Left-liberals remind me of a conversation between a man and a servant in a movie I no longer recall very well. The man tells his servant that he doesn’t know why “dog” is a cuss word. The man says he loves dogs, that dogs are the most lovable animals he’s ever known—and that he’d be honored if someone calls him a “dog”. The servant calls him just that, and gets slapped hard across his face. Left-liberals are like this man. Left-liberals don’t know elementary social science. But this is not the only reason why they don’t see themselves as cheap, little rascals. They are not introspective enough. So they are not able to see how their conscious beliefs clash with their assumptions.
Now how do their beliefs clash with their assumptions?
A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld death penalty for the four convicts in the Delhi rape case. Liberals condescendingly call this girl “Nirbhaya”. Even her mother thinks there is something wrong with this. It’s a damning indictment of Indian journalism that even today, virtually all Indian journalists believe rape is not about sex. Every self-aware man knows this is nonsense. Every decent researcher who professionally handles literature on gender knows this is nonsense. Feminist dogma is not science. Activists, politicians and journalists are not scholars. It is entirely besides the point that many unhappy single women well past their prime think rape is about power. Facts lie flatly against this. All credible scholars think this is nonsense. But lame Indian journalists are convinced that rape is about power and abuse. Why does this happen? The really smart kids don’t become journalists. So, it’s not surprising you see all the shabbiness of third world self-styled intellectuals in its fully glory in Indian journalists. But why are they so bent on believing that rape is about power? There are many reasons, but this is one reason: They assume if rape has roots in male sexual desire, rape is excusable.
A few weeks ago, a left-liberal smarty named and shamed an Indian guy who lives in Sharjah. For calling journalist Rana Ayyub a “bitch” and a “slut”, the HR department summoned him and fired him. Then the UAE government deported him, ostensibly for insulting Islam. A company executive also called Rana Ayyub and apologized for the “trauma” she went through. On the social media, there was a huge outpouring of admiration for her and the UAE government. The UAE government, it seems, is remarkably liberal and feminist. But there was no sympathy for the guy, who is the real victim in this story. I don’t think it has occurred to them that it’s possible the UAE government persecuted him because they are as conservative as left-liberals. A true liberal won’t care about what people call her on the internet.
I usually don’t do this, but because this blog post of a Facebook friend touches many problems I’ve been thinking about for very long, here are my comments. His prose is in blue font, in block quotes:
Why is victimhood the new cool?
Warning : This post does not present an argument that there are no victims and aggressors. Also, it does not intend to propose that people who portray themselves as victims, in whatever context, most often are not. The purpose is to explore the logic behind the growing popularity of victimhood narratives across the political spectrum. Other readings that raise such insinuations or arbitrary deconstructions suiting various political positions are either malevolent or uninformed.
To begin with, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the word, “victimhood”. I am not against people pointing out they’re victims if that’s the case. If you’re being wronged, it’d be dishonest not to draw attention to it because you fear people would think you’re claiming victimhood. Yesterday, I read an economist’s Facebook update that progressive academics who have so much compassion for the poor hate it when academics in lower-ranked universities outcompete them. I’ve been reading this economist for a while. I know that’s a comment he’d regret making. But why? If you think that’s the truth—And I believe that’s the truth—why don’t you bring it to the table for discussion? I think less of people who’re afraid of saying the truth because they fear that’d sound like complaining. The reason, I suspect, is that progressive intellectuals who resent you for being better than them will resent you even more if you point out they are resentful. But self-interest is not morality. We’re shutting off important information by thinking certain discussions are taboo, just because that’d sound like complaining. Having said that, I think the culture of victimhood is poisoning modern culture. Most people love to bask in their own victimhood even if there is no truth to it. It’s obviously wrong to make the most out of it you’re being victimized in some way. Our response should be proportional.
Think about it, why does a media showman like Arnab Goswami known for aggression, machismo and complete disregard for journalistic ethics, describe his newly found media as a defensive venture against the oppressive liberal elite?
