« Celebrating diversity | Main | Bad metaphors in politics »

August 31, 2012


Diarmid Weir

Thanks. Excellent points. I think this is relevant to thoughts about media regulation. It's not enough just to have a free-for-all, because loud untruths can overwhelm quiet truths. I wrote something along these lines for LabourList - http://www.futureeconomics.org/2012/08/leveson-the-press-and-labour


Small groups with strong views exercising disproportionate influence on government? Surely not the CBI?


"Fanatics think their beliefs are so important and true that they set up lobbying groups and "thinktanks" to promote them,..."

This statement, I think, gets the reason for much of today's radical behavior wrong. Of "important and true" only one is generally true when it comes to economic policy radicalism. Radicals (whom you call fanatics, but I think otherwise in the case of economic issues) don't care a bit if their "beliefs" are true. They see their beliefs as important, because they serve some purpose, but that importance is "orthoganal" to truth, as the economists would say. Greed, not belief, is the motivating factor in much of economic debate, and to a lesser extent in other debates, as well.

"And this, in turn, implies that the mass media can sometimes undermine rational political discourse rather than promote it."

"...sometimes..."? That's true, in the same was as "sometimes rain falls from the sky" is true. Sometimes it drips from the eaves or your umbrella or from trees, but mostly, it comes from the skies.

People are no more fanatical now than in the 1960s. Fanatics have been assessed by political operatives, who have learned how to put all their energy and blind belief to use. Fanatics are no longer shunned, because they are proving to be useful.


Small groups with strong views exercising disproportionate influence on government? Surely not the CBI?

Or TUC on the opposition?


I strongly disagree with nearly the whole post because the key issue is that there is no substitute for mass involvement.

There is no process or structure in which absentee citizens who don't want to be bothered with paying much attention to how their collectivity is run can get good government.

It is not the media's fault: it is that citizens who were participating rather than spectating in public discourse and policy would not be fooled by media.

You cannot invest too little effort in your own business and rely on media to put in the effort for you, not when the role of media is to sell you stuff, one way or another.

If most or many citizens love "a violent debate between people with well-defined positions who can talk in soundbites", instead of ignoring them, because they are too distracted to mind their own business properly, they deserve every consequence they are going to get.

The dream of the rule by benevolent, mentoring philosopher-kings is a malignant delusion, even more so the one in which the media are philosopher-kings and provide information and education even if their customers demand entertainment because they cannot be bothered to invest effort in information and education about their own lives.

Democracy is not designed to achieve freedom or good government, but to ensure that when voters make bad choices, including the choice to be uninvolved about their own affairs, they get fucked over and can only blame themselves.

As some wise men said, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and the tree of freedom needs periodic fertilization with blood.


Put another way: if there is adverse selection it the citizen's fault for buying entertainment more than involvement, not the media's fault for not giving involvement to those who demand entertainment.

Put another way citizens cannot complain that the media deliver to them what they demand instead of what's best for them.


Given that the article you link to about Peter Hitchens is criticised by the leader of Cannabis Law Reform I don't think it's particularly strong evidence of "silliness". I don't agree with Peter Hitchens on cannbis but he makes some very forceful arguments and his blog is well worth reading. That said I don't have a high opinion of his Mail column. If his column was like his blog posts I think he would have a lot more respect.


It could just be that the BBC has no balls and is intimidated by the Government. Hence right wing fanatics are allowed a platform to support mistaken and even criminal policies such as removing a universities right to accredit foreign students.

The latter policy re London metropolitan University violates due process of the Law for students and the University based on collective punishment by the executive;and violates the right of Academic Liberty and independence. It is an out rage.

Why has the leader of the Liberal Party not condemned this out rage? Why is he not bringing forward a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government? Will the Lib Dems Man up and sack this cretin who betrays every Liberal ideal? If not then they are no Liberal Party.


If discussion ever changed anything it would be banned. People seem to be born with prejudices of the 'left' or 'right' or 'firmly neither' - and they vote and position themselves accordingly impervious to opposing viewpoints and discussions.

What is interesting is how position holders segregate themselves, for example into Guardianistas and Mailorons, chattering away to each other within their group (see 'comments' in each on-line paper) but never across and out of if it

An example here is the way ("silly") Peter Hitchens is derided - I don't share many of his views but he has courage and writes interestingly - but is a predictable position associated with other values of Stumbling and Mubmbling


The four channels are probably valid, but the first one may result from a more fundamental mechanism.
Think about religion. The more people have faith, the more they are willing to sacrifice their well-being for expressing, sharing and propagating that faith. It starts with attending church service, and it may go as far as choosing to be burnt alive instead of converting to another religion (isn't it what Christianity is built upon).

It is very difficult to imagine atheists doing such kind of things. They don't attend atheist services, and they won't endure personal discomfort in defense of their cause (they don't even have a cause). You don't imagine atheist missionaries.
This certainly explains why atheism is not more widespread, and why fundamentalists are gaining ground among Muslims and evangelicals.

There's no reason that same mechanism would not apply to other areas, such as politics or economics.

nature sounds

You have to drill deep into modern American politics to find something to feel good about these days.

But the sharp-eyed Ashley Parker of The New York Times actually found something - deep down there, among the sleazy ads, the obscene amounts of money, and the ridiculous, mind-numbing talking points.

And what was it? Well, she reports that for all of his criticism of Barack Obamas policies, some of Mitt Romney's supporters are upset that he continues to say the president is a "nice guy."

Account Deleted

Unorthodox ideas tend to be more zealously held because they are often the result of individual discovery (sometimes in traumatic circumstances), rather than inherited convention. The passionate intensity of the convert is not necessarily worse than the "sober rationalism" that may cover a lack of conviction.

There is also the tendency to turn the dial up to 11 when propounding new and challenging views. You may not get a hearing otherwise. And while shock and fanaticism can be counter-productive, they are reasonable strategies if you want to get noticed or start a public debate.

Finally, it's worth remembering that the media are not just titillated by strongly-held views, they are also subject to prejudices and habits re how views evolve and are socialised. For example, the causes of gender equality and LGBT tolerance benefited from the conscious adoption of the nomenclature and style of "liberation" movements in the 70s (i.e. Womens' Lib and Gay Lib).

This adherence to a "common interface" allowed the media to integrate heterodox views via an existing paradigm. It was interesting to note the frustration of much of the media over the "lack of specific goals" among the St. Pauls occupiers. Without a manifesto, or a list of demands, they were deemed "incompatible".

George Carty

"Put another way: if there is adverse selection it the citizen's fault for buying entertainment more than involvement, not the media's fault for not giving involvement to those who demand entertainment."

The problem is that from the perspective of the media companies, the people who read newspapers and watch TV are the product, not the customers. The media's real customers (ie the people who pay for it) are the advertisers.

Political Mail

Hello Fromarsetoelbow.blogspot.co.uk !!!

I found your post very interesting. Thanks for the useful info!


The beauty of democracy is that everyone has equal chance t air the point of view in every situation. What the average person on street knows as the best view point is the view point that is well articulated even if, it is not a trully viable option.

It is then the responsiblity of "people with reasonable" view points to articluate their view points and convince every other peroon that thier view point is not only reasonable but also a viable option

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad