Events in Ferguson show why we read the news: for entertainment

Summary:  When the hysteria began following the revelations about NSA surveillance, I predicted that we’d have an enjoyable hissy fit — then nothing would change (details here). And 14 months later little has changed (perhaps nothing). Now the events in Ferguson MO have sparked a new cycle of outrage over the militarization of police. My prediction is that again little or nothing will change. Here we consider why public outrage has so little effect: news is just entertainment.

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Citizens read news in order to become well-informed, and so able to help manage the Republic’s business, as well as their own. Why do subjects read the news? That is, why bother if we don’t act on what we learn? Entertainment! Scandals give us the thrill of righteous indignation. The excitement of a two minute hate at the designated bad guys. The thrill of submission before power, when we realize our Leaders pretend to care about our opinion, but in fact ignore us.

Then back to our lives, refreshed, glowing with the knowledge that reform is impossible — so we need do nothing but dream of the great day when we arise and smite our unworthy rulers.

What connects the news with our actions? A sense of responsibility, of citizenship. Otherwise the news provides insights of use for personal and business use, but little else. The news is a product, manufactured by professionals to meet our desires for fun mock-serious light entertainment, plus personally useful information. Journalists and editors are masters of constructing emotional narratives that feed our prejudices and excite our emotions.

When we change, journalists will change to accommodate our new needs. Their business is giving us what we want.

Other perspectives on these events

The fault lies not in the news, but in ourselves. The most common response in comments to these stories is pre-emptive surrender. It’s hopeless, so we need not do anything.

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Another reaction, equally futile: “Ferguson’s absurd dilemma: What if being peaceful won’t change a thing?“, Ja’han Jones, Salon, 20 August 2014 — “The suggestion that we be peaceful to receive peace back is always urged. It’s also ignorant of American history.” Excerpt:

A most important question remains in Ferguson, Missouri, and quite frankly, throughout the entire country: For black folks, why be peaceful? This is an unsettling question to which the response is still uncertain. For peace to occur, the answer need be a straightforward one: “Because peace begets peace.”

It’s a false reading of history. Force has repeatedly failed minorities in America, especially in the form of riots. Peaceful demonstrations — much more difficult to stage — have worked as the primary leverage to build successful alliances. It’s an especially odd response since the actions in Ferguson have hardly been peaceful — or successful. Any more than the other similar demonstrations, like the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The onus of reconciliation never falls upon the oppressed, but rather solely upon the oppressor. The United States of America, in these times of frightening and disheartening familiarity, is forced — once more — to acknowledge the persistence of its historic, grotesque violence levied against the black body. … I cannot, in earnest, expect a man to accept such a reality without anger. I respect his anger. I love it with all my heart. I will only pray he guide it as best he can.

The history of African-Americans in America has been confronting this reality. Brooker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Malcom X — they all said that this anger must be channeled into politically useful means to change US society. Riots are easy, but futile.

Posts about the events in Ferguson, MO

  1. Our elites smile at events in Ferguson, MO. They’ll cry if it pushes Blacks to try 4GW., 14 August 2014
  2. Will the Ferguson protest force development of African-American leaders?, 15 August 2014
  3. Why America has militarized its police and crushes protests, 16 August 2014
  4. The protesters at Ferguson might have won, but choose to lose, 18 August 2014
  5. Events from Ferguson explain why we are weak, 19 August 2014

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3 thoughts on “Events in Ferguson show why we read the news: for entertainment

  1. Violence works so well for our government. (sic) We use violence against black guys, we use violent bombing in Iraq, we use violence against our 2.3 Million prisoners, we support violence in Gaza. Our government spends billions on technology, all designed to kill people violently. Some black guy steals stuff from some store, and well, maybe that’s not productive. But if you’re preceived as coming from the political mainstream and telling people this — there’s going to be a credibility issue, I’m afraid.

  2. Intriguing perspective on the events in Ferguson by Alex Tabarrok. Did you know that the city of Ferguson, MIssouri has an average of 3 warrants per household?

    How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does
    that turn into an American town essentially coming under military
    control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone? We don’t yet know
    exactly what happened between the two individuals on the day in
    question but events like this don’t happen without a deeper context.
    Part of the context is the return of debtor’s prisons that I wrote
    about in 2012…

    Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise
    the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of
    $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532
    warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per
    household.

    You don’t get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household
    from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from
    bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant ‘low level harassment
    involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat
    of jail for failure to pay’…”

    Source: “Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison,” Marginal revolution website, Alex Tabarrok, 21 August 2014.

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