On Bias—Objectivity and the Silliness of Goody-goody Journalism

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By Gaither Stewart
(SENIOR EDITOR)

americans_keyart_p_2012

Dateline: Rome—(This essay is being reposted at reader’s request)


Alexis de Tocqueville noted that Americans, as compared to English and French, tend to be abstract in speech. Though the French historian perhaps did not intend abstractness as insincerity, in my mind that abstractness, that is, the inauthentic language remarked a century and a half ago by a foreigner, has become the trademark of mainline journalism today.


Consider this question: Are the myth and lie surrounding American democracy not devastating? Devastating first of all to Americans themselves, devastating to the world at large. Why is that? And why doesn’t the press zero in on it? Was the lie, the falsification, always there? One concludes that it is precisely our still ballyhooed but in reality degenerated democracy that has made us obtuse and close-minded to truth and reality, ever more abstract, a people less and less willing to form independent concrete opinions.

The reality is that the mass of readers and TV listeners wait for corporate hirelings to tell them what they should believe. The insincere, unauthentic and mendacious journalistic elite is ever ready and willing to relay to the waiting people what they should think and how they should feel toward the world. Meanwhile, like all previous imperialists the elite opinion makers are ever more supercilious toward the others of the world, while, at the same time, the people, steeped in Americanism, have been convinced that America is truly carrying the torch of enlightenment to the world.

American exceptionalism2

Why is this so? How did it happen that educated and superficially intelligent people bow down to the god of lie and accept and even believe in their elite’s version of reality? One pernicious rule laid down by our goody-goody liberal journalists, academics and educators concerns objectivity, impartiality and non-bias in word and thought.

Listen to both sides of the argument and decide for yourselves. Our way of life. America’s freedoms. See the facts! The facts! The reality is we get too many facts to even be able to attempt to understand the truth. From all sides we hear facts and more facts. But we don’t understand the world. We still don’t understand even ourselves. Oh, the facts! As if it were even 1% possible to know all the facts! And even if we did, what could we do with them?

“Are the myth and lie surrounding American democracy not devastating? Devastating first of all to Americans themselves, devastating to the world at large. Why is that? And why doesn’t the press zero in on it?”

Some time ago I published a provocative personal manifesto in favor of bias and partiality, both as journalist and member of the aware people of the world, to which principles I vowed to stick, come hell or high water.

“Journalists are taught to be objective and impartial. Separation of facts and opinion. I reject that. I will be as partial, biased and subjective as necessary to rebut the great lie. Most mainstream journalists do the same anyway, though they disguise their partiality in cute little euphemisms and false truths in order to placate governments and corporate bosses.

Objectivity does not interest me. Nor does impartiality. I have no desire to be unbiased. The great Gabriel García Márquez once claimed that he taught his journalism students to learn above all to be partial. To forget rules about impartiality and reliance on the facts laid down by the little men. Screw those incontrovertible facts. As if one could actually gather and list ALL the facts. The obsession with facts creates more small-minded people who believe an accumulation of facts amounts to knowledge.

bandido-alfonso-bedoyaOBJECTIVITY?!
We ain’t got no objectivity!
We don’t need no objectivity!
We don’t have to show you any stinkin’ objectivity!

All our lives they hit us over the head with them. When someone says ‘the facts are’, it’s time to watch out. Which facts? Whose facts? Who assembled those facts so nicely? We are flooded with facts labeled information. Are facts really informative? As if facts about things that “they” report were worthwhile. As if their facts really informed us. As if their facts were the ones that count. Too many facts obscure the core truth. You read the growing, lengthening list of facts (though the list can never be complete), close the magazine, and what do you really know? I have read mountains of facts and sometimes believed I knew what was happening but I still knew nothing about the core of things. A little epistemology is called for.

