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Why do people watch or listen to political pundits? Why would anyone need to listen to a pundit in order to 'know' what their own position on the issues should be? Isn't it clear that most of these pundits are imposing their own spin on things, their own political correctness, and in the larger part are following someone else's agenda - a particular political party, a corporation etc?
Why the would a reasonable, intelligent, thinking person need to have their thoughts and perceptions argued by someone else? Unless they do not care about using their brain and making their own conclusions and prefer to do it the easier way - someone else doing the brain work for them? Isn't it enough that today's news journalism itself is spinning things (but in a more subtle way - by the manner a certain news program is presenting events and facts), that we need pundits to waste our time with useless verbiage and brain-washing?
To me it should be like watching a football game (yes, I am European, so I obviously mean a soccer game). You watch the game, and all the commentator is doing is to tell what is happening on the field. I do not even need that, I would have switched the commentary off if possible and only listen to the reactions of the spectators - they are more telling than any commentator. But at least he is not trying to make me a fan of either team. After the match, I do not go on watching the sports pundits analysing the game. Because they cannot tell me anything new. All they would try to do is explain to me what I have just seen on the screen, but through their own perspective. No thanks!
To follow the example even further, we can compare with the famous example of Chomsky (in Milan Rai, "Chomsky's Politics") where he listens in to an American talk-back show about sport. The "ordinary" people are able to describe, in exceptional detail, the various strategies and moves of the different teams, the strengths and weaknesses of the different players and express their opinion on these matters with enthusiasm. Yet these are the same people who avoid involvement in politics and public affairs on the grounds that it is too hard, they don't know anything about it, and its best left to experts.
Of course, there is this large number of viewers who just want some entertainment, because their lives are already so dull that the best occupation they can come up with in the evening is watching several people quarreling inside the magic TV box or rather, agreeing to each other and bashing someone who is not even present there to defend themself. And there is this large segment of people who, being too uncertain about their own political/social convictions and about their life in general, need someone to reassure them, and so they use these programs like some kind of echo-chamber, where their own prejudices are comfortably being amplified (after being thoroughly shaped by these same 'political gurus' of course). To such viewers, the pundits are definitely great specialists who know everything, so why not listen to them and believe them - they look so smart and they speak such sophisticated language, and they never stop talking for hours, so they must know a thing or two, right? And look, they are saying exactly what I am thinking, or what I believe I am thinking, so they must be right; I must be right!
I will not deny that there are also many (hopefully, like the majority of the readers here) who only watch this from time to time, and they do not buy much of the stuff in there, but prefer to question everything which is said by the political pundits. Asking questions, doubting what we hear - isn't this what makes us humans? Otherwise, we are sheeple. Anyone's sheeple - be it liberal, conservative, libertarian, progressive, leftist, anarchist, monarchist, any kind of -ist. And either a Hannity or an O'Reilly, or an Olbermann or anyone like them is our 'shepherd'.
We could this lead people? In the same place as it led Adolf Eichmann, the logistics expert who organised the deportation of millions to extermination and concentration camps across Europe. As Hannah Arendt pointed out, Eichmann was no psychopath; he was not a person who hated Jews etc. Rather, he prided himself in that he always obeyed the law, he had only a marginal interest in politics and was completely lacking in moral considerations. In other words, we really was simply following orders; the orders of his pundit.
With devastating effectiveness the social psychologist Stanley Milgram whose famous experiments confirmed Arendt's theory (as did the follow-up prison experiments). Ordinary people, with the right incentives and argued from a position of authority, would commit acts that they would consider - in a different time and place - to be absolute immoral.
Plato once argued (The Republic, 347c) - correctly in my opinion - that people who do not involve themselves in politics, will suffer governance worse than themselves. But there is a more dangerous side to this as well; that we do not involve ourself in politics and we do not engage in reflection of what our leaders say. Because contrary to what many would like us to believe, we can determine what is good and what is true without having to listen to the authority of pundits, selected by those who would rather we did not think for ourselves.
A shorter version of this article first appeared on the livejournal group talk_politics
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