July 28, 2002

The 'Dissent' Myth is Becom...

The 'Dissent' Myth is Becoming the Stuff of Legend: Here's an excerpt from a capsule review in today's L.A. Times of a new collection called It's a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11. The book features a forward by Cornel West, some satire by Michael Moore, and poetry by Ani DiFranco. The mini-review was written by Susan Salter Reynolds:

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, there was enormous resistance, born of fear, to hearing the concerns expressed in this volume. The first casualty of war is reason, writes Ramona Ripston in her essay. A year has passed, and perhaps now these voices can be heard.
Yeah, "perhaps." Perhaps Michael Moore's flatulent little book was once again Number One in its 21st week on the L.A. Times' bestseller list.

Twelve days after the Sept. 11 massacre -- not 12 months, 12 days -- I wrote this post, about how the L.A. Times op-ed page was averaging at least one consequentialist or anti-war column per day, from the likes of Robert Fisk, Colman McCarthy, Barbara Kingsolver, Alexander Cockburn, Jonathan Schell, Howard Zinn and others. The myth that these brave "voices" weren't "heard" because of "fear," is just that -- a myth. And an unpleasantly self-congratulatory one at that.

Posted by at July 28, 2002 11:35 AM
Comments

Since when is the LA Times Op/Ed page indicative of the tolerance for political discussion in the U.S. -- or for that matter any Op/Ed page. TV should be the barometer.

Posted by: Joel at July 28, 2002 09:29 PM

"Should be"? By what measure?

The dirty little secret is that the hard left was publicly repudiated by the not-so-hard left long ago. According to them, Chomsky et al. are nutcases with no real following.

Posted by: John "Akatsukami" Braue at July 28, 2002 09:52 PM

Joel -- Should it? If so, for which television? The cable networks, which are lucky to get 1 million viewers in prime time (the same number as deliberately pay for the L.A. Times every day), or the evening network news programs (that have to cram everything in 30 minutes for their millions of viewers), or the tightly formatted local 11 o'clock broadcast?

To the extent that newspapers individually have more impact on their cities than any other single media outlet, and that they continue to set the standard and debate for the local and national journalism communities, I think it's fair to weigh the influence of the L.A. Times & other major newspapers pretty heavily.

Of the big-ticket U.S. media that I consume regularly -- the L.A. Times, New York Times, NPR, New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Reason and local TV news -- the views expressed in the book in question have been more than adequately represented in all but the latter three (and the Atlantic & Reason have at least debated the anti-war argument).

Like most Americans, I don't watch cable news much, but usually when I turn on the Chris Matthews there are life-long leftists like Pat Caddell and Christopher Hitchens mixing it up with whoever. I'm guessing that Michael Moore made his fair share of book-promotion appearances on television, and even ol' Noam Chomsky was on CNN a few months back....

Proving an assertion requires more than stating it as fact. I have yet to see anything resembling proof that dissent in this country was quashed or even bruised around the edges after Sept. 11. I stand ready to be convinced otherwise.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 28, 2002 09:54 PM

Don't tell me you think even half of the 1 million LAT subscribers read the Op/Ed page on a daily basis. I haven't read it in 6 months. I'd GUESS that one in 10 subscribers read the Op/Ed page.

I don't know how to quantify the degree to which dissent was discouraged post-9/11. Do you think there was any change whatsoever? Do you think one can draw an analogy to a country at war -- Vietnam era America or any other time. If not, don't you think that is unexpected?

I personally think there was a change in people's attitudes. America went to war on 9/11, if not legally, then emotionally and that was reflected in some way in the way we accept dissent.

Posted by: Joel at July 28, 2002 10:09 PM

Joel -- Let's put it this way: If you had the impression that dissent was somehow discouraged or not tolerated after Sept. 11, how, specifically, did you get that impression? I'm not trying to argue with you here -- I honestly want to know what were the reasons you or anyone got that impression (*if* you got that impression, of course). I'm sure my view is warped from having been embroiled with this Internet community of people arguing freely about whatever-the-hell ... and from the fact that I live in work in an extremely diverse city. If the elephant of dissent-quashing stepped in the snow, he *had* to leave footprints, no?

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 28, 2002 10:25 PM

I think Joel may be mistaking a change in people's *attitudes towards* dissent for a *suppression of* dissent. In the weeks after 9/11, I got into half-a-dozen e-mail debates with Progressive friends of mine, all of whom were arguing the Fisk/Zinn/Sontag etc. line. Their "dissent" was not the development of a new political ideology on their part; what had changed was that *I* was no longer willing to listen unquestioningly and uncritically to their sometimes-absurd assertions, the way I had been pre-9/11. I didn't particularly agree with most of their positions before 9/11, but I didn't care enough to argue about it; after 9/11, I *was* willing to spend an hour or two putting together a lengthy reply explaining exactly why I thought they were badly mistaken. Was I "suppressing" their dissent? No, I was happy to hear it and happy to argue with them about it, but I do think that for a number of my friends, it came as a real shock that anybody in their circle would actually dare to call them on what they were saying. That's definitely a "change in people's attitudes", but as Matt notes, to spin that legitimate change in attitude into a myth about the nasty suppression of the brave dissenting truth-tellers is either mistaken or dishonest, or both ...

