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Why "Media Democracy" isn't Enough

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Why "Media Democracy" isn't Enough

Media Analysis

Yesterday I had the chance to go to the annual Media Democracy Day event in Vancouver. As usual, it was a nice chance to see lots of folks I don't get to have face time with all that often, as well as to interact with many new people.

That said, from a political and movement perspective, simply asking for "Media Democracy" is not enough. 

At this link, you'll find a short text that I wrote earlier this year that expands on these ideas, and rejects the reformist role that is imposed on radicals when democratizing media and media reform are the stated end goals of organizing. It is a response to an essay written by SFU School of Commnunications Professor Bob Hackett.

For my part, I'm glad I'm not working on the "vanguard" of media reform. Instead, I'm super excited to be building grassroots independent and radical media with the Vancouver Media Co-op, and also to have had the chance to go to the Allied Media Conference (where anti-capitalism and media justice are integral to media organizing) in Detroit earlier this summer.

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Comments

Taking it further

Let’s drill into your point to prove it:

If we radically democratized mass media by publically financing peoples’ media co-ops, but left a few with the power and/or right to own the rest of the economic means, it wouldn’t be long until they could buy-out society against its own interests.

McDonald’s in Ohio just bribed employees to vote for certain candidates for example. During the New Deal under Roosevelt, corporations gave high-flying careers to every Democratic bureaucrat they could get so that the same people who wrote the laws and regulations to get public control would undermine them for capitalists. This is why reform within capitalism is always fighting against a slippery slope. Capitalists do and can buy votes, they can buy politicians, heck, capitalists can buy planes to fly banners over cities all day every day.

The capitalists (private exploiting few) can leverage the resources to chip away at whatever they like. They’ve done it even with Canadian health care, where there are private partnership hospitals being built and operated in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. And they’d do it with a publicly financed, peoples’ controlled media too.

This won't please anyone here, but ...

... it must be worth pointing out that there are some who claim that democracy itself is an inherently flawed system. Just like free market capitalism, it's an unstable equilibrium point; so, you might enjoy the tiny bit of time you'll spend close to that ideal state, but chances are your children are just going to watch it going down the toilet.

 

That's what Joseph Stiglitz' theorem says about the free market and someone should sit down and prove the same result for democracy (take that to mean whatever you like: I stand by my claim). I'm sure Amartya Sen could do it in his sleep if it wasn't so taboo to point out the obvious flaws of democracy. Anyway, I've been a heretic all my life, so let me just go on being one with this religious order too.

What's a democracy?

Hey Masrour,

I would definitely agree that the democracy that we have now is an inherently flawed system. I think that most people are pretty aware of that these days, even if the acknowledgement isn't part of public discourse at all (not hard to guess why!).

Is that what you mean, though? Are you referring to modern history's dominant form, e.g.  parliamentary/congressional democracy, like the systems that currently exist in Canada, or the US, or France or hundreds of other places? If that's the case, then yes, absolutely, the type of governance that we're saddled with today is flawed to the point that it doesn't actually function anything resembling a "democracy," if you take that to mean a system that actualizes the will of the population it represents, gives those most affected by issues proportional decision making power, and so on. I could go into examples, but it seems all too obvious, really.

However, if you mean to say that some other ideal form of "democracy" is "inherently flawed," perhaps you could go into a bit more detail? What kind of democracy are you talking about? What's this "equilibrium point" that you mention, could you say more about that?

And, in either case, what do you think that means in regards to the role of the media?

Kind regards,

Andre

I wouldn't even call what we have a democracy.

This is not a comment about how screwed up North American political systems are: I consider critiquing Canadian politics to be a form for intellectual masterbation and even talking about the American system is a waste of one's breath. I'm just saying this utopia that people keep dreaming of, which means 2 million different things to a million different people, is very analogous to the pipe dream that Ayn Rand was running after: some people think she was disingenuous, but I genuinely believe that she had a dream; the only problem was that her dream, unlike Dr King's dream, was a really dumb one, with all sorts of degrading assumptions about human nature, whereas MLK's dream was based on India's main gift to humanity, which is the simple (yet infinitely profound) observation that human beings are too complicated for you to be able to predict them and to decide a path for them to follow. To me, this is the defining property of colonialism, which is a point that seems to be missed by almost everyone who alleges to be fighting colonialism: I've always found this really depressing, but life tends to be depressing in general.

