Today I received the above e-mail at work from the main corporate office. I am generally a proponent of vaccines. However, I do not favor compulsory vaccination mandates. Especially mandates for vaccines that have undergone minimal testing and research. Granted, this message is offering a friendly suggestion more so than a mandate. Even if it was a mandate, it is well with the right of a company operating in the private sector to require their employees to get vaccinated. I do not care for the overall tone of this message. It bad enough, this company shoves all the faux-diversity nonsense down our throats daily. It isn’t a sincere effort to foster more tolerance, but rather a calculated CYA move to divert any accusations of generating a hostile work environment.
I no longer view this suggestion from corporate as being within the prerogative of a private company. They have already dipped their toe into the muddy pool of politics. Operate as a mouthpiece for the virtues of unscrupulous advocacy of wanton political correctness. So yes, I am certainly questioning the motives of this “friendly” suggestion. Unfortunately, everything has become politicized. Even the fields of science and medicine.
Over the past couple of years, the issue of media bias has become a regular talking point in public discourse. Contrary to popular belief, “fake news” has existed long before the advent of the 2016 election cycle. However, some may cite the work of William Meckling and Michael Jensen and claim that left-wing media has existed since at least the late 1970s (P. 49). One only needs to read Barry Goldwater’s 1988 memoirs to see how media coverage mispresented him during his 1964 presidential campaign. Media bias is not relegated to only left-wing media outlets. Conservative publications also suffer from distorting the facts when reporting the news. Liberal media bias is just more salient since liberals dominate the media. When ideologically loaded editorials start being presented as information this is problematic. Regardless of which political proclivities of the author or correspondent. This is nothing more than clear deception. A snake oil salesman presenting opinions as information. Talk about being sold a false bill of goods!
Alexis De Tocqueville reveals to us in Democracy in America that media bias also existed in the 19th century.
“What the latter look for in newspapers are knowledge and facts; only by altering or distorting these facts a journalist can gain some influence over his views (Tocqueville, Transl. Isaac Kramnick, P. 216-217)”.
Tocqueville didn’t dwell on the biased nature of American journalism. This is because he viewed news publications as not so much as vehicles for disseminating information. Rather, as a form of networking. Individuals who share the same values will invariably read some of the same books and obtain their information from the same sources. While it tempting to blame social media companies for indirectly creating powerful echo chambers through data aggregation to maximize user engagement; this problem predates modern technology. Due to confirmation bias, it is always easier to read publications that reinforce our prior beliefs. Converse with people who already agree with our perspective. Considering this quirk of human nature it isn’t surprising that Americans of the 19th century would levitate towards certain publications. Naturally, journalists of the era would either inject their own opinions into news stories or manipulate the facts to make their article more enticing to specific demographic.
This counterintuitive observation regarding the American press bucks our conventional understanding of the intended purpose of news media. Conventional wisdom would dictate that news is purely designed to inform. Tocqueville obliterates the myth of a journalistic “golden age” in the mid-20th century. Romanticized images of smoke-filled greenrooms and hardnosed reporting epitomized in the likes of Edward R. Murrow. The notion of the news being fact-driven back in the early years of television is an illusion. Per Democracy in America, even in the 19th century, the line between fact and opinion was blurred. Making Tocqueville’s suggestion that the press represents institutions of political association more than they do sources of information a sizeable argument. Presents a hard reality check for those entranced by the tidy and staid conservatism of the 1950s. The news correspondences may have been more eloquent and professional, but were still imparting bias in their reporting.
If media organizations are nothing more than a collective association of like-minded content producers and readers, how do these coalitions form? This a profoundly difficult question to answer. Did ideology bring the members of the media outlet together? Did the political leanings of the content consumers influence what the organization produces? It is hard to say. However, there is certainly an interconnected relationship between content consumers and producers. Tocqueville expounds upon this co-dependent relationship stating:
“… a vital connection between association and newspapers; the latter creates associations which, in their turn, creates newspapers. If it is a truism that associations must multiply as social conditions become more equal, it is no less certain that the number of newspapers increases as associations proliferate. (P. 602).”
