“The Boredom of Jabber” Richard Sale

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.


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35 Responses to “The Boredom of Jabber” Richard Sale

  1. Jackie says:

    Sad, but true. Yesterday, I was at a friend’s house, his roommate was talking on his cellphone, speaker on, with a fellow paranoid traveler. Did you know that Jefferson had something to say about Hitler and the government is going to get rid of talk radio? The other nutty conspiricy theories were too numberous to count in that conversation.
    Actually, talk radio would probably be a good first start of things to get gone. Or at least bring back the “fairness doctrine”. Where would that leave FOX?

  2. frank durkee says:

    Amen. True of religious knowledge as much as any other, perhaps more so.
    Fr. Frank Durkee. Episcopalian

  3. Cold War Zoomie says:

    The last few years have driven me bonkers, and basically has burned me out.
    But don’t we go through cycles in this country?
    Yellow Journalism
    Isn’t there a chance we’re hitting rock bottom and maybe a new era of “enlightenment” will come our way?
    Or maybe I’m turning to delusions as a tonic for my pounding brain!

  4. Andy says:

    I agree with much of Mr. Sale’s comments, but I wonder if he isn’t looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. I’m not sure the situation today, as lamentable as it is, is much different from time’s past and is arguably better than some periods of American history.

  5. Kevin Egan says:

    This well-intentioned jeremiad may be besides the point: I don’t think anyone much watches these shows except the other rotating cast of characters. Intelligent people gave up on them long ago; the people on them use them to reinforce the opinions of their small coterie of Washington insiders. The problem lies more in the fact that those insiders have power, make policy; but they’ve always ignored the wise and done what they wanted–read Kennan’s memoirs!
    A truer problem, then, would be the policy process of our elites. But that could be changed by the most powerful agent of social change that exists: militant non-violence. If you really want to insist that our elites *listen* and *think*, start organizing a national boycott by all people of conscience against an issue that matters. I’d start with the American Empire, our national security state, which is unsustainable and which is destroying us from within, just as its predecessors have all previous empires; but your mileage may vary.
    Militant non-violence; millions of conscientious Americans on strike, sitting down on the national mall for as long as it takes. Then you’ll have the change you desire–but not before.

  6. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    I assume that Mr. Sale is referring to Frederick August Hayek and not to Salma Hayek who, undoubtedly, has an exceptional and august body of work herself.
    If true, then alas, I don’t see a whole lot of evidence that President Obama and his economic team subscribe to the work of F.A. Hayek, but here’s hoping our nation, somehow and someway, bypasses the road to serfdom.

  7. anna missed says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s the worst characteristic of the village narrative, and probably, it is it’s underlying purpose – to drown out all alternative scenarios/explanations Politics by other means, as it were.

  8. SRW1 says:

    As someone who has lived in four different countries for significant stretches of time and has always had an interest in international politics I’d like to throw in my two cents to this topic. And I’m sad to say that Richard Sale is entirely correct. What the development of the 24 hour news channels seem to document that also in the news and information business there is an inverse correlation between quality and quantity. The more you get from something, the more the per unit quality declines, until that quality gets so diluted that it becomes a question of whether its still worthwhile to be bothered.
    Unfortunately, the format that in my observation appears to be most resilient against this downhill slide in quality doesn’t seem to exist on US television. What I’m talking about is a format I learned to love as a young man in Western Germany. At a time when there were only two national channels, both public, one of them had a one hour Sunday Morning talk show that always assembled ‘six journalists from five countries’ to discuss national and international politics of the day from an international perspective.
    I don’t think there were many other opportunities in the 1970s for an ordinary citizen to get the occasional opinion of a journalist from the USSR or the GDR. Of course it was a given that these people were not dissidents, otherwise they wouldn’t have been allowed to work in the West, but they couldn’t just spout party line rhetoric either, because that would immediately have been challenged and ridiculed. So they had to try and present their perspective in an intelligent manner. In return, they also had the opportunity to challenge mindless arguments from their western counterparts, and the whole set-up did make for a good program. Unfortunately, the program was discontinued when the guy who had been in charge of it, and was its idiosyncratic face, turned out to have been a careerist during the Nazi regime.
    BBC World still does have a similar weekly program called ‘Dateline London’, which for example regularly offers an opportunity to hear journalists from Islamic countries. Regrettably however, that program was cut back from an hour to thirty minutes about a year and a half or so ago. And BBC World is unfortunately also more and more succumbing to the personality cult around its presenters that seems to be so omnipresent on 24 hours news channels in the US.
    Although it is does also suffer from the personality cult thing, the freshest face in international news channels at the moment actually seems to be the English-speaking version of Aljazeera. I think that should ring alarm bells, at least in CNN International and BBC World.

