Manufacturing Manufactured Consent
James Taranto takes up the Juan Williams story and gives it a few shakes:
So how is it that Juan Williams got the ax while Nina Totenberg is still a member in good standing of the NPR news staff? “The answer is obvious,” says [Stephen] Hayes: “It’s Fox.”
We’re not so sure. CEO Schiller quotes NPR policy as stipulating that in outside appearances, “NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.” Perhaps Totenberg’s liberal-left views are ones that she would air in her role as an NPR journalist. In which case, what does it say about NPR that even Juan Williams isn’t liberal enough for it? Blogger “Doctor Zero” offers an answer:
I think one of the reasons the hardcore liberals who run NPR terminated Williams is their desire to abort a preference cascade. . . . As described by Glenn Reynolds in a classic 2002 essay, a preference cascade occurs when people trapped inside a manufactured consensus suddenly realize that many other people share their doubts. Preference falsification works by making doubters feel isolated and alone. . . .
Since a free society makes it very easy for individuals to change their opinions, they must be prevented from even considering such a change. Manufactured consensus is very fragile in a competitive arena of ideas, when there is no fearsome penalty for a "Fresh Air" listener who decides to switch over to Rush Limbaugh.
The manufactured liberal consensus about Islamic terrorism rolled off the assembly line a long time ago. . . . A credentialed, taxpayer-supported NPR liberal cannot be allowed to question this consensus. It will shatter too easily if the clients of liberalism begin connecting dots between underwear bombers and pistol-packing Army psychiatrists. They cannot be left to nod quietly in agreement with the earnest musings of Juan Williams . . . then look around the room and see all the other faithful liberals nodding at the same time. . . .
Juan Williams came too close to understanding ideas he was supposed to hate. The Left is deathly afraid of what happens when its constituents begin to understand the Right. They didn't like the idea of millions watching an NPR contributor break the biohazard seal on strictly quarantined ideas.
Look again at the [...] litany of Nina Totenberg quotes, and you’ll find it fits perfectly with this theme. Not only does she not understand conservative ideas, she knows they are unworthy of even trying to understand. She hates conservatives so much that she hopes their grandchildren get AIDS.
If, as Doctor Zero suggests, NPR has come to see its purpose as the defense of a closed ideological system, then Nina Totenberg is the very ideal of an “NPR journalist.” But if this is the case, in what sense can NPR be considered “public” radio?
“Manufactured consent,” as I’ve often explained, is a predictable product of our social acceptance of the post-modern turn as it applies to interpretation and what it is we think we’re doing when we interpret. Once we give “interpretive communities” the power to decide on meaning — and that “meaning” is then decoupled from the intent that produced it — it is a short trip to understanding that “meaning” itself then becomes nothing more than the object of a power struggle, with the loudest, most insistent (and most disseminated) narrative gaining social purchase. Too, it is clear that the “meaning” in question need not match any actual originary meaning, the very thought of such an abstruse thing being rendered impotent by the very process by which we allow meaning to be decided: to wit, if meaning is nothing more than what an interpretive community (quasi-plausibly) insists it to be — that is, if all it takes to insist something means what an interpretive community says it means is a bit of truncating, re-contextualizing, and an appeal to what “reasonable people” would then understand that meaning to be in these new circumstances — meaning itself is necessarily relative. Consensus meaning, under this description, replaces an individual’s will to mean with a group’s usurpation of that individual will. It is the very essence of the collectivist impulse, institutionalized in the very structure of our language, and reinforced in the way we believe interpretation functions.
It is no accident the left (and some on the right) prefer this paradigm for linguistic functioning, semiotically flawed (as I’ve often shown) as it is: because once we allow meaning to be decided upon solely by those interpreting it, those interpreting have come to understand that all that’s needed to make something “true” is to get a vocal enough interpretive community to insist on its truthfulness — even if that means bracketing intent (or rather, pretending to: the intent merely switches to those who have decided to resignify for their own purposes) — making “truth” merely a function of will, and a will to power.
Intoxicating stuff, particularly when you believe that, by virtue of your intellectual superiority, the world really should be made to bend to your will.
Or shouldn’t it?