This is an input broadcasted Oct 15, 1998, on Eastnet <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Jaga-Net <email@example.com>, reponding to inputs on Noam Chomsky about the press, and on an anti-Clinton conspiracy. _____________________________________________
Date: 10 Oct 1998 19:47:43 -1000
Why Smokescreen Instead of Smoking Gun
This insight, taken directly from the thoughts of MIT linguist Noam Chomsky,
should be studied very carefully by everyone if any sense is to be made of
what is going on.
These are clearly the forces that shape our press, and this is why we are not kept informed about what is really going on.
Date: 12 Oct 1998 00:23:41 -1000
The Media and the Tooth Fairy
When people do something, especially something involving many persons and
millions of dollars, there is usually a good reason for it. The sponsors of
the porn show in Washington really have a lot of Americans hooked. They tell
us that Starr is out to get Clinton, that this new style of exposing United
States dirty laundry is just a product of our times, etc., etc., etc.
I say that the many months we have been dragged through all of these things by the news media has covered a great multitude of sins, and I would like to know exactly which of these sins is the real reason for the show. I think it might
Date: 14 Oct 1998 18:06:59 +1000
Conspiracies - they certainly are about
CD, I think everyone is a bit conspiracy-ed out, but there are
realities. As I see it, there are two things happening in this area:
.... this is the stuff great movies are made of, because they fire the imagination.
Our mind is trained to identify objects by their telltale external features. If the guy turns red in the face, crumples his face in a hideous frown, utters nasty comments in an agressive tone.., aha, I think: he's mad at something. If a hunk of meat covered with a thick grey hide stands on four tree-trunk-like pedestals, and furthers huge portions of hay into its gorge by means of a long flexible tentacle protruding between two tusks,... aha, I think: that's a member of the genus elephas.
Now, a conspiracy is when certain results are reached in such a way, that the entire organization leading to those results remains obscured from the public view. So, when I as member of that public see certain results, but don't see the organizational efforts that led to it,... aha, I think: that must be a conspiracy...... :-)
But as everybody knows, life would be much too simple and boring, if it weren't actually much more complicated than that (I think that's one of those sentences my school teacher used to decorate with plenty red ink). So I must agree with GH, that a conspiracy must not necessarily be a true or deliberately effectuated conspiracy. It can also be a virtual conspiracy resulting from unarranged collective efforts motivated by objectively converging interests. And more often than not, it is probably a combination of these two.
For the net effect, however, it probably doesn't actually matter. As long as we're not the public prosecutor whose job it might be to punish the culprits of deliberate conspiracies, we're only interested in finding out what interests and developments led to certain results. In this, it doesn't matter whether it was a true conspiracy or only a virtual one. Let's say "conspiracy" without apriorically implying either concerted action or spontaneity.
We all know that there are no such things that are only good or only bad. It's all relative, depending on the circumstances, or the concrete manifestation, or simple from which point one views it. Freedom of the press is a great thing, and the platitudes of the tabloid press to keep the mob entertained is only one of the prices we have to pay for it. Freedom of the press also means private financing and selling on the free market. So, thanks to Noam Chomsky for warning us how alarming the other side of the medal can really be. But let's not be satisfied with just being horrified or even bemoaning our apparent utter helplessness to do anything about it.
The power of the big and powerful is not entirely as unilateral as the horror story might suggest. What one actually has, is that the free press finds itself in a limbo between complying to the dictates of those who place advertizements or own the media, and catering to the expectations of the buyers/readers/audiences. It is this tension field between the two poles which provides the latitude in which to manoeuver for free journalism. Oversimplified: an advertizer or owner must bear in mind, that it's no good for the financially powerful to force a certain policy on the medium, if this leads to dwindling readership or audiences. He wants his certain message brought over to the public through this medium, but his efforts only pay off when there's a large enough public left which is still accessible through that medium.
On the other hand, spicing or jazzing up the news or other programs with sex-and-crime or sleeze-and-soap bolsters sales and strengthens the position of the editing board viz-a-viz business bosses controling the money flow. In view of the somewhat restricted level of intellecual development of a substantial portion of society, this provides the greatest chance of commercial success to media in the tabloid class (well, okay, my eyes also tend to dawdle over certain pictures longer than over others). To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's the worst of all imaginable situations, provided one doesn't take account of all the other really existing systems.
