Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pacifica's Logical Descent

On his blog, left-of-center Marc Cooper laments the ongoing disintegration of leftist media radio network Pacifica. Mr. Cooper specifically bemoans the choice of an extreme conspiracy theorist (9/11 was a Bush-organized coup) to run the network as yet another example of Pacifica's self-marginalization. His analysis of the network is trenchant.

Instead of  producing, as it should and could, a satellite or web-fed daily schedule of 12, 18 or  even 24 hrs of  solid, listenable national programming, the “network” remains, instead, a rag-tag hodgepodge of stations with tiny listenerships and all held hostage to self-serving programmers more interested in hearing themselves talk than in building a real audience. It’s a half-billion dollars rotting away.

The “flagship” New York station, WBAI, which in the 70’s was a hothouse that produced a generation of able journalists who later took their skills and their liberal or lefty politics into the mainstream media, is today an irrelevancy that teeters on bankruptcy. The programming is domianted by a toxic brew of crude race-politics. 

The Pacifica outlet in Washington D.C., WPFW, which, in the age of Bush, ought to be a mighty bastion of on-air political pushback, continues to be – as has been the case for two decades—primarily a black jazz station. White guilt, and a veritable PC-cult that permeates the internal Pacifica culture, has constrained the network from turning that station into what it ought to be –  a powerful and massively listened-to alternative in the heart of the nation’s capital. 

The Houston outlet, KPFT, remains a peanut-whistle station. KPFA in Berkeley, whose core paid staff has been the same for 25 years, is but an echo-chamber of  its pony-tailed, core community. Listening to the station for more than five minutes is like tuning into a clandestine ethnic radio narrow-casting in an obscure tongue to some tiny Balkan enclave. 

The Los Angeles station, KPFK,  whose drive-time is dominated by an combination of screamers and, believe it or not, a couple of followers of the maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, finds itself in a similar sorry state. With a signal area that encompasses 25 million people, its average listenership during any given quarter hour is under 10,000.  Over a seven day period, the 110,000 watt station collects a cumulative audience of  barely  175,000. That’s less than the number of unique visitors that a big blog – like Daily Kos—gets in one single day. 

But Mr. Cooper misses the point. Pacifica's disintegration has less to do with the organizational politics of a particular media outlet than it reveals the broader collapse of the intellectual underpinnings of the Left itself. The second half of the twentieth century witnessed one leftist dream after another collapse in failure, or be unmasked as a lie. Socialism didn't produce economic benefits, even when benignly practiced as in Western Europe (France); its muscular ideological brother Communism turned every country it infected into a abattoir. In the West, Leftists refused to acknowledge the failure of collectivist economics, and instead plowed ahead, promoting collectivist cultural ideas - multiculturalism and racial/gender identity politics, radical egalitarianism and the like. So much intellectual evasion and deceit were needed to advance these agendas and maintain them in the face of overwhelming evidence of their perniciousness, that any credible common intellectual framework on the left ultimately collapsed. Leftists know they oppose things, but often can't offer a substantive argument why they do so. Faced with this intellectual deficit, but unwilling to acknowledge it, the Left usually resorts to shrill name calling (anyone who questions them is a racist, sexist, imperialist, patriarchist, etc. etc., ad nausem) or wild conspiracy theories. Thus, George Bush doesn't simply make horrendous mistakes because he is ill-informed. He is the chess master of a grand global conspiracy to impose capitalist/partriarchical/corporatist hegemony over the whole world. For an example of this sort of nonsensical thinking, read anything said by Harry Belafonte in the past five years. Belafonte denounces Bush as a dictator even as he stands next to Fidel Castro - and the American left looks the other way.

As the Left grows increasingly disconnected from reality, the conspiracy theories grow wilder, tinged ultimately with a hateful loathing of the entities associate with the capitalist/imperialist oppressors. Hence the self loathing of many white leftists, who can't decide whether they hate themselves more for being white, or being Americans. This self-loathing also explains the refusal of the Left to criticize its more demented members - radicals like Howard Blum who recently basked in the glow of Osama bin Ladin's praise for his anti-American writings.

The underlying self-loathing - sometimes termed "liberal guilt" - has sapped the Left's ability to denounce radicals who imperil the movement, or the nation (the concept of nationhood now itself ideologically suspect). Hence, race baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are allowed a free pass; hate organizations like the Latino La Raza are deliberately ignored; and America-hating anarchists like Ward Churchill are tolerated on American college campuses - all with the mainstream left's silence or active defense.

But self-loathing and detachment from reality does not make for a stable ideological core, which is why the left has fragmented so badly. Unity cannot exist in a vacuum. Nor does an intellectual vacuum attract new supporters. Democrats - mostly mainstream leftists - cannot understand why they lost the 2004 election, especially against a candidate as weakened as George Bush. Part of the answer is that they offer no credible, coherent alternative to GOP policies. Another part is that many Americans have sensed the self-loathing and intellectual bankruptcy underlying the Democrats and recoil instinctively from it. The GOP - which has been corrupted by Washington money and power and delusions of Wilsonian grandeur - holds on to power because enough Americans just don't trust Democrats in a time of war. They don't trust Democrats to fire back if the US is attacked. Self-loathers don't shoot back; they try to understand their attackers and sympathize with them. (Recall that the radical left - best represented by MoveOn.org - was against the war in Afghanistan, not just Iraq.)

Pacifica's descent into a Balkan-like morass of conspiracy theorists, unrepentant Communists (many of the increasingly-quaint Stalinist school), and racial agitators marks the logical outcome of a movement whose core ideology has failed and whose membership is now drifting into senescence. Pacifica, thus, simply epitomizes the ideological Schizophrenia afflicting the Left as a whole. It can't be fixed and will only get worse.


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