Argument Industry: Hyping Controversy and Avoiding Solutions
by CHARLES HUGH SMITH
May 31, 2012
That much of the "news" is artifice and propaganda is a given. How can a society make good decisions about its future when the "facts" such as the unemployment rate are massaged and manipulated, and so many of the "reforms" are simulacra designed by the very wolves supposedly being tamed? Answer: it can't.
The same question can be asked of a society in which the "editorial" side of the mainstream media is dominated by an "Argument Industry" that pours gasoline on every conflict and avoids solutions like a vampire avoids the Cross and garlic.
Finding solutions would decimate the "Argument Industry" and slash profits.
That leaves us with the same question: How can a society make good decisions about its future when every challenge is conflated into extremes that cannot abide compromise or even recognize "outside the box" solutions? Answer: it can't.
Correspondent Kevin F. coined the term "Argument Industry" in this incisive commentary:
While pondering the gay marriage vote in North Carolina, I thought of how that is one among many issues we could solve once and for all in this country, but somehow we've decided not to. I wonder how much of the resistance to solutions* is caused (intentionally or subliminally) by the need for an "Argument Industry". For any hot-button issue, there is an ecosystem of lawyers, pundits, bloggers, journalists, lobbyists, community organizers, protesters and many others who feed off the issue. Each argument provides steady work for hundreds, if not thousands, of people, mainly in fields (political science, TV news, etc.) that would founder or collapse if the arguments didn't exist. Without gay marriage and abortion, half of all talking heads would be out of work.
It seems to me that the Argument Industry is one of the many consequences of the global shortage of legitimate work, a large pocket of the "make work" you described earlier this month. Conveniently, it also stirs people's passions, and drives them to rally around the politicians that argue the same way they do, encouraging loyalty in the system and the Status Quo.
* For "gay marriage", why not abolish the concept of marriage within government? Replace it with a "civil partnership" for everyone: you may select anyone as your partner, provided they are over 18 and also select you as their partner. Partners get all the rights previously afforded to holders of "marriage licenses", and all marriage licenses are converted to partnerships. Your religion (if any) may limit who you can marry (and pressure you to not make certain choices of partners), or limit when you can call yourself "married" (only after completing a special ceremony), but it's not the government's problem. Marriage wouldn't exist in the eyes of the government, only the concept that many people choose a partner and want them to have special rights and privileges.
Thank you, Kevin, for an insightful explication of the Argument Industry. It could be argued (heh) that I am part of the Industry that profits from maintaining ideological and cultural deadlocks and dead-ends, but my view is that adaptation requires transparent experimentation and dissent, in which the "better" ideas (i.e. the ideas that work better in the real world than the alternatives) out-compete the failed ideas of the past.
I see this blog and my books as efforts to honestly contextualize our situation and sketch out a practical framework for moving ahead.
For example, the various special interests and protected fiefdoms in financially troubled Vallejo, California, claimed without any shred of compromise or reason that bankruptcy would destroy the city, etc. They were flat-out wrong.
After a transition we might describe as "we only change when we absolutely have to", Vallejo, Calif., once bankrupt, is now a model for cities in an age of austerity (Washington Post).
The number of neighborhood watch groups jumped from 15 to 350. Citizen volunteers came together monthly to paint over graffiti and do other cleanup work.
And the city council struck an unusual deal with residents - if they agreed to a one-penny sales tax increase, projected to generate an additional $9.5 million in revenue, they could vote on how the money would be used. The experiment in participatory budgeting, which began in April, is the first in a North American city.
Solutions exist, but neither the vested interests profiting from the failed Status Quo nor the Argument Industry can abide practical solutions, because such solutions destroy both "profit centers."
Now that Vallejo is leading the way, it's dropped out of the news for the most part; this MSM article is a rare bit of solid reporting. Once the conflict and trauma could no longer be fanned by the Argument Industry, coverage evaporated.
One of the key take-aways is that solutions are local, not national. The Argument Industry loves to keep gay marriage front and center in a "national debate," where I see the solution is to let the issue be decided on a county level. People will move to counties that align with their own views, rather than have a "solution" shoved down their throats.
The same can be said of "drug wars," healthcare, etc.: solutions sought at the national level are already doomed by the bureaucratic costs and political corruption in Washington. Devolve the problems to the local level and let a thousand flowers of experimentation bloom. Those that work will quickly stand out and be copied by others seeking real solutions rather than clinging to a failed Status Quo.
Kevin offers an interesting solution to the heavily hyped "gay marriage" controversy. It's worth recalling that in rural Colonial America the government also had no role in controlling or officiating marriage. In rural America, churches and preachers were scarce, with many communities served by itinerant clergy.
To get married, a couple declared their marriage "in the eyes of God" and moved in together. When the preacher came round, they might, if they and their families chose to, conduct a church ceremony. If not, the marriage stood as declared and consummated. The local government (such as it was) might record the marriage as a census factoid much like ownership of a specific parcel of land, but it did not regulate what lay outside the boundaries of State control.
In Peak Government, the Central State seeks to control everything; there is nothing that is not within its purview and grasp. Perhaps that in itself is the "problem" that needs fixing.