I don’t watch TV, and as a rule, I don’t watch Arnab’s show. I am not really in a position to form an opinion. I don’t find his “over-the-top” style journalism aesthetically pleasing, but that’s an aesthetic judgment and not a moral judgment. But I believe journalism should be more “in-the-face” because if you are not blunt, people won’t understand you. It’s an important lesson of educational psychology that if you don’t tell people exactly what you think, they probably won’t understand you.
Unlike left-liberal journalists, I genuinely loathe nationalism and Hindu fundamentalism. Most of them go to temple, and will be offended if I tell them Indians are no good at journalism—or anything for that matter. So it’s obvious to me that liberal journalists don’t hate Arnab because he’s a nationalist or a Hindu fundamentalist. They hate Arnab because 1) He’s outcompeted them. That takes some talent. Liberal journalists are just being territorial. 2) He’s a successful showman, and resentful people usually hate successful showmen. That’s cheap. So I think he’s usually hated for his virtues, and not for his vices.
Arnab is unprincipled, and he says vile things. But his critics are, if anything, worse. Again, our response should be proportional. People make such judgments because they don’t take morality very seriously. If you are truly principled, you won’t miss that almost everybody is unprincipled. So you will find statements like “Mr. X is unprincipled” insinuating he’s an exception ridiculous. I can’t think of a single Indian journalist who is principled. I can’t think of a single Indian journalist who is well-read. There is nothing strange about what I’m saying here. No Indian journalist is comparable to the best western journalists. This is not an arbitrary judgment. Name a single Indian journalist whose body of output is even comparable to that of the body of output the best western journalists. That will take some doing. I think they are just not introspective enough. The standards are so low that it’s hard to go lower.
Nevertheless, disgruntled outsiders do some good. The media was unusually silent on Sunanda Tharoor’s death. They were not really silent, but they were not very interested in it either. Left-liberals have a beautiful narrative on Arnab’s and his viewers’ fascination with Tharoor, which goes almost like Ludwig Von Mises’ observations on detective novels:
Many historians, sociologists and psychologists have tried to explain the popularity of this strange genre. The most profound of these investigations is that of Professor W. O. Aydelotte. Professor Aydelotte is right in asserting that the historical value of the detective stories is that they describe daydreams and thus shed light on the people who read them. He is no less right in suggesting that the reader identifies himself with the detective and in very general terms makes the detective an extension of his ego.
Now this reader is the frustrated man who did not attain the position which his ambition impelled him to aim at. As we said already, he is prepared to console himself by blaming the injustice of the capitalist system. He failed because he is honest and law-abiding. His luckier competitors succeeded on account of their improbity; they resorted to foul tricks which he, conscientious and stainless as he is, would never have thought of. If people only knew how crooked these arrogant upstarts are!
Unfortunately their crimes remained hidden and they enjoy an undeserved reputation. But the day of judgment will come. He himself will unmask them and disclose their misdeeds. The typical course of events in a detective story is this: A man whom all people consider as respectable and incapable of any shabby action has committed an abominable crime. Nobody suspects him. But the smart sleuth cannot be fooled. He knows everything about such sanctimonious hypocrites. He assembles all the evidence to convict the culprit. Thanks to him, the good cause finally triumphs.
The unmasking of the crook who passes himself off as a respectable citizen was, with a latent anti-bourgeois tendency, a topic often treated also at a higher literary level, e.g., by Ibsen in The Pillars of Society. The detective story debases the plot and introduces into it the cheap character of the self-righteous sleuth who takes delight in humiliating a man whom all people considered as an impeccable citizen. The detective’s motive is a subconscious hatred of successful “bourgeois.” His counterparts are the inspectors of the government’s police force. They are too dull and too prepossessed to solve the riddle. It is sometimes even implied that they are unwittingly biased in favor of the culprit because his social position strongly impresses them. The detective surmounts the obstacles which their sluggishness puts into his way. His triumph is a defeat of the authorities of the bourgeois state who have appointed such police officers.
