03 November 2005


Much as I like The Daily Show and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I do think that, all things considered, we'd be better off if television were abolished. The main reason is political: it's corrosive to our political culture.

Today I have for you an essay by a smart cookie who argues that the Republic was founded on print, and faces grave dangers as print fades in importance.

In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.
Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and books.

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing press --- as King George had done --- they could not imagine that America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word.

It's worth reading the whole thing. Though if you don't, let me share one more witty observation from the essay:
Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.
It's a pity that a commentator this sharp couldn't get elected President.

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