Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Spiked": Political Journalism

My friend Carrie from Ireland, with whom I have found much in common politically and intellectually over the years, has guided me often to books, people, and places that have proved rewarding. Both of us, coming up through long involvement in Irish republican issues, have chafed at the tightening straightjacket of leftist PC-speak and recoiled at the overcorrective lurch to the right wing's shrill hyperbole. I suppose there's a mixed metaphor in this unbalanced image!

It's hard as a dissenter by nature to find thoughtful discussions that can roam freely among many ideologues while remaining loyal to an allegiance which, as my recent switch on my voter's registration states, defines me as "decline to state." My wife deems me practically a fascist; my elders think me variously an egghead liberal or a sullen reactionary as they align themselves in reference to me. I always recall the advice, freshly minted with my Bachelor's, from a professor who had taught me four years earlier, first semester freshman year, my required (it being a Jesuit university) introductory course in philosophy.

He had us, eighteen years old barely, at a school whose president had summed us up as promising but "average Catholic high school grads," tackling Ayer, semiotics, and Habermas. Along with two textbooks surveying all of the Western intellectual tradition. This was, ahem, thirty years ago this autumn. Nowadays such "average" students would be subjected to gendered-this and socially constructed-that, but Dr. Blystone had studied in Mainz and took a more Continental approach from somewhere in the pre-PC era that we still managed to huddle in as dorm-sheltered undergrads.

Anyway, the kind doctor-- who I don't even think I'd seen since I took his course!-- asked me, gowned and mortarboarded, about my plans. When I responded "grad school in English lit," he advised: "Never be a slave to any theory." He encouraged me to learn from wherever I found wisdom, but not to be trapped by any demagogue or theoretical bent. Sometimes such simplest comments stick the longest, and this one did. Along with his comment early on in class that I looked "gaunt and aristocratic"!

Back to "Spiked," I suppose they take their name from the spiking of an article to be printed in the old newsroom. A lame lower-case spelling, and a dull logo, but those superficial markings can be easily penetrated to reveal a livelier core. It's the sort of community where, if we are truly Obama's peers (as I am born the summer he was), and we take the more fluid, less fixed identity of a cohort alleged to listen to a wider variety of views than our smug boomer and snide neo-con predecessors, perhaps this flexibility can signal an encouraging trend. I have avoided ranting post-election, preferring to comment, or snipe, now and then on "Liberal Rapture," which you can link to under my bloglinks.

Carrie referred me today to "Spiked." (Unlike "LR," this may be an exchange of wits even my progressively inclined wife might be able to endure-- if gingerly and sparingly. She did surprise me with a nod to scanning the "National Review" on-line along with "Politico" & the "Huffington Post.") It's a London-based online journalistic consortium. Established for five years, there's international contributors. I read an article by Wendy Kaminer, who previously had bored me with a essay in "Harper's" that dragged through theoretical muck. Kaminer, to her credit, weighed in with a sprightlier essay responding as an MOT to the Jesus-friendly sermon at the inauguration. Even though I had heard her tired Jewish joke already, I recommend "Rick Warren: A Pastor We Can't Believe In."

The libertarian-individualist oriented site takes on hot-button topics such as crime, abortion, obesity, Obama, US actions at home and abroad, crime, economics, policy, and the environment et alia multa. On their distrust of the EU, their championing of regional autonomy, and their sympathy towards populism, I sense congeniality. Far more free-market advocates than class-conscious, tree-hugging me, their positions contrast dramatically with mine on immigration, ecology, capitalism, and China, but that's the price to pay for admitting an open-minded exchange. At least I get riled up by some posts and soothed by others. Whereas my local paper tends only to rile me up. The problem remains that too few of us-- I suppose age plays its part in enlarging our blinders-- even consider other viewpoints on many controversies that we've made up our minds about, perhaps decades ago as undergrads! Reminds me of so many activists in Irish republicanism, come to think of it.

Getting over the left-right stalemate; overcoming the timidity of the media to question received notions incorporated from academia, government, and institutions; breaking out of dull bureaucratic standardization; shaking up political complacency. These to me seem admirable goals. I've quoted Desmond Fennell before, but his insistence about renouncing our loyalty, as citizens and as advocates, to the same old seating arrangements as the 1791 French Assembly remains my own rallying cry.

As that like-minded crowd admits under their masthead of sorts:
One consequence of spiked’s ‘question everything’ approach is that we often find ourselves going against the grain of a discussion or dissenting from a consensus. This is not because we are deliberately looking for ‘outrageous’ ideas. It simply reflects how narrow the accepted terrain of public discussion has become, at a time when ideas can be dismissed out-of-hand as being in bad taste or offensive. The dead weight of this new conformism means that society is in danger of losing its critical faculties.

Mick Hume, editor, sums up "spiked." Their valiant (if quixotic as ever for we erudite malcontents) manifesto:
What is spiked? It is an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms. spiked is endorsed by free thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx, and hated by the narrow-minded such as Torquemada and Stalin. Or it would be, if they were lucky enough to be around to read it.

Photo: Never saw or even heard of this show, as I don't watch political coverage! Not only on Fox.

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