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February 20, 2011



It makes a lot more sense when you realise that newspapers are a branch of entertainment. As are many elements of democracy. The fact that it involves real decisions and the occasional human catastrophe just makes it all the more exciting!

Paul Sagar

I share your feelings about Egypt. Pretty fucking irritating, really. Topped only by those dunderheads who are claiming that Britain will -nay, must! - follow Egypt in opposing Them.


Isn't this merely an especially unmusical grunt on behalf of the tribe of rationalists?


"the extent to which we care about people should depend upon their amount of hardship, not upon their media coverage."

This is a false dichotomy. You have to *know* about people's hardship before you can care about it. Anyway, Norm's point about people's attention being necessarily limited is a good one that I wish more people would take on board because a failure to recognise this fairly obvious fact leads to another extremely irritating feature of the blogosphere, which is 'whataboutry'. For example, "You write about the British working class a great deal but what about the Burmese workers, eh? Nothing to say about this at all?" Annoying, isn't it?

Tom Addison

"Norm, however, thinks he [Aaronovitch] was referring to something else - apologists for tyranny."

As Aaronovtich and the likes of Oliver Kamm often do, usually against the Noam Chomsky's and those Media Lens nutjobs of this world. Srebrenica and Holocaust deniars, Pol Pot and Mao sympathisers, there really are some proper loonies out there that need to be put in their place!

john b

If you think Chomsky is *actually* an apologist for terror, rather than someone who follows a dialogue about values, mechanisms and evidence into places that some people find unpalatable, then you're definitely in the "tribal grunts" category of thinker.

As far as *actual* Holocaust deniers, Pol Pot and Mao sympathisers go, there are about four of them in total, they have no political influence at all, and ignoring them is a much more productive use of time and resources than 'putting them in their place'.


@ Shuggy - one aspect of hardship is precisely that it gets ignored, with the result that it is often the less badly off who get coverage and sympathy. Contrast, for example, women or gays vs white workers in the 50s to now.
Of course, attention is limited. But so is competence. There's only a tiny number of things anyone can write about well; I tend to avoid tons of subjects for this reason. The "whatabouttery" complaint is stupid, and should be ignored - it's certainly not worth writing tosh just to forestall some idiot criticism.


This line ... "the tendency for people to become instant experts on subjects they hitherto knew nothing about" ... is all the more hilarious when you realise that people start to base their expertise upon what they read in the newspapers.


No comments at Norm's, so I hope it's OK if I drag this over here.

Norm: "[CD] substituting himself for the sort of advocates David had in view is like my concluding from the fact that I could never score a goal like Wayne Rooney's that nobody can score a goal like that"

I'm handicapped here by not having read Aaro's article (and not being willing to pay for the privilege). However, it seems to me that there's a significant difference between "Wayne Rooney" (a label connoting a single identifiable individual) and "the sort of advocates David had in view", who I take it were left unnamed. To put it another way, if the critics of democracy Aaro had in mind were so outstandingly tyranny-friendly that Chris could never be confused with them, it would have been a public service all round to say who it was he was talking about. Absent specifics, we're just left with another round of "those awful people who we all hate, don't you just hate them for being so awful?"

But there may be a larger critique of Norm's post. Chris quoted Aaro (again, I haven't read the whole piece) as arguing that 'scepticism about democracy “dovetails into the aggressive apologia that undemocratic regimes invent for themselves.”' If this was the trend of the article, then whether *some* critics of democracy are in fact apologists for tyranny (on which I tend to agree with John B above) is a side-issue: Aaro's argument is precisely that *to be sceptical* about democracy is dangerous, because it's inherently congruent with the arguments of apologists for tyrannous regimes (e.g. David Mellor). In which case I agree heartily with Chris's original post.

I think another way of making this point would be to say that there's an approach to political debate which consists of taking an interest in people with whom one has significant points of agreement and discussing apparent differences, contradictions and errors in a spirit of intellectual charity. There's also an approach which consists of taking an interest in people with whom one has significant points of disagreement and laying bare essential differences, contradictions and errors in a spirit of no intellectual charity whatsoever. And never the twain shall meet, although they do tend to bump into each other on the Internet.

Adam Bell

People are willing to purchase newspapers, because those newspapers confirm their pre-held conceptions. This is confirmation bias writ as a desire. I'd assumed you were aware of this. Newspapers certainly are; the Daily Mail's business model is based around calculated mistruths.

Tom Addison

@John B: I think you've interpreted my general point a bit too literally, what I was trying to point out was that, based on what he usually writes/talks about, it's not unusual for an Aaronovitch column to be aimed at lambasting dictatorship sympathisers, or at least people who have a knee-jerk reaction against the West no matter what the scenario.

I'm not qualified to go into the specifics of Chomsky's ideas (so yes, I probably shouldn't have mentioned him), but I've seen some of the paranoid rantings and ravings of those people from Media Lens, often aimed at the likes of Aaronovitch and Kamm. A bit weird, some of them.

But I would say that holocaust deniars and the like do need to be put in their place. History shows that such conspiracy theories, which may seem a bit daft to a lot of people at the time, can gain support and snowball, which can have devastating consequences.

I'm not sure I'd be in any "category of thinker", that's quite a title to bestow upon oneself. I'm probably what someone like yourself would consider to be the "general populace". I don't take "tribal grunts" (although a definition of that would be helpful) as too much of an insult.


Tom Addison -

Haven't you made Chris's point? Whatever the virtues or significance of the protesting in the Middle East the fact that people instinctively frame it as a part of their tedious argumentative struggles is a symptom of the pointlessness of such "tribal grunting". (Not that I don't engage in it myself. On the other hand, I'm not a Times columnist.)

Tom Addison

Have I? Confused me there, I'll just take your word for it!


Well, Medialens - however one feels about them - are a minor watchdog group. If one's first thought upon seeing protests in the Middle East was "I'll show those letter-writing bastards" it's a fair bet that priorities should be adjusted.

Tom Addison

What the deuce are you on about? No, that isn't my first priority on seeing the protests, nor do I think it's anyone elses.


Yes, but your comment here at 8.11 seems to imply (rightly or wrongly) that they're the kind of people Aaro would have been targeting. If I'm wrong, apologies and let us grunt no longer.

Tom Addison

Got ya. Yeah he could be. The Media Lens people would normally criticise an Aaronovitch/Kamm article for advocating an interventionary foreign policy, then in arguing this case the Media Lens people would sometimes seem to "gloss over" some of the facts about certain dictators. At least I think that's what was happening! But yeah, let us grunt no longer, I should be getting back to work.

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