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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What We Don't Know

A debonaire European, when asked to define a North American, responded: “They are the kind of people who believe newspapers.” I think his point was that we are a naïve people; but also, that newspapers just give the immediate surface of things as they happen that day, and only from some reporter’s point of view (or, if you are so inclined to say – from the point of view of a capitalist or socialist news organ, your pick). But what causes the events on the surface lies much deeper … and no one knows what it is. I think that is true. We are not very good at getting at the deeper things. The closest we ever get is an occasional sensitive “in-depth” analysis by a philosopher or a good columnist (with whom everyone then argues, giving opposing points). Sometimes we hear it best, as I have a few times, from a plumber or electrician who gives you a full-on critique of everything in very plain terms. Or, we hear that someone has written a new book such as Fukuyama’s The End of History (an interesting book with a dumb thesis), or Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations (another interesting book with a good thesis, but which overlooked the clashes within civilizations, such as our own). Point being – “reality” whatever that is, and in sense of what is the deepest cause of things, of our direction - is mostly invisible to us. So much for public knowledge of what is really going on.

Private knowledge is not much better. I remember a college sociology class when, after a long discussion of how hard it is to negotiate even the simplest human conflicts, a very pretty girl piped up with all the charming bubbliness of youthful enthusiasm. She had the answer! “Sir,” she said (back then Profs were called that, instead of by their first names, as if they are the equals of students), “if things were just more transparent. If people [it was the very early 1960s] were just more honest about what they were really thinking, then life would be a lot easier to figure out, wouldn’t it?” “Do you mean,” he answered, “if we all had a little TV in our foreheads, like a news-tape, then you could see exactly what everyone else was thinking, and so there would be no duplicity any more?” “Yes!” she said, excitedly, “yes, that kind of thing.” And then the air went out of her balloon when he said, “The only trouble with that idea is that we would all be walking around with our hands over our foreheads.”

Point being, whether public or private, we don’t know, and can never know very much about what is going on either in the outside world, or inside other people. Eight dead bodies show up one sunny morning stuffed in abandoned cars at an Ontario farm, and that’s all most of us will ever learn of this grisly business. I mean, we won’t know anything, really. And we don’t really want to know. We just hope it will go away. Which it does as soon as we close the newspaper. My first reaction was, Oops! There it is again. Another greasy sewage bubble bursting by surprise on the calm surface of the pure lake of ordinary life. At such moments the trance we all need to stay in just to live decently and not let such things get us down too much - is broken for a while: I mean, what the hell is down there? Well, of course, no one’s life is really calm, like a lake, even though there are such lovely moments. But when a man and his wife have their throats slit in the night while sleeping at a Mexico resort; when eight bodies show up murdered by a biker gang; when two thugs walk randomly into a Toronto house and rape a woman, as they did last night, we get the idea that there is a whole world below – yes, an “underworld” - of unknown dimensions, comprised of crime, drugs, kinky sex, ignorance, and many forms of scummy, violent life. I think public blood pressure fell when the police arrested five Bandido suspects right away. But we will all have forgotten this when, if, it ever gets to trial. The surface will be calm again for a while.

I am working up to saying that maybe we need to ask some questions about where all this is going. I mean, where society is going. Does anybody know? Is anybody saying? I often get the feeling we are drifting along on the deck of our untidy modern nation-states like passengers on ships with no particular destination. We could be heading anywhere, simply because, as a matter of modern liberal “philosophy” (an overly- generous term) we think of ourselves as a collection of individuals, and not a society in the sense of an organic whole, or a community with voluntarily shared purposes. But as they say, if you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. And I suspect that the late and very wise Harvard Professor Irving Babbitt was correct when he wrote so eloquently in the 1930s that civilization takes effort. It cannot be acquired by drift. But if it becomes a question of drift, because no one cares about the general course or tone of life, the direction is always downward.

(crossposted at www.williamgairdner.com)

Posted by williamgairdner on April 12, 2006 | Permalink


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The European dig about newspaper readers is pirated from Nietzsche. Seems like he or she was just being intellectually fashionable and haughty.

Posted by: murray | 2006-04-12 11:27:05 AM

The sphere many of us grew up in seems to be entering it's dissolution. When I was a kid, everybody in my neighbourhood was, without a single exception, of European descent. Somehow within a fairly broad variability there was, for better or worse, a consistent underpinning of beliefs. It was like a broad, stable ship, from which the passengers/residents could safely disembark to explore the wider world. There would always be a home to return to.

