Saturday, November 25, 2006

Terrific Op-Ed on the Boundaries of Debate

Gary Olson, chairman of Moravian College's political science department, published an unusually trenchant op-ed in the Call last week. The piece, somewhat misleadingly titled, "Alternative media can balance establishment's experts," devotes most of its column-inches not to alternative news outlets, but instead to an analysis of the boundaries of "acceptable" discourse set by a class-stratified but little-discussed division of intellectual labor. Olson's argument is that the universe of "expertise" and punditry is drawn from the privileged top-fifth of the population--a subset that benefits from the Robber Baron-era economic inqualities generated by our lean and ruthless social "compact." (The largely invisible top 2 percent, in Olson's view, are the real winners.) This "secular priesthood" is important, according to Olson, because consent to the current system demands that the broad middle--the more or less exploited--be misled or at least distracted.

I also believe something like this is true, though the process by which privilege gets maintains is more complicated than an op-ed can convey. The piece is quite smart, and does indeed end with a litany of alternative news sources that probe beyond those narrow, mainstream boundaires.

The best bit of the essay is its list of topics that are currently off-limits to discuss, but that are by any measure important:

What are a few propositions that demand widespread exposure and debate? 1. Meaningful democracy and capitalism are mutually exclusive. 2. The United States is hated not for what we are but what we do in the world. 3. Oil can never be cited as the real motive behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq. 4. Sources of cheap labor, resources and profits — not promoting freedom — explain the 800 U.S. military bases around the globe and U.S. foreign policy since 1945. 5. The Israeli lobby in Washington does not serve this country's best interests. 6. The ''war on terrorism'' is only the latest propaganda tool to scare the public for other ends. 7. The proposed U.S. ''defense shield'' in outer space is an offensive weapon. 8. The purchasing power (adjusted for inflation) of the typical American family been falling for many years. 9. Big Business loves illegal immigration. 10. Most people experience no signficant upward mobility and the American Dream is now officially a myth.

Here's the essay.

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