The situation would seem to be quite satisfactory for any vested interests that are happy to see the "masses" entertained and not asking too many critical questions, and thus somewhat alarming for the more thinking part of society. Happily, there still is another circumstance, another tension field between two conflicting interests of the same financially powerful, which however cannot be adequately appreciated without first going into several other matters. For the moment we must already note, that the system only works when that tension field is strung over a large enough gap to provide for adequate latitude of manoeuver for all involved. When one of the poles is permitted to reach an overpowering influence, the balance is distorted, and the system fails.
Like many other things, including democracy in general, freedom of the press is only an integral part or feature of a larger package which can't be had piecemeal-wise, but comes as one: take it or leave it. And this is an economic system based on private ownership of means of production and a free market. It is also known as "capitalism". It only functions smoothly in a society with a substantial middle class, and only in one in which that middle class practically wields the determining influence. When it functions, it is by far the most efficient economic system of all that ever existed throughout history (and as this seems to have been stated for the first time by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, not exactly the faithfullest fan-club of capitalism, we may probably believe it).
One aspect of capitalism is the principle of free competition, not only on the market, but also on the political arena, that denies any absolute and supreme authorities. The other, complementary aspect of capitalism is its principle of self regulation, which compensates the absence of that absolute authority. These are the two fundamental organizational principles of a functioning capitalism. They are not two independent principles, but are mutually dependent. How can this be, and how does it function?
The principle of free competition is responsible for its efficiency,
as the best product or policy gets to prevail over the less efficient
alternatives. In theory. In detail, this may not however always be so.
A very trivial example are addictive commodities:
one should legalize narcotics, because forbidding them would seem to
be an authorative intervention into the free market economy.
If narcotics are bad (they are!), they won't sell.... |
Unfortunately, they cause addiction, and addicts are willessly compelled to go on buying the stuff in spite of knowing that it is ruining their health. Allowing the health of substantial parts of the population to be ruined leads to disruptions in other sectors, and as an ever larger sphere of interests suffers from the real or potential damage, this finally leads to the formation of a sufficiantly influential collective will to illegalize the narcotics.
Not a supreme authority standing over the community decides this, but an authority that was delegated by the community, acting on concrete convictions that had formed within the community with regard to a certain concrete problem. It is important to note, that this voluntary delegation of authority was inevitable. Freely competing legal narcotics dealers cannot be expected to voluntarily stop dealing. When the one stops, someone else will take his place, and the former ends up as the dupe. The community has no other choice but to produce an "independent" authority that enforces the prohibition of narcotics (unfortunately, even this is not effective enough).
The functioning of this mechanism is of course even more important in mainstream or vital aspects of the economic process. Population growth or other factors may lead to a surplus of manpower, which makes it possible to turn the screws on labour (whoever protests gets sacked, there being an army of unemployed who'd gladly take his place). In the long run, this leads to deterioration of health and qualification, and it is within the interests of the employers, that an independent organized representation of labour is legalized as counterbalance. But this cannot be developed voluntarily by individual employers, because letting labour becomes more expensive in their own enterprises makes them less competitive than the less consciencious "black sheep". Like in the example of the narcotics dealers above, they need that government to which they have delegated sufficient authority to introduce the necessary legislation and then enforce it.
It is not possible to go into all the details of how this functions, and how it permeates the entire economic system. We must note here, that
|(1)||this form of government which acquires its authority in that this is delegated to it in a continous process of periodic democratic legitimation by free elections and consultative consensus formation is directly conditioned by the free, "anarchic" nature of this economic system, and|
|(2)||it is prerequisite for the smooth and efficient functioning of that economic system (capitalism).|
What's all this got to do with our discussion? Sorry this is so long winding, but it is essential for the conclusion what I'm driving at. That "free and democratically elected" government, is and can in reality not be more and also not less "free", than the "free press" we began this all with. When I say that the authority is "delegated" to this government (and not maintained and enforced by terror of secret police or monopoly on weapons etc.), I meant that quite literally. They might like to house themselves in architecturally bombastic buildings for representative reasons, let themselves be driven in expensive limousines, surround themselves with all kinds of other ceremony and luxury, but don't let that fool you: they are not the predatory kings, princes, and other tyrants, despots, or despots of traditional pre-democratic systems.
