Les Enfants Terribles

Kids from generation baby-boom saw more than a few newborns coming up. One thing the unsentimental ones can tell you is that infantile antics don’t always cut it as “awwww-ain’t-that-cute” behavior. Little people are barely out of the womb and already trying to tell everybody something. Some of them can be disturbingly demanding about it–without speaking an intelligible word. No one—not even the late Dr. Jean Piaget—has translated the messages they try putting across. But, personally, I’d never rule out the possibility of “shut up and listen to me.”

Somewhere on that bridge between crawling and toddling is where plucky imps take a first windy shot at public address. You might be reading or watching TV as the tirade busts loose— it’ll get your attention—there’s something unsettlingly eerie about pre-linguistic oratory. Holding the playpen rail—like a mini-Mussolini on a balcony—a torrent of emphatic, uncompromising and incomprehensible sounds are inflicted on a captive  audience. The most megalomaniacal baby blabber mouths can command real drama and reach true emotional heights. They mean something—drastically—whatever in hell it may be is safer left a mystery into the ages.

It’s like listening to the genesis of human cruelty, intolerance and insatiable demands delivered in resolute, articulate cadence but a completely foreign tongue. A good ear can catch echoes of the have-nots deprived, the unpopular persecuted, the alienated exiled, the dissenters imprisoned and the survivors of Bataan marched off to camps near Cabanatuan. It’s the dominant feature in the pathology of every despot, totalitarian, plundering commander or authoritarian dictator: Infantile fascination with its own sounds never interrupted, or put into check, by the forces of socialization. That’s why all of their kind hates free speech so much—they might have to suffer thunder other than their own.

Where preserving the 1st amendment is concerned, the would-be reformers listening skills are the alpha and the omega. What believable opponent or wannabe improver on that principle–before us so far–has any intention of being stifled themselves by expressive restrictions? That you need to listen is always the bottom line. And if your belief system lacks certain necessary basic requirements…that vinyl that you didn’t put a stylus to will spin again…until you at least know the chorus by heart. The networks, urban newspapers, Google, Facebook, Twitter, major publishers, well funded ezines, academic satraps, movie moguls and street-corner hooligans are speaking in one voice—any brain that hasn’t heard enough by now must have petrified.

What universalists ever—in possession of the upper hand—have remained keen on wide latitude of discussion? Certainly not the early Church holding the reins of temporal power, nor the enlightened revolutionists who deposed the Bourbons, the Tsarist topplers of 1917 or the fascist powers of the 20th century—as if they need any more mention in the present fray.

Steve Coll, a man who retains a juvenile–almost baby—face into his sixth decade, commands a very adult capacity for delivery in reasoned based sound language. He never comes off bombastic or hyperbolic; the boy’s a model of correct deportment. Lonesome Rhodes warned, “When a fella’ comes off looking too dignified, we figure he’s out to steal your watch,” back in 1957. Rhodes was a fictional character, played by Andy Griffith, from the film A Face in the Crowd. It was a role that had journalistic hair standing on end before the ink landed on Coll’s birth certificate. The present fad of 4th estate sanctimony is gunning for loot a lot more precious than any time-piece.

Coll told Kasie Hunt of MSNBC and the world at large December, 7th:

“Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred is being weaponized against the principles of journalism and what do we do about that? As reporters we kind of march into this war with our facts nobly shouldered as if they were going to win the day and what we’re seeing is because of the scale of this alternate reality that you have been talking about, our facts, our principles, our scientific method, it isn’t enough? So what do we do?”

“[O]ur scientific method”? Is it something in a special caste’s possession? That doesn’t sound very scientific—and even less so when lined up against completely mythical trolls who are fiendishly deceiving the whole world. Who gets to qualify—once they stop laughing–that what’s being “nobly shouldered” is straight dope? Wouldn’t a case by case examination be called for? And wouldn’t that, too, be properly subject to mass examination? Coll—in his plan to re-“structure”—is proposing creation of a truth industry. If he thinks existing, archaic media structures can lay any claim to general verity the man’s reading habits are Magooly myopic.

