Sunday, May 2, 2010

But Seriously ...

I find that without perhaps intending it to, that this has become a theme weekend for me. I wrote the TFP Column "Leaving It To Professionals" last week after becoming increasingly incensed by some of the talking-heads on the cable news channels insisting that only members of their journalism school club should get an opinion on matters of import. I believed then, and I do now, that their spouting on the subject was little more than some intellectual snobs performing an act of mutually satisfactory sexual congress (sorry, but that's as obscure as I could make the reference).

I may not always agree with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Sean Hannity (though far more often than not, I find that I do agree with local WSPD hosts Fred Lefebvre and Brian Wilson); but they appear to do their research on the subjects they choose and therefore have just as much right to spout opinion as many of the other pundits on radio and cable ... and at least as much as media trolls Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.

I followed up yesterday with a post in this blog, "Area of Expertise", where I might have appeared to contradict myself by saying that actors or musicians should probably refrain from expressing opinions about subjects they are untrained on; but I was not. As I said in the piece, everyone has a right to an opinion and to express it. Publicly doing so however, carries an obligation to do some research before expressing oneself. Being given a national stage on television or radio provides them an additional mantle of expertise (real or imagined) that mandates even more of an effort to perform due diligence on the subject they speak on.

Having said both of these things already, it seems as if it's time to wrap it all up in a pretty package and tie it up with a bow. For the most unstable of perches has only two legs, and there is a third that should recommend itself to your consideration. That of course is how serious all of this is and how serious those saying should be taken.

We live in truly interesting times, and many of the decisions being made today will have an impact far into the future. There are hard choices being made as we speak about the role of government in this country, the role being played by corporations and unions in that government, and of the role left to its citizens (or the role they will be allowed to have) in the coming days. These are subjects of serious import and there are many meeting, speaking, and writing on them (many far better than myself). Since most people do not have the time or the interest to research the data on the wide variety of subjects out there, let alone attempt to cohesively analyze it, the work that these pundits do is extremely important. They are not of themselves however, important at all except as a source.

As important as these ideas and their interpretation might be, we need to be careful not to lionize those expressing them. Media personalities are in fact no different than the rest of us. They have their strengths and their weaknesses, and the only thing that might truly set the major ones aside is that they have performed their professions well and promoted themselves with equal alacrity.

In fact there is a distinct danger in creating something more of these personalities than they deserve. Power and influence are dangerous toys to play with, and more than one media figure (or politician) has fallen prey to abuse its temptations. We need to be careful to separate the knowledge that we desperately need from the people supplying it. The last thing that we need is to create a cult of personality around such people.

Even we humble bloggers hold no special place in society. Most do what they do in fact, because of a desire to inform or simply they simply love to do it. One can admire their pluck in taking a stand or skill in expressing it, but they are still a part of the same flawed humanity as the rest of us. Their work should be critically examined and even judged, but no special place should be assigned to those who do it.

So please, take the issues being put forward with all due seriousness. Study the arguments on both sides with equally sober consideration. Expose yourself to all of the punditry on these subjects that you can stand without tearing your hair out. Please however, do not confuse the serious nature and import of the subjects with how serious you take the people who are dealing with them.

It is only through enlightened skepticism that we truly become informed. That holds true for people as well as ideas.

1 comment:

Roland Hansen said...

One of these days, I just may learn to research a subject, issue, etc. before spouting off or forming a one-sided opinion. Then, I can separate myself from the masses of the uninformed or ill-informed.
It is so easy to form a preconceived notion based on nothing more than rumor, innuendo, or the opinion of someone else who may or may not know that of which they speak. Yep, taking the easy way seems to be in vogue. Just like the folk who criticize government but have no idea of the government structure, role, purpose, or limitations (as opposed to those who do so and also understand the workings of government).
Yep, one of these days, I would like to walk among the enlightened. Meanwhile, I'll just sit idly by, shoot from the hip, and be one of the silent majority. - NOT!