The honest journalist-writer cannot allow himself to be unbiased and objective. And the truth is, he is not. Journalists are not academics. (And even they are not “objective”.)  Besides, impartial to what? To lie? To hypocrisy? To swindle? What is there about which we should be impartial unless it’s those hateful, too often deceitful and besides always incomplete facts? As if we should be impartial to and have no opinion about the fictions-facts that justified the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the crushing of Serbia and the creation of U.S Fort Kosovo, the facts that led to the U.S. attack on tiny Grenada, facts become lies that lead to the ranting and raving—oh, those facts!—against Chávez in Venezuela, that support falsified lists of so-called rogue nations and terrorist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Power uses “their” facts to draw around us the chalk circle outside of which we dare not tread. “Their facts are the real bias. The real partiality. There inside the circle of their facts we’re culturally and mentally cloned ignoramuses. By them. It tightens around us everyday. Power wants ever more power; the cloned man inside the circle, secure in his freedoms of facts and his impartiality, is easy to control.  Viva bias!”

Fallaci: from icon of left journalism to turncoat. She probably glided over events, without an emotional or ideological understanding of what she supposedly witnessed.
Fallaci fallacious: from icon of left journalism to turncoat. She probably glided over events, without an emotional or ideological understanding of what she supposedly witnessed.
The famous Italian journalists and writer, Oriana Fallaci, in her early years was an icon of the European Left journalism. She had taken the side of the oppressed against state terror when she wrote about the Fascist Greece of the colonels and the wars in Lebanon. Then, inexplicably, she veered far from her original theme of human suffering, abandoning her original concern for suffering people. Toward the end of her life she became another of those who start out as progressives and then move to the right with age. You would think people would learn instead of unlearning. After moving to New York, the changeling Fallaci, as radical as ever, became an exponent of religious war. At the time I was elaborating my journalistic ethic, Oriana Fallaci was interviewed in her New York apartment about her infamous anti-Islamic trilogy. Though her conversion to neocon ideology was established, to hear her call for a jihad against Islam was a shock.

“The notion of objectivity in news is pure bunk. No journalist, no desk editor is truly objective. His publisher’s bias is always there between the lines…”

The thing is, Fallaci, like good and honest journalists everywhere once both gathered and made news. That is, through her work she helped change society. That is why we need journalists and writers who are not self-serving climbers, parroting what authority wants the people to hear, terrified of extremes. Even if some of the latter avoid wandering too far from the truth, they do not tell the truth. Their non-truth thus becomes the great lie.

Therefore the need for writers and journalists who have opinions, who do not rely on facts alone, who dare look backwards at a world that did not begin today, who work on the edge, who dare go to the extremes, and through their reports change the reports. And help change society.

We need extremes. Desperately. Without extremes we sink up to our eyeballs in the merde of the politically correct, the opinion-less repeater of slogans and crappy careful, balanced language. Give both sides of the story, they say, as if every story did not have many many sides, not just two. Let the poor ignorant reader, the ignorant listener-watcher, let him decide, they teach us. Bullshit. The reality is that most listeners-readers decide nothing. They are targets. Then they simply parrot the good old trusty slogans.

Nora O'Donnell, Bob Schieffer, and Charlie Rose: three pathetic, self-impressed mediocrities in the CBS stable who actually believe themselves to be journalists, while their true role is that of propagandists for the empire. But, insulated from reality, all multimillionaire celebrities, impregnated with the all-enveloping brainwash, who is to tell if they really unaware of their complicity?
Norah O’Donnell, Bob Schieffer, and Scott Pelley: three self-impressed mediocrities in the CBS stable who actually believe themselves to be journalists. Insulated from reality, all multimillionaire celebrities, impregnated with the all-enveloping chauvinist brainwash, are they really unaware of their complicity?

In general we do not trust the word extreme. Especially not in writing. The word provokes fear and doubt. To some it means ‘non-control of material’ (that childish creative writing class expression which means that your materials are greater than you). To others it means politically incorrect. To the political establishment it implies the menacing resistance lurking around the corner.

In what sense then, extreme?

The Italian writer, Alberto Moravia, stressed that the writer is obliged to be extreme. No great writer, he said, is not extreme—he meant, sincere. Can one think that Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Nietzsche and Ibsen, were not extreme, that is, sincere—in the deepest sense of true to themselves? The honest journalist risks. He is committed. The notion of objectivity in news is pure bunk. No journalist, no desk editor is truly objective. His publisher’s bias is always there between the lines. “In the classic example, a refugee from Nazi Germany who appears on television saying monstrous things are happening in his homeland must be followed by a Nazi spokesman saying Adolf Hitler is the greatest boon to humanity since pasteurized milk.”(Russell Baker, the former New York Times columnist).