This is why the detective story is popular with people who suffer from frustrated ambition. (There are, of course, also other readers of detective stories.) They dream day and night of how to wreak their vengeance upon successful competitors. They dream of the moment when their rival, “handcuffs around his wrist, is led away by the police.” This satisfaction is vicariously given to them by the climax of the story in which they identify themselves with the detective and the trapped murderer with the rival who superseded them.
I am sure Arnab’s and his Hindu fundamentalist followers’ resentment has a lot to do with this. The problem with this narrative is that this perfectly applies to cases in which we actually saw a media witch hunt, like the “Aarushi Talwar” murder case and Nithari killings. These were murder cases in which class warfare had some really bad effects, and many left-liberal journalists cheerfully went along. This isn’t true of Sunanda Tharoor’s death.
Think about this: A powerful politician’s wife makes serious allegations against him. She claims she had to pay the price for his corrupt dealings. Tharoor’s servant claims she told him “You’re finished”. She dies the next day. There are many injury marks on her body. Tharoor claims she was seriously ill, but the doctors in the hospital where she was admitted denies this. An AIIMs doctor claims he was pressurized to say it was a natural death. The police finds she was poisoned, but it is not clear whether someone poisoned her. Tharoor’s servant who has been quite frank about all this is still under his employment. It seems Tharoor loves him a lot. My point is not Tharoor murdered her, or that he should be sent to jail before it’s proven. People shouldn’t be punished without clear evidence. I’ve a more ambivalent attitude toward domestic violence and adultery. But if liberal journalists were honest, they would have wanted Tharoor to be punished for domestic violence, something which he admits. But we see nothing of this sort. Tharoor wins the elections again. Whenever the media probes him, Tharoor refuses to answer questions, blaming TRPs, unprincipled journalism and showmanship—-just as many liberal journalists do.
I think Arnab is quite right in saying the liberal media is oppressive. Left-liberals are overrepresented in the media, and they’re quite hostile to anybody who disagrees. I don’t think new channels like “The Republic TV” are a bad thing. The more diversity we have in TV channels, the better. The problem I see with this is that both Arnab and liberal journalists associate the left-liberal position with the elite. Empirical evidence doesn’t support this. The economic beliefs of the left are idiotic, just as the cultural positions of the right are idiotic. Roughly speaking, people who are stupid and poor are more likely to agree with the economic beliefs of the left and the cultural beliefs of the right. So, what’s happening? As Bryan Caplan points out:
I’ve been arguing for several years that more educated people have more sensible views about economics than less educated people. (No need to wait for my book; see here and here). Arnold is not the first to demur. Many economists, especially libertarian economists, are incredulous:
“Look at the universities, Bryan. The professors are a bunch of Marxists!”
Yes, I’ve noticed. The problem with this objection is that it suffers from severe selection bias. In the data, highly educated people are not especially leftist. What happens, rather, is that highly educated leftists stick around campus, and the rest move on to “the real world.” My claim isn’t that all Ph.D.s have sensible views, but that, averaging over the whole population, Ph.D.s have more sensible views.
“But Bryan, I know lots of highly educated people in ‘the real world’ with idiotic beliefs about economics.”
Reply: I know lots too. Nevertheless, the data shows that the economic beliefs of less educated people are, on average, even worse. Once again, there’s selection bias: If you talk about economics almost exclusively with highly educated people, most of the economically illiterate statements you hear will be uttered by highly educated people.
The problem with the elitism of left-liberals is that it is not based on facts and reason. It is rooted in envy, fear and tribalism. They look down on popular culture. They claim to look down on the newly rich. They claim to look down on anybody who is better than them. They look down on anything which they don’t understand.
Left-liberals are a menace. But honest opponents of the left should be more elitist, not less. Most people are idiots who believe lots of nonsense. You can’t fight nonsense by pandering to idiots, or by pitting idiots against the half-brained. Most beliefs of left-liberals are in conflict with the best evidence that we have. Why would you pit the dull masses against liberal journalists, when the best intellectuals disagree with the left-liberal position? Look at the facts. Recognize that truth is a minority position. You’ll see that both left and right are wrong in a lot of things. You’ll see that no Indian journalist knows elementary social science. Think less of them.
