I think this post raises an important, interesting and sometimes troubling issue. It is an article of faith in this country–and maybe it’s the result of our English heritage that Walter has documented in “God and Gold”–that the free exchange of ideas that Milton celebrates is a guarantor of liberty and open government. And it’s indisputably true that the advent of the internet has democratized the media, exposed newsworthy issues hitherto ignored, given voice to the disenfranchised and challenged governments and large institutions that were formerly impervious to the scrutiny of the public. It has helped spread transparency and accountability, though in practice these will always remain ideals rather than attainable goals.
That said, it has also had a tremendously empowering effect on political associations across the spectrum of opinion, including groups that despise democracy, equality and the free exchange of ideas. There remains a vocal if not significantly large number of people who would use the powers of mass communication to to build support for a reversal of important cultural and legislative trends in our society, including a tendency to increasing tolerance. And it is indisputably the case that the internet has given representatives of these retrograde factions a powerful tool for recruiting and reinforcing their ideas, which, however distasteful, are bound to find a receptive audience among some segment of the population.
Will modern day demagogues find that their most alluring and noxious ideas lose their potency when subjected to a vigorous public cross-examination? Or will they continue to gain steam, mobilizing greater numbers of followers through a proliferation of websites? Can today’s watchdogs skillfully debunk their claims in a manner sufficient to dissuade the credulous from subscribing to their ideas.
This isn’t theoretical. Just take a look at nostalgia for the Confederacy that some web commentators have been promoting recently. Is that a good direction for the country? Are we really unsure whether the passing of the Confederacy was a good thing?
“Will modern day demagogues find that their most alluring and noxious ideas lose their potency when subjected to a vigorous public cross-examination?… Can today’s watchdogs skillfully debunk their claims in a manner sufficient to dissuade the credulous from subscribing to their ideas?”
As long a members of the media, especially the White House Press Çorps, care more about access and future book contacts I don’t think we can expect any vigorous public cross-examination of the president and the administration. Certainly not to the level we saw in the Bush years.
As for “nostalgia for the Confederacy that some web commentators have been promoting recently” it may have escaped your notice that we’re moving up to the 150th anniversary of the onset of the Confederacy and that subject’s going to come up more frequently in the year ahead.
If you’re suggesting that there’s a broad based revival of “the south shall rise again” mentality, that’s not really a position I think you could support.
On the other hand, there is going to be a healthy, thanks to health care, debate on the issue of states rights. You remember States, don’t you? It’s that word in the middle of USA. We argue about it in this country from time to time. I don’t think the argument is going to go to the shooting level as it did 150 years ago and I’m willing to be you don’t either. Still, it’s nice to shake this shibboleths around from time to time. Gives one a nice frisson if one can fear the political reality that isn’t happening instead of those that are.
“And it is indisputably the case that the internet has given representatives of these retrograde factions a powerful tool for recruiting and reinforcing their ideas, which, however distasteful, are bound to find a receptive audience among some segment of the population.”
Some segment? *Some* segment!? My goodness man… those retrograde factions managed to elect a congress in 2006 and a president in 2008. I’d say they were effective in spreading their distasteful ideas far beyond some. I know you’ll agree that the problem now is how to reign in their hypnotic internet techniques before they can damage the nation beyond repair.
Would this Goshdarn effing piece of you-know-what pass the family friendly test?
I don’t disagree with your arguments vanderleun, and it may well be that the received truths we hold sacred are best served by our reexamining them periodically, and that if they warrant our faith, they will prove themselves resistant to revision, by virtue of their evident value or truth. Renewed acquaintance with the foundations of our political system and it’s assumptions is, I’m sure, good and necessary.
That said, it’s not necessarily incompatible with what I’m saying, and I’m just anxious enough about these things to say that yes, under circumstances that are thankfully rare in this country, it’s conceivable that we might see a reversion to violence in the political arena, if only on the margins. It already happens sporadically, though it’s usually the act of some lone crank. (Although cranks like Timothy McVeigh can commit horrible acts of mass murder.) Still, I find it disturbing to see some of the ideas that animate extremists in this country endorsed by political websites that command a fairly large audience.
