Wednesday, June 10, 2009

July 12, 2006: Why Irrationality?

Reading Jim Hansen's report on global warming in the July 13 New York Review left me wondering why it should be so hard to communicate such a painfully clear message. My reflex was to resort to a comment by Herbert Agar (which I used to associated with James Reston): "The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear." This is what makes the title of Gore's lecture/book/film so appropriate: the inconvenience of it all. On the other hand, Antonio Gramsci may have come closer to the mark with his theory of ideological domination. Here is how Randall Collins explained it in his Theoretical Sociology text:

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, writing a few years later in his Prison Notebooks (1928/1971), however, argued that the working class is most afflicted by the power of the dominant class’s ideology. If not deceived by outright illusions, their minds are subject to ‘contradictory consciousness,’ with confused and fragmented judgments on the nature of the world they inhabit. This is because the ruling class is hegemonic: controlling not only property but—even more importantly—the means of producing beliefs about reality. These include religion, education, and more recently, the mass media. Thus the working class is severely crippled in its ability to revolt against the dominant order, or even think critically about it. (For modern examples, see Gitlin [1979] on the power of television, or the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s [1984] theory of the stratification produced by differences in personal taste and styles of entertainment, which he calls ‘cultural capital.’)

In other words, in less elevated langauge, what we prefer to hear is what the media tell us we prefer to hear.

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