I’d blame liberal journalists for not being truly secular, for not being truly cosmopolitan. Liberal journalists are evil, not because they hate nationalism, but because they don’t truly hate nationalism. Liberal journalists are evil, not because they hate Hindu fundamentalists, but because they use secularism as a weapon.
Why does an introduction written by Arundhati Roy to Ambedkar’s Anihilation of Caste, attract extreme wrath from certain Dalit intellectuals and activists. This campaign which was objectively more visible in the social media circles, was projected as a tirade against oppression by the so-called Savarna elite, way more than a grass root level resistance against caste motivated physical attacks?
I really think these intellectuals and activists should get a life. It’s obvious that they are not really pained by violence. That’s why these games of dominance matters more to them than the truth. That’s why they are so eager mark the boundaries and guard their territory. It’s obvious that this has nothing to do with justice or fairness. Somebody leaked a mail in which Ananya Vajpeyi, another “scholar” attempted to ban Arundhati Roy’s essay. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to come out of half-brained, third-world left-liberal intellectuals. They don’t care about Dalits, just as feminists don’t care about women. Intellectuals, activists and journalists feel more pain when someone tries to outcompete them than when they see true violence.
I think we should understand differences. It is a very interesting question why Dalits are at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid. I’ve no doubt that Dalits have lower IQs, and this partly explains their failure. It is also plausible to me that in a poor society where people’s basic needs are not met, it would take some time for people at the bottom of the pyramid to escape their social milieu. Politico-economic systems of the past certainly have some effect on this, but I doubt whether anything much can be done about this other than allowing people to trade freely. The society was very unfair in the past, and still is. But this is no good reason to oppose fairness here and now. I won’t be surprised if people’s IQs and body weight improves when the Indian society becomes more prosperous. I have my doubts, but they claim South Koreans have become taller. Obviously, we need more capitalism. Parenting doesn’t seem to have much of an effect in the developed world where twin adoption studies are being done. But, I’ll be surprised if better parenting and prosperity won’t change things in India where the basic needs of many children aren’t really met.
We must ask ourselves a question. Has the world suddenly gone so bad and horrible, that narratives from all kind of political positions are centered around how bad they are treated? The left, and quite unsurprisingly so, maintains that the people from working class are the victims of the cruel machinations of the global financial capital and imperialist state policies dictated by an elite political class. The new left, or the more identitarian version that sprung from 1960’s (the self described social justice fighters), describes their politics as a resistance to the oppression by the hetero-patriarchal, white (or Brahminical in India) hegemony that is all pervasive. And now, the right has learned the trick and describes themselves as fighters against the oppression of the nexus of academic liberal left, biased liberal media and villains from outside their civilizations, hellbent on destroying their glorious traditions. The villains of the right changes religion as we cross national boundaries, even though the liberals of various hues and colours remain a constant. If all of them are to be believed, we are really screwed from all directions! Is that so?
Most poor people are victims of policies which they themselves support.
It’s pretty obvious that the world is improving, and will continue to do so. I have read Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels Of Our Nature”. That’s the sort of thing all Indian journalists and academics should read. But I have known this as far as I can remember. This has been a consensus among the best social scientists for very long—that we live in the best of the times. Now, both left-liberals and right wing intellectuals whine about how badly they are being treated now. They are both wrong. Now it is true that non-leftists are treated badly in the academia and journalism, and reasonable left-liberals like Nicholas Christoff and Ramchandra Guha agree that this is the case. But as Bryan Caplan says, Remember Marxism? Things were much worse for much of the 20th century:
I resist this doom-saying. For starters, there’s a massive historical blind spot. Marxism was the most influential ideology of the 20th century. Its founder had zero appreciation of intellectual freedom. His most influential followers – the Marxist-Leninists – took him literally. When they held power, they murdered and imprisoned even their mildest critics on a massive scale. When they lacked power, they used their intellectual freedom in the “bourgeois democracies” to pave the way for totalitarianism. Moderate Marxists were far less consistent and determined, but few embraced intellectual freedom on principle. Marxism’s dominance looks even greater once you realize that fascism was a Marxist heresy founded by Mussolini, former leader of the radical wing of the Italian Socialist Party. Western civilization is not at the tail end of a century of stable intellectual freedom. So a mighty enemy of intellectual freedom was in our midst for the bulk of the 20th century. Does this mean we shouldn’t worry about the latest challenge? No, but we should keep matters in perspective. The last storm featured a juggernaut of an external threat combined with vocal internal sympathy for the juggernaut. Intellectual freedom weathered the storm nonetheless. A few thousand internet and campus activists are insignificant in comparison. A steely revolutionary like Lenin would have scorned them as soft, impulsive dreamers. This may be little consolation if protestors won’t let you speak, but things could be way worse. And not long ago, they were.