Committed writing is sometimes accused of being political writing (that is, bias based on uncontrolled material), yet moral conflicts inevitably have political backgrounds. Nearly every aspect of our lives today is related to politics, more so than ever before in The United States of America. Therefore an understanding of politics, of history and society, is fundamental for the journalistic writer in order to understand what he must oppose and what he can defend. Understanding politics however does not necessarily mean participation in politics. Understanding that America is a one-party state should point out the road toward forming another political party. That is the kind of extreme that strikes fear in their hearts. As writer Paul Bowles once noted in an interview with me in Tangier, “writers are not much good at politics anyway but they have to understand enough of it to write sensibly.” Chekhov too, over a century ago, advised writers to “engage in politics only enough to protect themselves from it. A bit of ideology and being up to date is most apropos.” But Chekhov was not Dostoevsky in whose work it is impossible to separate the ideological from the artistic. His characters are ideas, ideas trying to become ideals. They are not facts. That same feeling of ideas becoming ideals is to be found in great religious thinkers who do not write fiction. Ideas and ideals are the other side of the moon from the lists of facts of the our daily press.

Cronkite is still revered as an icon of journalistic integrity. But, did he know that America was a fraudulent democracy? And if he did why did he keep quiet?
Cronkite is still revered as an icon of journalistic integrity. But, did he know that America was a fraudulent democracy? And if he did why did he keep quiet?

In my mind the enormity of universal socio-political problems today cancels out the objection that modern society has made the concept of literary-journalistic commitment (extreme and non-fact-based) obsolete. On the contrary. It depends on commitment to what? Most certainly not on a collection of facts to show that the world is getting richer and therefore human beings are better off than ever before. The object of commitment must be re-examined.

For example: Can the honest journalist-writer’s work be separated from the question of social responsibility? Questions of war and peace, market economy and poverty, environment and scientific advances, all underline the heightened need for socially committed literature that reach far beyond facts.

For example: Committed writers believe that human freedom is a social conquest and must be constantly reclaimed. Though admittedly there is a danger of forgetting literature in the name of commitment, unlike writers of compromise, committed writers overcome the threat through an ethical approach to their work.

MASH: The Korean war as a big frat party. A pasteurized, trivialized picture of American power that Americans can live with. This dramedy is still regarded as exceptional television even though its central concept was a huge lie.
MASH: The Korean war as a big frat party. A pasteurized, trivialized, sophomoric picture of American power that Americans can live with. This dramedy is still regarded as exceptional television even though its central concept was a huge lie. How can Americans understand anything when reality is hunted down like a rabid dog?

As a rule American journalists and writers and educators and academics come from the middle classes. Some of them comprise also the artistically creative part of the nation. They are marked by considerable diversity. They claim to prize non-conformity, innovation and independence.

It is no secret that the American upper middle class is shrinking. The class the rest of the world knows best, the most representative class of America, is threatened with extinction. It is being eliminated by a subtle coup d’état, executed by elite corporate America against America itself. And from generation to generation it is becoming more elite.

Here’s a worthwhile projection to consider: it has been calculated that at today’s pace another generation will suffice to eliminate the upper middle class. Education is a chief indicator of middle class status, yet, the prohibitive costs of higher education today guarantee the manifest elitism in America and the continuity of power in the hands of the smaller and smaller and best educated and to a great extent capitalist class, who constitute also the political class. There is today little difference and disparity between Wall Street and the political establishment.

Education is fundamental to prepare members of the upper class for creative and leadership roles. It is that middle class-bourgeoisie that has written the bulk of modern social and political history. The history most of us know best is their view of history.