That ship is turning fairly quickly into a relic, and its shared history and culture is gradually being replaced by the chaotic, endless variable rainbow forumulations of state socialism, within which "greasy sewer bubbles" mix and mingle with noble aspirations, under the aegis of one form of tolerance or another.

If civilization requires effort, it requires that there be a pull in one direction, or at least, that everybody not pull in different directions. In excessively liberalized and relativized western nations the only acceptable direction is "away", towards what might previously have been described as "out of bounds". That doesn't bode well, yet to those who are just concerned about their own asses during their tenure on earth -- pardon my french, I've been thinking about recent events there -- things seem just peachy.

Posted by: EBD | 2006-04-12 1:03:23 PM

Newspapers today are not worth buying. They are losing circulation. Here is my take on them. Stephen.
By Stephen Gray

“The paper which obtains a reputation for publishing authentic news and only that which is fit to print, …will steadily increase its influence” Andrew Carnegie

Newspapers are seeing there circulation declining. Various reasons are given for this. The rise of the Internet and young people not reading the papers are but two explanations. Another reason could be the assault on the traditional family by most of the conglomerate media in Canada. If one takes the time to read and observe the monopoly media, they all - except for a few journalists - seem to propagandize with consistency that abortion, so-called same-sex marriage, and euthanasia are issues that deserve respectability. Yet every one of these issues is detrimental to society. Abortion kills the child in the womb. So called “same-sex marriage” cannot produce children and is an invention of words, and euthanasia is a polite word for killing those perceived to be a burden on society. Nihilism rules and is declared as “rights.”

Why would any responsible parent or person opposed to these aberrations continue to buy propaganda disguised as news? By buying these newspapers, people are buying into the media agenda and are allowing themselves to be punished, abused and ridiculed with their own money. They are, in fact, subsidizing attacks on their belief systems. There is an old saying: “Money talks.” But money can also walk. Just imagine if those in Canada who are of religious persuasion and those who are not of religious persuasion but believe certain issues can never be respectable decided to boycott or cancel their subscriptions to the purveyors of propaganda. This could be called: Money walking. Then the word weasels would be sent a message to take their stories elsewhere.

Stories like two men who are “married” to each other are given saturation coverage in the conglomerates newspapers and also on its TV “news” and we are solemnly told that one of the men is the “wife” of the other!! These two men are protesting something called the lack of “queer culture” in the schools. I’m sure that must worry all the parents out there that their kids are deprived of this “knowledge.” A newspaper editorialized that the two men should be “commended” for pushing “queer issues.” Meanwhile another “news” headline tells us a baby whale has died and it is all very “sad.” A few miles further away from where the baby whale died is the local abortion clinic, thousands of babies over the years are killed there by saline injection or cut to pieces in their mothers’ wombs, but these babies are not considered as newsworthy as a baby whale. The dead innocent, abused and savaged bodies of these human babies are neither shown or reported in the media. This atrocity is called “choice” in the parlance of “investigative” journalism.

The buzz word of the monopoly media is “convergence” and this is how our “news” is filtered to us today through their domination of newspapers and their control of the airwaves and T.V stations. A few gigantic media outlets send and dispense their puffery to the people. These are the decision makers of what is “truth.” Still, by a flick of the switch you can turn off the radio and T.V. messages you do not like. But, if you must read their controlled “news” you can go to the library and read it - that’s where I go; after all, your tax dollars are subsidizing the library, so get your moneys worth. Taxes are compulsory, but written attacks on your beliefs by the mouthpieces of manipulation do not require compulsory subscription. The solution is simple. Don’t buy their proliferating propaganda. You could even write their advertisers and tell them you no longer buy the nonsense in the newspapers. I’m sure the advertisers will love to hear they are paying for advertising space that many people no longer read. Think of the money you could save in a year by not supporting the managed news of the corporate monopoly media.

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em as you please.” Mark Twain

At one time the newspaper was a trusted source of information and journalism was a respected profession. But, now, except for a few decent journalists, it has become a promoter of causes that are undermining our society. I have already mentioned three of these issues above. Newspapers wield much power. But, we also have some power. The power of how we spend our money. We could use this power by no longer paying for or subscribing to newspapers who are promoting the causes that we believe are a blight on our society today.

Stephen Gray
July 23, 2005.
[email protected] Website: http://www.geocities.com/graysinfo

Posted by: Stephen Gray | 2006-04-12 2:30:13 PM

If anything it is Europeans who believe too much. He is totally wrong when it comes to Americans, who by a recent poll, showed that only 17% of them believe the news. Canadians, I agree, are far more gullible

Posted by: Faramir | 2006-04-12 4:39:10 PM

Hey Stephen:

Being in the newspaper business, I couldn't agree with you more.

