A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Archbishop should be ashamed to call the free flow of ideas "unpoliced".....

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, yesterday used a chilling phrase. He described the world wide web as a free-for-all that was "close to that of unpoliced conversation." What could he have been thinking of by employing so emotive and so resonant a word as "unpoliced"? The inquisition, imprimaturs, 1984, Hitler, Stalin, the Stasi, Mao, Pol Pot..... Throughout all ages, tyrants of every hue, religious or secular, or both, have desired 'to police' conversation. Indeed, the church itself has a less than reputable history in this respect.

It seems to me that the Archbishop should be minding his own ill-judged language rather than lecturing others (including us poor bloggers). The world wide web is a great step in self-empowerment and freedom from control, manipulation and PCness. This is why it is feared in countries like China and derided and misunderstood by many arrogant journalists who are, at last, seeing their hegemony over 'comment' weakened. Of course, it is vital to protect children, the innocent, and the weak from internet abuse, but, from now on, the genie of free speech will be much harder for tyrants and elites to put back into the bottle, and that can only be right. Senior churchmen should think twice before talking of 'policing' the right to free expression [see also Harry's Place (June 16) for further comment: 'Online disorder'].

In addition, just peruse this 'Letter to the Editor' on the good Archbishop: 'Apophatic or what?' (The Daily Telegraph, June 16: and today's difficult word, 'apophatic', is defined here).

Yet, to be fair to the old ArchBee, here is the more nuanced, but still distinctly apophatic, full text in the Ye of Little Faith Olde Guardian (June 16): 'This media tribe disfigures public life'.

Interestingly, this theme is also at the core of a long, thought-provoking essay by Professor Frank Furedi over at Sp!ked (June 13): 'From Europe to America: the populist moment has arrived' - "On both sides of the Atlantic, the political class has become convinced that the people do not know what is best for them."
"...Whatever the rights and wrongs of the populist rejection of the EU treaty, the manner in which the 'No' campaign is disparaged by professional politicians betrays a powerful anti-democratic temper. It appears that professional politicians attempt to account for their isolation from the electorate by pointing their finger at the incompetence of the public. On both sides of the Atlantic, the political class has drawn the conclusion that the problem with the people is that they do not know what's in their best interest. This sentiment is particularly widespread among liberal and left-wing activists and thinkers..."

I recommend a careful read.

It is all too easy for both elected and unelected elites to fall into what, following J.R.R. Tolkien, I now think of as 'the sin of Saruman' - the feeling that you, and you alone, have the right and the wisdom to guide and manage people's thoughts and actions - if only you had 'The Ring'. Throughout time, 'good' people have believed that they know what is best for everybody else, for a populace that is clearly suffering from false-consciousness. Such 'good' people can be extremely dangerous and much deluded.

Philip, blogging for freedom - and to be able to comment openly on such dangerous sentiments from our sainted 'leaders'. Coffee first, of course.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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