Thursday, September 4, 2008

All Hail Joe Klein, All Boo the Media (JM)

Joe Klein kind of looks like my pop, but that's night the reason he get plaudits today. Rather, it's this post. He points out the obvious, that McCain is getting furious because he is simply not used to hard treatment from the press. Obviously this is all a little silly, if you want to lead the country the press is going to be hard on you. The notable point he makes though is that just because the press is being hit hard doesn't mean they should back down from vetting Sarah Palin.

I don't want collide with my last post, but I think this point requires bearing out a little bit. Politics in general, and the Republicans in specific, have unrooted fact from empiricism. We don't live, according to them, in an empirical reality, but rather an ideological reality. This means things like energy policy, global warming, evolution are not just debatable on the grounds of governmental principle, but on their factual bases. We are not just arguing about how to deal with global warming, but instead whether or not global warming exists. Moreover, everything is open to debate, to question this is not just disagree, but to devalue someone's worldview.

This presents a real problem for politics and the press. Heck, even during this campaign with a significant Democratic advantage, the only person who has stood and said that Republican principles have been wrong is Bill Clinton. Everything has been about how the last eight years have been bad for people, it's only the deeply personal that allows to adjudicate the whether something is true or false, good or bad. This is stupid. I think here are many things that come down to personal values and social conditioning. I honestly don't think we can argue empirically whether life begins at conception, we just can't. But by god we can and should argue about the soundness of free market economics. I just hate that term free, let's call it what it is "unregulated economics. The market isn't some independent actor, it responds to the will of money and capital and that will is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In fact, we should be arguing about freedom in general, because the government simply isn't the only check on our personal rights and freedoms. I believe in the idea of the self-made man, but for every man or woman who's made it out from under the wretched yoke of poverty there are several who fought just as hard who are there.

Ultimately, we as individuals and the press as a collective entity don't remain objective by simply not touching anything cloaked in ideology. The less apt the media is to explore these issues (or entwine them in partisan attacks, a la Keith Olbermann) the more both parties will stop discussing issues as issues and start disguising policy as values. Not only is this not partisan, it's the responsibility they actively have, but one they run away from the second the phrase "liberal elite media" shows up. Newspapers are dying all over the country, and one of the big reasons why is that no one believes objectivity exists any more (and the internet, obviously). The media, instead of fighting gave in, and now news is partisan news. We ask, "Where did you read that?" before even beginning to decide how we feel about the report. So media, fight back, you don't have to be impartial, just be fair. Oh and even the most partisan outlets can be nice once in a while. Seriously, it would be totally okay if Keith Olbermann were to do a segment talking about Bush's mostly excellent work in Africa (though contraception issues are still a negative there). On a similar note it would be nice if the good people of Fox News could recognize some of the really good work Nancy Pelosi has been up to. But fairness is not tit for tat and it's certainly not acquiescing to the taboos set by either party. Good start Joe Klein, but it's time for the rest of the media to pick up the ball and run with it.

1 comment:

g thomas said...

Hey Johnny,

I agree with all of your analysis and conclusions, and feel similarly enraged by the Republican's egregious attempt to disconnect the folk from reality. What's most enraging to me and maybe to all of us is that it works. Like Dennis, i deliberately avoided watching the RNC, but inadvertantly caught a snippet of Palin, which succeeded in zero time to piss me off.

My only issue is with your point that we can't debate whether life begins at conception or not. I believe we can debate this issue, but it requires a more sophisticated set of argumentative tools than those available for public debate and a knowledge of neuroscience to do so.

In a practical sense only, I agree that that argument is not something that could possibly take place in a political forum, but an argument exists, if only in my head at the moment.

The basic structure of the argument is that life ought to measured not only in terms of alive versus dead, and some philosophers of science have pointed out that "life" isn't even well defined still, but also in terms of degrees of consciousness.

I think we all implicitly act on the belief, empirically based, that consciousness increases with experience. For example, male infants are routinely circumsized without asking if this is okay with them, while an adult would never be subjected to such an involuntary procedure in most societies. One could argue that this is because the infant can't answer meaningfully, but I think the reason we think it's okay lies more in the sense that infantile amnesia will remove the consciousness of the deed within a short time.

Since there's almost no possibility that an embryo has consciousness of self, there is a far smaller degree of the aspects of life that we value in any being, which renders it less alive than a newborn or an adult. The lack of any meaningful mental life or awareness I believe is the heart of the issue.

For example, we sympathize with dolphins and find their capture along with tuna to be abhorrent. Why?

Of course, there's a slippery slope here, but then "slippery slope" is the name of a type of fallacy, not that of a valid argument.

There are some gaps in the argument, of course, as I don't want to go on all day about this, and it's somewhat repellent to frame things this way, but life happens and I think most of the objections only stand up if we suppose that we're able to obtain an ideal transcendence of the realities of life at this very moment.

Also, if there isn't some valid argument that makes, say, the morning after pill okay, then we'd all have to agree with the most rabid right-to-lifers, at least implicitly.

Of course, you also say that we can't make the empirical argument, and I admit that would require my additional premise, a more refined definition of life, including degrees of consciousness, to make adequately.

Apparently, then, I haven't taken issue with anything you've said. Well, I've written it now, so I'm going to post it anyway.

Glad to see you guys back in the fray!