Thursday, July 28, 2011

How can journalists know the truth? A Twitter dialogue My response to David Akin's Blog Post about the safety questions raised in recent WiFi research.

The ground of this epistemological issue goes way beyond the binary opposition between objective and subjective, a relationship grounded in empiricism assuming that there is a knowable reality or truth and that the problem is a simple one of just discovering how to know it. Bias and expressions of values in a journalist, subtle or not, still assume that there is indeed some sort of objective truth or given reality.

My perspective is a post-structuralist one that says all reality and truth are, to use Derrida's phrase, under erasure - that is, we have to use these terms in discourse even though what they signify or represent really isn't directly accessible. We can never know them directly. We construct them through our various meaning-making systems - notably language, a cultural and social process, which precedes thought. This is known as a productive rather than an expressive theory of language, the latter identified with empiricism. We produce or construct meaning, not express it. We produced reality and truth, not express it. This principle lies beneath even the editorial choices and opinion disguising strategies of ordinary and not so ordinary journalism.

At least you're open about possibilities. I'm not sure we can say that about other "opinionated" journalists obsessed with "evidence-based" reporting. What's evidence? What's a fact? The only way these arrive to us is through the mediation of the cultural prism of language, through discourse, through a meaning-making system. You are the site of meaning.

Yes, an overwhelmingly academic and probably irritating answer!!!! You can see why Twitter is no place for such a difficult response as this. Forgive me: if I didn't admire your work, I wouldn't bother and, no, I did not major in philosophy as one of our respondents thinks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Beginning of Something: First we had the little page that would. Now we have the journalist who could

Last time I checked Kai's Nagata's blog, Why I Quit My Job, there were well over 100,000 views and 1000 responses to his coming out essay. Most of these were supportive, arguing in effect that Kai is an inspiration offering those of us living outside the walls of Harperland considerable hope for change. But there were detractors on this blog and elsewhere, most of whom, as always in the blogsphere, said silly things, trying hard to be witty of course, and several who, quite frankly, just didn't know what they were talking about - another common characteristic of the blogsphere.

These terms came up frequently in the detractors' discourse: "fiscally prudent," "efficiencies," "fiscally conservative," this last concept used accurately by Kai himself in conjunction with the concept of taxing capacity. As always, in Harperite language - the language of Harperland - these terms are euphemisms for 1) the cutting of jobs and/or further exploitation of employees with fewer if any benefits and less wages in the corporate sector in the interests of profits and 2) budget cuts to our federal insititutions and government departments - which, more often than not, also involves job cuts.

The detractors also use the terms "leftist" and"rightist," but I'm pretty sure they've never read either Hegel or Marx, though I might be willing to get up from my chair on this last point if evidence were to be discovered otherwise. These terms are seldom used with precision or historical context in a Canadian context, for they appear to be in the beholder's eye in politicians, most political commentary by journalists, many of whom should know better, and amateur political pundits who frequent the byways and dark alleys of blogland and the twitterverse. Can we, for example, really call the NDP a leftist party when they have embraced capitalist ways with such fervour in order to maintain whatever power they might have? Of course not, but many continue to do so. Supporting the odd social policy here and there does not constitute the definition of a leftist party.

It seems to me Kai's point about government spending is quite simple: if, as a government, you have accumulated a considerable amount of money that you've received by taxing your citizens, you then have a moral responsibility to use that money wisely in the interest of all Canadians, who gave you, let's not forget, the money in the first place - either through established institutions respected by Canadians in general or social or economic initiated projects that Canadians can embrace with a consensus - not just the ones you like.

This is one of the fundamental problems so many Canadians see as a issue with the Harperites. They take money away from projects they don't like and only spend money on projects they like - Kai cites airplanes and jails - not on projects, except incidentally, that might benefit all Canadians. It takes a fair bit of absurd logical twisting to argue that we need more jails and tougher sentencing given the statistics on crime and soon to be obsolete planes (unless we're planning a few more wars that I haven't heard about), but we do know why the argument is made. It serves the Harperites' base. In fact, we've known for quite some time - since the pattern is so obvious - all policy decisions made by the Harper regime are grounded in politics first and only, on occasion - perhaps by happenstance - for Canadians in general. We seldom if at all see goodwill towards all Canadians from the Harperites. When they speak of "what Canadians asked us to do," for example, that's Harperite speak for "what our base asked us to do." This is not an insignificant distinction - one that has alienated the majority of Canadians who actually care about the direction in which their country now seems to be heading under such an authoritarian regime.

Kai is not remotely alone in his perspective on this issue or on the soul-sucking power and profit motives driving Big Media news organization (I can think of only two journalists in Canada who speak truth to power, though several come to mind who think they do so because they've been critical here and there of the Harperites) and the ineffectual actions of political parties, who by nature consistently seek self-preservation as an entity first and abuse their grass roots membership all too often.

What Kai says in this essay merely expresses - but with eloquent detail, meaningful passion, and sophisticated rhetoric - what countless Canadians have been thinking all along. This is why Kai joins the little page in the slow but eventual march towards the walls of Harperland.

First we'll take Manhattan.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Question of Sovereignty - a film by Kevin P. Miller

The film is highly manipulative, seeking our emotional identification through the victim testimonials, for example, and less than nuanced in its methods of weaving privacy legislation issues, free trade, and sovereignty issues together. But it has a point to make, as all real documentaries do, and that point is significant in 2011 in that we are witnessing the "selling" of Canada again and again during the reign of the Harperites. If you're not absolutely appalled, you're not paying attention.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not Everyone Has Immigrated to Harperland

Having difficulty celebrating Canada Day fully knowing only too well how the Harper Regime has embarrassed us around the world - most significantly on global warming and climate change and, most recently, on a reasonable effort to warn the world's potential users about the dangers of asbestos.

Learning today about creeping militarism now built prominently into immigration ceremonies is also very disturbing. Will there be a backlash against the military itself in addition to the Harperites, or will this political policy just sail on by as every other questionable policy change the Harperites make would seem to do? One or two days in the news and then that's it. We'll just wave at it as it recedes into custom.

And has the media - critical as they frequently are of the Harper government - or our exposure to it really changed anything? We read about this absurd issue, we watch the story on that ridiculous decision, and then slip resignedly right back into our daily lives. That's it. More comfortable to just hang out with friends and family. "What can we do about it anyway?" my partner keeps asking. And I keep saying, "start a revolution," and my partner says, "yeah, right, but no one would come. It would be like an early Woody Allen movie."

One could succumb to despondency if not outright despair quite easily on Canada Day were it not for the knowledge that nevertheless there are still many out there who have not yet and may never move into central Harperland but choose instead to remain in the hinterland of Canada practicing genuine equality, justice for all not just some, and reverence for the biosphere and planet earth. This is the place to be on Canada Day even if we can't get the revolution going. Yet!