While it may be fair do disagree with Tocqueville’s assertion that political associations are the impetus for the establishment of publications, he does touch upon an important aspect of this dynamic. That is if one media outlet of a specific political disposition is established more will follow. One just needs to look at the history of network television to see this principle in action. Back when network television was first established in the 1980s the 24-hour news channels were all left-of-center. Conservative media was essentially relegated to AM/radio talk shows. Then in 1996 the Fox News Channel was launched and provided a conservative presence on network television. The proliferation of conservative media shifted from the dying platform of network cable to the wild frontier of cyberspace. Leading to the development of outlets such as Newsmax, The Blaze, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, The Drudge Report, The Daily Wire, etc. All platforms whose success was propelled by the internet. One can’t help but wonder if Fox News had never been established if these outlets would have ever achieved their present level of success. Especially when you consider The Blaze was founded by former Fox News personality Glenn Beck.
The above example details this relationship of associations and the growth of media outlets for conservative publications, this rule most likely applies to any ideology imaginable. Just think of all the political movements that have spurred by the zealous distribution of literature by pamphleteers. This ranges from movements as diverse from the American Revolution to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. What is the first thing any wide-eyed college kid at a protest does when you approach them? Offer you a pamphlet detailing the rationale for their outrage and indignation. If a movement becomes large enough eventually formal media outlets fixated on the political movement are established.
Polemics such as Thomas Paine’s Common Senseand the Cato Letters may provide the rebel-rousing fodder for revolution. What sustains these political movements and their various supporting publications? It is easy to see that ideas spread through collective association and the proliferation of related literature/media. As enthusiasm, wanes momentum starts to sink. Convictions and commitment among supporters start to dissipate. Making the role of publications much more important.
“ This association can be more or less strictly defined, more or less restricted, more or less numerous but at least the seed of such an association must exist in men’s minds to ensure the survival of the newspaper (P. 603).”
Tocqueville believes that the conviction conveyed by journalists only continues to live on if supported by the readers. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. If no one is buying your newspapers or magazines your firm will go out of business. In terms of the transmission of ideas, the intertwined nature of content publisher and consumer is much more co-dependent. Yes, the passions of the readers need to remain resolute for the publisher to keep their lights on. But, the publisher needs to keep putting out engaging content to further perpetuate the movement can keep the movement from getting stale. It may be bold to argue with a thinker as brilliant as Tocqueville, however, let’s say he is only half right on this account. Fostering strong political coalitions requires both the publisher and the reader.
Some observant readers may be wondering, how does this model apply to local newspapers? After all, they tend to be more provincial in their scope and less politicized. The less politicized part may be a false assumption, due to the fact the local paper tends to conform to the political leanings of the region. If hypothetically there was a local or regional newspaper that was completely objective it still would provide a form of collective association. The news stories and editorials would focus on local issues. Presumably, all the readers would have interests in the commentary about new ordinances and municipal taxes. Readership and the employees of the publication bound by a mutually shared self-interest in local affairs. A cohesion that sometimes breaks through partisan barriers and transcendent party affiliation. National and international publications look to sow a connecting ideology among its viewers and readers. The local media outlets unite its staff and audience with universal concerns about daily affairs.
Alexis De Tocqueville was arguably one of the most insightful writers to ever detail the intricacies of American Democracy. Tocqueville’s journey sounds like an unlikely one. Something analogous to an intellectual version of the excursions taken by Lewis and Clark. A royal magistrate from France traveling throughout North America in only nine months. Even spending some time with local tribal nations. Based upon his keen observations of American political culture Tocqueville made many predictions. Some of his lofty inferences fell flat and resulted in nothing more than faulty speculation. What was truly impressive about his insights is what he got right. He did possess an uncanny aptitude for being able to foreshadow various political and societal shifts in America. Much of his writing was quite prescient.
Any modern reader of Democracy In Americacan’t help but wonder if Tocqueville predicted the phenomenon of “cancel culture”. The present trend in which individuals guilty of engaging politically incorrect speech is de-platformed. Whether it be shadow-banning on twitter or having their radio talk show pulled from the airwaves. Tocqueville shared many of the same concerns that James Madison voiced in Federalist Papers #51. Both men understood how the collective passions of the people could veer into the territory of authoritarian mob rule. That is precisely what “cancel culture” has morphed into, figurative lynching-mob. Relishing the downfall of anyone transgressive of the virtue of political correctness. Resorting to de facto censorship to prevent such subversive individuals from having the ability to transmit any more socially intolerable ideas.
