"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
Nothing can match the institution of government for sheer malevolence and resultant mayhem, but the modern media come close; the big, established ones that report selected items of news, arranged and analyzed so as powerfully to mold public opinion and thereby help perpetuate the established order. Happily and thanks largely to the Internet and the abundance of viewpoints found on it, that dominance is crumbling as I write--so much so, government is taking some action to shore it up and in response a "Stop the Bailout" petition is being circulated. Before it falls into its richly-deserved historical ash-can, notice the power in that four-letter word: "edit."
dictionary.com gives the primary meaning of the verb as "to supervise or direct the preparation of a magazine, newspaper, book etc." I first noticed the subtle power of an editor 20 years ago.
At that time, a friend and I were producing each week a half-hour show for Connecticut Public Access TV, called "The Freedom Alternative." It took a lot of time and work, but was hugely enjoyable and may even have had a slight influence; we were able to get it broadcast by stations covering two thirds of the state, which meant a couple of million people could have watched it if so inclined. It was anarcho-libertarian, though we did welcome as guests many who were hacking at the branches of the state as well as striking at its roots. At that time I hadn't worked out what action was needed to dissolve government, so still supposed that such trimming might help.
By an unforgettable coincidence, we broadcast a live show (most of them were pre-recorded) opposing Gulf War I at the very hour that the fireworks first burst over Baghdad, which meant that almost certainly 100% of our possible audience was glued to its CNN screens--but that show was taped and re-run later several times. We interviewed passers-by about the "war on drugs" and proved how very few had any idea what were the underlying facts and statistics; we gave air time to Libertarian Party candidates for office; we covered the remarkable, 65,000-person demonstration in Hartford against a state income tax (in vain, alas) and more than once interviewed Andrew Melechinsky, who was courageously facing down the Infernal Robbery Syndicate and other obscenities. We even established a Russian connection, at the time the USSR was busy breaking up.
And we offered radically unconventional comment about current items of news; and that's when I realized what it meant to "edit."
We had only half an hour per show, and every day the papers had scores of stories, and even those covered only a tiny fraction of all that was actually happening; so we made a selection of a selection, then offered viewers a fresh perspective--the "freedom alternative." But in the very act of selecting what to report, I was editing out everything else; I was selecting items that would best help us present that perspective. I was doing exactly what the Editors of the evening news at PBS, CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC and the NY Times and Washington Post do, except that my selection presented an opposite bias. That's the power of the Editor. He doesn't even have to offer an analysis! He or she can merely select stories that convey what he wants conveyed, and leave out all that might convey a different view of the world. When Fox News boasts of being "Fair and Balanced" and say, "We Report. You Decide," what they mean is that they cover Right as well as Left (unlike most of the others)--not that they or anyone else covers No-government as well as Pro-government. The News Hour on PBS does occasionally feature a guest from Cato or the Manhattan Institute, and I've even heard them utter the L-word!--but never, ever would any of them allow that there is a credible alternative to having somebody run a government. The freedom alternative is simply edited out. No wonder we meet blank looks when we confess to being anarchists. The well-washed brains of Middle America have been programmed to suppose such a view does not exist, or not in polite society. By those who edit.
I'm still editing today, when I choose what to write for my new Zero Government Blog; most of the posts (though not all) are keyed to some item of current news, and I pick those items I can most readily use to show the absurdity of government in all its forms. I edit. Our Editor on STR edits, of course; if someone were to offer a branch-hacking article instead of a root-striking one, I hope he would decline to accept it. Our bias is clear and advertised; our adversaries' bias, in the establishment media, is equally clear but not advertised at all. One of them, famously and fatuously, even claims to publish "all the news that's fit to print." Ha!
Teachers edit, and more particularly the faceless, shadowy bureau-rats who edit in and out the school-monopoly curriculum that determines what they teach. The world is awash in an almost unfathomable ocean of knowledge, thanks to 10,000 years of human research and thought; government school editors select just a few to ram in to the minds of each rising generation. History, I notice, is down-played--no doubt because it provides an endless catalog of government wars, and might lead the student to conclude that war is most of what governments do; its place is taken by womens', African and environmental studies. Much less inflammatory. The most encouraging thing I read today (in a waiting room) was in a recent edition of Newsweek; an article deplored the lack of progress in school SAT scores over the last 40 years and noted one major reason was that kids "lack motivation" to study in school. Well, fancy that! If only someone at the magazine had read John Taylor Gatto, he might have known it a quarter century ago. Even the supporters of government schools are now seeing something of what a disastrous failure they are; that's progress, I suppose.
The culprits are those who edit.