Thursday, March 7, 2019
Me and Noam
In these dark political times (I refer to the post Stone Age era, but possibly should include it as well, accounts of anthropologists vary), I find myself increasingly frustrated with Journalism. The problem, as I see it, is that when one is highly motivated to consider the situation normal and reasonable, one loses the ability to report accurately on, well, anything. Forget the President even, if the Senate Majority Leader is an entirely morally depraved human being who has stripped his soul of all human empathy, but one has to talk about him like he is a serious person with positive, consistent motivations, one can no longer talk normally. Being a journalist is like if someone said you can say whatever you want, but you can't use nouns. The contortions become so intense that your entire sense of what's possible has to narrow to a particularly minute framework. Do it over the course of many decades and you will invent a new, cryptic language with every missing noun carefully papered over until you can hardly see the loss anymore.
And so when the people come on the radio and tell me things I get a little put out. I once heard Noam Chomsky say (and I paraphrase wildly here) "NPR should pay me for all the stress and agony they put me through with their reporting." This is much how I feel as I listen in, keen to learn more about my world, while "newspeople" constantly evade what they know, or should know, is true. The difference often with modern political comedians is merely that they contextualize political news, which is refreshing and straightforward (and funny), whereas the newspapers are often carefully decontextualizing. They evade obvious conclusions that scream to be spoken, either because years of practice have inured them to not seeing it, or, occasionally in these especially egregious times, they are aware that speaking the truth is in contradiction with a false in itself perception of political neutrality. Effectively they lie by omission in order to protect the pretense of being neutral.
This gets me and Noam Chomsky really upset.
I am not a journalist. I work at a library. Libraries are a kind of institution, a noble one, much like Journalism. We do not lose the thread of what makes us great as easily as Journalism does. This is largely due to our lack of influence and lifesavingly minimal Capitalist exposure. But I do recognize some of the same pitfalls. Over the past decade I have seen a steady rise in the protection and support of the Institution of the library at the expense of the libraries themselves. Our last two directors did not come out of the library world and were not librarians. Our current director came out of marketing. High level positions consistently go to ambitious people who never shake the boat, have no vision, but look competent. While my library is still excellent in many ways, starting with the significant advantage of just being a library, I do find we increasingly do things for the image it creates of us. When I started in my library we existed in a special status that was in many ways separate from the government entity that pays for us. Now we grow more deeply entwined with it, its politics, and its title-wave of bullshit rhetoric.
At the level of the library I work at I still have my share of under the radar autonomy. If someone comes to the front desk to ask why the men's bathroom smells like pee all the time I am happy to tell them it's because we outsourced the cleaning of our buildings to a private company under mysterious circumstances. If they are curious as to why we don't have Chrome on our Internet computers I tell them that the head of Automation Services is not very clear on what he's doing and has been in a state of panic about it for 15 years. If those same people ask those questions of a branch manager they will get very different, much more mollifying answers. A person could say that between myself and the manager we present two different opinions. That person would be a journalist.