Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Of Babies and Bathwater

Ellen Wulfhorst's recent dispatch for Reuters demonstrates just how far we have departed from the reasoned and deliberated discourse that Alessandra Stanley tried to apply this morning in her analysis piece about Don Imus. Here is Ms. Wulfhorst's lead:

Calls for Don Imus' head sounded loudly on Wednesday, as the ranks of advertisers dropping their support and activists vowing not to rest until he is off the air grew.

The apology by the syndicated U.S. radio host, his suspension, the canceled advertising and media uproar are not enough, say many who want Imus fired. His comments show just how sensitive and unresolved issues of race and racism remain in America, they say.

One cannot tell from Ms. Wulfhorst's text the magnitude of that "many;" but what one can gathers from the quotations she cites is that this is no longer a story about bad behavior or an offensive "language-game" foul. Indeed, it probably isn't even a story about Imus any more. Instead, it seems to have metamorphosed into an opportunity to expose (but not necessarily debate) "how sensitive and unresolved issues of race and racism remain in America." Well, not only is this not news; but, at the risk of being accused of insensitivity, I would like to point out that there are far better examples of the race problem than the blunderings of a shock jock. Consider some of the examples that have been examined just on this blog:

These are just stories I examined on this blog, but the oldest came out last January! Where was the indignation then? Why is this the story that has erupted in a demand for all manner of repercussions?

The simple explanation is that Imus is just to easy a target. Everyone is ganging up on him because:

  1. They can
  2. They look good in doing so
  3. It conveys the appearance of acting on a more important issue

That last time is the most important, because, in this postmodern world, appearance always trumps substance. However, this postmodern condition may actually provide a deeper explanation, which has also reared its head in the debate over a "code of conduct" for cyberspace: We have lost the ability to differentiate the baby from the bathwater. It is not just that appearance trumps substance but that, in our obsessions with appearance, we have actually lost touch with what the substance is. This then reflects back on another one of my favorite themes: the deterioration of our capacity for reflection, which is so necessary to any serious deliberation of a matter of substance.

I wish I could end this rant on a note of hope, some indication, for example, that John Dewey's vision of the symbiotic relationship between democracy and education will be restored and cultivated. Unfortunately, this just does not seem particularly viable in today's business climate, let alone the social climate being shaped by the Internet. I may just have to resign myself to harvesting what I can from my memories and using this blog to tell stories about "the good old days!"

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