The left and the right are playing the same game. The right has some good reasons, as Nicholas Christoff points out:
I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.
“Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi.
“The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle.
“Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”
To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.
The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.
But the right has their own version of elitism. They hate immigrants because they have low IQs or because they do not assimilate or speak good English. But these are good reasons to allow immigrants to come into the United States and improve their lives. This seems worse than the elitism of the left. But because the left is not significantly more pro-immigration than the right and use that only as a weapon, that’s probably not really true.
It is a truism that emotions connect people to politics than logical propositions. This also explains why the traditional left and classical liberals, who relied more on analytical method, are failing. It is not because Marxist theories are objectively more wrong than that of Donald Trump’s ideas that the former has less appeal. Personally, I do not believe the fact that grand narratives are unable to explain the whole complex world today is any proof that multiple lesser grand narratives are better off than them at any level. But the failure of the grand narratives have given the inward looking, self centered and sympathy seeking narratives more edge. All the political entities are recognizing it.
There is nothing really wrong with grand narratives. I think a certain kind of person doesn’t like grand narratives, and a certain kind of person is likely to be attracted to grand narratives. It is true that some grand narratives are just stupid. Socialism was very emotionally appealing to many people. When they noticed how socialistic societies came down like a pack of cards, they just decided that all grand narratives are equally bad. But the failure of Marxism was foreseeable. The best social scientists —especially economists of his time—didn’t take Marx very seriously. For a long time, economists found socialism so silly that they didn’t even respond to them, with rare exceptions like the French economist Frederic Bastiat who took socialists very seriously even in the early 19th century. Economists like Ludwig Von Mises have predicted as early as 1920 that socialist economies will collapse. Instead of admitting that they were blinded by envy and ignorance, they started assuming that being a grand narrative, socialism was bound to fail. And that free market capitalism will have the same fate.
1. The success of left wing’s victimhood narrative in establishing dominance in the high culture spheres has made the right wing follow suit. It is just a catching up phenomena.
2. The increasing awareness of own rights, isolation and growing ability to express due to social media, in that order is responsible.
3. Though extreme violence might not be on increase, more subtle forms of dominations are on the rise because overt violence is not cool. Therefore, the new victimhood narratives are the result of growth in repressed violence combined with democratization of media.
I agree with a lot of this, but I am not sure the social media and the blogosphere has more of a polarizing effect, though that could be true. The problem I have with these narratives is that people assume that the social media and the blogosphere have democratized the media. I want to go into this in some detail.
Now, it is true that the internet allows everybody with an internet connection to broadcast their views. A few decades ago, it was very expensive for the common man to make himself heard. Advertising is very expensive, and the common man was usually not quoted in the media. It was not easy for the man on the street to write for mainstream publications. The internet changed all this. But to obsess over this, and whine about falling standards is to miss the point.
It is true that the mainstream media has certain standards, and they usually do not publish articles that do not meet those standards. But it is also true that the mainstream media doesn’t publish articles which exceed those standards. The mainstream media doesn’t publish complete idiots. The mainstream media doesn’t publish innovators either, unless they are willing to make certain compromises. Innovators say truths that people don’t like to hear. The mass media caters to masses—and usually refuses to publish such ideas.
