Tuesday, January 03, 2006

All flesh is grass....

Speaking of acquiring personal identity and meaning from a group, I was just reading this post by Jane Hamsher on blogs (and normally I despise these navel-gazing '"essays" on "blogging", but it's early in the morning and my internal editor is still in bed), when I realized how Gene Lyons and Bill Clinton and Harper's Magazine all tie into this subject.

Digby, quoted by Hamsher, is right: blogs serve a function that is a desperately needed check on the manipulation of the mainstream media by forces in the GOP. I remember reading Gene Lyons' original article in Harper's, and then later finding Fools for Scandal and devouring it, and still later reading the discussion Harper's sponsored and published with Lyons and other journalists, and one thing about the story never varied:

Lyons was always alone, was always the lone voice in the wilderness. He was telling the truth, but since the truth was not accepted by any other MSM journalist, Lyons was a pariah. He was ignored, as he was told he would be, and then he was vilified (he recounts the tale of this warning in Fools for Scandal, and also recounts how it came true), and at one point he was even investigated. In a later Harper's article, Lyons recounts a discussion with Sen. Arlen Specter, who tells Lyons the details, down to the phone calls, of a visit from a friend from England. Absotlutely no one seemed to care that the U.S. Government was spying on an American citizen, and keeping track not just of the border crossings of one particular, but innocuous, foreign national, but of all his movements in and around Arkansas. Lyons, of course, was chilled. But the news made absolutely no splash at all.

And to this day, Jeff Gerth still works for the New York Times, and Gene Lyons still toils in relative obscurity. Thom Friedman is on the NYT op-ed page, and Molly Ivins writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The lesson? Until the group says it is so, it isn't so.

This is a good thing, of course. The prophet Ezekiel was probably thought a madman, declaring his out of body experiences by the river Chebar, seeing the "spirit of God" leave the Temple in Jerusalem, and the chariot-throne of God, and the valley of the dry bones, and all the other odd things Ezekiel reported. To this day we don't like to dwell much on Ezekiel's more apocalyptic visions (the vision of the Temple is chilling in its deadliness and "otherness"). Eventually the community accepted what Ezekiel said as true and trustworthy; but Ezekiel proves the group always needs a radically alternative voice.

Assess the major prophets: they run the gamut from the court-attending First Isaiah to the hallucinatory Ezekiel, who not only has visions but performs symbolic physical acts as well. Jeremiah falls somewhere between the two, cursing Jerusalem when he isn't weeping for it, berating God for choosing him a prophet when he isn't pronouncing God's denunciations on an apostate nation. Then there are the minor prophets, like Hosea who marries a prostitute and gives his children names that would shame a Hollywood celebrity, and Amos, who declares himself nothing more than a dresser of sycamore trees. Who would listen to Amos today?

We have a Romantic notion of truth, that it comes from "enlightened" individuals (thus do we join heart and mind, and the union is a fragile one at best) who defiantly declare "truth" against the powers that be. But it isn't that simple, and it never has been; nor will it ever be. The radically alternative voice will always be available, and the community will always find a way to assess it and even accept it. But it will seldom be accepted as the voice that changes everything, and with one clear pronouncement does all that Jonah managed to do.

And I suspect, if left blogistan had the power and effectiveness of Jonah, it would react in much the same way as he did.

That, however, is not likely to happen. As Jane Hamsher says, these things are habits that have been built over the ages, and they will not crumble without great reluctance. Which is a topic for another post.

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