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A game of chicken with only one driver

I love this analogy on the damage the Republicans are doing to the political process in the US (thanks to Josh Marshall at TPM):

Yes, at some level it’s a game of chicken. Something we can all understand pretty intuitively in human nature and game theory terms. But to really get what’s going on you’ve got to understand one key point: one of the two cars doesn’t have a driver in it. Which changes everything.

The full article itself is a good, short read. It’s also in the vein of my piece yesterday on journalism’s obsession with balancing two camps of opinion rather than objectively assessing the substance of those opinions. Paul Krugman makes the same point in the New York Times.

The American situation is worth watching. The Tories have their Tea Party equivalents (e.g. Daniel Hannan). While I wouldn’t wish the harm on America it seems determined to inflict upon itself, they are providing a useful warning sign of why the Conservatives and their desire for “strong government” is so worrying.

At some point, journalism as a profession will realise that “transparent” and “balanced” reporting alone is little better than “he said, she said” gossip. Perhaps once we’ve destroyed a few more trillions and got a few million more people killed. Until then, people expressing moderate views will be shouted down by the crazy people for being partisan. And the journalists will report this as fact.

This abdicates the responsibility that all professionals have to understand that everyone is always a participant at some level. In the case of journalism, the act of observation changes that which is observed. It is impossible to be just a reporter of facts, because the choice of facts reported has an impact.

I grew up on American TV and radio. My deep love for the country is fading. It was once the nation that amongst all others was most willing to speak the truth, to support free speech and speaking truth to power. Now it stands for paid-for speech and jockeying for access to power. Once it was rock’n’roll freedom and Founding Father wisdom; now it’s American Idol sausage factory and lowest common denominator slogans.

It has gone from inspiring symbol to warning sign.


Of course, it was also Reagonomics and cold war fear. When you’re young, the first you don’t understand and the second is just an exciting plot line. Still, the US is playing out a grand tragedy and it’s sad to watch. It’s a shame the journalists don’t seem to see themselves as part of it.

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