Tuesday, September 15, 2009

bread and circuses

Duncan Black
There are certain ethical boundaries, mostly obvious, that one doesn't want to cross. Journalists shouldn't be tasked to write puff pieces about major advertisers, for example. But there's nothing wrong with journalists thinking about and being acquainted with what the marketing side thinks sells, either to readers or advertisers. There's nothing wrong with trying to give the people what they want. Now I'm not confident that doing so will necessarily make for a product that I think is better, but I also don't think there's any reason to cling to recently established norms which are neither appealing to readers nor particularly helpful with respect to informing them.
There's something wrong with wanting decisions made for you. There's something wrong with wanting to be told who to vote for by your priest or your newspaper. Mine, from elsewhere:
And in fact technocracy is founded not on adversarialism but collaboration. The contemporary drive for the professionalization of every field of knowledge, and of the press, is founded on collaboration; as if it’s all for the best if we all serve one cause, whichever cause that may be. The principle of divided government is based on the realist assumption that each branch will defend it’s own prerogatives, its own self-interest, and that the result will be dynamic tension. But what if self-interest is founded in servility instead of pride? There’s a logic to that too. Is servility a model of behavior for citizens of a republic?
Successful democracy requires that we as individuals temper our own interests with those of our peers, but not that we cave to them. At the same time it requires that the assumption regarding the interests of the masses (meaning all of us in our vulgarity) is that we're greedy for gossip and dirt: that we want to know what others don't want us to. Successful democracy requires both self-interest in the vulgar sense and personal integrity, which are related but not identical. Integrity is connected with pride, which is not indifference to others but an expression of an interest in how others see you. No society democratic or other can demand integrity, and the press like the academy is now in the position of serving its own self-importance, while reinforcing popular passivity.
Cultivate sophistication and let the serious take care of itself.
As I've said a thousand times, Atrios, serious and unsophisticated, continues in a long line of American know-nothings. But he's stumbling towards something more complex.

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