Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Howard Fineman writes:

[T]he notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto. [But] it's pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things.

Andrew Sullivan (the Mirabeau of the Blog Revolution) has his regrets:

Blogs are strongest when they are politically diverse, when they are committed to insurgency rather than power, when they belong to no party. I'm particularly worried that the blogosphere has become far more knee-jerk, shrill and partisan since the days when I first started blogging.

While I think this can be translated as "the blogosphere is trending away from agreeing with my views," Glenn Reynolds also perhaps betrays a bit of worry when he hopes that the New York Times won't switch to paid prescription. Wouldn't it be good for blogs if the major newspapers start to switch to the pay-per-view model? Yes, unless he's afraid the blogosphere isn't ready to fill Big Media's shoes...

Even revolutions that are ultimately beneficial can be bloody in the short run. Big Media may be biased, elitist, sub-competent, and all that, but it has at least a tradition of high-minded inclusivity. Few bloggers I know want to bring it down, they just want to put it in its place. But we might kill it without meaning to.

[UPDATE: Peggy Noonan weighs in. Good piece, but this quote struck me:

[A] change... has already occurred. And that is that the mainstream media's monopoly on information is over. That is, the monopoly enjoyed by three big networks, a half dozen big newspapers and a handful of weekly magazines from roughly 1950 to 2000 is done and gone, and something else is taking its place. That would be a media cacophony. But a cacophony in which the truth has a greater chance of making itself clearly heard.

Two assumptions underlie Noonan's welcome of the "media cacophony":

1) In debate, the truer idea or argument beats out the less true, so that the process of debate brings us closer to the truth.

2) It is good and beneficial for people to hear and to know the truth.

Well, maybe. But as for (1), bad arguments often beat good ones in the short run, both in the eyes of the masses and in the eyes of the intelligentsia, in different ways. And free-wheeling debate may lead, not to truth, but to confusion or doubt. Tradition often contains greater wisdom than what freethinkers have to offer, at least until they are chastened by the suffering that their ideas lead to. As for (2), the truth may be that we know much less than we think we do. The fifth-century Athenians prefer to think they knew much than to be made to understand the truth of their ignorance; that's why they killed Socrates.

I recently read The Russian Idea, by Nikolai Berdyaev, in which he describes the vigorous and brilliant trends in Russian thought at the end of the 19th century. What was sad is that, although the 19th-century Russians found a poignant wisdom of sorts, it lasted only for a brilliant moment; meanwhile, they dissolved the traditions that had upheld the tsarist order, and the death of authority paved the way to a Bolshevik bloodbath. Freethinking and truth are rare commodities in the history of mankind, and dearly bought.]


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