My night-time working background noise is generally The Daily Show and Colbert, followed by the overnight replays of MSNBC’s opinion-show block, followed by a mad scramble to find something – anything – to watch other than Ed Schultz. Before anyone asks, yes – I get my “equal time” fill of right-wing talkers in daylight hours while I’m driving.
NOTE: Remainder of post involves politics. Don’t want to read it? Then don’t 😉
I don’t watch/read/listen to “the news” for information, I do it because I like hearing things argued out by smart people and because the only way to remain aware of media manipulation of info is to stay engaged with it – block it out for too long, and you forget the two key facts of living an informed life: 1.) That there are such things as objective truths – just very, very few of them; and 2.) that everyone is aiming to “sell you” on something, even the folks who truly believe in their heart of hearts that they are not.
Tonight, though, I’ll be paying closer attention than usual to see what – if anything – MSNBC’s top guns (Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Matthews) have to say about the public-pillorying of their fellow host Chris Hayes.
For those who don’t follow this stuff, over the weekend Hayes brought up for discussion his (personal) discomfort with the way terms like “hero” and “valor” are blanketly-applied to military service in and of itself in the context of the Memorial Day holiday; his overall point being that however duly respectful we are toward military service, the very reflexiveness of that respect makes it difficult to approach questions when/why to use military force with the kind of thoughtful skepticism such grave matters deserve.
The timing is, of course, of questionable tact; but the actual commentary is about as bend-over-backwards and qualifier-laden as a “controversial” statement can be and still be a statement at all – he even concludes with “But maybe I’m wrong about that.” This, of course, did not prevent the right-wing media from pouncing on him. They can hardly be blamed for the obvious glee they took in doing so – Hayes’ approach and overall demeanor is practically a caricature of what Michael Bay’s America thinks of when it sneers about “liberal elitism;” and The Right did it’s usual classy job of “taking him down” by inferring that he was effeminate (because, after all, there is no greater sin than to a dumb ol’ GIRL!) and chortling about his use of the phrase “rhetorically proximate,” the kind of big fancy book-learnin’ words that “normal people” would never use.
Hayes has, of course, offered an apology/clarification; which reads as sincere and reasoned but also utterly unnecessary. He didn’t say “soldiers aren’t heroes,” he didn’t even issue a statement of anything other than to offer his own personal view – which he admits is difficult for him to grapple with and may well be incorrect! – for discussion. The only thing he did “wrong” was to do this in the context of the present-day American media culture; where nuance and thoughtfulness are four-letter words.
The problem Hayes faces is that we live in a culture that vilifies any approach to the word that does not exist in terms of simple, basic wisdom. We prefer definitive statements of right and wrong or good and evil to nuance and intellectual inquiry. Something is either an absolute good or an eternal wrong; and to suggest that there may be layers or issues of context is to be uncertain and thus somehow weak. It’s a strain of anti-intellectualism that taints and corrupts just about every facet of our existence; viewed most-glaringly in the way our allegedly modern culture heaps far greater import on religious “truths” – which are by-design simple, easy-to-digest and require very little mental effort beyond blind acceptance – over scientific facts which are often more-difficult to comprehend.
But it also subtly (yet profoundly) colors they way we approach the rest of the world, and the way the rest of the world approaches us: Far, far too much stock is placed “common sense” and “folk wisdom.” We perpetuate the pleasant yet disastrous LIE that “simple truths” that any random dolt can easily understand are innately superior to academic, scientific or merely “complex” solutions that require effort and study to arrive at: The hard, unpleasant fact of the matter is that most of the time the “average joe” and his simple, common-sense answer – however likable and approachable both may be – are going to be wrong; while the “cold” or “detached” intellectual is usually going to be right. Because the world is not simple and grows less so every day.
Folks, when I spout-off about “Thinkers vs. Believers” (and I’m well aware that many take reasonable exception to the terminology which is, ironically, perhaps a bit too simplified for it’s own good) this is what I’m talking about. It’s this horrible, destructive notion of acknowledging the world as a complex place requiring thoughtful, nuanced solutions that – yes! – are indeed better suited to those of an intellectual persuasion is somehow tantamount to weakness. The idea that simplistic, “right or wrong, black or white” decision making – a fundamentally ignorant approach ill-suited to modern life that too many mistake as some kind of anachronistic masculine virtue – carries some kind of moral righteousness.
One is free to agree or disagree with Chris Hayes or anyone else – for my part, I understand and agree with his overall point while understanding the need for sentiment and symbolism in such matters – but the idea that asking the question or having a viewpoint that isn’t 100% binary about such an important issue is everything that is broken and bleeding about American culture handily summarized. Complexity and nuance are not personal failings, they are virtues. “Simple solutions” should be mistrusted and vetted, not deified. Ignorance ought to be a mark of shame, while intelligence and ability to take an intellectual approach should be a mark of great character.
Chris Hayes may or may not have been “wrong,” but his willingness to think about it in the first place makes him the innate superior of every “average”-pandering political hack who spent the weekend throttling him. And I hope that other thoughtful people in the media or otherwise on either “side” don’t give in to the temptation to throw him under the bus for the crime of being a thinking person in a time and place where that is unwelcome.