The narrow cast of the narrowcast

I've been trying to formulate a partial response to the "women and politics" question that's been all over the blogosphere these days. Where are the women opinion writers in the MSM (mainstream media)? Where are the women political bloggers? I think we've dispatched the second question; they're here, and they've been here for a while. I'm going to talk here about the narrow spectrum of political discourse that's available in the American MSM, and I'm going to talk about it as if the blogosphere is the same. They're not the same, but even though blogs are more diverse in certain ways, they reflect the same narrow spectrum partly because of money; the average income of people who read and write blogs is just a hell of a lot higher than the average American.

Along with the "quota of one" mentality, there's the fact that many intelligent and politically aware women and people of color are just too far to the left for the narrow MSM spectrum. What are the options for marginalized groups in this society? Either despair, or try to imagine a kind of society that's totally different from what we're living with now. Neither attitude is likely to get you published in the MSM. The world we live in now is considered the only reasonable answer by the white-upper-class-male-dominated discourse, whether it's center-left, center-right or libertarian. If you divert from it even a little, you are by definition unreasonable. Reason equals capitalism; or rather, reason equals our current brand of capitalism. The orthodoxy is that capitalism is not only inevitable, but the only economic system appropriate for a democracy. Because capitalism is about freedom, see?

Yeah. It's about the freedom of corporations to use governments to their own ends. It's about the freedom of corporations to manipulate the news, and, possibly, the vote. It's about the freedom of corporations to pay starvation wages all over the globe and force countries like the US into a race to the bottom. It's about the freedom of corporations like Halliburton to steal our tax dollars. It's about the freedom of corporations like Shell to hire thugs to murder activists. It's about the freedom of corporations like Bechtel to declare a monopoly on collecting rainwater in Bolivia.

And it's about my freedom to buy stuff.

It's not about my freedom to choose to breathe clean air or drink clean water. It's not about my freedom of speech. It's not about my freedom to have a public sphere free from buying and selling in which civic discourse can flourish. It's not about my freedom to organize a labor union.

The MSM discourse is Candidean: this is the best of all possible worlds, because it is the one we have, and anyway, anyone who proposes any changes to capitalism is unreasonable. A lot of journalists have taken Economics 101, or the equivalent, and so what they know about economics is this oversimplified version of classical liberal economic theory. When Adam Smith formulated the invisible hand, he was dealing with a completely different society; what we have now is nothing like early modern capitalism. Yet everyone seems to have accepted the dogma that markets necessarily work to create the best possible society. It's circular reasoning: free markets create the best possible world, thus, this is the best possible world. Never mind that we don't actually have free markets. Any complaints you may have about this society are out of the bounds of reasonable discourse -- by definition. With the fall of the Soviet Union, there's no longer any even symbolic space of critique of capitalism. So we've accepted not only the idea that capitalism is inevitable and inevitably universally victorious, but the picture of "human nature" that this gives: the central rule of human nature is maximizing personal benefit. Hence the inability of Republicans to comprehend how senior citizens could still be opposed to doing away with social security when they're being promised that their own benefits won't be tampered with. Hence the rejection of anything that questions the idea of "human nature."

It almost seems as if, ever since we redefined corporations as persons, we've actually redefined our notion of human nature to model it on the behavior of corporations. I don't actually know very much about this, so readers, please correct me if I'm wrong, but according to the film The Corporation, corporations are actually required by law to maximize short-term gain for shareholders. So we require the behavior of corporations to be as much against the general public interest as possible, and then we claim that this is how humans behave by nature, so any efforts at organized social change are contrary to human nature -- hence lacking reason.

What's the answer? I don't know. But now that this debate has brought new attention to women political bloggers, we might consider using the slightly bigger platform to develop an alternative vision that's not simply reactive -- a picture of the world we would like to inhabit.

And then there's the other option: despair. This is just to reiterate something that Feel Tank Chicago has already said. But maybe depression, at least sometimes, is a form of resistance to the view of human nature that says it's all about maximizing personal benefit.


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