Once upon a time I had a major in journalism. It only lasted for two semesters, long enough for me to realize that that particular ship was sinking fast. I wanted to do print. I wanted to write. I got 90% of my news off the internet then &, with the exception of NPR, that percentage has only increased with time. So it goes, I still get a paper. Mainly for local news, mainly out of habit & ritual.
Back in that day. Back in those heady semesters I had a favorite journalism professor by the ironic name of James Connolly (American). Ironic because I still look to James Connolly (Irish) for advice & guidance, at least as much as I do my other favored philosophers.
He’d march on the GPO.
At any rate, James Connolly (American) said, ad nauseum, that to be a good journalist, a really good journalist, you had to be a mini-expert on everything. What he meant was that you had to know a little about art, enough to be familiar with Edward Hooper & know vaguely that Rick Gibson once ate a human testicle on the courthouse steps to prove a point that only he cared about. He meant that you have to know enough about science to have already footnoted Nelson Fagundes & be able to talk about Enrico Fermi. He meant that you had to name all the representatives for your state, the aldermen, the mayors, & be able to cross borders & attribute Francois Hollande to the correct nation off the top of your head.
Now he didn’t mean that you had to be infinitely familiar with the bull shit that Gibson called art, or even know Hollande is a member of the Socialist Party. He just meant that you had to be familiar enough to follow the conversation & know what questions to ask.
I had a history professor profess roughly the same thing: “You have to know enough to be dangerous,” was actually his mantra. In his case he meant that you have to know enough to have seen that before. “The most politically dangerous man in the room is always the good historian,” he would say. Theory being that a historian knows how the ideas failed in the past. You shouldn’t be able to fool them with rhetoric like you can the general population, they have seen that shit before & learned from the past.
It helps. Sometimes picking up a rock & knowing what type it is helps. It certainly helps being the guy in the office that knows enough to ask for a Polish translator instead of a Russian translator. Especially if you live in Chicago. It’s not a matter of speaking either language, just being familiar enough to differentiate between them is knowledge enough to be useful.
It’s a shame employers don’t see the value in employees that took the time to learn a little about a vast amount of things.
Coincidentally, Professor Hill and Professor Connolly both agreed that, if you wanted to destroy a politician, ANY politician from either the left or the right, there are a series of simple questions that you can ask them in a public forum:
“How much does a loaf of bread cost? How much does a gallon of milk cost? What’s the average rent of a two bedroom apartment?”
You get the picture. People in power don’t do their own shopping. They are that removed from society & the plight of the people that they govern that simple questions like that will baffle them. They aren’t, as Connolly would say, “a mini expert on everything,” or at the least they aren’t a mini-expert on the people they lead.
That’s really what counts, right? They might be able to tell the difference between Niger & Nigeria, but when push comes to shove, shouldn’t their first area of expertise be the people that they are governing?
It’s not. Their first area of expertise is more often than not the people that are exploiting the people that they are governing. More often than not, the thing they are least familiar with are the people that they are governing.
That’s one of the reasons that history is so important & America is so fucked up. Most American’s, the last thing that they can do is name their president’s. Most American’s don’t know the difference between a Bull & a Bear market & couldn’t fathom that the Bull-Moose Party was a real thing or that Deep Throat was more than just a high class 1970s porn flick. They have never heard of Thomas Paine & couldn’t tell you the platforms that Alexander Hamilton pushed in his short tenure in American politics.
Most of them don’t know who Bobby Kennedy was & think that Jack was a Republican.
So it goes. If you don’t know your history anyone can tell you anything & you are bound to believe it. 50% of American’s believe that Abraham Lincoln was murdered because he was trying to shut down the Federal Reserve Bank. 32% of Southerners blame Obama’s Presidency for the handling of Katrina & 90% of American Liberals blame Bush & not the mayor of New Orleans for the poor evacuation plans prior to the hurricane.
The bottom line is that, yeah, I get just about all my news from the internet, it exists. There is a shit ton of knowledge at the tips of my fingers & even with this mountain range of easily accessible wisdom, people are still too lazy to look shit up.
That’s a serious problem in this country.
My boss even asked me why I would even bother to look up the etymology of the word “thing?” It actually dates back to the Vikings. Literally, it entered the English lexicon through phrases like, “we’re having a thing, you should come.” It was a curiosity thing on my part & for some reason the less than thirty seconds of typing & reading it took to look it up was too much work for her & most Americans.
The first steps in changing this world is simply looking shit up.