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Monday, July 11, 2016
The chattering classes
“War and intimations of war,” by Carol L. Douglas, 2001
Lack of solitude has interrupted my work over the last week. Creativity is a singular process, and too much interaction—even when you love your visitors—is hard on your work. My Mainer friends tell me this is an occupational hazard of living on the coast. After two seasons I understand. But social encroachment takes many forms. Physical contact is only one.
Auberon Waugh coined the phrase “chattering classes” to refer to the politically active, highly-educated urban middle class. While the term is peculiarly British, the concept is not.
Social media has been a very useful invention in my line of work, which one could describe as “self-appointed expert.” In the past, we had to convince an editor of our brilliance and relevance before they would let us opine in print. Now their role as arbiters has withered away. In some ways it’s a pity, since a good editor stops a person from looking like a damn fool.
Older people like me are still daily readers of news. This is an engrained habit. The newspaper was in the kitchen at breakfast and the television wasn’t. Growing up, my local paper (the Buffalo Evening News) was dignified, measured, literate and informative. It shaped my understanding of writing, certainly, but also of reading.
Concurrent with the decline of newspapering has come a rise in public cynicism.Almost nobody believes that the Fourth Estate is independent or accurate. I’m not innocent of this; I too have media sources I don’t trust. But I’m not sure where a culture goes when it can no longer rely on facts.
It was this past weekend’s horrible violence that finally tipped me into paralysis. No responsible citizen can watch a series of public executions and not be moved by them. However, the hardest part was looking at Facebook. Crisis exposes social media’s fatal flaw, as the chattering classes rush to judgment and normally-intelligent people engage in the blame game.
A number of my friends have pointed out the similarities between the Current Crisis and 1968. Let me point out a few of the differences. In 1968, we were a nation of middle-class values. These acted like a giant counterweight to extremism. In 1968, we hadn’t become as profoundly cynical about the ruling classes.
We live in perilous times. When you’re sitting on a tinderbox, it behooves you to speak peace, not war.
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine. The wheels of public opinion jump to conclusions and then warp the facts to meet their preconceived ideas. I need social media, but at times it drives me nuts.