Respecting the South, I’m no expert, but I will say that it’s one thing to adopt a kind of neo-agrarian vision like that espoused in “I’ll Take My Stand,”and popularized today by writers like Wendell Berry, and wholly another to treat Abraham Lincoln as some kind of irredeemable fascist usurper responsible for the suffering brought about by the Civil War. I’ll take my stand, and say that I’m grateful for the outcome of that war, and nothing will change that.
I agree with you that the media is captive to adulation of the President. You may also have a point about states’ rights, but it’s not something I can talk about responsibly, having last visited the issue in high school when I wrote a report on John Calhoun. I wonder if Calhoun’s arguments, divorced from slavery and in the abstract, might afford some kind of protection to minority rights generally. I’d love to hear an opinion about that.
On the other hand, that frisson you allude to is, I think cheap, and occasionally dangerous, and no different from the exaltation of revolutionary violence celebrated by thinkers on the left. We’ve renounced violence as a mechanism for resolving political conflict in this country. Why revived it’s specter?
It may be boring to celebrate staid, stabilizing virtues that promote bourgeois society and commerce, but they’ve done all right by me, and I’ll fight for them.
Why not insist that each commentator use his or her real name? This should make people more circumspect about their remarks. The Wall Street Journal uses this policy. I know that some will still give fake names,but those with the courage to identify themselves should do so. It is really a matter of integrity and honesty is it not?
As somebody said each technology has an agenda of its own. For example automobiles were seen as fast, cleaner than horses, etc, but they also had as an unforeseen agenda, pollution, traffic jams and parking problems.
I don’t think anyone has any idea how the internet will eventually ‘roll-out’. But I like to think that it is something like ‘human consciousness’ with all the good and bad that is within all of us. You can think anything, say anything (Well, not on American Interest! Sorry, Dr. Mead, the devil made me do it LOL.), soon every book ever written will be available… there’s just too much to even list.
And just as in humans it can go wrong. I wonder if you recall a “B” SF movie entitled, “The Forbidden Planet”? The story is that on this planet, the Krell, had advanced to a point where anything they could ‘think’ of, would be produced by the central computer (or whatever it was). The Krell were extinct, killed by their own nightmares.
We’ve got some work ahead of us gang, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world, not for the whole world! Coming along?
Well, finally. After almost two weeks since my comments were held, and a week since I started sending emails to TAI staff, I got most of my comments from the AIPAC post accepted. Whew. Interestingly, the banned comments mentioned the Catholic pedophilia controversy and a list of Jewish neo-cons to rebut Steve’s comment. Weird.
On this post, I have a question for WRM, what does this mean: “monopolizing the discussion or crowding out debate”?
As this is most likely directed at me, I think a response is necessary. I think it useful to break up my comments in separate entries, especially when each one directly quotes different material. Although I’ve found others think this objectionable. Why? What’s the big deal? If anyone can convince me it is a big deal and why, I will start putting all my comments together.
But as a matter of fact, I have not monopolized the discussion or crowded out debate. Even more, how would that even be possible in a blog comments section? My comments are on topic and quite brief per topic actually. So why all the fuss?
Very informative post! I hope Mr. Mead will be posting more as he goes through his syllabus.
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I could be wrong on this, but I think it was TR that talked about “malefactors of great wealth,” not FDR.
Finally, a conservative moderate who makes his points without using the “radicalizing rhetoric” of the far right. Even more important next, would be an article on how to prioritize and persue the scalling back of government at all levels
Where are Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson? Why should white people care about what happens in Detroit when Al and Jessie don’t care?
Excellent read and idea put the breaks on men – menace – is formulation I had not given thought to; it provides insight into another aspect of urban street violence though not nearly comparing author’s apropos examples.
“My point is that savagery should be a thing of the past by now—as in, it should be historic and no longer even thinkable.”
According to what theory or reading either of history or the human psyche do you make this assertion? This sounds like mere wishful thinking, a/k/a fantasy. I would hope that people training our next generation of naval commanders are not imbuing them with fantastic beliefs.
