The Daily Howler is one of my daily "must-reads". Despite several issues I have with Somerby's approach, in general it is a site that keeps me thinking about the ways our public discourse is distorted by our elite press corps. His column today, for example, focuses on a really bad page 1 story in the New Year's Day New York Times. For him, this is just a question of elite stupidity spreading a cancer of Dumb through the body politic by metastasizing their core neuroses to the rest of us through the bloodstream of the press.
I take this same article, and while I agree it is cliche-ridden and nonsensical, I see it less of a symptom of elite stupidity, than elite distraction. Like the columns of Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins, or even David Brooks and E. J. Dionne, two often held up as more thoughtful commentators from a conservative and liberal bent, respectively, the sum-total of mainstream discourse is really awful for a reason. Elites tend to believe that those not of the same social or cultural milieu are ignorant. Dangerous, even. Consider how often we hear characters in television shows talk about the dangers of making some bit of information public because it might cause panic. Yet, in actual emergency situations - the New Orleans flood, say, or a tornado ravaging a small town - most people act both sensibly and even communally. Far from the specter of the mad, mindless mob, human beings in fact do quite well. Yet, the myth refuses to die, and is part of the operant conditioning of our political elites. Thus, we get page one stories in our most important national newspaper that are mindless rehashings of cliches that have absolutely no validity whatsoever (there are cliches that have some ring of truth about them; these, however, do not).
I have already written, and completely deleted, who whole posts this afternoon. Not because either one was bad. Rather, they really weren't focused on the aim of this site, or my current interests. So, in the future, expect less knee-jerk reaction to whatever insanity happens each day and more thoughtful (I hope) exploration of underlying structures and assumptions. Raging against the mindlessness of so much of our politics makes little difference because the mindless happen to be in charge.