January 24, 2011


Quoted extensively in George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck (and this will be enough to have those who only see the world in black and white, and how is that for irony, to not watch, to not listen, to not think), this is a part of Edward R. Murrow's analytical and prophetic speech in 1958.

Give at a time when he had paid the price, had become a pariah in the media world, had won probably the biggest war to protect American democracy, something not even Bernstein and Woodward would top, twenty years later. He was not alone in it, not quite, but he was that struggle's face, and faces is all that corporations care for, faces and image.

And if you have time, read the entirety of Murrow's speech here, and don't worry, that sick, violent feeling inside your stomach, that is okay. That is how you should feel, for 53 years later, we live in the world Murrow had dreaded, had predicted, had hoped - just as any fighter would - that it would not come to pass.

Murrow, who had seen the shape of things to come, and who ended his speech, with the plea to educate and illuminate, and what would be the harm in that? Indeed. What would be? For are we not, all of us in the Western democracies, the ones who should know? To be informed and in turn make informed decisions, those decisions that then guide us, our lives and the lives of others?

When governments and corporations withold these from us, democracy is not only in danger, it is lost. Technically still alive, technically a process, during which we give our votes, our consent, our hopes and dreams, not knowing that our votes matter little, that consent has been manufactured, that our hopes were lost and our dreams are dying.

Have we not the right to be informed?

Have they not the duty to inform us?

And is it not our right, unalienable as the right to pursue freedom and happiness, to be not forced to pursue truth and knowledge? To pry it out of that box of wires and lights that otherwise is there to numb us, to make us stare into it, letting others do the dreaming for us, content to watch them and not dream ourselves.

These are questions Murrow asked, they are not old, they are not new, for they are timeless, even as time is running out, and answers do not come lightly, they are what need to be pursued, for they are quick and fast and always seem to be a little out of reach.

Snark, Lewis Carroll once called them, those answers to any and all, and if the name sounds familiar, it should not be because of a flat Disney film that pretended to have depth, both visually and in writing. Carroll knew about the fluidity of language, about the way it not only describes, but shapes reality and the world around us, together with the things with see. Snark, he called those mysterious creatures that make you hunt for them, that bring people from all walks of life together.

And snark is what we have. Dead and empty, not an answer but merely a hollow shell that gives us nothing, that pretends to be alive, to be witty, to be fast and furious...

.. but it isn't. We are alienated and insulated, we have created bubbles around us, bubbles that grow smaller with each new invention. Just as we are supposed to grow, to become bigger and bolder, we are content with the illusion of content that grows ever smaller, on smaller screens, coming to us through smaller ear phones, cutting us off from the immediacy and the world immediately around us.

These are the tools, these are the means, but like all tools, like all means, they need not be meaning the end of us. As long as we know, we are not alone.

This is Thomas R. Hart, filling in for Keith Olbermann.

From the digital wastelands,

Good night, and good luck.