Now that mendacious history must be re-written. Everything must be reviewed. Everything must be revised. Old facts erased. All of it—World Wars I and II, the “forgotten” Korean War and where it all started, the Cold War, the USSR, Stalin, Iran, Iraq. Everything. Especially 9/11. Something changed dramatically in America since the time of Ronald Reagan who set the scene for what has happened under Obama and GW Bush in power. What has changed? That mystery must be clarified. Old facts must be obliterated.

Reagan: The superficially amiable clown that set the clock back several generations.
Reagan: At heart a mean-spirited conservative, this superficially amiable clown set the clock back several generations.

Western society is still divided into two hostile camps: the elite classes which run things, and the wage earners which resist exploitation by the ruling class. Misinformation-disinformation maintains and broadens that social divide.

Though the ruling elite class is small and the wage earners an overwhelming majority, why don’t the exploited classes rebel and revolt, again and again? Why not? The reason is clear: the exploited classes are not only victims. They are also accomplices. Half victim, half accomplice. The historical paradox. The ruling class counts on this dichotomy to maintain the system. Divide and rule. Meritocracy. Rewards for obedience. Two cars and bigger houses for staying in line. A system based on money, economic domination, control of information, religion and fear.

Today’s Americans are a misinformed, fearful, disillusioned and sacrificed people. Only the myth-fiction of America remains. The words liberty, equality and brotherhood have remained empty slogans.

GrantWood-American-Gothic-1930
Huh?

At some time in life we choose sides. But to decide we need to be truly informed. The freedom of assembly and freedom of speech for example are freedoms to fight for. The expiring middle class in the USA today, infected by its false consciousness, is dependent on a corrupt system, dominated and rocked to sleep by the blandishments and diminishing rewards given them by the minute upper class and the misinformation provided by its press.

Therefore, in order to change things, the urgent need for a truly informed and educated people, liberated from the binds of the tiny establishment. Looking back at the Russian experience, one realizes the immensity of the word “revolution”. The revolutionary vanguard of the educated and politically aware class faces enormous challenges such as ridding the people of their illusions of what their society really is. The educated, committed class must get across its message to the people in order to create a mass awakening and a new consciousness. In the USA and Europe, the truth and phony nature of elections would be a worthwhile subject for the mainline press. But today that is impossible since that press is the establishment press, uninterested in the true truth or factual facts, but only in defending the interests of the elite corporate capitalist ownership of the press itself.


 

Operation Jakarta: The 1965 CIA-engineered coup remains the bloodiest of the 20th century.

 

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13 thoughts on “On Bias—Objectivity and the Silliness of Goody-goody Journalism

  1. Eric Schechter 18 October 23:53
    Good article. But I would further discuss one point. Gaither says that the reason the exploited do not rebel is because they are accomplices, but he does not investigate why.

    I think the best explanation of why was given in the film “The Matrix.” The exploited and nonrebellious in Gaither’s article are the sleepers inside the Matrix. They have been fooled by a mythology, and most of them are not ready to be awakened from that mythology, and then will defend that mythology with their lives.

    And what is that mythology? Different examples of it will be familiar to different people, and Gaither cites the example of the television show “MASH” (1972-1983), but I would instead cite the example of the television show “Leave it to Beaver” (1957–1963). Its run was shorter, but the story that it told was more central to the middle class. It showed everyday life, but it was a very Disneyfied life. It showed no wars, but more crucially it showed no labor struggles, no conflicts between workers and capitalists. It showed a clean, Disneyfied economic system. People lived in nuclear families in separate houses, with separate property, and there is no need to be personally concerned about the well being of your neighbors, because most of them are just fine — you have your electric washer and they have theirs. Most people would be led to believe that most people had lives just like those of the Cleaver family, and if your life was different, well, that was just you. Another program in the same genre was “Father Knows Best” (1954–1960), and perhaps in some ways that was an even better example, since its title told it all (though if you watched the show, you found that quite often it was actually Mother who knew best, but she let Father think the ideas were his).

    And that’s what the dreamers inside the Matrix are trained to see. Perhaps it has changed a little since the 1950s (and I’m not sure precisely how, since I haven’t watched that much television). But look at television shows like “American Idle,” which have become popular in more recent years; the point of such shows is to not think. Or “Survivor”; the point is to have drama and competition and conflict without any actual meaning.

