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New realities – separate realities

This list is getting quite a bit of attention. It is a report of some of the many things that Jay Rosen talked about when being interviewed by a guy from the BBC:

– Political attacks seeking to discredit the press and why they’re intensifying

– Scandals in the news business and the damage they are sowing

– The era of greater transparency and what it’s doing to modern journalism

– Trust in the mainstream media and what’s happening to it

– Bloggers, their role in politics, their effect on the press: their significance

– How the Net explosion is changing the relationship between people and news

– The collapse of traditional authority in journalism and what replaces it

– Amateurs vs. professionals; distributed knowledge vs. credentialed expertise

– The entrance of new players of all kinds in presidential campaigning

– The producer revolution underway among former consumers of media

– Jon Stewart and why he seems to be more credible to so many

– “He said, she said, we said” and why it’s such an issue this year

– The “reality-based community” thesis and the Bush Administration

– The political divide and the passions it has unleashed this year

– Why the culture war keeps going, this year reaching the mainstream press

– Why periods of intense partisanship coincide with high involvement

– The problem of propaganda and the intensity of its practice in 2004

– Why argument journalism is more involving than the informational kind

– Assaults on the very idea of a neutral observer, a disinterested account

– And then there’s this: the separate realities of Bush and Kerry supporters

I think that there is one huge thought missing from this list, so huge, and so completely in the faces of both the people having this conversation that they both missed it. Jay Rosen did anyway. This is: that these two people were talking to each other from opposite sides of an ocean.

The internet has taken politics global. The row about the Guardian trying to influence the US election by getting Guardian-readers to send pontificatory emails to the voters of Ohio is only so visible because it was so funny, but in a quieter way, the Guardian is now influencing US elections, by the simple fact of it publishing its stuff online, and Americans (and everyone else) being able to read it all, quickly and cheaply.

Another version of this same fact is the way that the Bush supporters in the USA took great heart from, and accused their local mainstream media of downplaying, the result of the recent Australian election. The elites of the world have long been globalised. They have inhabited a world of instant, free international communication for many decades now. But because the everyday experiences of their massed ranks of supporters had not been globalised, they have had to present themselves as nationalists when talking in public. Even Joe Stalin, on that one occasion when he actually depended on the support (as opposed to the mere terrified obedience) of his people (World War 2), suddenly mutated, in public, from a globalist into a nationalist.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Hitler all have in common that they too presented themselves to their peoples as devoted nationalists, but were also accused by the more thoughtful among their enemies of having distinct non-national agendas that might be termed ‘personal/global’ (i.e. their own personal, preferred, and no doubt nationally conditioned take on the interests of mankind as a whole), on the basis of which they dragged their nations into wars that did not, so their critics said and still say, serve their nations’ best interests. Bush and Blair are doing the exact same thing now. Their enemies curse them for ignoring their mere nations’ national interests, ab=nd thrust forward their own contrasting personal/global agendas. But why would they want to confine themselves to something so parochial as the mere interests of one nation? Even the USA, measured for example by the size of its population, is quite a small thing, looked at globally. It is enough to occupy US politicians pretty much full time, but someone like Michael Moore is bound to look beyond the USA for influence, and books sales. Why would he not? The Internet and all the debates that rage in it do his advance publicity for him.

What is happening to the world now is that every politically engaged person is now becoming ‘personal/global’, the way only the elite used to be because only the elite could afford to be. Every politically engaged person is now using the Internet to create communities based on shared global agendas, rather than local national agendas.

Stephen Waters responded to one in particular of the items on Rosen’s list. What got me gesticulating at my screen was his casual dismissal of (in his chart about it all) of “the separate realities of Bush and Kerry supporters”. He has just two words to say about this: “red” and “herring”.

I could not disagree more. This “separate reality” effect is one of the most important and portentous, and potentially disruptive (i.e. potentially global civil war provoking) effects of the Internet.

What the Internet supplies to people who inhabit “different realities” is untold thousands, and in some cases untold millions, of fellow believers in the same reality. I know. I am a libertarian. When I was only a London libertarian, I could not help noticing London was full of people who are not libertarians of my particular sort. Now, with the Internet, if I wanted to, I could swim in an ocean of libertarianism of exactly my preferred sort and spend my entire life agreeing with and being agreed with by thousands of other people, and never noticing that anyone else existed. The Internet is a terrific reinforcer of “different realities”. The Internet makes the opinion-peddlers of the world far less dependent for their personal validation on the opinions of locals, and far more able to whistle up support from around the world for their particular personal/global agenda. To note, therefore, the increased tendency of people nowadays to live in separate little (global) opinion pods, and no longer in a locally unified community of ‘national common sense’ is absolutely not to be sailing after a red herring. This effect is central to the way the Internet works.

I believe, to tangent off again, that this is a big reason why the ‘Mainstream Media’ of the USA are now having such difficulties. They are the practitioners of a skill that has now become superfluous. Their stock in trade is wrapping up whatever is their preferred personal/global agenda in the language of National Common Sense. (Hence the National Common Sense suits and hairpieces and voices.) But such wrapping is now waste and nonsense. Nobody needs it any more, or responds to it any more, with other than derision. Each global/personal agenda team has its specialists who unmask the various National Common Sense pretences of the various Mainstream Media organs (like CBS News or the New York Times or for that matter Fox News), and reveal the global/personal agendas that are really being peddled.

