Thought comes before action. Words come before deeds. Media that profits from polarization will stoke it. Lies — maybe harmless for the moment, maybe even noble — create a lying world.
I’ve known this for a while. It’s why I left The New York Times. And it is why, as much as I miss doing journalism, I’ve been cautious at every next step.
Hate sells, as the journalist Matt Taibbi has convincingly argued, and as anyone looking at Twitter trending topics over the past few years can see. If Americans are buying rage, is there a real market for something that resists it?
I think we can conclude that the generations-long attempt to make a profession out of journalism has been a failure. A “profession” is defined as a calling that acts for the public good and operates under a code of ethics. I think it’s actually worse than that. I think that the problem is not limited to journalism but extends to the traditional professions as well. They have become or are becoming trades. Or even worse they’re being commoditized.
She then strikes pretty close to home for me:
I don’t know the answer. But I know that you have to be sort of strange to stand apart and refuse to join Team Red or Team Blue. These strange ones are the ones who think that political violence is wrong, that mob justice is never just and the presumption of innocence is always right. These are the ones who are skeptical of state and corporate power, even when it is clamping down on people they despise. The ones who still hold fast to the old ideas enshrined in our constitution.
Guilty as charged. Yes, I’m strange. I’ve been taken to task by both left and right for it. On last week’s CBS Sunday Morning they interviewed Norman Lear and I was gratified to hear him making what used to be normal liberal observations. He’s 98 years old. Liberals are old. Progressives are not liberals.
Ms. Weiss then quotes a passage from Heinrich Heine:
Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.
That was written in 1834 and in it you can hear echoes of events that would unfold in full a century later.
She concludes by asking whether we are experiencing our own version of what Heine prophesied for Germany. I don’t believe so. What Heine was talking about was central to German character. What we are embarked on doing is selling our birthrights as Americans for a mess of pottage.
I have omitted remarking about a lengthy portion of her article in which she literally rages against the machines. Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Sundar Pinchai, and Jeff Bezos are not machines. They are motivated by the same forces that have motivated tyrants for millennia—wealth and power. The United States was founded to prevent tyrants from coming to power. You cannot simultaneously embrace unfettered power, public or private, and our founding documents, a belief in which is the foundation of our country.