Cancel your subscriptions to the rags that promote the silly concept that we are all equal and so we deserve equal respect. I'll believe that the first time a Western government threatens to lop off the head of a Christian who converted to Islam.

I'm just waiting for somebody to say Charles Manson was a victim of some sort ... never mind the loser bikers in Ontario.

Newpapers do have a lot of power, but so does the marketplace.

Alternative newspapers spew out even more garbage.

If you liked the brilliant political move by the homosexual rights movement to call themselves gay, you'll love the latest movement by atheists to call themselves bright. The guest was on the Charles Adler show today.

Who can argue evolution? Well, apparently the not-so-‘bright' religious people. Never mind the question ... so where did it all evolve from?

When Darwin floated the theory of evolution, science told us the atom was the ultimate smallest particle. Now, science has evolved to discover quarks.

Science is a means to discover the ultimate truth, an extention of the job religion first set out to do. Science is still evolving and one day may come to understand the universe the way religions have for tens of thousands of years.

Journalists, by and large, are neanderthals when it comes to universal truths. They still have a long way to evolve.

Europeans? Must have been somebody from France who repeated Nietzke's quote. They still haven't figured out they don't matter in the world.

Posted by: Set you free | 2006-04-12 5:09:21 PM

Atheists labelling themselves "bright"? Speaking as an athesist, I agree, Set You Free, that's just as silly as homosexuals labelling themselves "gay".

I don't have any a priori problem with atheists or theists, or heterosexuals or homosexuals, or left-leaning or right-leaning people, the only people I have problems with are authoritarians.

When the individual concepts of theism or sexuality get renamed to hide a political agenda, as in the case of "Gay" or "Bright" (or, in the case of theism, the "Good" people, for example), that's when we've got a problem. That's when we're being lied to.

Obfuscation by labelling - an ancient evil art.

Posted by: Vitruvius | 2006-04-12 5:24:36 PM

perception is reality.

Posted by: wallyj | 2006-04-12 10:13:56 PM

If you step out into the street perceiving that there is no high mass bus bearing down on you at high velocity, when it turns out there is, and as a result you get turned into splatter, is perception reality?

No, this is more obfuscation by labelling. "Perception" and "reality" are different words for a good reason.

Posted by: Vitruvius | 2006-04-12 10:30:35 PM

Careful now William...if you do not stick to discussing the superficial surface as reprpogated by an immasculated media,...if events and issue seldom seem as superficial as reported to you,....if you support the reality that the historic record is full of events we now know were manipulated by interested parties and not random coincidence as reported by the media of the day....you will be branded a "conspiracy nut".."Black helecopter watcher"...a "tinfoil hat wearer".

This is concrete evidence that our culture has been conditioned not to stray beyond the media's casual glamce or the "official story".

If those who do not accept superficial reports of major events, coincidental theories or anecdotal "official" spin on the era's seminal events, happenings and issues are branded "tinfoil hatters", perhaps those who unquestioningly accept superficial-coincidental offical stories should be branded "mgic bullet heads" after the now infamous Warren report which blamed Kennedy's assassination on a single bullet which defied the physical dynamics of ballistics in this dimension.

I agree with you Willam, in this day and age of regulated, myopic unoffending media, special interest and cartel domination of national agendas and offical state secrecy and "damage control", it really isn't possible to know the whole truth any more...unless you dig it up yourself to satify your own passion for truth and keep it to yourself for fear of being accused of donning a metallic Chapeaux by a degenerative incurious society.

Like, Adscam was an isolated incident as per the official story.....ya right!

Posted by: Wlyonmackenzie | 2006-04-13 8:27:35 AM

Adscam WAS an isolated incident in LPC history; they got caught.

Posted by: Steve | 2006-04-13 9:39:32 AM

It's actually comforting to me to see and hear these issues being discussed.
Not all north Americans have been turned into sheeple! Perhaps we can save a few of the younger generation from sinking into willfull delusion.

Posted by: PGP | 2006-04-13 3:22:37 PM

C'mon now PGP.

Be kind to Steve.

Posted by: Set you free | 2006-04-13 5:22:16 PM

"A debonaire European, when asked to define a North American, responded: “They are the kind of people who believe newspapers.”"

A debonaire North American, when asked to define a European, responded:

"They are the kind of people who believe Camus."

Posted by: Plato's Stepchild | 2006-04-13 9:39:00 PM

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