There’s nothing worse than ignorant and opinionated. You know the type: Most mainstream newspapers have at least one; they dominate radio talk shows and certain TV “news” networks. Loud supporters of the existing economic system who deny inequality is a problem or even claim it doesn’t exist. Business leaders/columnists/celebrities/media hacks and the “think tanks” they come from who also deny climate change is a problem or even claim it doesn’t exist. Apostles of greed who claim to be “conservative”, defend chemical-laden, genetics-manipulating industrial food production, ignore all the ways corporations poison our environment, ridicule anyone who points out there must be some limit to the exploitation of the earth’s resources, promote the use of private automobiles, hobble public transportation (and every other public good) by promoting tax cuts, love pipelines and usually claim to speak on behalf of the “middle class” or even the “little guy.” How should we respond to these defenders of the status quo who frequently pretend to rail against a mythical left-wing media agenda? Argue with them? Quietly loathe them? Ridicule them? Ignore them? I’d like to make the case for understanding and pity as the most appropriate reactions. First, to understand them we must examine the role they play, the first step of which is to recognize whose interests they represent, which is another way of asking: Who would pay them to say/write the things they do? The answer is, of course, the people who profit most from pipelines, tax cuts, unlimited growth, a private automobile dominated landscape, industrial food production, chemicals poisoning the environment, pipelines, global warming and an acceptance of income inequality. But why would the billionaires and mere multi-millionaires whose fortunes depend on the continued flow of profits from oil, agribusiness, automobiles, chemical, real estate, media and capitalism in general think it worth their while to handsomely reward thousands of cheerleaders who endlessly repeat a few shallow ideas on the sidelines of capitalism? Because it is necessary. The wealthy 0.01% minority who rule over the 90% majority understands that the future of their system depends on convincing or paying off 9.99% of the population who become the opinion leaders, the managers, the foremen, the supervisors, the small businessmen and the other shock troops of the system. The rich are like the pathetic men who frequent red-light districts — they must pay for it — and the right wing columnists/celebrities/media hacks/researchers do it for money, often working in the political equivalent of brothels, called think tanks. The choices offered young writers, journalists and academics who aspire to earn a decent living at their craft are not great today. There are many more opportunities to voice opinions supporting the system than to criticize it. If you do get a job in a shrinking newsroom or social science department the best way to get ahead is always to support the existing power structure, not oppose it. Arguing in favour of the rich and powerful certainly pays better. And in a time when the Left seldom confronts capitalism, confining its criticisms to tinkering around the edges, rather than offering a vision of an alternative system, should it be a surprise that the easiest route to intellectual success is selling out to the highest bidder? Media whores are not that much different than the women and a few men who earn a living from selling their bodies. (And I do apologize to every sex-trade worker who is offended by the comparison to Rush Limbaugh.) They too are just trying to survive; they are typically people who don’t have many alternatives; they are often victims of abuse by a system that penalizes intellectual non-conformity (amazing the number of conservative pundits who claim a left-wing background); the ones who do really well at it typically claim they actually enjoy it. Given the similarities between these two forms prostitution doesn’t it make sense that we respond to both the same way? We don’t hate streetwalkers or harangue them; we mostly pity them because of our understanding that they are products of sexism and other forms of oppression. So too should we pity the sycophants of the rich and powerful because we understand they are nothing more than the intellectual prostitutes of an economic system that attempts to buy, sell and profit from everything we do. Gary Engler is a long-time Vancouver journalist/writer who is co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite (www.newcommuneist.com).
May 21, 2014