Friday, April 07, 2006

Insular thinking

I must confess a certain degree of irritation at the bluster with which the ignorant will try to put forward half baked ideas as though they were gospel truth. The media are often guilty of this: often, when I have been close to a subject that was being reported in the press or on television, I have heard statements that were misleading, partial or just plain wrong. As a result I have learned to read or listen to even our more distinguished commentators with one ear cocked for misrepresentation and inaccuracy.

The pity of it is that on quite a few issues the media have helped to create "conventional wisdom" that is simply wrong. For example, on politicalbetting.com- a excellent website which I read fairly avidly- I see posters regurgitating statements that are completely wrong. These errors are not just of opinion, but of fact. For example, Conservatives, determined to prove that the Euro is a failure, try to blame wholly unrelated problems in the European Union entirely on the European Central Bank. I appreciate that monetary policy is complicated, but displaying simple ignorance of the whole basis of how the ECB actually works I rather think disbars one from pontificating on the subject.

I also find that so many Brits like to think in stereotypes: the complicated reasons for the recent French strikes are distilled into "The French are lazy". Other national caricatures, like "The Germans are arrogant", have become part of the intellectual furniture of far to many people in the UK. Usually ignorant of either the place or its language, British visitors often seem to travel round continental Europe in a haze of prejudice. I am glad to see Sir Geoff Hurst advertising the German tourist board- perhaps it will remind people that, whatever our history, Germans are by and large very much our friends (and so, by the way are the French, Italians and most Europeans) - and the generation that now chants "two world wars and one world cup" mostly can not remember any of those events. Those that were alive through the wars were determined not to build up the barriers that led to war in the first place. If we persist in our ignorance of our neighbours and continue to denigrate them and their culture then we too will have become a stereotype, and it is not an attractive one. The boorish, drunken, violent "hooligan"- a word that has developed some surprising currency even amongst those countries that we do not choose to mock.

Stupidity is simple, the world is complicated- those commentators and politicians whose casual judgments shape opinion may wish to reflect on this- for with the advent of new technology, including the blogosphere, they may find their days become numbered.

3 comments:

Joe Otten said...

You are correct of course Cicero. The corrollary is that opinion forming is difficult. That voting on the basis of a sober judgement of the issues is beyond most people, if not all of us.

How is democracy to survive an age when only the technocrats are competent? Or are we doomed to guessing the values and priorities of politicians, according to what subjects they talk about most, and trusting them according to how much they smile and how well they are photographed?

James said...

A very interesting piece, and especially so in light of the recent award to a female Iraqi blogger writing from Baghdad.

I think blogging presents this challenge to Newspapers: Why bother read media columnists who have never visited the Middle East, let alone Iraq, when you can read the well constructed views of someone in the centre of it all?

I personally hope that blogging does bring about the end of low quality commentary in Newspapers; though it should pose less of a threat to the well informed and widely experienced, the likes of Robert Fisk for example.

Just one fly in the ointment: Suppose the people don't read papers so much to be informed, as to have their own opinions validated by someone else?
In which case the badly read and untravelled columnist who nevertheless has their finger on the public pulse has a long future yet.

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