  9. Steven Mains says:

    I am continually surprised that the commentators don’t challenge the premise of the reporters’ questions even when they are obviously flawed. If the foundation is slanted, the house can’t be made true. The discussion slips from being a comparison of ideas to a regurgitation of the host’s points. I assume guests wouldn’t be invited back again if they didn’t “play along” — evidence of Sale’s point that the appearance is usually a pretext for self-display, I suppose.

  10. Bart says:

    Never have I taken so little pleasure in saying “Amen”.

  11. There are many reasons including loss of advertisers that the MSM are in decline! Their audience is deserting them on a large scale. A business plan that caters to ignorance will not succeed very long [I hope]!

  12. J. says:

    I used to enjoy the Sunday talk shows, when they were of substance. I think that was probably more than ten years ago. Something happened during the Bush administration that warped the process, altered the brains of newsroom producers, and they decided to entertain rather than inform.

  13. Richard Sale,
    I concur and don’t think there will be much, if any, disagreement. In trying to answer the question, “why should this be so?”, one would certainly come up with all sorts of reasons. My two obvious ones are, first, the absence of the study of logic, rhetoric and grammar in the education systems, which leadeth to gullibility in the populace. The other reason is the voracious appetite of, particularly, the electronic media for people to say things. Thus, we have the two necessary elements, gullible people and an endless supply of opinions being mistaken for facts.
    And, for The Reverend Mr. Durkee, The (former) Protestant Episcopal Church would be far better positioned to defend true religious knowledge had it not trashed the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. That’s an opinion, of course.

  14. YT says:

    On average how many TV channels are there in each state in the U.S. of A? What’s the demographics of Americans who really spend a %age of their time a week readin’ a decent book & not some tabloid garbage from the newsstand?
    I’m already dissed with ridiculous answers from my students ’bout Paris, one of the fashion capitals of the world bein’ located in the U.S.
    Seems like these days folks’re not so much afflicted by illiteracy than plain ignorance & a total indifference to what’s happenin’ ’round ’em.
    WWII won by the Japs. F*** me.

  15. rjj says:

    Is this new?
    Is there really much difference between Rush Limbaugh and Walter Cronkite?
    I am vexed by the fact it is necessary to consume 25-40 Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, and/or Twinkies per day in order to meet the minimum daily protein requirements.

  16. Green Zone Cafe says:

    A symptom of terminal decadence. I have made and am making contingency plans for my family – take note: Euro, Canadian, Aussie and NZ real estate is not likely to get cheaper.

  17. Leanderthal says:

    I stopped watching the Sunday talk shows months ago for the very reasons you mention.
    How many times will McCain be a guest this year, and he being the loser of the election?

  18. ExBrit says:

    Too true, alas! When was the last time you saw someone like Andrew Bacevich or Simon Johnson or Glenn Greenwald on the Sunday morning pablum fests? It must be something to do with their booking system. The usual suspects all have agents who are, no doubt, in constant contact with production editors of the Sunday shows, and they seem to just rotate the faces from week to week and from network to network. Just give me more of the same they say! It drives me batty and I’ve given up watching.

  19. frank durkee says:

    WPFIII, Since much of my ulimate world view was formed by the 1928 PB I have some resonance for your position. would profoundly disagree with your conclusion concerning matters since 1979 and earlier [1974 irregular ordination of Women ] in our strange and lively Episcopal branch of Christianity.

  20. My two obvious ones are, first, the absence of the study of logic, rhetoric and grammar in the education systems, which leadeth to gullibility in the populace.

  21. Brett J says:

    True, but I agree with Cold War Zoomie. (Pardon the positivity!) Change is afoot and many are moving away from receiving their news and insight from television of any kind – and onto the leveling platform of the internet.
    The amount of content therein makes it possible to stay tightly within a circle of “I agree with this” sites, but that same quality allows stumbling across insight like that found on Sic Semper: questing for awareness and resonance of truth with few other motivating factors, unlike those whose Goal #1 is supporting the structure that gave them the opportunity to get on the Sunday Morning Chat.

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    “The search for bottom lines has become the rejection of complexity, and the fundamental reality that an idea is only as good as the ability to manage, resource, and implement it.”
    from http://csis.org/publication/us-strategy-afghanistan

  23. Cloned Poster says:

    SRW1, I agree Dateline London was great in the one-hour format, now, it is crumbling with Adam Boulton running the Fox/Murdoch agenda for Sky.

  24. Paul says:

    The sorry state of communication in the United States is the natural consequence of unfettered control of the airwaves that has been granted to corporations.

  25. Fred says:

    Mathew Yglesias has an interesting take, the most important point of which is that it is not the mass audience that views these shows (or blogs) that is important but who in the media watches:
    “But even though the audience, looked at nationally, amounts to rounding error the networks are hugely popular among the tiny number of people who work in professional politics. Just like traders have CNBC and Bloomberg on in their offices, political operatives are constantly tuned in to what’s happening on cable news.”
    As marketing professors liked to them in B school “opinion leaders’. http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/10/the-cable-effect.php
    This is the same reason the Drudge report is constantly read and quoted; though if Toyota had a similar error rate the Yugo would be the best selling car in America.

  26. matt says:

    I stopped watching these shows long ago as well as many other posters here ….I feel that a nice walk in the woods with my wife and kids is time much better spent. or reading a book. or anything else for that matter.

  27. A list of more modern materials to supplement the classical items concerning effective argument and reasoning that I previously posted:

    While browing Amazon to post this list, I also came across How to Lie with Maps, which looks good but I have not read.

  28. Steve says:

    I have not owned a television since 1979. What have I missed?

  29. F5F5F5 says:

    Surprisingly enough, I find myself watching France 24 (in English) quite regularly now. The news is good quality, the comment is fair, and their experts are experts, not just ranting ex-somethings.
    I still watch BBC but it hasn’t changed for the best.

  30. Mark Stuart says:

    You missed ME!…..lol
    France 24? I have to be honest i rarely watched it. Considering the state of the French news media’s finance and the traditional influence the Eysee has had on them, for understandable reasons, i have learned to be very suspicious of any news coming from France alone. Even Le Monde has lost a lot of its quality and stature throughtout the years. I promise to give it an other try though.
    But i remember Christine Ockrent being on Al Jazeera with a panel of journalists from around the world to discuss news media. When the moderator asked her why France 24 decided to air a show on lingerie in the Middle East while the War in Gaza was raging, she replied that she wasn’t aware of that! Furthermore, she kept constantly evading the very direct questions asked by her host. She sounded like a sales rep. on a promotion tour for her news channel when the question were structural and philosophical. But I promise. I’ll commit to watching it for a full month to get a real opinion of the channel.