Posted by: Nat Justice at July 29, 2002 06:50 AM

I'm curious why people here think that mainstream America was/is more welcoming of dissent during this war than they were duing past wars. It's not a rhetorical question.

I think there was some diminishing of dissent -- based entirely on anectodal evidence and my understanding of what happens to countries that are savagely attacked and then go to war.

If America's tolerance for dissent did not change on the whole, I think that is fascinating and well deserved of coverage/discussion. It would be an anamoly of history and sociology.

Posted by: Joel at July 29, 2002 08:41 AM

Joel -- I'm not arguing that tolerance for dissent has increased. I'm saying, again and again and again, that the people who state flatly that certain "voices" couldn't be "heard" because of "fear" have failed (in my view) to make any kind of persuasive case for such statements. If *you* would like to make a persuasive case, I'm all ears.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 29, 2002 09:49 AM

ani difranco's sept 11th poem is a great visual/audio experience, i'm a huge fan of her music and her activism. There are bits in the poem i don't quite agree with, but at least she is always pretty consistent regarding the things she is concerned about. everyone else in the book, *shrug*

as a nice companion/contrast to her poem is Dan Bern's folk history ballad of Sept 11th. NYC 911.

http://www.messengerrecords.com/dan_bern.php
even free to download.

anyways...
I live in a central valley of california ag town [condit country]. My wife gets yelled at for NOW stickers on our car. 'Dissent' wasn't popular here, but it sure the hell wasn't suppressed. Even our ever-carefull Bee had some coverage. Suppressed should mean Suppressed, not merely 'frowned on', or sneered at.

So where do we go to sign up for the New Left? I want truth, no rhetoric, no hyperbole, etc,...

Posted by: thephil at July 29, 2002 12:26 Pdeliberately lying about being "suppressed" for two reasons: (1) to reinforce the victimology, (2) as a reather disholism awards) have plenty to do with that. I recognize that the advertiser pull-out flap back in September may have had some indirect chilling effects on political speech, and maybe even his show was cancelled because of it all. I have no knowledge of that; haven't been paying attention.

You say, "to ignore what actually happened in an attempt to pretend it didn't happen doesn't exactly have the best historical track record." If you are referring to me, then please feel free to get bent. We can have an adult discussion here without devolving into some bullshit insulting omniscience about the motivations of our debate partners. You'll note that I have asked, again and again, for substantiations behind the kind of statements Susan Salter Reynolds made in this Sunday's L.A. Times. You have provided some vague ones here, I have responded.

But seriously, if you're going to continue to rely on this perceived-motivations game (as you did in comments on the Reynolds post), while writing behind a pseudonym, I will lose interest in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 30, 2002 02:46 AM
Post a comment









Remember personal info?






never have to try to advocate an unpopular opinion.

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 30, 2002 01:24 AM

Demosthenes -- Any time you want to saddle up with an actual human name, partner, feel free. (And what the hell are you doing up so late?)

I'm genuinely curious about incidents of "newspaper editors" having to "retract their statements," and would love to hear more. Don't know how you would quantify Democrats being "cowed" into "base toadying," other than the monolithic vote-tallies for the Patriot Act and suchlike, which you may well think is evidence enough. I am not too wooried about "marginal leftists" being "demonized," assuming A) they were actually "demonized," as opposed to "criticized," and B) they bloody well deserved it. I have the exact same feeling about the marginal (and immarginal) rightists (Falwell, Robertson, Coulter et al) who may have been "demonized" for the post-Sept. 11 nonsense they spewed.

As for Maher, I have a hard time picturing him as a direct victim of intolerance toward dissent, though I'm sure my own prejudices (against millionaire comics who are given journalism awards) have plenty to do with that. I recognize that the advertiser pull-out flap back in September may have had some indirect chilling effects on political speech, and maybe even his show was cancelled because of it all. I have no knowledge of that; haven't been paying attention.

You say, "to ignore what actually happened in an attempt to pretend it didn't happen doesn't exactly have the best historical track record." If you are referring to me, then please feel free to get bent. We can have an adult discussion here without devolving into some bullshit insulting omniscience about the motivations of our debate partners. You'll note that I have asked, again and again, for substantiations behind the kind of statements Susan Salter Reynolds made in this Sunday's L.A. Times. You have provided some vague ones here, I have responded.

But seriously, if you're going to continue to rely on this perceived-motivations game (as you did in comments on the Reynolds post), while writing behind a pseudonym, I will lose interest in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Matt Welch at July 30, 2002 02:46 AM
Post a comment









Remember personal info?






rl.value = getCookie("mtcmthome"); if (getCookie("mtcmtauth")) { document.comments_form.bakecookie[0].checked = true; } else { document.comments_form.bakecookie[1].checked = true; } //--> d = true; } else { document.comments_form.bakecookie[1].checked = true; } //-->