10.25.2004So I think I was right on Saturday, in my little conversation with the editor. Just for a bit of context, he was wearing these painfully hip glasses and an all black ensemble complete with trimmed goatee and black leather jacket.
He is going places, definitely.
But it was clear, at least to me, that he hadn't struggled much with the hard issues at the heart of the journalists' decision and the editorial process. I mean, he was young, just about to graduate college and go on to journalism school for a masters, and was excited about an assignment in India he had coming up in a few months. And it was clear that he was enjoying the sort of grandiose philosophical conversations that we were having, and he respected the philosopher in the way all academics sort of do, in the back of their head knowing that good philosophy takes a lot of work and careful thought, even if they can't make heads or tails of what the contents of those thoughts actually are.
In any case, he seemed glad to be having an actualy conversation, as opposed to just mindless chatter. And he was nice, and intelligent, if a bit pretentious, though granted he was in Rome.
So but this conversation moved back and forth between the couch, the kitchen, and the porch for cigarettes. And in the course of it, it was clear he had a principle, and that principle was captured by his idealizing of the 'marketplace of ideas'. He leaves this, though, as an unexamined ideal- no one had any right to say what belonged or did not belong in the market place, and as a newpaper editor, it was his responsibility to encourage the plurality of voices that make up his audience be heard. Sometimes this means letting an unpopular voice be heard- but who was he to decide which voices get heard, and which do not?
Well, the journalists, I said, or the philosopher kings- the people who know which views are actually worth promoting, and which views are worth ignoring. My preferred example of this is Creationism as a viable lesson in a science class. Creationism has no place in a science class whatsoever. Not because it is right or wrong, but because it isn't science- it isn't how science is practiced by anyone anywhere. It would be like teaching children about weather and weather forcasting by including calls to psychic hotlines.
Not to say that creationism doesn't belong in the market place of ideas. If you absolutely insist our children are exposed to creationism in schools, then have it be part of a philosophy or 'meaning of life' class or somesuch. Besides making my job opportuinities just a bit brighter, that would give opportunity to have many different creation stories be heard, which could in fact be a good thing.
But we can say, definitively, that creationism simply does not belong in any scientific discourse. And we have good reasons for saying this. And thus we have good reasons for excluding certain voices and opinions from this discourse. Because we are in a position to decide what views deserve to be discussed and which do not.
Again, there is a big fuzzy middle ground here that is far from clear cut. Do Nader supporters deserve newspaper space comparable to Bush and Kerry? How about Badnarik supporters? These require tough choices.
Voluntarily publishing racist, hatemongering material is a much clearer case.
I asked him: what do you think about the Confederate flag flying over the capital of certain southern states? He said they shouldnt, as part of the 'equal protection clause' of the constitution. Ie, they shouldn't put the flag up because there is a law saying they shouldnt.
I was attempting to argue that perhaps they shouldn't because it is wrong. It is wrong because it promotes a certain view that does not need promoting, that we should take every opportunity to discourage.
The same with racist literature. There is absolutely some space in the market place of ideas where racism is encouraged, and it is called the internet. However, perhaps those of us who know better should try not to help those people out as much as we can.