Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 3, 2012
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Louis René Beres
Andrée Lafontaine
Samuel Burd
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




The fault I find with our journalism
is that it forces us to take an interest
in some fresh triviality,
whereas only three or four books in a lifetime
give us anything that is of real importance.

Men are only men. That's why they lie.
They can't tell the truth, even to themselves.
from Rashômon (1950)

If a man fasten his attention on a single aspect of truth
and apply himself to that alone for a long time,
the truth becomes distorted and not itself but falsehood.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s a lesson in humility, a seminar I am always happy to attend, since it always results in my edification; when I plunge into the passion and creative thinking that takes place in the online reader feedback pages.

No matter how brilliant and informed are our opinion makers – Leon Wieseltier (The New Republic), Charles Krauthammer (Washington Post), David Brooks (NYT) or the late Christopher Hitchens (Vanity Fair) -- the feedback or reader commentary pages, regardless of subject or controversy, always force the same conclusion: that the writer, who believes himself sufficiently knowledgeable on a subject to want his readers to share his view, hasn’t thought of everything, and indeed, as is often the case, has only very partially disclosed the essence of matters of great importance that fall within his expertise and presumption.

Most opinion makers are not lacking in vanity or ambition. Norman Mailer, who knifed the 2nd of six wives and successfully petitioned for the release of convicted killer Jack Abbot who killed again only weeks after obtaining his freedom, believed he swung the 1960 presidential election in favour of John Kennedy.

Convinced of their éminence grise warrant, our opinion makers, for whom language is the weapon of choice against everything to which they are opposed, take positions on the major issues of the day (to bomb or not to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, to intervene militarily in Syria) and in a tone of voice that suggests they have or should have direct access to the Commander in Chief, explain why it is self-evident their home and native land should embark on a particular course of action and not another.

Advocacy journalism, by its very nature, is selective in the facts and arguments it brings to bear on an issue. But for readers who are looking to grasp the larger picture, who are secure enough in their social egos to willfully forgo having an opinion on everything, for whom the disinterested pursuit of truth is its own reward, will have already discovered that an online editorial cannot be separated from the voluminous, and mostly illuminating, reader feedback it inspires.

The digitalization of information now allows for an opinion piece to generate hundreds if not thousands of reader comments that are usually posted minutes after they have been received. The first effect of this is that the idea under consideration enjoys an enlargement and enrichment that would have been impossible in the analog era. The second effect concerns the shift in power away from the opinion maker to the feedbackers, since the content and direction of the conversation (debate) are now in the hands of the latter. Where the net gain is available to everyone (just a click away), we would expect the opinion maker to be the first to profit from the multiplication of information and perspectives, but in point of fact he rarely retreats from or even modifies an opinion, conveniently confusing his lofty position (editorialist/syndicated columnist) for his authority and knowledge of an issue. With impunity, so he believes, he has already decided that reader feedback, a product of undistinguished provenance, should be either ignored or disdained. And when the Dag Hammarskjöld admonition is brought to his attention, “pride is a fool’s fortress,” he will pro forma be the first to shout its wisdom and last to be wise.

There was an analog time when newspapers and magazines, as a cost consideration, could afford no more than a page per issue for letters or reader commentary, and the writer could blithely pass over contrary opinion without having to seriously consider altering his original position. But in the digital age that course of inaction is no longer tenable. Informed and extensive commentary oblige the opinion maker to acknowledge that his grasp of any issue is slight in relation to the enormity and complexity of the whole, and when he descends into denial, willfully shutting out facts and arguments that don’t conform to his thesis or argument, willing the public weal to kneel to his narrow agenda, he discredits (even disgraces) himself at a speed and scale that we now designate as ‘going viral.’ He will be the last to suspect he is suffering from a form of self-induced dissociative identity disorder and, on a good day, the first to learn that “reputation is better kept than recovered” (Camus).

Consequent to the insights and information generated worldwide by reader feedback, there is every reason to believe that tomorrow’s opinion makers will be crafting more responsible and informed opinions. Thanks to the ubiquity of iPhones and hand-held video devices, it’s next to impossible to promulgate and sustain agenda-driven propaganda and damned lies.

If our world is hurting bad it’s because there has been a collective failure to recognize that pluralism (what it brings to the table) is the best guarantor of making the best of possible choices that bears directly on the health and well being of the planet. What the Bush presidency (The Iraq War) taught us the hard way is that advocacy journalism and the pursuit of truth are divergent paths that lead to very different conclusions with painfully real consequences.

Most readers under thirty now choose to get their opinion pieces online because they know that whatever the issue or controversy it will be significantly augmented by reader feedback. These same readers also subscribe, if only implicitly, to the notion that the quest for truth is a collective undertaking, and that what allows the truth to appear and endure is the constancy of their concern and discernment.

The feedback pages, at their best, constitute a fifth column against ignorance and hubris. They teach us that truth is multifaceted, in constant flux, and that an idea is only as good as the number of perspectives it engenders, and that existential truth is essentially all quantum and no solace.

Can there be any doubt that the “order is rapidly changing” (at byte-warp speed) and that the ideal of a participatory democracy is on the near horizon?

Prior to the Internet, reader feedbackers were dispersed and isolated. Now they are begrudgingly identified as an informal but growing community (a social network) of like-minded citizens of the world whose global input poses a direct challenge to influence wielded by the venerated opinion maker.

At the forefront of this revolution in the way information is sourced and handled is CNN’s wonderfully wise and witty Cafferty File (CF). Recognizing the redundancy for what it is, the CF has altogether dispensed with the opinion maker, persuaded that the truth and complexity of any issue are better served by an appropriate question to which viewers can weigh in on. The content of the program is freely and solely produced by the viewer, which might explain why CNN’s bottom liners, its chartered accountants, are laughing all the way to the nearest off shore account.

Opinion makers gazing into their hand-held crystal balls should be worried about job security, which might be reason for the world to worry less.


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1. Enormity does not mean enormousness.
2. What truth is served by accusing CNN of shipping its money offshore?
3. The "wisdom of crowds" approach may work for guessing the weight of a dressed ox at an English county fair, but there is such a thing as expertise and well-constructed argument, and on occasion knowing something matters.

also by Robert J. Lewis:
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene


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