  2. Good awakening to the fallacy of objectivity and impartiality in news reports, more glaring now thanks to alternative sources and narratives. Mass media’s role is not to inform but to entertain, brainwash and serve on a platter a reality constructed and shaped by the power elite, thereby masking the true state of affairs. Most people lack the time, will or capacity to understand events and are ready to surrender their rationality to the ready-made, fast-given interpretation regurgitated by “experts”, politicos and media whores. I stopped reading newspapers, watching TV or listening to radio in 2003 and I believe to have now a better understanding of the world, at least is not clouded by the opinion-makers.

  3. Bravo ! The best explanation is as always the cynical lines reflecting his impression of the US empire by the Marxist writer Bert Brecht (in Aufstieg und Fall des lands Mahagonny):
    “Oh show us the way to the next little dollar!
    Oh don’t ask why,
    oh don’t ask why!
    For we must find the next little dollar
    For if we don’t find the next little dollar
    I tell you we must die!

  4. I appreciate Eric’s question about where we get our political beliefs, a question I have been asking myself.. And social beliefs too, I would add. Why have I come to consider myself Communist/Socialist? Me, of all people. No Socialists in my family. Few “radical” friends in my youth. So how and why did I arrive here where I am? Was it a choice among several alternatives? Not that I am aware of. So why?

  5. I am working on that question, Gaither. What I come up with, tentatively, are flashes of memories–two or three–from childhood, say, up to age five. They are memories that pit two responses one against the other: kindness versus unkindness (one)–and, two, rationality versus irrationality. I see myself, small, siding against unkindness, but not daring to act, and against irrationality, though feeling impotent to expose it. The impotence and the silence–those must have haunted me. Surely I did not retain these memories so vividly for nothing. Surely, they had to do with something in my domestic education that made me question its sincerity, its worth, its devotion to justice. Human nature? No. Perhaps. No. Experience of inconsistencies. And rebellion at those. Round and round.

    L.

  6. A terrific read, indeed, from Gaither. As a really veteran journalist, he has clearly processed through experience–and questioned–the premises of the profession as it has been taught and practiced particularly in the US–and as it has been professionalized in schools of journalism. I find it not coincidental that “yellow journalism” surfaced in the first flush of overseas American imperialism in the 1890s. and that “objectivity” became its sanitized new name in the 1980s, coinciding with the redefining of the word “imperialism” (never allowed to be current in US anyway) as “globalization.” It’s not that objectivity is impossible; it’s that, though essential in science, it is undesirable in witnessing events of a human nature. When I taught how to write research essays (“articles” essentially), I divided this non-fiction genre into three types: the report, the paraphrase, and the “thesis” paper. The report was an “objective” exercise: its value rested on gathering all the relevant facts under a generally neutral topic sentence. This type of writing was extremely difficult for students to achieve. It taught them that “bias” is hard to avoid, but it also taught them that gathering facts without bias was a prerequisite to forming opinions. The paraphrase exercise was intended to decipher and translate into accessible language the premises, conclusions and evidence of sources. In fact, these two amounted to teaching them how to take notes. Once this preliminary research was finished, the writer wrote a “thesis’ essay”: after collecting notes in report or paraphrase formats of what the sources have argued (the “facts”) ,he/she took sides on the topic of research and supported the thesis with the notes. This thesis phase, ideally, showed them that facts are never neutral–that they call for interpretation. Interpretation is subjective; it is indeed an opinion but this opinion is based on “facts” (the sources’ own facts and opinion). In other words, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. Your opinion has to be RESPONSIBLE. It has to be able to IMAGINE the implications of facts and to be HONEST enough to consider all the facts. In this regard, I found the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes very useful in teaching deductive reasoning, and my constant refrain to students was, “You see, but you do not observe.” To observe is to note implications; to see is a mere sensory function.

