Thinking is dead

Remember this front page from The Sun last week?

“This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless bacon sarnie. In 48 hours he could be doing this to Britain.”

What has a bacon sandwich – even a helpless one – to say about a politician’s competence to govern a country?

This cover story merely showed a flair for a clever turn of phrase, a picture that would normally be deleted by a discerning photographer and perhaps a lack of hand eye coordination.
This is not information, not news and a planet away from thinking.

This is vituperation.

“Unmeasured vituperation,” said Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mills, “employed on the side of prevailing opinion, really does deter people from expressing contrary opinions.”

Or: “I was just in a school looking at their anti-bullying campaigns and wonder why we still have a press that openly bullies and humiliates,” said Poetry Swindon organiser, Hilda Sheehan on Facebook the day after the general election.

We’re used to the antics of a tabloid newspaper, but what of The Times, known as the trusted paper of record? This election, said political economist and journalist Will Hutton and local newspaper editor and festival chronicler, Peter Davison, was the first election where political opinion was expressed as its page one lead story. The first time a quality newspaper threw down the barriers of news and subjectivity.

But does this matter? Is the media history? Is open debate over? Or does it continue in our homes, at the pub, at work, in social media?

On election day Science Magazine published a report which described Facebook as an echo-chamber and filter-bubble. The natural inclination is have friends and information of those views we like, and to minimise our exposure to contrary or uncomfortable points of view.

“If any opinion is compelled to silence,” said Mills, “it may contain a portion of truth.” Thus the self-selecting nature of social media may simply perpetuate our limitations and lack of thinking.

The national media is still a major influencer: 1 in 3 people still consume their daily diet of news this way.

I would argue it is vital to have trusted national news sources, led and reported by the world’s best news – not content – gathers and editors.

I believe legislation should be in place to clear the Murdoch and Barclay Brothers shark-infested waters. These owners of most of our media act like world-ruling Tzars, bypassing democracy and freedom of speech with their vituperation.

Not dead philosopher, Noam Chomsky said media is propaganda. The general population doesn’t know what happening. And it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.

We must find a balance to preserve our freedom of speech in all its wonderful and awful glory, whilst making sure we are not simply exposed to the opinion of one or two.

Opinion must clearly be labelled and banned from the prime pages of newspapers, news sites and programmes.

Just as selling a product is labelled as advertising, selling an opinion must be labelled the same way. It must no longer masquerade as news and ruin the path to good thinking.

Thinking is dead! Long live thinking!

This is the semi-final three minute talk given to the Swindon Festival of Literature 2015 Think Slam.

You may want to read the Festival Chronicle of Suzannah Lipscomb who preceeded the Think Slam; she talked about the role of public intellectuals.

NB This is in the context of Britain’s 7 May 2015 General Election. The Sun is a right wing national tabloid newspaper, The Times is a right wing quality newspaper; both are owned by Rupert Murdoch. Ed is Ed Miliband, the Labour leader who resigned after his party’s election defeat. The Barclay Brothers own many other UK newspapers such as The Telegraph.

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