10 September 2010

Bigot's coverage exposes sorry state of discourse

In America, a self-styled Christian pastor with an honorary degree from an unaccredited school of theology has galvanized global attention with vitriolic hate-mongering against roughly one-fifth of the world’s population that identifies as Muslim. It seems Pastor Terry Jones, the leader of the Dove World Outreach Center, a mighty impressive name for a “church” that can claim only about 50 followers, may still yet proceed with his plans to burn a couple hundred copies of the Qur'an, Islam’s most revered text, on September 11.

This self-aggrandizing behavior by an obscure pastor has succeeded in generating appeals from Pres. Obama, the Vatican, U.S. generals, the head of the U.N. and numerous world leaders who have tried to convince Jones to reconsider his inflammatory and mean-spirited plans, which have already sparked worldwide revulsion. Here in Afghanistan, protests “grew on Friday, with demonstrations spreading to the capital and at least five provinces,” reports Reuters UK. International employees of the university where I work in Kabul were told this morning that a lockdown would be implemented tomorrow with all non-essential travel prohibited.

The resulting public debate has centered on what it means be a Christian, what Muslims believe, and the limits of free speech in liberal democracies. Neither of these questions identify the core problem: How does one dumb shit after another, especially in the United States, get this much attention?

Under the guise of egalitarian democracy, there is a pervasive belief in the United States all elsewhere that all opinions are equal. That’s nonsense. There is no qualitative equality between the belief that the Earth is the third planet from the sun in our solar system and the belief that the Earth is flat. The former can be substantiated by empirical evidence, while the latter says evidence, facts, and observations are unimportant. Believe what you want, but there is a mountain of difference between an informed opinion and an uninformed one.

This flattening of opinion has been accompanied by flattening of what constitutes news. For example, my Google news page just informed me that Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, the “star” of an MTV reality show, was unhappy with being characterized as a “Lindsay Lohan wannabe” by the judge who fined Ms. Snooki $500 for disturbing the peace after she was arrested for public intoxication in July.

The news media deserves a share of responsibility for the sorry state of public discourse, but so too does the public, which laps us this drivel day in and day out.

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