Sunday, 30 November 2008

Quote wars

My friend Adrian Monck seems pleased by my aside in a recent book Beyond Trust that his thoughtful and entertaining book Can You Trust the Media is - as far as the values of journalism goes - nihilistic.

Adrian is reminded of a book (that's three books so far; one more to come) he read some thirty plus (I'm guessing here) years ago; Turgenev's Fathers and Sons in which the odious Yevgeny Vassilievitch Bazarov delivers himself of this juvenilium:
"A nihilist is a man who does not bow to any authorities, who does not take any principle on trust, no matter with what respect that principle is surrounded."
Apparently, there's a bit of him in every journalist. Well, kinda; and that's the problem. Bazarov's human weaknesses are multiple (irony) in that as well as being utterly ignorant of the consequences of the philosophy he claims to live by (more irony), he's a hypocrite, liar and cheat; he's also incompetent, snuffing himself out before the end of the novel because he couldn't meet the most basic requirement of his job.

For better or worse, I prefer Victor Hugo - and there's a lot of him to prefer. In my part of France, the whole population (apparently) of Montreuil sur Mer joins every year in an appropriately lengthy son et lumiere, scenes from Hugo's Les Miserables - this bears no relationship, incidentally to the London musical.

Now as every French schoolchild knows, Hugo has something to say about everything and one of the things he has to say about nihilism is this:
"All roads are blocked to a philosophy which reduces everything to the word “no.” To “no” there is only one answer and that is “yes.” Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing. Man lives more by affirmation than by bread."
Relevance ? Well it's this. We can reduce journalism to zero - to something that has no meaning beyond story and cares nothing about a meaning that outlives the sound of its last story's last word; the question is, should we ... or even, do we want to ?

I suppose I have this daft belief that it's a good idea if the accounts of the world we give each other are true (inasmuch as they can be - and, yes, I get that problem) honest (inasmuch as we can judge them - ditto) and trusted (inasmuch as we can audit them - ditissimo). And that if journalism purports to make a living from scribbling these accounts on the back of adverts and flogging them to us, then it'd better make sure its accounts are at least fractionally more trustworthy than those we can get from the village gossip, for free and without the ads.

I suppose I mind the hollowing out of journalism that this nihilism supports. But I suppose I mind more that line about 'siding with Andrew Gilligan'. Now that is nasty. AM knows how to wound.

But I don't bear grudges - so here's a challenge; let's debate this. A showdown. You ... me ... with or without seconds. I don't even mind an away fixture down your end of town. Before Christmas ?


Adrian Monck said...

Fair cop - it was a low blow ;)

POLIS said...

Let's do it at my place - I can't bear to see either of you humiliated in front of your own people...

Here's another book: Scoop.