 

Getting back to the main issue, what's common between Rand's crusade and all this lamentation over the lack of democracy (pick the flavour you prefer: reformist, radical, revolutionary, etc) is that if everything was ideal and if everyone acted "impeccably," then you'd forever rest in this ideal state (that I call an equilibrium point), but given the fact that perturbations are inherent to nature, once in a while you'll drift away from this ideal state, at which point it starts to matter what sort of behaviour you see in the vicinity of your equilibrium point: is it stable, in the sense that if you start to lose all the lovely things that you had got so used to, you get them back right away or is it unstable, in the sense that the moment start losing some of your liberties and privileges, they start disappearing all together. Stability is what determines how profound the underlying idea is: anyone can dream of the most ideal scenario that we could all live in, but it takes a genius to come up with a state of affairs that would not fall apart as a consequence of human nature. If you have a structure that would crumble down because of the presence of one psychopath (think Stalin or Reagan), then you need to go back to the fundamentals and restructure everything instead of adding meaningless clauses to your theory. You can't say I will just assume there are no psychopaths: this is like saying I know 4 is not equal to 5, but I would like it to be, so I'll just assume 0 = 1. This is what's beautiful and deep about Hinduism, for instance: the plan is not to change the essence of human nature, but to come up with a different way of life for each different personality.

 

Anyway, I recommend reading "Rationality and Freedom" by Amartya Sen: he talks about some of this stuff, although in a more indirect fashion. Also, this was Dostoevsky's main point in his post-Siberia years.

Chirs Hedges nails it...

...In this speech about how the liberal class is allowed to exist to discredit radical thought. Hackett sounds like the carreerists that Hedges speaks about. His malicious rumor about how the VMC was going to attack panelists at Media Democracy Day futher proves this. Smearing the VMC serves the purpouse of discredting radical and anti-capitalist media. The social media democrats who push this idea of "Media Democracy" would love for the VMC to seize to exist, to make room for their more market based, watered down media outlets. And becuase we are royal pain in the butt :) Thanks for this Dawn.

Democracy Is Not Your Friend

I think Dawn's article is a great piece. Thanks to her. We need also definitively more perspectives about that and criticism in general about what democracy means. I will answer first to this debate by quoting Peter Gelderloos :

Democracy Is Not Your Friend

Both Spain and Greece transitioned from fascist or military dictatorship to democracy in the ‘70s, and both dictatorships were instituted with the complicity of the bourgeoisie at a time of growing anarchist and communist social struggles. Because they have kept this memory alive, more people are aware that democracy and dictatorship are just two sides of the same coin, and it is a coin the elite will fl ip whenever they need to improve their luck. There is less trust in government; therefore the illusion of social peace and the trick of participation, the two tools a democracy has that a dictatorship does not, are less effective. Anarchists in these two countries do not consider themselves a part of the Left, because they understand the Left to be nothing more than the leftwing of Capital. Just as the state has two wings, it has two basic strategies of counterinsurgency: repression–violently crushing social struggles; and recuperation- -bribing and diverting social struggles to become civil and focus on rejuvenating the system rather than destroying it.

Using democracy as a good term, understanding it as anything other than the slave system it is and has always been going back to ancient Athens, prevents us from understanding the primary way social movements are defeated these days: by being tricked into participating in the system and trusting the authorities who are to blame for all the problems we are opposing.*

In Spain and in Greece, anti-capitalists understand that NGOs are the enemy every bit as much as the police are. NGOs get their funding from the Ford Foundation, the government, and similar state and capitalist enterprises precisely because they provide such a useful safety valve, preventing social tensions from becoming social struggles. NGOs turn revolutionaries into careerists, radical politics into office politics, struggles into bureaucracies.

The Left, through its political parties as much as through its non-governmental organizations, is structured to control resistance. Those of us who really want a free and egalitarian world in which everyone can meet their needs and pursue their desires would be better off understanding our relationship with the democratic system as an antagonistic one.

People in the social movements in the US need to assert the autonomy of our struggles. Political parties, politicians, and corporate or state funding are not welcome. Projects that do need to rely on funding to alleviate harm in the short-term need to be open and honest that they have traded in their autonomy, and while they are doing important, compassionate work, they have not embarked on a sustainable, long-term path of struggle that can address the root causes of social harm.

If you want to read the full article :http://guerrillanews.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/the-crisis-as-pacification/

 

 

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