    Now, I find that current practices in journalism do not seem to be aware of these distinctions. Or, rather, that they produce undisciplined pieces of prose, cherry-picking facts and working them around an unstated thesis–which happens to coincide with dominant interpretations. Indeed, they start with “conclusions and work their way back” to a standard premise. They become stenographers–and often very bad ones at that. The fetish of objectivity, moreover and paradoxically, kills objectivity because there is no objectivity in facts without imagination. The passive relating of facts without process is a scam, calculated to erase the SIGNIFICANCE of the fact. Moreover, this scam has a precedent in the radical utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Mill, father. Recall Charles Dickens’ novel, “Hard Times.” It was a blistering satire of radical utilitarianism. Recall this mantra:”Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

    Let’s say, then, that, having been taught this, I have witnessed the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz. My heart is torn by the sight of suffering; I want to know who did such a horrible thing and why; my mind cries out for justice, but my profession, my training, all my preparation has told me to kill these emotions, to imagine nothing, and to report only the FACTS. So I write: “A hospital in Kunduz has been hit by an airstrike. There were 22 fatalities. General Gung-ho of NATO said it was an accident. The hospital’s director said it could be no accident. US ambassador in Kabul registered regret.”

    Is this “reasoning”? This is “seeing without observing.” Indeed.

    Luciana

  7. I agree very strongly with Luciana’s point about the SIGNIFICANCE of facts, and I want to continue a little further on that point.

    Television news often presents stories as “facts” without analysis. Even DemocracyNow sometimes does this. They do have some analysis built into the vocabulary that they use — e.g., if they report about some fighting that was done by “terrorists,” rather than “freedom fighters,” this slants their facts to one interpretation rather than another. But even presenting facts without interpretation has a couple of implied interpretations. One is the interpretation that society’s dominant worldview is correct, and there is no need to question it. Another interpretation is that all the terrible events around us are just random, without any pattern to them — an interpretation which encourages fear, despair, helplessness, conspiracy theories, simplistic explanations, etc. — and thus discourages solidarity and the building of a grassroots movement for change.

    I am wary not only of “facts,” but also of “logical arguments.” “Logical arguments” generally are less pure than they appear to be. They are biased by choices of language and by unstated assumptions. I’m the author of a textbook on mathematical logic, but people are kidding themselves if they think that the methods of mathematical logic can be applied reliably to anything outside of pure mathematics. It is never possible to know for certain what are your own most basic assumptions, since they are unconscious, nonverbal, emotional. I don’t think it is really possible to “prove” the validity of a political ideology.

    I was greatly impressed by George Lakoff’s 1996 book MORAL POLITICS. Admittedly, Lakoff’s own politics are those of a Democrat who apparently believes that some sort of enlightened capitalism is possible. But still I find meaningful the major distinctions he draws in that book. The book contrasts what he calls the “liberal” and “conservative” worldviews, and I think I might summarize them as “empathic” versus “individualistic.” If you split the world by that dichotomy, then we socialists are a subset within the empathic half.

    Anyway, Lakoff describes his version of the “liberal” and “conservative” worldviews, and both views are entirely self-consistent, though they are vastly different. Here is one example, from among many: Lakoff’s conservatives believe that the market is a moral instrument, in that it rewards the industrious and punishes the lazy. That is their interpretation of the SIGNIFICANCE of the facts that we all see around us. You and I don’t believe that interpretation, but Lakoff’s conservatives do. And thus, they believe that in a market-driven society, everyone gets their just desserts, and so it makes sense to praise the rich and chastise the poor.

    Lakoff himself is a liberal, but throughout most of the book he manages to maintain a fairly detached tone, presenting both sides without favoring either. I think I only caught him slipping up once, describing conservatives from the liberal view, and it was a fairly minor slipup. Then, at the end of the book, Lakoff says “I’ve tried to present this in an even-handed fashion, but actually I’m a liberal, and I’ll now try to give some reasons for favoring the liberal view.” And he briefly describes several such reasons. But I was able to argue against each of those reasons, using the conservative worldview that Lakoff had taught me earlier in the book.

    Some things are basic to human nature, but it’s hard to be sure what they are. A few sociologists have sometimes managed to come up with very revealing experiments, but those experiments have depended upon asking the right questions, which requires imagination, and it’s hard to be sure that you’re coming up with the right questions. It’s hard to see outside the box of the biases of our own culture. Some anthropologists have studied other cultures and seen a little outside the box, but all too often the anthropologists simply read our own cultural biases into what they are looking at.