Just like the "free press" being "owned" by the financially powerful, and being once more dependent from these for paid commercials and adds, so too are politicians "owned". They are dependent on dotations from the business world, and they are dependent on favourable coverage in that "free press" which the latter "controls". But just as that this doesn't make the press the willing puppet of big business (or not necessarily so), so too for the political class. This latter acquires its freedom from the same kind of interest conflict of their "owners". Firstly, it is nice for them when the government does what business wants them to do, but if that causes them to lose support of the public they lose the next elections. Secondly (and more important), as we could see above, business needs government to provide orderly conditions of business, and this often includes enforcing regulations which may run against the very interests of individual businesses.
I think we can conclude so far, not only that functioning democratic government as we know it is an essential feature of functioning capitalism. It is a prerequisite feature of this economic system. The curious conditions under which this government functions, in which authority is delegated to it by the very interests over which it must govern (like the dentist whose fee we must pay for letting him painfully extract our molar) is directly conditioned by the particular nature of this economic system which is characterized by a free competition of forces. The successful functioning of capitalist economy is at the same time dependent on the smooth functioning of that singular mode of government. And here we come back to the free press, which plays a not unimportant role in maintaining that smooth functioning of democratic government.
If earlier we noted one opposition of interests, providing for a latitude of freedom for the press in spite of financial control by business, here we have another one. Smooth running of the economy is vital to the interests of business, and insofar as this depends on a smooth functioning of democratic government, it also depends on the functioning of a free press. Business doesn't need sycophants, because it is quite capable of praising itself, and also does so without stop in its public relations work. It needs a free press and a democratic system of government for handling the critical questions which can be just as painful as getting one's molar extracted without anaesthetics, but also just as necessary nevertheless.
One classical case, in which government must take measures that are "unpopular" among the most influential part of big busines, is perhaps the introduction of anti-trust legislation in all advanced industrial countries. Because, one fundamental aspect of free enterprise and free market that makes it so efficient, is free competition which lets the better product or better service win. This leads to concentration, which in itself is not bad, because it is needed for development and implementation of sophisticated (read: expensive) technology. But if concentration is allowed to advance beyond a certain limit, it reaches market-controling magnitude, and that cancels out that very competition which underlies the efficiency of the system. The entire community including its industry is stuck with an inferior product, because its producer controls the market and can suffocate any competitor offering a superior alternative.
As we advance from primitive capitalism to advanced capitalism, we are ever more confronted with the interest conflict between companies which strive to monopolize the market, and the community as a whole (including business) which must rule out such monopolization. The two interests are interdependent. Even the greatest monopolies depend on sales. If a ruined community can no longer support increasing sales, the company loses, perhaps even more than if it hadn't monopolized the market to begin with. Apart from that, the national economy loses when an inferior domestic product depending on monopoly suddenly has to face up to a competitive foreign product.
As wealth concentrates at the top, it is always important to recycle it downwards. Because, as already the ancients of antiquity kept reminding, you can't eat money. Money is only good for three things:
And this is where I come to GH who wrote:
Date: 13 Oct 1998 09:28:26 +1000
Re media, clinton, etc.
Gore Vidal had a good explanation pujblished in newspapers here in
Australia a while back. Simply, the big business backers want Clinton out
and the Republicans back in. Why? Because Clinton has been moving on things
that actually help people and not big business. Women, minorities, the
medical plan, for example. Internationally Clinton has been good too. So
they want him out. If Clinton continues to do good as President, he will
open the way for a Democratic dynasty, and the Democrats might even win
power in congress on the basis of it.
So big business wants Clinton out. Starr might not see this as what he is doing; but that's his job and those are his employers. Look at private medical insurance as a case in point. This has been a disaster FOR HEALTH AND HEALTH CARE all over the world - the big businesses know that and know that if public medical support is implemented in the USA, it will start an avalanche around the world.