Journalists are too dull to see that they spend their lives debasing the ideas of their betters. So democratization did not begin in the internet era, democratization began with the advent of the mass media. The standards were already too low when bloggers and social media pundits took over. Journalists are not experts, and experts usually don’t become journalists. They find other jobs better paying or more satisfying. The best bloggers are more talented than the best journalists because they are usually academics. Think about this. Would science reporters have been able to compete with Einstein if he were a blogger? Perhaps, but probably not. Indian journalists don’t read the best blogs, and they don’t really understand how the world has changed.
In my first job, I was surprised when the office boy gave me a set of newspapers. I curated content for a non-profit website. So, I was supposed to go through newspapers and find columns which are somewhat “capitalistic”. I didn’t know what to make of this. I asked my boss. He said he sent those newspapers just to make my job “easier”. I still didn’t understand what that meant. These people have a way of making your job “easier”. Don’t newspapers publish everything online? It’s possible to find everything a columnist has ever written by clicking on his name, or by visiting his website. It’s easier to find good stuff online. It’s easier to search, bookmark, share, hyperlink, copy and do everything that I want to do. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of this. Retrospectively, I think most people are just more comfortable reading hard copies of newspapers.
I’m not denying there could be good reasons to prefer hard copies. It may well be true that the screen is too harsh on the eyes of most people. I find it easier to read on screen. So, I can’t tell whether they’re lying. But I’m sure technology will make reading more comfortable than it was ever—– if we aren’t already there. Most people are just too lazy and stupid to see this.
I stopped reading newspapers when I was about 12 years old. I haven’t really read a hard copy for about half my life. When I was a reporter, I used to buy newspapers—just out of curiosity—but I could never get myself to read them. I don’t find this surprising. Journalists can’t write, and they are usually duds. I understood why I didn’t do well in school only when I worked as a reporter. Textbooks are so boring. I can’t bring myself to read them.
I mostly read over the internet. I read blogs, books—and occasionally— journal articles. I read a few columnists, but that’s rare. I just discovered National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson. He’s bright, articulate, and very well-read. He’s not the best journalist around, but he’s pretty damn good at what he does. No Indian journalist is in the same league. Even the best ones are so sloppy that you don’t have to do anything extraordinary to tower over them like an Aristotle.
I read blogs, because the best bloggers are some of the greatest minds of our times. I like economist Bryan Caplan’s blog, because Bryan is the most objective thinker I’ve ever read. Robin Hanson’s Overcoming Bias has totally changed the way I look at human nature—and my own novel. I like Marginal Revolution, where Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok blog. Tyler’s work on Asperger has had a huge impact on my work, especially my novel. Marginal Revolution University’s material on India is about the most informed I’ve seen. Tabarrok’s paper on Gurgaon is one of few good papers on urban policy in India I’ve read. I find Scott Alexander’s blog extraordinarily perceptive, though he’s not a professional intellectual. The material on community blogs like Lesswrong are just too good. I wouldn’t have expected a community blog to be exceptional. I learnt a lot of what I know about how the internet and social media is changing the world from Clay Shirky’s and Chris Anderson’s blog, though they no longer “blog”. Razib Khan’s Gene Expression is great stuff too. Scott Sumner’s Money Illusion is great. He is a rare economist who pointed out that the cash shortage during demonetization wasn’t bound to last as long as many thought. The Neurocritic, Neuroskeptic and Dan Ariely’s blog help me think better. Paul Graham’s essays on startups and venture capital are at least as perceptive as that of best academic literature. I also love David Mcraney’s blog, and Alain De Botton’s short essays on The Book of Life. I think anyone who wants to be truly kind and happy should read Alain de Botton’s work.
There are so many good blogs I can’t possible list here, let alone read. The best work of Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson are on their blogs, because blogging allows a certain freedom no other medium does. This is just an indication of how publishing is changing. I haven’t noticed many intellectuals pointing this out. But blogs and essays are just a part of all this. When I was at the cusp of adolescence and adulthood, I found some of the best books in social sciences and nonfiction classics on the Mises Institute and Liberty Fund websites. I found many of the classics of literature on the Penn State University website. I’ve over 13,000 carefully chosen eBooks. It is not even fair to compare my eBook collection with even the best libraries and book stores in Delhi.