    (My favorite example of the box of biases of our culture isn’t in sociology, but in physics. Einstein’s discovery of relativity didn’t involve long reams of mathematical computations. His papers on the subject were fairly short, and involved relatively few equations. What made his discovery remarkable was that all the languages he knew — English, and German, and I’m not sure what else — were Indo-European languages that treat “time” and “space” as separate and independent of each other. Somehow he got beyond that implicit assumption.)

    1. Wonderful, Eric. Though I’m an ignoramus in science and maths (and I greatly admire them), I instinctively know that there is something inherently abusive about “logical arguments,” that the essence as opposed to the aesthetic of nature (including human) cannot be pried open by maths (pace, Descartes), and that taking a position is ultimately philosophically (or logically) indefensible. But, because it is logically indefensible–LOGICALLY–this does not mean it is ethically indefensible. Because it is “illogical,” we don’t take the leap. Liberals are quite afraid of taking the leap; the skepticism about ultimate truth paralyzes them. However, those are all “ideas”–in the idealist sense. We live in a material world (talking about “ideas”!); we act in a material world–and those actions have consequences. So, we know we hardly know ourselves; we hardly know where our ideas came from, but we do see suffering and we want to redress it. So we act to do so. We act. And in the act, we process our ideas. The next act may be more informed, firmer, more productive.

      I see no other way but to leap to the side of the oppressed. Whatever “truth” exists, it has to be there.

      So grateful to you Eric. PS The Einstein example is magisterial, Eric. His imagination freed him; he stepped out of the Western paradigm–and, lo, he saw the light. Literally.

      L.

  8. Just blown away by this article and the commenters’ elaboration. In a properly run society YOU should be the editors running The New York Times, CBS, and the rest of that magnificent edifice of mass comm totally wasted on propagandizing evil…and banality.

    It’s a sad sad thing that the bulk of American readers will never see this discussion. So much trouble and pain might be nipped in the bud if they did.

    This, among many passages in this essay and discussion resonate with me:

    “The fetish of objectivity, moreover and paradoxically, kills objectivity because there is no objectivity in facts without imagination. The passive relating of facts without process is a scam, calculated to erase the SIGNIFICANCE of the fact. Moreover, this scam has a precedent in the radical utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Mill, father. Recall Charles Dickens’ novel, “Hard Times.” It was a blistering satire of radical utilitarianism. Recall this mantra:”Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

    So true. And elegantly put. Whilst so many J school students are busily aping their “professional” models, and learning the mechanics of the trade, they pitifully miss the substance, not to mention what it means to be a real journalist in troubled times.

  9. Man, you hit it on the nail! All of it. I sensed the truth of what you say here but could never put it in words not even remotely like that. So thank you.

    And I never liked MASH either. Irritated my sense of–what?–“decency”? To watch these Americans prancing around, making jokes, and playing heroes in a nation we attacked and caused enormous destruction is obscene. So fuck MASH and the propaganda it rode in! And the biggest, unkindest cut is that for many years liberals have held it as a PROGRESSIVE example of antiwar programming.

    T.H. Willard
    Albuquerque

  10. Eric’s coments in this discussion reflect the thoughts and words of most of my fictional protagonists: the wonder at who they are or have become and why they think and act as they do. Behind Eric’s written words and between the lines I see my fictional A or B or C (that is, me!) plagued by the same doubts and asking the same identical questions, which are perhaps the doubts and questions of all curious, politically and socially emancipated people of the world. And now Eric has added “separateness”, another fundamental side of my characters, and thus my own questions about myself: the loneliness of the search, in the darkness, for that unnameable “thing” that will explain your life, while at the same time consequently (perhaps) feeling the nostalgia for the thing you suspect you maybe once had and hope to somehow retrieve. For me that is the wonder of fiction: above all, the freedom of action pointed toward true recognition of the unity of things and comprehension of your place as part of a whole. I especially admire his courage in speaking in the first person about the development of his social-political self.

