The Political-Media Class

I enjoy Glenn Greenwald's blog at Salon very much. Greenwald, a former professor of constitutional law, is a long-time critic of the cosiness which subsists between high-profile American journalists and the politicians they reflect and report upon.

In truth, this is a matter of class and circumstance. In a big country like the United States, those who follow national or even local politicians around are very quickly divorced from any local grounding. They become subject to all sort of pressures, the main one of which is not to be exposed as wrong or maverick because of the long moments of isolation, and the loss of their access, that plain-speaking would create.

Those few free of the Stockholm syndrome-genesis of political reporting are so for two general reasons. Either they aspire to the group, and thus emulate the group's attitudes and expected responses, or they are licensed as 'outrageous' because of the quality of their writing or the extremism of their position.

What ends up happening is that a group of people emerges who report with the inner voice of what everybody else is thinking ringing in their head. Equally, their employers and the critics back in the studio know enough of the game to know when their reports are off-beam from the median, and a cognitive bias intrudes which means that they discount the reporters, who are then sidelined.

Journalists and politicians view themselves as sage, and as having an insight into the world, when in fact they simply maintain it. Attempts to break the terms of this situation have ended in personal destruction--like a good man trying to be bad by being pantomime, self-defeating bad--or mindless opposition and cynicism. It seems often as though there is no middle way.

Yet there is, and increasingly it is in blogland. I hardly read the newspapers anymore, or watch television news with the interest I evinced years ago. The internet provides a vast range of different voices.

Ask yourself who wins in this situation though--right-wing people full of whim, certainty and without a sense of irony, or those on the putative left whose main wish is not to lose the respect of people who proclaim they have none for anything? Have a look at this fascinating blogging heads tv debate (especially the bit about flying cars) and tell me who is more attractive.

It would be sad to see the normal tactics of the political media class--hinting at special insider knowledge, denigrating those who question as mad or unhinged, suggesting social snobbery or some infraction of the pc rules by which the middle classes advance monetarily--invade blogland.

Yet in Britain, in the David Davis case, they have. Two worlds have developed. One, fixated upon but not necessarily based in, Westminster, simply cannot compute why he has resigned. The reasons which he has given--of principle, and of a 'freedom agenda' against an authoritarian state--clearly are not explicable to Westminster minds.

If Westminster minds understand them, they move on to patronise ordinary people on the inevitable lines that people won't want to hear that and that their must be some cynical elite purpose to it. Childish assertions about painting-by-numbers personality clashes suited to the eternal adolescents of British management boardrooms are made, and, most above all, the idea that anyone could be brave and be principled, even if one disagrees very strongly with some of the principles, must be deliberately forgotten.

A second group of people exist in this country however. They pay ludicrous taxes to local governments which then threaten, fine, and harass them. Their basic services are now being devolved to them in more and more places on the back of confused green statism, so their bins become a source of stress. Their cars are taxed by excise duties, petrol taxes, VAT, and parking fines, even though public transport has been run down.

Closed circuit tv cameras follow their every move, and at work, bosses threaten constantly if they charge their telephones, use the internet or telephone, or talk to co workers like human beings. The police, if they laugh too loudly at a comedy show or say the wrong thing about cultists, will move in. The media feeds them stories about violence and social breakdown across the country but in a fashion sanitised for London sympathies.

'The system'--that great late sixties term for general society--has stripped people of any alternative frame of reference. All children since 1968 have faced some 12 years of compulsory education, and local government snoops armed with the arbitrary and clandestine powers social workers and family and youth courts now wield fall upon truant families with the full force of the state.

Yet what has that education been about? Has it given people the sense and the resources to lift themselves out of the daily grind, and to do adventurous things? Has it genuinely equalised? Does it leave graduates with an understanding of the grammar of their language, a contemporary foreign tongue, or science or mathematics?

Does it teach people how to memorise and turn over and over in their heads 'difficult poems', or how to appreciate art? Does it teach the basics of financial management, and the self respect and common sense that underpins other countries? Does it turn out people who can be trusted to see through lies and to avoid temptations to do petty things?

No it doesn't. Teachers' unions and educational ideologues are often blamed for what has gone wrong, and the great ranks of those many godless mediocrities are often culpable. Business bears its share of the blame however. Since 1970, governments have strained to enforce educational curricula that prepared people for the 'world of work' in UK plc or US inc.

That has resulted in the creation of a class of infantilised, barely educated, basic-skills bearing human beings who are obsessed with pointless celebrity, with making sure that the buck never, ever, stops with them, and with furthering the process of cultural erosion.

Is it any wonder that Britain has a government only 22% of the people voted for, or that euro-referendum turnout in Ireland is 40%, or that huge numbers of Americans are excluded from the vote by themselves or by the rules that no one changes?

People are then left buffeted and battered when great flows of cheap international capital and the service sector run dry. They retain enough of themselves to respond with indifference, apathy, cynicism, fickleness and the hope that someone can break this system. In that are the grounds both of a potential western renewal, and of a very dark technologically enhanced fascism.

Into all of this, the law and the legal structures of process and principle which many decry, though a poor substitute for civil society, become the only way in which people may be protected. Though Justice and law may be the salvation of secular mankind, lawyers are not in general and nothing beats a strong democracy of the sort everything I have written about undermines.

Most of Northern Europe has avoided this path, to much abuse; but we will see in the coming years whether Germany and Denmark are the less for their lack of rapid economic growth and social erosion. If Britain and America are on the track they seem to be on, and if they have established by the recent wars that their governing classes' housebreakers', zealots', and brigands' view of domestic and international justice is actually some sort of 'international law', God help us all.

So when someone stands up and questions what is going on and says 'this is mad', of course he will be challenged, mauled, and made to look silly. Because, on both sides of the Atlantic but particularly in this one, where populism, the way the media works, and the ownership of the country, have all become part and parcel of capital's games, the one thing not to do is to expose the system.

From the bottom to the top of the life of the country and the west, life is becoming harder and more unpleasant for ordinary people, and the media is revelling in it and complicit. Collectively, the challenge of our time is to reclaim our governments from these people or follow them into the dark, where they will have been transported with much more money and social support.

Individually, more of us should try to stand up and change things, albeit in small ways. Markham once said it from a remarkably Catholic viewpoint;

They drew circles that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew circles that took them in.


Perhaps Gandhi is more to your taste. There is a phrase associated with him that we should all learn, in English and a classical language.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you. Then you win.

The picture at the top of this blog is from Thomas Cole's 'Course of Empire' series and is called 'Destruction'.

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