It is ridiculous to compare blogging and journalism. My point is simple. I’d expect a good overlap between a list of best bloggers of our times and the best minds of times. I don’t expect such an overlap between a list of the best journalists of our times and the best minds of our times. This is undeniable, even if we agree that journalism and blogging are distinct entities. I don’t care much about whether your work is blogging or journalism. All I care is whether what it’s true or not—and whether it’s well-written.
If anyone thinks journalism is more credible than blogging, he’s not just wrong. He’s completely out of touch with reality. Think. If Albert Einstein were a blogger at the peak of his career, how many science reporters would have been able to compete with him? Perhaps none. This is true in all fields. Hardly any economic journalist is in the same league of that of the best economists. Many of the best economists blog. This is true in political science, psychology, sociology, genetics or any field you can think of. This is plain common sense. Only idiots would disagree with this.
So, why do so many people call the blogosphere “The Republic of Blah”, and young folks “The Tweeting Generation”? To begin with, they don’t know what they’re talking about. But they are not completely making this up. Journalists make three true, but misleading assumptions.
1) Most blogs are bad. This is true, but irrelevant, because that’s true of most journalism too. There are tens of thousands of Indian publications. I’d be surprised if there is even a handful that’s good.
2) The average newspaper or magazine journalist is better than the average blogger. Anyone can start a blog on whim. So, this has to be true. But this is irrelevant. Who cares for the average performer when there are so many good ones? So long as the best bloggers are more credible and more entertaining than the best journalists, this shouldn’t bother anyone. The problem of filtering isn’t that big either. The best mainstream publications are reasonably good, but so are the first few results on Google. Social media is a great filtering too. So if you think the abundance of content is overwhelming, and that it’s hard to find the needle in the haystack, remember: Social media is one of the best filtering tools.
3) Trained, professional journalists are more credible than bloggers. This is again true on average, but plain idiotic if you compare the comparable. To begin with, it is not necessary that professionals are more skilled. It is not necessary that someone who is paid for driving or cooking a better driver or cook. Many of us don’t cook or drive because the opportunity cost is too high. The best thinkers and writers hardly ever want to be journalists, because a journalistic career is not well-paying or satisfying enough.
There isn’t much of an incentive for Paul Krugman to be an economic journalist, because he wouldn’t be paid or valued as much. If professionals are better at everything, sex with prostitutes would have been more enjoyable than anything. Prostitutes are, after all, paid for having sex. They are professionals. But that’s not how it works. That’s why the mate value of prostitutes is about the lowest. It may be true that a lawyer works best when he’s paid, but sex is more enjoyable when you aren’t paying for it. This is not just because prostitutes are ugly. I’d be in seventh heaven if Alia Bhatt sleeps with me. But if I’ve to pay for it, I’d probably feel awful. And that’s not just because I’ve lost my money on a one night stand. The best blogs are so good, partly because they are not paid for it. Journalists don’t understand this, because they are not artists.
Journalists don’t understand what training “actually” means. It is true that “getting off your butt, going out there, interviewing sources, investigating the issue yourself and then writing what you’ve learned” for many years is a form of training. But that’s a skill which most smart people can acquire. To really understand what’s happening, this is usually the least important skill you need. To cover many abstract issues like monetary policy, you don’t need this skill at all. Journalist Henry Hazlitt once told his editor that he’d rather write editorials about the Bretton Woods conference sitting in his office. Anybody can attend a conference. But very few people on earth can write intelligently, beautifully about complex issues.
Everything is not a “story”, as stupid journalists think. The world is complex, and one format and methodology doesn’t fit everything. Journalists are committed to a format which isn’t good for explaining the world. This is why Vox, an innovative media outlet says:
“Our commitment to explaining the news is a commitment to an outcome not a commitment to any particular article format.”
Journalists don’t notice this because they didn’t become journalists because they are passionate about what they write about. Otherwise, they would have noticed this at the beginning of their careers.