Sunday, July 9, 2006

Billmon considers why we wait for the storm

Whiskey Bar: An Inconvenient Al:
". . . the political presumption against rationality is now shared, or at least pandered to, even at the top of the political and cultural pyramid. It’s curious that people who are paid to think and write for a living, and who, like Gore, attended the “best” schools, are now nearly as susceptible to the politics of ignorance as your average conservative talk show host, but then the elite media ain’t what it used to be. Like academia, it’s fighting a losing rear-guard action against the spirit of the times and the angry, irrational prejudices that go with it.

"But even more than academia, the old journalistic bastions of enlightenment liberalism – the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek – are vulnerable to the growing institutional and commercial pressures to tell the customers what they want to hear. And since conservatives are by far the larger and more economically attractive audience, the gravitational pull is perpetually to the right, which these days means the authoritarian right and the artificial reality it prefers to live in.

"In other words, even 'serious' journalism – and by extension 'serious' politics – is no longer a conversation between educated, largely secular elites, with the unwashed masses free to listen in as long as they don't challenge the wisdom of their socio-economic superiors. The masses are now educated too, not to mention economically empowered. And while this hasn't made much of a dent in the American tendency towards anti-intellectualism, it means the opinions and prejudices of the populist right can no longer be ignored or segregated in the fringe world of talk radio. . . .

"if extinction, or a return to the dark ages, is indeed our fate – or our grandchildren’s fate, anyway – I think it will be a Hobson’s choice as to which cultural tendency will bear the largest share of the blame: the arrogant empiricism that has made human society into an instrument of technological progress instead of the other way around, the ignorant prejudices of the masses, who are happy to consume the material benefits of the Enlightenment but unwilling to assume intellectual responsibility for them, or the cynical nihilism of corporate and political elites who are willing to play upon the latter in order to perpetuate the former, which is, after all is said and done, their ultimate claim to power."

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