Tocqueville shrewdly points how often any minority must contend with institutional barriers when it comes to seeking justice. The outcry for prohibiting offensive speech targets individuals who are out of lock-step with the majority opinion, effectively infringing upon their First Amendment rights. The true intention of codifying protections for free speech is meant to protect the expression of unpopular opinions. Where is an individual to turn their right to free expression is violated, but their views are perceived as being reprehensive by society?
“My main complaint against the democratic government as organized in the United States is not its weakness, as many Europeans claim, but rather its irresistible strength And what I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom that prevails there but the shortage of guarantees against tyranny.
When a man or a party suffers from an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? That represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To executive power? That is appointed by the majority and serves it as a passive instrument. (Tocqueville, P. 294-295. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”
He could easily see that those with unpopular opinions could very well have little recourse in enforcing their liberties. It’s easy to defend someone’s right to denouncing racism. It is profoundly more difficult to defend the right of someone to publish racist literature. This is mainly due to societal pressures. In the present climate defending the First Amendment rights of a bigoted person is tantamount to be racists. While this assumption rests on a rickety premise, public opinion only seeks to promote this fallacy. Due to public passions being more concerned with social justice, there is a willingness to mischaracterize people and to even dispense with critical rights if they do not comport with the grand objective of “tolerance”. Both Madison and Tocqueville intuitively understood the social dynamics of crowds which would later be expounded upon by social psychologists. Not only to members of the crowd feel a decreased sense of individual responsibility, but there is an emotional amplifier effect. Having either attribute present will make an individual less apt to rely on reason and more apt to go along with the mob. Even if their outrage and indignation are hyperbolic.
The shrewd Frenchman not only understood how popular passions would overwhelm sound reason and effectively alienate minorities, but he foresaw the development of Progressive ideology. Tocqueville noticed that democracy had a proclivity for drifting towards equality. He wrote at length detailing the lack of social stratification in the United States. Even noting that the capitalistic tendencies of America could provide a man from a poor family with the opportunity for exorbitant material success if he is willing to work for it. Democracy as a whole has an equalizing effect on society. The people elected officials that represent their will. The whole notion of “the government works for the people”. An idea completely foreign to continental Europe in the 19th century (foreign in practice, not so much in theory). Tocqueville audaciously claims that disposition towards equality implies perfectibility within human nature.
“As classes disappear and grow closer, as a tumultuous mass of mankind, it practices, customs, and laws alter, as new facts emerge, as new truths come to light, as old opinions disappear and are replaced by others, the image of perfection in an idealized and fleeting form is offered to the human mind.
….. Some changes improve his lot and he concludes that, in general, man is endowed with the faculty of indefinite improvement. . (De Tocqueville, P. 522-523. Transl. Isaac Kramnick).”
It is the tendency towards “indefinite improvement” that lays the groundwork for Progressive ideology. Progressivism generally holds that people are capable of constant betterment. The goal is to keep striving towards an idealized world where all the ills have been neutralized. Most adherents of Progressivism do not mind using the levers of government or other institutions to help lead people in the right direction. One of those corralling techniques would be punishment for veering off the path of social improvement. Such as making a culturally insensitive joke. This would explain the functionality of “cancel culture”. The de facto censorship is one of the means utilized to keep people on the straight and narrow. If you say something offensive you will be ostracized and have your career ruined. The logic being you will avoid making such a social faux pas when faced with the severity of the consequences. Why? Because followers of the Progressive movement believe that you can do better. Some even sincerely believe that a world without prejudice could exist. Unfortunately, is nothing more than a pipe-dream. Nothing more than good intentions knocking on the door of utopianism. If man is fallible, the odds of offensive speech dissipating is unlikely. Such an assumption demonstrates an unrealistic perception of human nature. We can mold people into the image we desire through social pressure and coercion. Rather, they need to come to their conclusions not to be forced into socially desirable opinions. There may be immorality in racism. However, there is also immorality in weaponizing social conventions to callously achieve social goals. Especially when innocent parties have their comments taken out of context and are used against them. Making these innocent bystanders nothing more than collateral damage.