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Monday, November 29, 2004

short loud shouts.
"... So here we are with high education, long life, stability and fairness. That suggests that there is no need for enmity. No need for false populism. No need for malevolent division or unnecessary division. There is certainly no need for yellow journalism and false populism. And we have another advantage - all this remarkable technology. It doesn't make us think any faster, but it allows us to get the nuts and bolts of life into place a great deal faster than ever before. That means we have even more time to educate ourselves, to live, to be stable, to be fair, and above all to think and to discuss and to argue.

We've never been so free and so available for serious, prolonged, in-depth, complicated public debate. Never before.

And so it is rather surprising to look back at those astonishing moments in the second half of the 18th century when Pitt and Burke and Fox in the British Parliament took hours and hours to debate ideas; and the philosophical, ethical underpinnings of those ideas ... They themselves and most of their political friends were going to die young. They didn't have much time. Most of them would be dead before they were 40 or 50. A few made it to 60. And they had to write everything out by hand. And yet they found days and days to debate ideas. And had time left over to carry out a political revolution. Now, here we are living to be 80, 90, 100 and yet, we are virtually incapable - with the exception of periodic meetings like this - of devoting our public life to lengthy debates about ideas. And a growing percentage of the space occupied by the media is reduced to phrases of three or four words which don't contain verbs.

Or they are only verbs. An increasing percentage of our media experiences are devoted to little more than primal shouts. Shouts repeated again and again and again. Pulse news, pulsation. Pulsations as opposed to arguments or thought. Clips which are mere seconds long, repeated endlessly, so short and so endlessly that they become interesting in the sense that they are so uninteresting.

Endlessly repeated tiny little fractions of ideas. The exact opposite of a public discussion or debate. Fractions of ideas, shouts completely unattached to context, completely unattached to the possibility of establishing whether what is being discussed has any relationship to truth or to history or to anything else. These short loud shouts are little more than emotion; or the scripted facsimile of emotion. And so nuance becomes more difficult. Manicheanism becomes increasingly prevalent. We are presented with black versus white, good versus evil. Are you for or are you against? Three words in favour, three words against."

John Ralston Saul, March 20, 2004
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