Googling “scientific method” gives us this definition:

sci·en·tif·ic meth·od

/ˈˌsīənˈtifik ˈmeTHəd/

noun

1.       a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

“criticism is the backbone of the scientific method

The Brittanica article on the term provides a flow chart with a minimum of 9 steps. Is Coll suggesting that news copy is subjected to this kind of rigor—or anything close–before it goes to press? News media is a highly subjective art. Fact checking is supposed to be an integral part of it. But the idea of an ultimate verification process doesn’t fly. What we call “news” is heavily laden with eyewitness testimony, hearsay, raw statistics, speculation, expert opinion and writers who pick and choose from that mix in composition of the final product—none of these things is remotely relevant to the classic scientific method.  Francis Bacon’s idea was to eliminate dependence on opinion and human predilection altogether. If the dean of Columbia Journalism School has any scientific credentials they’re due to be recertified—before the proper authorities move to certify him.

Coll and fellow travelers are finding Facebook the primary culprit allowing the Russkies, trolls, conspiracy theorists, the superstitious, the goofy and the just plain no good to mislead his epismetological inferiors. Facebook is a platform that recently put a cover screen—warning of possible graphic or violent content—over a cartoon of Santa talking to a baby about Jesus. If the idea that they are fanatically committed to free expression isn’t fake news what is? Coll also said to Hunt:  “And yes, Facebook has moved somewhat, they had a better election in 2020 than they did in 2016…”

Facebook “had better election”? That noble shoulder of his comes about as close to bearing scientific principles as Rocinante would get to Justify in 12 furlongs. Without some valid citation any conclusion about Facebook’s influence in polls is 100% presumptive. What are the exact misconceptions we are supposed to believe have infected the proletarian brain? Any persuasive case of Russian hornswoggling 2016 requires a few good examples of the sleight-of-hand. The lack of these in every description of the “Russian hoax” evinces a very different phenomenon of mass deception. It’s the conviction, all too common in people lacking circumspection, that people who don’t see it their way are all depraved saps.

Talk of a “march into this war” may lose some of us. If the 4th estate is finding itself on some kind of battlefront we could all stand a more exacting description of the adversary—not to mention his deadly rhetorical ordnance. Coll et al persistently refuse to square off publicly on anything specific—his pronouncement on freedom of the press have faced no more hostile inquiry than a babe still in diapers so far. Once readers and listeners work their way beyond all the abstraction what do we get? The only thing concrete left is that we need to believe people like him. A process made all the more efficient once they get to gag the miscreants.

In the film A Face in the Crowd a streetwise country boy gets a shot at TV and takes the nation by storm. The staff that brought him to prominence is soon frightened of the power he wields. The upper-crust of media—holed up in their exclusive milieu–can’t hope to fake authenticity like a guy who’s been around the track a few laps. What eventually brings Lonesome down is that he has the same contempt for public opinion then as the fuming chardonnay swillers of our own era.

One thing director Elia Kazan, writer Bud Schulberg, the legions of critics and people writing about the film’s reflection of society today have all missed is what historically backfires. The worst thing we find out about the politician Rhodes goes to bat for, Worthington Fuller, is that he’s “the last of the isolationists.” In the 1950’s, after coups in Iran and Guatemala, deadly meddling in Indonesia and parts of Europe and initial forays into Viet Nam—does a more hands off foreign policy look like a bad thing in retrospect?

The irony in elitist fears of Lonesome Rhodes type personalites comes in the lines of his eminence grise General Haynesworthy: “…in every strong, healthy society…the mass had to be guided with a strong hand by a responsible elite.” Only one coherent thing is coming out of mainstream media mouths in this contrived free speech crisis: But we are supposed to be that elite!

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