  31. YT says:

    One nation
    under God
    has turned into
    one nation under the influence
    of one drug
    Television, the drug of the Nation
    Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation
    T.V., it
    satellite links
    our United States of Unconsciousness
    Apathetic therapeutic and extremely addictive
    The methadone metronome pumping out
    150 channels 24 hours a day
    you can flip through all of them
    and still there’s nothing worth watching
    T.V. is the reason why less than 10 per cent of our
    Nation reads books daily
    Why most people think Central America
    means Kansas
    Socialism means unamerican
    and Apartheid is a new headache remedy
    absorbed in it’s world it’s so hard to find us
    It shapes our mind the most
    maybe the mother of our Nation
    should remind us
    that we’re sitting too close to…
    T.V. is
    the stomping ground for political candidates
    Where bears in the woods
    are chased by Grecian Formula’d
    bald eagles
    T.V. is mechanized politic’s
    remote control over the masses
    co-sponsored by environmentally safe gases
    watch for the PBS special
    It’s the perpetuation of the two party system
    where image takes precedence over wisdom
    Where sound bite politics are served to
    the fast food culture
    Where straight teeth in your mouth
    are more important than the words
    that come out of it
    Race baiting is the way to get selected
    Willie Horton or
    Will he not get elected on…
    T.V., is it the reflector or the director ?
    Does it imitate us
    or do we imitate it
    because a child watches 1500 murders before he’s
    twelve years old and we wonder why we’ve created
    a Jason generation that learns to laugh
    rather than to abhor the horror
    T.V. is the place where
    armchair generals and quarterbacks can
    experience first hand
    the excitement of video warfare
    as the theme song is sung in the background
    Sugar sweet sitcoms
    that leave us with a bad actor taste while
    pop stars metamorphosize into soda pop stars
    You saw the video
    You heard the soundtrack
    Well now go buy the soft drink
    Well, the only cola that I support
    would be a union C.O.L.A.(Cost Of Living Allowance)
    On television
    Back again, “New and improved”
    We return to our irregularly programmed schedule
    hidden cleverly between heavy breasted
    beer and car commercials
    CNN, ESPN, ABC, TNT, but mostly B.S.
    Where oxymoronic language like
    “virtually spotless”, “fresh frozen”
    “light yet filling” and “military intelligence”
    have become standard
    T.V. is the place where phrases are redefined
    like “recession” to “necessary downturn”
    “Crude oil” on a beach to “mousse”
    “Civilian death” to “collateral damages”
    and being killed by your own Army
    is now called “friendly fire”
    T.V. is the place where the pursuit
    of happiness has become the pursuit of
    Where toothpaste and cars have become
    sex objects
    Where imagination is sucked out of children
    by a cathode ray nipple
    T.V. is the only wet nurse
    that would create a cripple
    Television, by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (from back in ’91)

  32. MRW. says:

    In other words, discourse has become like Dick Cheney’s idea of what America’s foreign policy should be: dominance.
    Gore Vidal said it best recently: Does anyone care what Americans think? They’re the worst-educated people in the First World. They don’t have any thoughts, they have emotional responses, which good advertisers know how to provoke.” From The London Times: http://tr.im/BMZn
    In a recent clip about doctors in Massachusetts putting the smartest kid/person in the USA, Michael Kearney, under an MRI to watch his brain, the doctors made the remark that when Kearney used his frontal lobe, his off-the-charts IQ came into play; however, when he was asked about emotional reactions to certain stimuli, the MRI showed that he used the amygdala (medium temporal lobe) and his responses were standard for his age: teenage emotional reactions, and nothing intelligent about them. The amygdala is often called the limbic brain, some say Lizard Brain, which is the mental watering hole for the majority of Americans. Certainly the spate of recent reactions to health care reform.

  33. Mark Stuart says:

    I can appreciate your rant about … all that. But i think i’ll stick to my anti-French one on the other post. It felt sooo much better!
    Gore Vidal ? I like to read his novel but here is an other American disguised one day in a trench coat and a cigarette dangling from his beak. Bronzed skin, sun glasses, designer clothes and still a cigarette dangling from his mouth, the other!
    I love those Americans who enjoy criticizing the US and loooove Europe soooo much, but always come back to die on our shores! Gore Vidal is no exception. He used to spend a lot of time in Europe, France and Italy mainly, giving interviews to whomever wanted to hear how highly Americans themselves thought about their own country. Until his boyfriend died, he sold his italian Villa to move back to LA in 2003!
    What Richard Sale is describing in his article is really not specific to America. It’s specific to any society, large or small, which is living to the drum beat of the entertainment industry. Thanks to greatly improved economic conditions. In these societies, people’s lives have become boring. That’s why their talk has become boring. In their world, realities don’t matter anymore. Cheney said himself once: “deficits don’t matter!” The same intellectual deplorable conditions can be observed from Paris to London, from Vienna to Mumbai, from Moscow to Johannesburg.
    But to many other people on this planet: realities do matter!

  34. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I love those Americans who enjoy criticizing the US and loooove Europe soooo much, but always come back to die on our shores!
    Because it’ll always be home, regardless of how much we may enjoy living overseas.
    What difference does it make, anyway? Jeez.

  35. YT says:

    Mark Stuart: Are you Jewish? ‘Coz I can’t recall anyone else hatin’ their own peoples that much… Wait a minute, does that make me Jewish?

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