Via Shakespeare's Sister, I stumbled onto a debate over why the MSM seems to favor W, and, hence why they suck so bad. For a bit of background, see Lance Mannion's two part piece here and here. Also soo Ezra Klein's piece here. I had read these pieces before picking up Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy last night, and Russell's very brief overview of the history of intellectual and scientific revolutions gave me a wide frame from which to consider not only the failure of the MSM, but the failure of progressives/liberals/dems.
I don't pretend to be a media expert or as insightful as the above folks are, but I am bordering on fanatically obsessed with why a rather dogmatic and irrational political worldview predominates in our current era. In fact, I think that W's presidency has made me more political than I ever wanted to be in my life.
Ezra argues in his post that the protocols that reporters must follow are to be blamed for why they tend to beat up dems and give a love fest for W. He also suggests that the Republicans have become quite good as manipulating this system, and thereby forcing otherwise good journalists to focus on salacious and sensational scandals. He writes:
What stuck in my mind here was the suggestion that we "figure out how to give them more sellable stories than the other guy . . ." I imagine we could start to work the MSM machine, and get as disciplined as the Republicans have become. I don't think it's a bad idea. However, I do worry that the structure of our thought prevents us from playing this sort of game.
And yet, what reading Russell put in my mind was how utterly old this type of political battle is. Russell writes the introduction to his book just after WWII, and is reflecting on what he thinks is a fundamental tension between science and (dogmatic) theology. Historically, when a belief in science, coupled with a confidence in human capacity to comprehend the world without reliance on authority, blossoms (whether Ancient Greece of Italian Renaissance), the more disciplined, organized, and irrational political forces are waiting to crush the "anarchism" that results from free-thinking.
Reflecting on the inevitable demise of free-thinking, secular states, Russell writes:
Russell gives a wonderfully attractive summary of the rise and fall of civilizations at the end of his introduction:
While I don't think that what we mean by "libertarians" now is the same thing that Russell mean (at least those who are aligned with the social conservatives in the US), I like this neat portrait that he draws. It comforts me, oddly, to know that we (the reality-based, rational-minded folks) regularly become vulnerable to the more dogmatic and anti-science forces out there.
Russell's hope lies in liberalism, which he believes is capable of escaping the endless oscillation between tyranny and anarchy:
So I am ending this blog entry rather far away from the point being made by the folks I link to above. (Sorry, I think its the nature of my brain). I wonder what Russell would think of the likelihood of liberalism to curb the excesses of tyranny. Clearly we are not threatening to collapse into anarchy right now. Instead, we are facing an ensuing battle over our right to privacy, our right to have a sphere of our lives in which the government cannot interfere. I hope that liberalism wins out.