If 25% of the content on the Toronto Star website can be viral videos (the Huffington Post’s is around 95%), then I see no reason to continue upholding my self-imposed restriction against reposting videos to my blog. It’s still lazy blogging, but since I realised that no one reads this blog (and, as usual, making this very post an excercise in existential futilism), I am less inclined to care about blogging standards. Here’s a recent video that’s making the rounds of a “conversation” between Kevin O’Leary and Chris Hedges concerning the “Occupy Wall Street” phenomena on the CBC’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange (a transcript of the video can be found here).
Besides this being a somewhat entertaining (though slightly depressing) video, and besides it reconfirming what most people are already certain of, namely, that Kevin O’Leary is a jerk, there are a few other things about this video worth reflecting on.
First, Kevin O’Leary is a jerk. (Now for a preposterously long parenthetical note: I know this is unfair of me to say in light of the spirit of the criticism that Hedges levels against O’Leary, namely, that launching ad hominem attacks at people instead of addressing their ideas and arguments contributes to the dismal state of public political and intellectual discourse that “pollutes the corporate airwaves.” In my defense, whether O’Leary is a jerk or whether I am resorting to insulting rhetoric cannot really be construed as an attempt to discredit the content of O’Leary’s views. All it means is that I’m pointing out that O’Leary is condescending and inconsiderate. If I said he was a “right-wing nutbar,” one could fairly point out that I am trying to flippantly dismiss his political and economic views out of hand without legitimately addressing his arguments. The validity of one’s views and their demeanor are generally unrelated. Apparently Bill Gates is kind of a jerk. But by many other measures, he’s brilliant. Edison was an asshole. You get the idea. Furthermore, this blog doesn’t purport to be serious, has no readership, and I don’t have a reputation to uphold, so my characterisation of O’Leary as a jerk can’t really be said to lower the standards of public discourse. In any case, I’d argue that despite “jerk” being a little loaded, and somewhat offensive of a term, it’s a fairly accurate (something’s only libel when it’s false, right?) (parentheses in parentheses!) description of O’Leary, and not meant to be a cheap rhetorical ad-hominem. And whereas O’Leary resorts to ad-hominem in order to evade talking about the issues, the fact that O’Leary is a jerk is exactly what’s at issue here.)
Many people (I would imagine people very much like O’Leary) detest the CBC. They detest it because they adhere to vague, but powerful, and deeply meaningful (to them) beliefs in the sanctity of free-markets and the complete unacceptability of government control of anything that in principle that could be controlled by private interests. There are also some related arguments from a sort of structuralist perspective, that since the CBC is state-owned, then the media it presents will inevitably have a left-wing bias (which is bad, because, in virtue of being state-media, it should not have any bias, or at least reflect the range of political views that exist in Canada – this argument also seems paradoxical, because then the CBC would at times have to advocate its own destruction), because it is thinkers on the left who support things like state-owned media. These are caricatures, obviously, but then again, so is Kevin O’Leary.
I am not one of those people who hate the CBC. I support it precisely for the reasons for which I think it was brought to be, namely, the ability to present news without the influence of private (meaning corporate and advertising) interests. Now, this in practice is obviously not tenable, and the CBC relies greatly on advertising dollars. But the crucial idea is, if the CBC does not need to rely solely on advertising dollars, then it need not succumb to the pressures of other broadcasters, which, in oversimplified terms, is to secure the highest ratings as possible. Working from the assumption that high ratings do not in any legitimate way signify quality of programming, or the validity and importance of ideas and issues presented, then the CBC is conceivably able to present high-quality, important, insightful programming, without pandering to the lowest-common-denominator as so much mainstream media does. More than that, free from the constraints of viewer quantity over broadcast quality, they are arguably in a better position than privately-owned media to provide composed and critical newscasts and commentary. This lack of respect for the average person’s media tastes and the “democratic” approach of favouring high-ratings might sound very aristocratic and pretentious. So be it. One might question my standards: who am I to chastise what news people watch or what pundit they prefer? Is the CBC really better than Sun TV? Yes, it is.
Some people are considerate of arguments, patient in taking in information, and modestly aware of their ignorance. These kind of people might even read entire books. Other people flatly disregard arguments out of a sort of ideological instinct. They have short attention spans. But they are very sure of their views, and exhibit no self-consciousness of vehemently pronouncing them in a public forum in the most idiotic of ways (see 90% of user comments on the internet). In short, some people are intelligent, critical, and patient in the face of dissenting viewpoints, while others are not. People who watch Sun TV (or Fox News in the US) tend to be the latter.
In my idealised view of things, O’Leary seems like he would be more at home on Sun TV or Fox News than on the CBC. O’Leary appeals to inconsiderate idiots. Of course I’m not talking about something as abstract as IQ here. I’m sure that O’Leary and many of the people who like him are really good at certain kinds of math. They probably have good memories. O’Leary is certainly educated in that he knows a lot, and probably has excellent analytical abilities. He probably has other qualities that other people might mistake for intelligence like confidence and leadership skills. In the video, he shows himself to be astute at recalling ready-made, neoliberal talking-points when confronted with certain critiques of the corporate and financial world: corporations make things that you use and provide jobs, and banks provide the financial infrastructure necessary for an economy. Who are you to criticise things and jobs and economic infrastructure? Show some respect!
But beyond matters of how to excel at being a selfish, greedy, money-making bastard, who would sell-out his best friend in an instant, this is all he really has to offer. Talking points. Again, I’m being hyperbolic. O’Leary seems to have a good grasp on how the economy works, or at least, how to manipulate it (which, I guess is kind of the same thing). But how many serious works of history, philosophy, ethics (yeah right!), or political economy do you think O’Leary has read? If many, he obviously shows them no respect. Sure, maybe he’s read the standard fare for neoliberals so they can sound educated or at the very least he has wikipediaed Adam Smith (which O’Leary would sum up as “capitalism is great”) and Milton Friedman. But look at how he responds to a calm, reasoned, and thorough reflection from a renowned writer. He calls him a “nutbar.”
I’m aware that it appears pretentious to measure a person’s capacity to engage in serious, constructive, debate based on how well-read they are (in such useless areas such as history and philosophy, no less!). It’s hard to maintain that it wouldn’t help. If media pundits like O’Leary placed the same value on being well-versed in political and ethical philosohy (among other things) as they do on having a detailed knowledge of the contemporary business world, I would wager that the state of discourse in the mass media would not be as dismal.
Whatever the reason, it is fairly clear that O’Leary can’t engage in serious discussion. It’s also arguable that O’Leary’s inclusion in the CBC line-up, alongside such cultural gems as Peter Mansbridge and David Suzuki, is to pander to the uncritical polemicists and ideologues that flock to outlets like Sun TV and Fox News. While those aforementioned people who hate the CBC might find this an encouraging development, I find it distressing.