Actually, big business should support medicare. Firstly, it pays for improved health of employees who are thus more efficient at work. Secondly, perhaps by far the greater effect, it serves as indirect subventioning of the pharmaceutical and medical instruments industries, which in turn draw products of chemical, electronics, machine-buliding, metallurgical, etc., etc., industries. When people who couldn't afford medical services suddenly can, or can afford more than previously, this is good for business. One not insignificant, but perhaps for understandable reasons little advertized function of liberal government under capitalism has always been, to pump money from the pockets of the taxpayers into those of big business. In this respect, promoting medicare is doubly good capitalist policy. It is good to business, and it increases the public satisfaction with its capitalist system.
This reminds me of one mistake conservative historians have been making in analysing liberal colonial policy of the Netherlands in Indonesia in the 19th century.
They only criticized that liberal policy,
leading to increased Dutch private investments in Indonesia, but
supported by heavy government spending on infrastrucure etc., was
deficitary, as government was investing more than it was getting back
What they forgot: How come did the Dutch queen (Queen Wilhelmina) get to be nominated the richest woman in the world by Forbes magazine in 1908?
Actually, huge amounts of money were flowing back, "unnoticed" by the conservative historians: The liberals had functioned colonial Indonesia into a magic machine which multiplied continuous sums of money of the Dutch taxpayers into fabulous dividends for shareholders of Dutch companies operating there.
Equal rights for women, minorities, etc. is also good capitalist policy. Why do you think the industrial North was so hell-bent to abolish slavery in the agricultural South of the US? Free labour is a basic requisite of capitalism. More vulnerable minorities might be useful for marginal businesses capitalizing on the cheapness of this labour force, but the harm this skewing does to the market and the economy in the long run is garanteed to let over-all losses outweigh any temporary and localized profits.
What the anti-Clinton "conspiracy" is concerned there are I think two factors: one is that for all established spheres of big business in the US (New England, Mid-West, Texas, Pacific Seaboard), Clinton is an "upstart" from the Arkansas backwoods, and his being succesful and an acclaimed US President in the eyes of the world makes this only worse. This makes for shifts in the weight of lobbies and interest groups, which are not usually amused about losing influence. This probably set off the "conspiracy", but will not explain the disastrous intensity and blind hatred which is propelling it.
The second factor, I think, is that whichever of the interest groups above started this had the gros misfortune of having instrumentalized fundamentalist conservatives for that purpose. There's nothing more dangerous and disastrous in politics than people who are honestly convinced of being "holier than thou". As real life is much more complex and contradictary than their oversimplistic Sunday-school wisdom allows for, they soon end up in a total mess. It's all the same: whether an Ayatollah ends up being responsible for the killing of more Muslims than all "infidels" ever got to; or a "pro-life" activist finally commits murder on a doctor; or a Congress professing to be concerned with the morality of public figures turns the supreme US legislative body into a worldwide dispensary of hardcore porn; or a stubborn public investigator finally resorts to suppressing evidence to uphold his accusations.
Politics has always been connected with conspiracy. In fact, once you have seen politics functioning from the inside, it is difficult to imagine how there can be politics without conspiracies and secrets. But politicians should also know when to call it a day, when it starts to undermine the mainstays of the state.
Kenneth Starr started off by being commissioned to investigate the Whitewater affair. Having failed there he went on a wild goose chase which led him to disclosing intimate details of the private life of a public figure. It was none of his business, nor any of anyone elses business (except perhaps of Hillary Clinton's). In this, he let himself be instrumentalized by this Linda Tripp who secretly taped Monica Lewinsky's confession. The most alarming thing in all this is that an entire US Congress fraction finally also let itself be instrumentalized. That woman deserves the Pullitzer Prize or something like that, or at least a worthy place in the Guiness book of records for the greatest number of duped politicians. Clinton ought to forgive her and offer her some nice job somewhere. I mean, that's talent! ;-)
But all this has done great harm to US interests abroad, quite apart from disillusioning people who looked at the US for leadership. It has done just as much harm within the country. It is very gratifying to see that the US public has proved to be much more mature than its congress. Let's hope they'll also express this in the next elections to the House of Representatives. Maybe the White House should make a list with how which congressman voted on this, and make it conveniently accessible to voters to decide for themselves, how they'll react on that .