times. So let us eavesdrop on the Harry Knowles who best symbolizes the Harry Knowles phenomenon: Harry Knowles. His is only a movie fan site, right? Well let us see what he is telling his followers about the big-budget Will Smith vehicle I, Robot: "So, of course the liberal in me appreciated and enjoyed the parallels as just another in the constant subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on the future un-President and his mandates." That's right; while high off the crack of his own self-importance, Harry turned his review of a zombie movie starring CGI robots in place of zombies into a treatise on the evils of the Bush administration. And he did it for a horde of readers who do not watch Meet the Press. For hundreds of thousands of them, that review was the only reading they did about politics that day. Now observe how Harry divined a "vote Democrat" message in The Village: "The leaders of the village create monsters which they use to scare people into doing certain things and behaving certain ways. They use colors to indicate whether the villagers should be afraid or if they should feel safe. If anyone starts to question the leaders, they arrange for the monsters to attack, reinforcing the fear. Sound familiar yet?" ...or the obvious anti-War On Terror message in The Matrix: Revolutions: "Neo is for his people... basically, he’s Bin Laden living in a cave somewhere… and the Machines… they’re drilling to put a stop to it all... What is Agent Smith? Essentially, Agent Smith was Communism." (And lest I be accused of bias, here's a helpful gent explaining how Spider-Man 2 shows us why we should vote Bush.) "
Mainstream conservative analysts were doing this with Lord of the Rings, ignoring that all the people making LotR were highly liberal. What does this prove? That thousands of people read a blogger that makes tendentious analogies between popular media and politics? Wow.
"No reader would admit to being influenced by Mr. Knowles' comments, just as no one will admit to being influenced by advertisements (interesting how all of you Americans decided you needed SUV's all at once). Their opinions show the influence, however. Do they know what background Knowles has in politics? Do they know if Matt Drudge has a journalism degree? Is this man a doctor of Political Science with 30 years in the field, or an angry teenager? What are the credentials of Scott "my website wasn't allowed into a screening of The Passion and thus I'm writing a column about how all Christians are masochists and suicide bombers" Holleran? "
Again: What credentials does he need? What special training is required to speak about politics? I'm not aware of any, and I challenge Dr. Oxford to demonstrate the necessity.
Notice how Oxford decides that all blogrolls and all Americans are idiots from less than then blogs. Congratulations. We can see how well Oxford's supposed doctorate has prepared him to make good arguments. Or is this just mindless vitriol?
"It would be sad, if it were not so amusing. My web search turned up hardly a non-partisan bit of reading material. One random example is this from the long-time satirical newspaper The Onion, which has completely broken format for the first time to issue bone-dry, joke-free diatribes on the importance of voting Democrat: "Why do we purport to be fighting in the name of liberating the Iraqi people when we have no interest in violations of human rights--as evidenced by our habit of looking the other way when they occur in China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Syria, Burma, Libya, and countless other countries? Why, of all the brutal regimes that regularly violate human rights, do we only intervene militarily in Iraq? Because the violation of human rights is not our true interest here. We just say it is as a convenient means of manipulating world opinion and making our cause seem more just."
Sometimes, just joking in the face of incredible injustice is not appropriate. The Onion continues to be satricial, but they have serious media, especially cultural media, as part of their package.
"Note that I did not link to the actual article which rests in the for-pay archives of the newspaper. I linked instead to one of the many, many bloggers who quoted it as if it were profound insight from an expert. My children, the person who wrote that is a comedy writer. They likely have no education on the subject beyond the intelligent-sounding phrases they have memorized from the partisan websites they read, also authored by writers who are not in any way experts. And so on. Go ahead, browse around. A Google search turned up this inconsequential parody movie review site called Mr. Cranky, a one-joke premise based on a fictional cartoon critic who dislikes every film. Or, at least until Farenheit 9/11: "Given the amount of controversy this film has generated, it seems wrong to attack it with the usual Mr. Cranky disdain, rather than addressing some of the issues it raises and leting the members of our little online community debate them." This is the atmosphere; this is the intellectual air the American youth are breathing. Comedians large and small are terrified of skewering their own side for fear that it could swing the precious few undecided voters, turn the election, and end the world. Make no mistake; when even the satirists proclaim the current situation too serious for satire, your society has lost its pressure release valve. The needle is hovering in the red and I am slowly stepping back. This is a new suit. "
What expert is needed to validate the Onion's argument? Many "experts" say the same thing, but if they did not, then they would be right by virtue of reasoning and facts, not by a few letters after their name.
Again: A satirist who cannot drop the act for things that he views as important is not being serious.
"Understand, in the phenomenon of the Internet Message Board we have nothing less than a fundamental and momentous shift in human evolution. The diverse American races and social classes and idealogies are meeting each other on a personal basis, across land masses and at little expense, in a way not possible in the prior history of our planet. And what we have found is that you hate each other. Sure, you've always had ignorance and racism and xenophobia. They are as American as apple pie. But the vague, long-distance fear and loathing of stereotyped caricatures (the inner city gangster, the Mississippi redneck, the Canadian rapist) is a sort of lazy, passive hate. Many Americans will tell or laugh at racist jokes on one day, then play golf with an African-American friend the next. "
Actually, American racism (as frequent readers will recognize) is far more serious than this. In any respect, I hardly think juvenile insults (that does not even characterize all forums; many forums I've been to have had incredibly complex and worthwhile discussion) are due to anything but the anonymity of the Internet.
"At each mention of the "Imaginary Line" some of you have shouted at your monitor, flecks of spittle landing on your screen, that this line is hardly "imaginary" since your nation itself is at stake with this upcoming election. After all, the whole world is aflame with bloody warfare! The American economy is in ruins! Never mind that, around the world, the last calendar year saw the fewest people killed by war in 60 years. Never mind that the American unemployment rate is at 5.6% while the average European country is hovering at twice that or more. Since when have you Americans allowed information to ruin a perfectly good outrage? Was it boxes of anthrax that were dumped in the harbor during the Boston Tea Party? Was it censored Bibles? Child slaves? No. It was tea."
What conservative pap.
A million dead from both DU and sanctions? Massively increasing global inequity? Proliferation of nuclear weapons, increased terror and illegal/immoral invasions of countries? The rights of women, minorities and the poor in this country? These are somehow excused by a low unemployment rate and lower violence on a global scale (never mind the composition and definition of that violence which begs the question)?
Also, citing the American unemployment rate as an indicator of economic health is laughable, and it's only done because it's a vector in which America superficially looks good. But, to paraphrase Milton Friedman, unemployment goes down when people abandon hope of higher pay. A high unemployment rate could be fine if the end result was people using the time to get jobs they appreciated and that used their talents.
In any respect, this argument is idiotic because it is totally static. Many people who would concede the factual statements he makes (and I don't; simply Google up a list of American military and CIA interventions and see what you get) would nonetheless say that these promising trends are being truncated, aborted and reversed by the Bush Administration, so he again reduces the issues to slogans.
"The truth is that not a single one of your current problems is new. Your country has been at war or preparing for war pretty much every minute since 1772. Your country has always been clumsy and oafish in its foreign policy. Your country has always had sharp, bitter differences on just how much your police are allowed to beat minorities in order to gain a confession. "
Very true. I would think that this finally being questioned, along with so many other things, would be a good thing. What does Dr. Oxford think?