(See also: the BBC. The British print media are on the whole less apologetic and duplicitous about their biases than the US mainstream media, but the BBC is the big exception. What may save it is that it is more flexible, adaptable and cunning than Dan Rather and his ilk. My problem with criticising the BBC is that I share so many of its global/personal biases.)

What got CBS into such a bind over its forgery arguments a few weeks back was not that it had no sources to back up its deeply held belief that George W. Bush is a worthless, spoilt rich boy who only pretended, when younger, to be a patriotic warrior. Its problem was that those sources, although in their own way fairly reputable and serious, are quite clearly not talking the language of National Common Sense, but instead of CBS’s preferred personal/global agenda. To reveal these sources would blow CBS’s gaff. Thus was CBS trapped in front of the headlights of the Internet. From everything I have read since, they remain trapped.

For political opinions, read also: hobbies, personal enthusiasms, hobby products, work, play, you name it. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, everyone with an Internet connection is now a member of the Global Community of …..ers. Fill in the blanks half a dozen times for every person on the planet who is literate and who is past worrying about where the next meal is to come from. That is a lot of people now, and the number grows all the time.

These things are all tendencies of course. I am not saying that until 1990 most people had never heard of abroad, or that since 2000 nobody gives a damn about their next door neighbours (any more than I believe that the printing press immediately turned everyone into rabid nationalists). But that is one of the big ways in which the world is now heading.

8 comments to New realities – separate realities

  • Brian, Good Post.

    The situation you describe seems to me the culmination of a long process that i first saw described by Tom Wolfe in his 1980 book “In our time’

    “The boom of the booms. Wartime spending in the United States touched off a boom that has continued for nearly forty years. … Truck dispatchers, duplicator machine repairmen, bobbin cleaners, policemen, firemen and garbagemen were making so much money- $15.000 to $20.000 (and more) per year -and taking so many vacationson tropical littorals and outfitting their $12.000 RVs with so many microwave ovens and sauna booths, it was impossible to use the word ‘proletarian’ any longer with a straigth face.”

    Technology in general has been undermining the elites since the invention of gunpowder. Only in wartime can they claw back some of their lost power. In post 9/11 America what is remarkable is how little power the government has tried to claw back from the people. The Patriot Act is pretty weak beer compared with the sort of things the US government did in WWII not to mention the Civil War.

    The elites wanted Bush to raise taxes and regulate the economy even more, in the name of fighting terror and of energy independence. They want the people to hate Arabs enough to take away grandma’s SUV but not enough to allow for racial profiling at airports.

    Unlike his father, Bush is an instinctive nationalist, he never had a taste for foreign travel. In some ways he is more of a ‘traitor to his class” than Roosevelt ever was.

  • Hank Scorpio

    “Unlike his father, Bush is an instinctive nationalist, he never had a taste for foreign travel. In some ways he is more of a ‘traitor to his class” than Roosevelt ever was.”

    Very good point. Despite his Ivy league, priveleged background he comes across as unapologetically American. That does go a long way towards swaying the common electorate.

  • Globe-spanning, maybe, but not quite global. Interesting that the Guardian recruited Brits to influence a presidential race 3,000 miles away, but never tried to do so to influence, say, the Austrian elections when Georg Haider’s party was contending, even though they got very worked up about that issue. I mean, aren’t the Austrians the Guardian’sm fellow-Europeans?

  • Rob Read


    Boycott the BBC! Look at the racist shit the Dyke spouted and he won an award!

    Actually non-whites (as if that mattered) are over-represented.

    Yet one more example of the racist self-hating left.

  • Ken

    What a fantastic article. raised a lot of points that really got me thinking. Will have to comment on these further at a later date.

  • sbw

    Samizdata: “What got me gesticulating at my screen was [sbw’s] casual dismissal of (in his chart about it all) of “the separate realities of Bush and Kerry supporters”.

    You misinterpret my “red herring” comment which referred to the pseudo science of the PIPA poll which makes it a poor foundation for ANY discussion.

    Nor is there room for mumbo jumbo that tries to legitimize relativistic different worlds. That’s magic. And magic is no basis for decision making and no basis for civilization. The red herring is to suggest there are legitimate separate realities.

    When you say the “‘separate reality’ effect is one of the most important and portentous, and potentially disruptive effects of the Internet.” I understand, but felt that Jay was referring to something else.

  • sbw

    Brian, this may help how strongly I oppose separate realities. See Lies:

    “Nothing ticks me off more than a lie. A lie cheats everyone — the one who tells it, the one who hears it, the community at large. A lie is permanent. Its effect lasts forever.”

    Regards/Stephen Waters

  • Joel Català

    To the reality-based community hanging around samizdata:

    Saddam Hussein’s Philanthropy of Terror

    by Deroy Murdock, Media Fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford University