This began as a rant on how I really hate Fox News, but then it turned into something more; an argument for the return of a kind of fairness doctrine on a libertarian basis, a critical analysis of Fox News and how it is similar to Stalinism, and an analysis on political religions, extremism, and how people get indoctrinated, among other things. The other day flipping through the channels I decided to watch Fox News (I try to stay informed on what conservatives are talking about). They were hammering on about the “dems radical socialist agenda” and how “we have to fight back”. Just the raw absurdity of such a statement shocked me, so I thought it was time for a hot-take on Red Liberty. My initial rant was thus:
Yeah, your news anchor (entertainer) personalities with hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate and property holdings are so concerned about you, ordinary working Americans and certainly not about keeping their own social wealth. The sad thing is people actually buy this nonsense. Worse than that, old people have this intellectual garbage heap running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bless their hearts, they aren’t bad people and they do mean well. The real bad people are the ones filling their heads with this garbage 24/7. I’m not kidding about this when it comes to the elderly, for many of them the channel never changes. The volume goes down but like Orwell’s Telescreen in Oceania the TV doesn’t appear to be capable of turning off. Now I’m a Marxist, I know from first-hand experience that most socialists refuse to join the Democratic party because it is a corrupt party of wall street in the hands of the billionaire class. This “radical agenda” they speak of has nothing to do with socialism (i.e. public ownership and democratic control of industry), but rather it relates to a few center-left democratic socialists (really social democrats as the term was used in mid to late 20th century Western Europe) who are only reluctantly welcomed by the party when they crushed party hard-liners in the elections and won. The sad thing is, this “radical socialist agenda” is no more “radical” than the moderate social welfare policies of virtually every social democratic Western (not Eastern) European country maybe even as far back as 1950– and those countries were fervently anti-socialist. You want radical? How about democratizing big corporations and tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple by making them directly responsible in policy and decision making to acknowledged representatives of the general public, instantly recallable at all times. Farewell boards of directors with your payouts to media organizations such as Fox News and to large political parties! That means, with unlimited individual liberty, a political democracy in the hands of the common citizen. We’ll have the Free Software Foundation dictate the practices of Facebook. You want socialism? I’ll give you socialism!
I think we need to restore laws like fairness doctrine that require big media organizations to actually present both sides objectively (or the illusion of doing so by attempting to do so). Fox News isn’t “fair and balanced”– what a load of garbage! It’s better at holding people in their place without thinking for themselves and questioning authority than religion was in the middle ages! The revolution will not be televised.
Now I posted the above (at least in part) on the Freenet Message System (FMS, sort of like Reddit/ Usenet for discussions on the Freenet Network) and a commenter by the name of FreedomForever had a very spot-on reply:
“The only problem with the Fairness Doctrine is that there is no ‘both’ sides. If TV news wants to discuss why a terror attack just happened, in addition to a speaker on gun rights and another on gun control, they’ll have to add someone to claim it was staged by crisis actors and someone else to blame the Jews for it.”
Here I must stress caution with what I have said. I will paste my slightly modified reply here:
This is why I think we need a certain amount of social dogmatism. I remember a talk where Slavoj Zizek was talking about how he didn’t want to live in a society where we have to argue why raping a woman or murdering a child is wrong, and I completely agree. I don’t think it was always this bad. I mean you had conspiracy nuts and all but my God you don’t let them hold political power. This is precisely what we are seeing today. Without this sort of zero level understanding that some things like rape, racism, the shape of the earth, whether or not vaccines cause autism, etc. should not be debated you have a serious problem. The side of reason here is self-evident to one who investigates it, and those not convinced simply cannot be convinced even by the most compelling evidence, thus it is not something to be debated. You have to draw the line somewhere though, and that’s the tough question. I think bigotry, unfounded conspiracy theories, and authoritarianism are all things to be watched out for.
People have a habit of taking themselves too seriously. I mean, I have a libertarian socialist/ Marxist blog mirrored on 4 censorship resistant networks. I’m reasonably radical in my views. I like to think I am in the right, that I have investigated the arguments for the things I am against and against the things I am for (it’s necessarily a never ending process) but some of my political opponents think the same thing and come to radically different conclusions. Who is to say? You can’t take yourself too seriously, that’s the only approach that is morally acceptable if objective truth (insofar as it exists) says that you are wrong about this or that thing. Maybe it’s all the acid I used to take but I can’t seriously be a dogmatist. I mean, my God do you see some of these people? Alex Jones is nuts but did you see the van of the person who tried to mail poisons to Hillary Clinton and other democratic party leaders? It’s like their whole political manifesto was in the form of thousands of bumper stickers on their car praising Trump and slamming “the dems”. People get indoctrinated but I think a part of them likes it, I think they lose reason and embrace their ideology as a part of themselves to the point that reason which illuminates the wrongfulness of their ideas is seen as an attack on them personally. You cannot debate such people. And it’s not just the right-wing either. I’ve known people just as irrational and crazy on the left (looking mainly at the Stalin/DPRK apologists and historical negationists). For me I can only say that my views are constantly changing. Just a year ago I didn’t even know who Murray Bookchin was and since then many of my views have effectively turned on their head. In some ways I have become less serious and in the name of the pursuit of reason, wisdom and truth, I welcome this. This was more or less my reply on FMS.
Now, onward with the critique of Fox News, among other things. For me, if Fox News was open to it’s own conservative bias it would be a different matter. But no! Their motto is “fair and balanced”. Of course everyone sort of knows this is not the case, even Fox viewers, but for whatever reason it is absolutely crucial that this is never openly acknowledged. The real danger here is for Fox itself to admit that Fox News is owned by the same people who own the Republican Party, that it is a far-right news source. In this way Fox News functions in a way very similar to a Stalinist country. What did we have under Stalinism? Of course a country in the hands of the working class majority is one that is fair and democratic, otherwise you risk admitting that socialism is farcical– at least to a degree. I don’t want to fall into this trap of saying “oh this wasn’t X because of Y”, even if it is largely logical you still have idiots on the “other side” who say China isn’t capitalist because it’s authoritarian. By socialism here I mean industrial democracy, plausible with central control by the state insofar as the workers state is genuinely democratic as Stalin claims. Thus the challenge is of Stalin’s own claim here, not that socialism cannot by definition be authoritarian because democracy certainly can be. So I am saying “yes Stalin you say you have socialist democracy, and you admit democracy is fundamental to socialism, but really that democracy was a farce so what then?” This is what I mean here.
I don’t know why I like this speech by Stalin so much because there are so many like it, but there is one where he says (of the Soviet Union under him): “This is what we call socialism in daily life, this is what we call a free, socialist life. It is on this basis that our really free and really democratic elections have arisen, elections which have no precedent in the history of mankind.” See it’s not just that in the Soviet Union people are really free and the elections are really free and democratic, but the Soviet Union has so much freedom and real democracy that there is no precedent in the history of mankind! In the midst of totalitarian state terror you have the leader of it all formally proclaiming freedom, and nothing is more dangerous than for these institutions than for them to admit it’s all a farce, it cannot even tolerate individuals making such claims. This to me is as grandiose and absurd as Fox News’ claim that it is “fair and balanced”. It’s really sort of the same thing isn’t it? “The (somehow socialist/ radical leftist) democrats are a threat to America and ordinary Americans but God emperor Trump can build the wall and save us” and suddenly between it all this official announcement by this propaganda station proclaiming itself “fair and balanced”. Not “we try to present what we perceive to be the truth” but “fair and balanced”. Aha! It’s a Stalinist notion really. Not even I would make such a claim of Red Liberty.
I think the facts speak for themselves when it comes to the distortions and fabrications carried on by Fox News. Really its a kind of wonderful institution for mass manipulation and control, and in a twisted way I kind of admire this (in the same way that one admires a horror film). I really like it when they bring the “democrat party idiot” on to debate. The person is a hack who always loses the arguments, they’re always an idiot or at least it’s edited to make them look like an idiot. I really admire (in a twisted way) this sort of farcical debate in which “the dems” always lose. Have you seen the (unaired/ leaked) video of Tucker Carlson telling a leftist historian who calls him out to go fuck himself? It’s fabulous. My favorite part is:
“You are a millionaire funded by billionaires, that’s what you are,” Bregman said, when Carlson tried to “jump on the bandwagon” of his Davos intervention. “You’re not part of the solution, Mr. Carlson, you’re part of the problem, actually.” Even just reading his replies you can tell Tucker is fuming, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself, you tiny-brain? Because you’re a moron.” (taken from: Media Mole’s article on the video on New Statesman). When there is nothing more to say, that’s it, that zero level confrontation. That’s the Stalinist equivalent of asking where the Party member who criticized Comrade Stalin the night before went, because no one has seen him since the Party meeting where he criticized Comrade Stalin. That’s it, the zero level confrontation. It’s a huge no-no. Zizek claims in a Stalinist society the party member who criticizes Comrade Stalin at a party meeting would disappear the next day, but if someone stood up right after him and said “What are you mad? You can’t criticize Comrade Stalin they’ll kill you!”, then that person would probably disappear that night! It simply cannot be tolerated. Tito after liberating Yugoslavia from fascist occupation defied Stalin’s notion of proclaiming a free and democratic “people’s democracy” in favor of openly acknowledging Yugoslavia as a one-party totalitarian Stalinist state. I think this is part of the reason Stalin tried to kill Tito so many times, you can’t admit to something like that, it’s expressly forbidden. This is the unspoken rule. You admit to the farce and you give up the illusion. There is no “big other” as Zizek would say. There is no socialism or people’s democracy, there is no “fair and balanced”.
Radicals who know what they are talking about and who hold opposing views are very occasionally brought on air and usually given no more than 30 seconds of air time, and it actually works to help the news organizations’ cause. Really I think this is how the media in an authoritarian country should function. During the Vietnam war you could have BBC bring on Chomsky raving on about East Timor for 30 seconds, yes he’s right but he looks like an idiot because you don’t even give him enough time to really prove the things he is saying are true. If Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin move at all towards liberalization this is how they should do it, allow the opposition 30 or so seconds (make them think they have more time) of air time to ensure they make a fool of themselves. Chomsky mentions something similar in his book ‘Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies‘.
I think Chomsky’s notions of a democratic press are likewise worthy of investigation. The abolition of corporate media and the introduction of a democratic, adversarial, confederation of journalists and journalist organizations fully respectful of individual liberty could usher in an era of trust for the media, and an end to the stigma of sensationalism and data capitalism so common with mainstream for-profit mass media. With this we could take the bullets out of the gun that Trump aims at the free press. When liberty finally triumphs over tyranny and when industrial democracy triumphs over capitalism, reporters for Fox News insofar as they are liked by even a single person, and insofar as they gain sympathy of their own merits rather than by self-promotion via their own pools of wealth, will naturally find no hindrance in joining and forming their own media syndicates or publishing on their own. Print journalism is going out the window, cyberspace offers the possibility of real freedom of the press, of thought, and of religion in ways that are both privacy respecting and resistant to censorship. This is what we need.
I actually tend to have little issue with conservatism insofar as its social expression is a genuine manifestation of individual will illuminated by reason according to their own understanding. For me, my opposition stems from my love of liberty and equality, a belief that consenting adults have a right to do and think and act as they please and that everyone should have an equal chance to succeed in life, but this opposition is political, not personal, and it remains so insofar as their opposition to my own ideas does not seek to infringe upon the rights of any other person. In fact it matters not if I take issue with it or not, for freedom dictates that a person has every right to find their own path and to speak freely without hindrance. I loudly say that while I do not agree with what they say, I will fight to the death for their right to say it. Here I think Bookchin was right when he critiqued the immorality of the left (saying precisely the same thing, which is not as some would allege a purely liberal notion). Referring to Bookchin’s point on this matter, I point to a historical example during World War 2 when the (Stalinist) Communist Party USA applauded the arrest of their political opponents, Trotskyists arrested under the Smith Act by the United States, saying that they “would have been shot” in the Soviet Union. Naturally when the same law was used against them after the war, hardly anyone was there to defend them. Thus it’s an entirely self-destructive process. You break up someones meetings and they break up yours, where does it end? You reap what you sow, and it’s high time for the left to sow that which will bear good fruit, and no fruit is richer than that of unlimited individual and political liberty.
Yes, I believe in freedom of speech and thought and conscience and I regard it as being of the highest forms of human liberty. But with the mass media the problem is one of institutional power; capital is the source of mass media as it has hitherto manifested itself. The problem is one of capital, and that’s the same for pretty much every major news network, even the liberal ones (not just Fox News). It is therefore a struggle against the power of the ruling few to dictate the lives of the many. Until we address the problems of mass media in our society we’ll have idiots on “both sides”, and even after we certainly will as well though I hope to a lesser extent (only idiots seriously think socialism will magically solve all the problems of the world, and I say this as a socialist). Let them rave on about the “dems socialist agenda”. Every socialist knows they are morons. Let the ultra-left rave on about how conservatives are basically Nazi’s, every conservative knows they are morons. I think the restoration of the fairness doctrine in a modified form (i.e. on a libertarian basis) is a good concrete demand. The best way to do that is a serious question that I don’t have the answer to. At the very least I think it should be applicable mainly if not exclusively to any mainstream media corporation that claims to be “fair and balanced”. No, you should have to declare your slant one way or another! Maybe this is what we need.
You know years ago, as Zizek has pointed out, this idea that, “oh George Soros is giving anfifa protesters checks to show up to rallies and break windows” is something you might hear someone very mentally ill and deeply disturbed mumbling at a sketchy bar at 4 in the morning several years ago. I mean a billionaire capitalist paying anti-capitalist anarchists to violently protest against people like him is like King Louis paying the Jacobins or the Tsar paying the Bolsheviks. But now this is somehow common place among sections of the right wing. I think the lack of a fairness doctrine is partially to blame for this but of course the problem is much more complex. Do you remember awhile back when those lunatic “United Constitutional Patriots” stopped people crossing the US border in search of a better life and held them at gunpoint? Of course they promoted conspiracy theories that the “deep state” was infecting people with contagious diseases and paying them to cross the border, but on top of this was this insane notion that Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros were radical leftists (I wish) that were a part of “ANTIFA” (in the minds of the far-right a centralized, shadowy and powerful organization, we capitalize it here for effect because they do). Had any of these people heard even the most basic explanations of the political positions of the antifa collective from someone actually in antifa (as opposed to from third party sources such as Fox News and InfoWars), they would have realized that the anti-fascists are actually intrinsically opposed to the political positions and ideas of figures such as Obama, Clinton, and Soros, and that antifa taken seriously is actually a grave threat to people like Obama, Clinton, and Soros. Naturally as we can expect, such people are not the brightest, and they are but a consequence of the near total lack of really fair and balanced, non-corporate political discourse in this country on an institutional level. Of course such crazies would come about even in a society with something like fairness doctrine, but I think perhaps to a much lesser extent.
Here the issue stems from the fact that people are informed about things their social group (in this case political) are opposed to from within that social group. This is part of the reason why I try to read opposing view points from the opposition and not from fellow leftists explaining why those positions are right or wrong. This always reminds me of the Cultural Revolution in the PRC (People’s Republic of China) where every person was raving the little red book and renouncing “Soviet revisionism” and “Trotskyism”. When this comes to memory I also recall what Mao himself said in ‘Oppose Book Worship‘: “Unless you have investigated a problem, you will be deprived of the right to speak on it. Isn’t that too harsh? Not in the least. When you have not probed into a problem, into the present facts and its past history, and know nothing of its essentials, whatever you say about it will undoubtedly be nonsense.” Here I like to use Mao’s own quotes against him. I’d bet not a single “revolutionary student” in those mobs of millions in the height of the Cultural Revolution had ever read an unredacted word from Khrushchev of Trotsky in their lives. If any of them had done so, they had not done so legally as such writings and materials were illegal to even posses let alone read (except maybe in the case of Mao himself or the Central Committee, the ‘only thinking element’ as Rosa Luxemburg warned of in her bleak ‘worst case scenario’ portrait of the future in her work 1918 work ‘The Russian Revolution’). Of course this is an example of a totalitarian regime, but the principle still stands in a relatively free society. In a relatively free society censorship is usually a form of negative (in relation to learning not speaking) self-censorship. People who are indoctrinated or even remotely sympathetic to “one side” have a tendency to self-censor in regards to where they get their information, and centrists tend to lack the moral fiber or informed opinions present on either side. I think this is an evolutionary trait, people accept sources of information that seem to be correct and reject those that aren’t. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be, and when it is this calls for self-discipline.
When you remove something like fairness doctrine you only make this worse, and political camps self-isolate figuratively and institutionally. Intellectuals will always seek to investigate the radical thoughts and opinions of other thinkers, coming to their own conclusions. But the average person will more or less think in a manner and pattern proscribed by the forces of society (I say this not in an arrogant way but in the spirit of historical materialism, and you know intellectuals are just as idiotic as average people).
But when ‘society’, more specifically the modes of information inherent to mass media become fractured, the average person, usually ignorant and unwilling to go to the effort to investigate all possible sides– a consumer to be sure, is swept away into the polarized dogma of political religion. Keep in mind I say this as a Marxist, making a note that Marxism itself is not necessarily a political religion, but that the manifestation of political religion is something that happens first on an individual level, when one abandons reason and skepticism for faith and unquestioning loyalty to doctrine in the face of all evidence to the contrary. I would argue that perhaps anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism falls under this category, but Marxism itself certainly does not. This conversion to political religion happens without the underlying social contradictions inherent to revolutionary social change, though such contradictions serve only to agitate the fracturing of a civilization. When such contradictions happen in a society where some sort of fairness doctrine is maintained you more or less have a more clear revolutionary upheaval at least in regards to class. In the modern day I think Bookchin’s notions of class struggle have merit (see ‘Listen, Marxist!’) so the class dimensions of such a struggle become more nuanced than your typical Marxian notion (and perhaps Jordan Peterson has a point in comparing some Marxian notions with post-modernist thinking even if both schools of thought are opposed to one another). What I mean is that it should manifest itself more as a healthy struggle of individual (cross-class) ‘revolutionaries’ against bourgeois institutions than as a bloody civil and class war as would have been the case in early 20th century Russia. But when you have this lack of something like fairness doctrine such social contradictions can and likely will, lead only to a bloody civil war– its class dimensions likewise muddied given the nature of modern industrial society, but nonetheless apparent. Thus the removal of ‘fairness doctrine’ like legislation does serve to preserve the status quo in the worst way possible, in that, should such contradictions arise, the revolutionary overthrow of the prevailing socioeconomic and political order would be less a matter of a “mass movement of the 99%” to transcend capitalism with a libertarian-democratic alternative towards a kind of free communism, and more a matter of bloody civil war with a chance for the reaction to win and turn back the clock of progress. Anyone who says “the worst things are the better things are” is an idiot, such needless bloodshed ought to be avoided at all costs and anyone who says otherwise should never hold any real power. Institutionally I think we need some sort of restoration of fairness doctrine, individually one must be open minded and willing to read the ideas of the opposition from the opposition itself.
You have to do the same thing with the media as well. As such, in addition to more socially acceptable conservative and liberal treatises I also read the so-called “sacred texts” of totalitarian regimes and extremist political movements as they exist, in addition to the first-hand accounts of people on the ground so as to remain objective (or to at least try to do so). Here is another issue of censorship. I am against political censorship for a variety of reasons, but I do understand that even though my own personal ownership of texts such as ‘Mein Kampf’ and ‘The Myth Of The Twentieth Century’ is for investigative purposes only– not out of any sympathy for Nazism, I understand that this is not always the case, that in addition to out-right fascists buying such books to propagate, ill-informed or ignorant people may be apt to purchase such books, read them, and take them seriously. Here too the situation is complex.
I think more than fairness doctrine is the fact that news media has more and more become a form of entertainment. In and of itself this is not a bad thing, for it is better to inform the people and entertain them at the same time than to keep them ignorant. But look at places like InfoWars. Now, I recently wrote an article against Facebook’s corporate censorship of InfoWars and I stand by that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think InfoWars and the emergence of organizations like it aren’t a problem. Most people who listen to InfoWars do so not to be informed but for entertainment, everyone sort of knows Alex Jones is insane or is at the very least pretending to act insane. But then they say, “Oh but he has a point about X or Y” and they start to believe the things he says, or they are naive enough to believe it anyways. They watch primarily to be entertained. But then you have forms of entertainment that primarily aim to inform about things that are real problems, like John Oliver’s show. John Oliver is more rooted in reason, he seeks more (and primarily) to inform than to entertain. I think there is nonetheless a real danger here of treating the people you are talking to not like thinking individuals but like consumers and I don’t see that changing any time soon, especially under capitalism. And then when people argue with one another and the other person speaks, they listen to reply, they don’t listen to understand. You know what debate I like? The Jordan Peterson vs. Slavoj Zizek debate. It didn’t get too crazy because both people were intelligent men who meant well and who honestly wanted to pick the brain of the other person first before really debating them, and in the end it was this beautiful exchange of ideas and a kind of mutual investigation more so than a debate. Peterson’s initial comments against Marx led to this realization that “Oh wait this Marxist thinker actually agrees with my criticisms of Marx let me talk to this guy” later on after Zizek replied. I would actually buy a book co-authored by Peterson and Zizek. Here there was radical honesty. I consider myself a student of Zizek but I now have a new kind of respect for Peterson and some of his ideas too. While I don’t agree with him entirely (at all), I think he is right about some things. This is what we need more of today. If I can take Peterson’s ideas seriously, you can take the ideas of your own political opponent seriously. To refuse to do so is childish and a sign of intellectual weakness and moral cowardice.
Maybe in closing to provoke conservatives I’ll say that conservatives are afraid of fairness doctrine because they are afraid ordinary people will side against them when reporting really is “fair and balanced”. Maybe to provoke liberals I will say the same thing (though I am more apt to take the former seriously). The worst thing, I think, would be for MSNBC and Fox News to unite against any sort of legislation that requires more objective reporting for mass media. The best thing, as a matter of fact, would be for mass media institutions to be subject to a kind of “fairness doctrine” that at the very least forces them to declare their political slant, giving up any notion of being “fair and balanced”. I am less eager to accept such legislation for alternative, grassroots media and organizations, thus I am for a more libertarian form of fairness doctrine. Though I know a lot (but certainly not all) of these “alternative media” organizations are fake so the situation is quite complicated. Regardless, the situation remains complex and I, as a Libertarian Marxist, hope to have contributed something useful to the broader discussion, while at the same time bashing that organization I really hate, Fox News.