May 5, 2012

The news


It feels to me that everything in our culture is wrong, everything is sick, misguided, lacking empathy and devoid of wisdom. But I know this 'everything' of mine is also misguided. Because we need to find the openings that already exist, so there is something to build from. Nothing starts from absolute scratch. And there are good moments everywhere and in (almost) everything

Yesterday I was reading a newspaper and thought: if newspapers are filled with lies, half-truths, tepid spectacle and propaganda, it would simply be better not to have them. If by some act of magic all the newspapers disappeared tomorrow, what would it be like? Since this is an impossible, hypothetical situation: let's say there would still be information available on the internet. But what kind of information? Is there any way one could say it might be better or worse?

The strange thing is not that the newspapers reflect the interests of their corporate owners, but that there would be any reason to believe it might be otherwise. I have never much believed in objectivity, journalistic or otherwise. I think objectivity is the perfect cover for propaganda. It is a way of saying: my position is in fact not my position at all, rather it is an objective truth. I believe that admitting to ones subjective biases (while at the same time questioning them) brings us much closer to reality. All thinking is autobiographical.

When I write these things it is always at the back of my mind that I have no high horse to ride forward on. I am afraid of people and too much want to be famous (like many artists and writers, I suppose.) Even though all my small experiences of success so far have only (or mainly) made me miserable. And I am so full of doubts sometimes it is like I barely exist. But we cannot fight injustice with doubts. As a mode of thinking doubt can be rich, but as a weapon it is weak.

Objectivity is of course connected to the paradigm of the scientific method. But this seemingly obvious connection sidesteps the fact that science is also full of doubt. About doubting received wisdoms and wanting to test them through experiment. When something is described as a scientific fact we think we can rely on it with some certainty, but it is perfectly possible that some new scientific fact might sweep it away tomorrow. Scientific facts are also achieved by reducing the number of parameters one takes into consideration. The oil makes the car go fast, but the oil also causes pollution. The scientists working on making the car go faster must focus their energy on only one of these facts. (Unlike the scientists one lab over developing hybrid vehicles.) The newspaper gives us (often incomplete or out-of-context) information, but it also shapes our subjectivity, our understanding of the world. And in this, by it's very nature, it must be narrow. In cannot shape our subjectivity in an open, full, curiosity-enriching manner. Newspapers are simply not built like that, nor to they set themselves such goals.

Can we imagine a different model? That the word 'news' might represent something completely different than it does today? Here is a fictional scenario: in ever neighborhood their would be three people elected by the community whose full time job it would be to know what's going on in the world. They would also assign certain local people the task of researching specific questions or issues. They would be in regular communication with others who do a similar job around the world. Once a week the neighborhood gathers and hears a presentation of the news. Then everyone can ask questions and discuss.

Because the other thing I constantly wonder is why we need to hear these things every day? It seems once a week, or even once a month, would be more than sufficient.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

your 'fictional scenario' is not much of a stretch from how the news is run today, but you get to elect your Rupert Murdochs as if they were politicians, public figures no less prone to corruption. placing your civic responsibility to uncover the truth for oneself into the hands of others, elected or not, is exactly the kind of news model we have today, wether we like it or not. if we didn't have this kind of news model, we would not be able to ask questions about anything. be thankful we still have a free press, even if it is skewed and biased. in fact, the historical precedents that ONLY allow elected officials to run the news are fascist and totalitarian in formation. think about that. your fictional utopia scenario has its roots in the propaganda model of Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany (and in this respect it would make a fine setting for a distopian sci-fi novel). and the suggestion for weekly meetings is pungent with religious ceremony and propaganda rallies, lambs to the slaughter aka more consensual brainwashing. there is no way to guarantee your 'people' will ask intelligent useful questions, but at least you seem to think they would (insert 'Hero' character, and make his/her side-kick a scientist and lover an artist, or the other way around, doesn't really matter, they all ends the same way, revolution, counter-revolution).

news is not a ritual. it happens at every moment in every place. no one can read a newspaper thats as big as the planet (but maybe thats what the internet is in the end, manageable in scale because its virtual), so we try to keep up with it, scrutinize it, expose the half truths we find, and continue the demand for full disclosure. that we can't see the full picture at all times does not diminish our knowledge, a priori or not. this is the state of humanity, not the state of an all seeing eye, for that is the job of the state and its laws. if you want to change the state, you have to change the laws. if you don't enjoy reading the news, then don't, but don't leave us with a half baked solution. the natural state of apathy is silence. the world would not be better without the news, but maybe your world would be. hey...ignorance is bliss? who can argue with that?

but if you stick with it, common sense will tell you that the news is always incomplete, an abbreviation, so compare sources to uncover acts of censorship in a given story. ask why the stories differ, who is telling the story, who are the stories about, and how do all these elements relate. if the story is important to you, then this is not a chore. this process of deconstructing the elements of a story will tell you more about world inside and outside the story...closer to 'reality' as you might say.

the answer is not a neo-liberal utopian news model. the answer resides in how we use and abuse language. the answer is somewhere between your post and my comment, if you get me.

ps: really appreciate your continued support for Anonymous.