  11. So many comments and interestingly enough the question arose of why one became a socialist, communist or whatever. For myself I can only think that living as a half-abandoned child during World War II has shaped my views about oppression and the violence that people do to each other. And aside from that the influence from a lawyer mother who emerged from a hospital after the war and who was an anarchist and of course an atheist. Any kind of blind zealotry became anathema for me after living in Iran and studying in the Lebanon at an American University where I heard more nonsense expressed about the people amongst which we lived than I could ever have imagined. After immigrating to the very interesting USA I fully understood why Leary wrote that the USA was not of this world but floated above it (he may also have had in mind Swift’s floating island Laputa where the people have mastered technology but do not know how to make use of it). Whatever the case, I abhor extremism of any kind whatsoever or a one-sided approach that clings to tunnel vision and which was already abandoned by the sixties crowd of which I participated in Big Sur and beyond. Despite its bourgeois underpinnings that movement of sorts was the only and probably the last semi-revolution this materialist society will tolerate. US media produce news, they do not reflect it, but that is nothing new after Mussolini and German Fascism or the USSR’s tabloids. Human suffering can never be alleviated by fine words or strict theoretical remedies, but only by direct mutual help and a reduction in the idiotic rush towards more technology (with an overproduction of goods that neither Marx nor Engels could have foreseen). The best example so far is Cuba as described elsewhere in a sane article where the government prohibits excessive production and consumption. And what is far more important to someone who has lived through wars is the sense of cultural self-dignity that has been so horrendously undermined in modern neo-colonialism and against which the so-called third world desperately fights. For example Islamic culture is older and far more refined than the banal technological toys or the pseudo-ideals that the West produces and it was never so destroyed as now by the neo-barbarians from the West. What Vltchek saw in Java is the product not of Dutch colonialism despite its horrors but of the bureaucrat manager class that now rules the West for its dollar aristocracy oligarchs.

  12. Reading again this wonderful article made me laugh, because it undresses so many preconceptions and misconceptions. It should be published everywhere and spread to every US high school curriculum. Indeed no-one writes without a personal hypothesis pre-formed about what is expressed and meant to change the reader’s mind. That goes for literature, philosophy and even scientific treatises, all of which bombard us daily (we can exclude television which is deliberately geared to obfuscate and distract the viewer, not to inculcate any thoughtful propositions). Mass engineering was studied in the US in the nineteen sixties as a means to control a public that got smart through more contact with the world outside its borders. Like Australia, the USA is still a young country, rough and ready and internally very provincial, visible in the ‘deplorables’ who voted for Trump, ignoring the consequences that this means for the US and the world (denoting internally a fast growing schism between the proletariat and the liberal factions). Like with every corporation the USA retains the original character of its beginnings with an utter lack of hesitation about its rights to conquer and exploit, the imperialism of Europe exemplified. As outposts of colonialism, both Australia and the US were bound to be materially very successful because of their isolation from the so-called civilized center (i.e Europe). Now the US rules the Western world and re-chews all the European philosophical precepts as if they are part of its heritage, not recognizing that the US has a completely new ethical philosophy that was so well understood by the French 19th century traveler Tocqueville. Grant Wood’s stern-faced painting “American Gothic’ illustrates the ethics of hard work, determination, provincialism and the notion of being the Protestant God’s own people. That this has devolved into cultural confusion as a result of the rise of Asian and Hispanic people is cause for the present disorientation in control by the vested interests, reason also for the exploding vituperations on its ever present media. That the US is at war with itself is abundantly clear and one could turn Marx’s well-known quote around: “history always repeats itself, first as farce, then as tragedy” and we are now in that first mode with surely very tragic consequences for the US and the globe later on. In this world fact or no-fact do not matter but power and propaganda do matter. The self conscious searching for meaning by the author of this article and its commentators is but a disgust with the US inspired materialism that destroys all parameters of the humanism that once flourished in Europe despite its horrendous political heritage. Nostalgia for honesty and the truth as reality has become a defunct feeling. Welcome to a not so Brave but defiled New World.

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