Saturday, May 31, 2014

Speak truth – to the powerless

In the hands of fools, a good aphorism turns into a misdirection (including this one, although I'm not vain enough to consider my aphorism all that good).

Take the role of the journalist, which by old usage is “to speak truth to power”.

Either the Quakers coined the phrase, since they lay claim to it here, or they borrowed and popularised it.

Either way, it has nothing to do with journalism. The full book title from the Society of Friends is: “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER – A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence”.

Nothing to do with journalism, then. But it got plagiarised and popularised, embraced, adopted, and extinguished.

Power” is, right now in Australia, engaged in theft, deception, oppression, and corruption. It doesn't care about truth, it only cares about holding its power to its chest, long enough to deal a crookedly-shuffled deck of cards that will put all the aces in the hands of its backers and ideological fellow-travellers.

The role of the journalist is not to “speak truth to power”, for a very good reason.

The powerful aren't listening. At best, they'll invite you in to tea to make you feel important. They'll pick winners from those that speak, those that rise, and make them insiders.

If you're insidered by politics, you'll be comfortably and painlessly neutered, captured by process, and you'll seamlessly and quietly stop thinking about speaking truth to power, to be instead captured by another aphorism, “the art of the possible.” Eventually, you'll become irrelevant or detested.

And before you tell me it can't happen to you, note: Peter Garret is still maintaining a distressingly neutered silence, even out of office. His aggressive stance has turned defensive.

Today's “art of the possible” in Australia is a vicious, nasty, small thing that involves robbing the public on behalf of the rich.

If you're insidered as a journalist, you'll become part of the Canberra Gallery, and most of your audience will be other insiders, which is pretty damn useless.

The job of the journalist is not to “speak truth to power”. It's to speak truth to the powerless.

Because the powerless are the readers. You know, the ones whose eyeballs your oh-so-detested sales people are trying to sell.

The powerless are the audience that needs the truth.

They're getting screwed over, ripped off, made to pay for the high lives of others. And meanwhile, they're not getting told the truth.

They're not getting the truth, because the technique of subversion works so well.

Make the journalist an insider, and truth dies on a crucifix whose nails are comfort, tenure, and leaks.

And the sign over the head, as ironic as Pilate's “King of the Jews”, reads “Speak Truth to Power”.

The only way the powerless can learn, organise, learn to hate, and refine their hate into organisation, is if they're told the truth.

Speak truth to the powerless.

Addendum: The more I think about it, the more that the application of "speak truth to power" to journalism exemplifies a brilliant, seductive and utterly cynical application of the phrase.

In short, it means "talk to us, not to them." Which both neuters journalism - since it confines it to a cloistered insider audience - and excludes the mass audience.

And it appeals to the journalists. Unless we're even more mentally disturbed than our peers, being close to power is nice. You wear better clothes than people on the sport or crime beats, get addressed by name by politicians in public, and get to live on the inside.

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