There has occurred a basic collapse of intellect on the 24 hour news channels and the Sunday morning talk shows: it’s there for all to see. The guest experts do not ever stray from the beaten path nor do they ever leave their established character portrayals or say anything insightful, original or unexpected. They use the topics, not to inform or provide helpful background that will place the item in a cultural or historical context, but merely as a pretext for self-display. The old idea of the analyst or reporter, who presented a set of events, acts, principles or policies while holding in check his own reaction and his views in abeyance has apparently gone for good. Today, the expert guest is the agent and promoter of one side of an issue, his or her purpose is not to explain the origin of the opinion, the principles involved, its successes or failures in history but simply to wield some bludgeon of his or her preferred personal set of values and view points that is meant to intimidate or confer on them the dominance of superiority and shuts the door on further thought.
This is not only deeply immoral, it is deeply useless. What we need is sound information and a better, wider knowledge. “Where is the knowledge lost in information?” asked a wistful Eliot.
On Sundays there is no knowledge, only noise. Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, we are presented with the same set of stuffed mannequins who week after week say basically the same things in the most untalented, stale and hackneyed language. And in spite of all the hours spent by us — the credulous and expectant listeners – at no time do we hear an actual idea or a single reference to a first rate book on the subject under discussion or an unexpected insight or deft reference to an historical analogy or even a sharply imaged personal impression.
The economist/philosopher Hayek says that dogmatists for democracy always say that discussion is the main way by which people learn. The Sunday talk shows surely prove this to be completely wrong. Hayek denounces the flattery of the mob by saying that discussion “.is not the main process by which people learn.” He adds, “Unless some people know more than the rest and are in a better position to convince the rest, there would be little progress in opinion.”
To listen to discussions in this country is to have clear proof that the bulk of the people is always inert and unthinking. Advances do not come from the dreary mass of the majority mind. It is always the most qualified among the minority who act in new and more thoughtful ways that end by helping the majority to be more intelligent. Hayek says that if the majority directed affairs, as they think they do, the result would be stagnation. He is right, and I would say that the dullness results because the majority thinks in unison and is hostile to anything it does not already know or has not already heard. Let the novel come near, and they bridle with hostile distrust.
Exchanging opinion in America is not about acquainting oneself with unfamiliar views; it’s about a yearning for power and dominance. It is about getting the better of those that don’t agree with you. Discussion in America is designed to humiliate, injure, chastise, ruin, discredit and destroy, not inform.
This is increasingly sinister because the general public knows less and less about anything of real value, and it understands less and less of the subjects and topics worth knowing because knowledge is not the product of an urge to self-assertion, but of hard, incessant work. Instead of knowledge, half-baked reckless opinion, driven by a completely undeserved sense of self importance and an irrepressible desire to be heard whether or not one deserves to be, has taken over.
In America, opinion is the opium of the people. “To be able to sound off is proof that I exist. I blab, therefore I am.”
It is truly a tragedy that such a great a country as ours harbors within it such a profound and ineradicable dislike of intelligence.