George Will this week published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post about Global Warming that contained more than a little information that was basically, factually wrong. The blogosphere reacted beautifully, and have placed significant pressure on the Washinton Post to issue a correction. They’ve not yet surcommed, but it’s been a beautiful illustration of the manner in which the blogosphere enforces greater accountability for accuracy, in many ways, than any newspaper.
This, surely, is a great example of the intellectual bankrupcy of much of the right. While it certainly happens on the left, it seems to be far more prevalant and accepted on the right. This post today in Femisting was yet another reminder of the frequency with which the right is willing to repeat only half the relavant information.
There is a problem, however, with the comparative intellectual honestly of the left. Are we, as progressives, able to successfully engage with people who are of average or below-average intelligence?
Oh, it’s very un-politically-correct to speak of it, but we all know there are varying levels of intelligence, just as there are people who are more attractive than others, and those who are more athletic. Divergence in abilities besides intellectual ability have long been accepted in our society. But conversations about intellectual capacity are very restrictive: we can talk about people being smart, but we can’t talk about people being something other than smart.
The sensationalist media that seems to exist in amplification in Australia caters to this group: those who have less intellectual capacity and are not capable of, or willing to, engage an arguement in a critical way.
So here we reach a problem. How should the left respond when the right presents are argument catered for those with limited critical thinking skills?
Take Will’s article. To my mind, and this is purely guessing, two sorts of people would have accepted it: those who are already climate change skeptics, and those who did not critically assess the arguments made by Will.
The former, frankly, are probably lost to the left. The latter, however, are an audience that could be won for the left, and are probably best served by progressive politicians, but are being lost to the right by this kind of argument.
In discussing this with my friend Amanda, she reminded me of another example, far closer to home. The Tampa incident of 2001 is one of the most shameful in Australian history, in which the Australian government turned away a boat load of refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. Memory a little fuzzy? Read up on in. Because the reality of what happened, and how it was presented in the media, are poles apart.
The Howard Government admitted to lying. Both about Tampa and the Children Overboard affair two months later. Yet, in November, they were again elected. And again in 2004.
Much like the republicans in the United States, the Howard Government learned to engage in sensationalist and intellectually dishonest wedge issues in order to impassion a proportion of the population, and consequently inspire them to vote for them.
What I’ve not seen, however, is the left engage this same audience.
Oh, Kevin Rudd has tried. And, frankly, succeeded at times, but he has not retained that intellectual honestly. Again, he has engaged in shameful sensationalism.
Can the left win, have influence, and not be sensationalist? Or are we doomed to sensationalism in order to be in a position to do real good? And, if so, is it worth it?