The idea that US entertainment products are responsible for the failure of savagery in the world to have retreated before your fine sensibilities is absurd. If you want to see a culture that were both dignified (full of gravitas) and savage at the same time, look no further than the pre-Columbian Native American cultures. You also say at one point that society’s challenges in managing young men are no different than they ever have been. You are not even coherent.
“No one” points to Mandela and Gandhi as exemplars? You can’t be serious.
Also, you should read Emerson’s essay “Power” to gain some more insight into your subject.
It is frightening to think that my taxes are going to pay for this woman to spout this tripe at the Naval Postgraduate School.
This is fantastical thinking. What makes you think that aggression that has been programmed into our DNA for tens of thousands of years for survival is going to disappear due to the latest enlightened thinking on what society should be?
“Unfortunately, we Americans bear a certain degree of responsibility for this.”
Ah yes, the Blame America First crowd. The stated reasoning for this is beyond ridiculous, and the complete lack of evidence for this assertion is noted.
“…because Boko Haram’s actions are no more attributable to Islam…”
Yet another baseless assertion that is counter-factual to the evidence. If the people creating the terror actually invoke Islam as the inspiration, one can safely conclude that it is in fact attributable.
I’ll spare everyone further commentary. This is clearly a constructed fantasy to fit the author’s preconceived ideology. Wishing facts into existence is not journalism.
You’re right. The woman asserts, asserts., asserts. And to think she a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. God save us!
If this is the type of analysis that our taxpayer dollars are paying for, we can cut the defense budget without losing effectiveness by getting rid of it.
This is not analysis, it is gender studies 101 rubbish. Men menace indeed. The two words have no etymological relationship. The common Anglo Saxon noun is derived from ancient Teutonic root words for human beings e.g. German Mann. Menace is derived from minax, a Latin word that means threatening. You are welcome.
The fact is that it takes very little research to find Boko Haram’s own explanation for what they have done, and they say it is Islam. I think we ought to take them seriously, when they say that.
A brief study of the history of Islamic expansion demonstrates that Boko Haram is not new nor is it innovative, they are just like the classical and Ottoman, Ghazi Warriors that Muslim powers always used as wedge for expansion.
It is always better to learn things than to just make them up based on college dorm bull sessions.
Interesting thoughts on anthropology and human nature as they relate to groupthink and the roots of violence, which I’m sure have some validity, particularly in more traditional societies and, as the author points out, the weakening of social norms, values, and institutions into a relativistic, materialistic morass is a prelude to violence. Typically it starts because of violent social disruption, but as the West is seeing, decadent social disruption can have an equally pernicious effect.
That is where the value of this article ends.
The commenters below me have already done an excellent job nitpicking this “professor’s” illusions, so I will not attack in the same way they did. I will only say that I find it fascinating that the author finds American soft power so powerful that it can influence the hearts and minds of individuals and factions across the globe in ways that other, more traditional media and means of storytelling were somehow unable to do.
I have said this about other articles and I will say it again here- The American Interest is too honorable a magazine to publish such works that would be better off in Time, The Atlantic, or Mother Jones.
This article is indeed strange. Violent entertainment in America somehow helps explain the actions of Boko Haram, but Islam does not? Are we seriously supposed to believe the young males of Boko Haram spend more time watching TV and playing violent video games than our own teenagers? The actions of groups like Boko Haram are not random sprees of violence by status seeking males. They are targeted efforts to achieve political ends based on an explicit understanding of Islamic teachings. What will stop them is a concerted reformation within the Muslim world making such interpretations of Islam anathema. Until then, they will continue even if you turn off all the TVs in the world.
Madam, you are a fool.
Anyone who thinks that savagery is unthinkable and should be a thing of the past has never looked inside themselves and has no effective awareness of what it means to be human. So unconscious and undeveloped that in this case they apparently can’t see a lot of difference between Navy Seals and Mafiosi. It is precisely because we all contain within us the opposites of thuggery and heroism, good and evil, and so on and have to struggle with them that we become conscious of the difficulties of the human condition. There is a book about an Indian prince from a long time ago who despaired when he realized that he was about to slay many his relatives on a battlefield not far from modern day Delhi. How he worked out his painful dilemma with his chariot driver, who was a good listener, should be required reading at all our military institutions.