Since the election of Donald Trump as president-elect of the US, consensus has dictated that most well-respected political pundits erred in believing Hillary Clinton would win. In The Age on 12/11/16, yet another ‘pundit’, Tom Switzer, a broadcaster on the ‘intellectual elitist” ABC Radio National and a senior fellow at the US Studies Centre at Sydney University, contributed his philosophical perspective advising we must now be “wary of conventional wisdom”, adding that one of the explanations for this fallacious prediction of the US election, among others issues, is that “many intellectuals and journalists still live in a bubble. We can float through our personal lives and rarely mix with someone who likes a Trump, a Hanson, a Farage or a Le Pen.” All I can retort as a former newspaper journalist, TV researcher and publicist is that Mr Switzer speaks for himself, as I have not just mingled and met people from across the political, socio-economic spectrum in my work, but engaged with these people in meaningful conversations beyond the focus of the ‘story’. Some of these people even became friends. They were from disparate backgrounds with different education levels and different experiences so that I learned to question what so-called ‘conventional wisdom’ not just purported to represent, but indeed, what was implied and/or assumed by it. My conclusion was that there was actually no ‘such thing’, rather, just a plethora of theories advanced by so-called academic and erudite men and women who too often also lived in a “bubble”; an isolated and exclusive reality where the thoughts and attitudes of ordinary men and women, which of course they weren’t, were of no consequence or significance to them. It was status snobbery shrouding these views as subordinate and stupid to their own, revelling in their superiority with self-aggrandisement and self-delusion.
Socrates said “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms”, but how many journalists, academics and others actually appreciate that definition of terms; indeed, they offer their ‘wisdom’, so-called, without speaking the language of ordinary people who may not have professional prestige, but are often gifted with a far more valuable talent; that being, an ability to penetrate superficial grandeur and see it for the disingenuous sham it is. Too many people in the elitist establishment as I experienced them both here and in the UK believed their own bullshit, erroneously eradicating others’ perspectives as those of an uneducated and ignorant rabble, whereas I learned it was often the other way around. It was these elites who were often ignorant and while they might have had fancy tertiary titles, they had no idea about the needs, wants and beliefs of ordinary people. Tragically, they weren’t even interested in finding out, cherishing their own cocooned charade as if it was the only one that mattered. Moreover, they couldn’t even acknowledge that it was a charade and no one pointed it out to them. I’ve been perplexed throughout my time working in the media as to why people become journalists as they seem oblivious and uninterested in ordinary people, satisfied and content with chasing “a good story” but uncaring about the human beings involved. Indeed, I confronted myself about it too in my late 20s, only to realise I did care when few others I knew did.
It was never about wisdom, conventional or otherwise, but a blatant disregard and insensitivity to how people lived and/or want to live. The really pertinent problem is that fellow journalists, all part of a segregated and select social milieu, support each other in ignorance posing as wisdom. I have indeed met and befriended some people for years only to realise they were racist and sexist as well as not nice people, without kindness, compassion or a sense of what’s humanly decent and fair. In understanding that, I turned my back on them and walked away.
The headline on The Age article was “A strike against the herd” and all I can say is I’m glad I’ve never been part of that herd, at least in my own mind. It seems millions of people in the US didn’t accept the conventional wisdom of the well-respected pundits because they too, had a mind of their own, and as much as I disagreed with them about voting for Trump, they didn’t absorb the gospel as preached by the pundits in the press. That in itself is to be applauded. What must change however is for journalists to start ‘talking’ and even more, really listening and hearing the voices of ordinary people and trying to counter racist and/or sexist attitudes with salient facts and knowledge. Get the definition of terms right first, know precisely and exactly what you are talking about and maybe then, some wisdom might ensue. But who can say what’s really wise? One person’s wisdom can be another’s ignorance; it all depends on perspective and understanding the personal is political. We all have our own definitions of terms.