MSNM, NGOs and Paranoia: Nelson’s Reflections

I’ve posted several pieces on the latest dust-up between HRW and NGO Monitor recently, that raise fundamental questions about both the credibility of the “human rights” NGOs, but also their disturbing relationship to the MSNM, especially in their way of viewing the world (what the Germans call Weltanschauung). Now Nelson (Europundit) has offered an essay that gets at the core of the problem in a way I’ve only hinted at. Below, his essay. My notes — and others who comment here — to follow.

Nobody trusts the government. The politicians are corrupt. The government is always lying to the people. It works against the people’s true interests and only promotes the selfish interests of its own members and their friends. Those in power invent scary threats to distract the public’s attention from their own wrongdoings.

No, I’m not talking about the US. Well, not exclusively at least. Everything I’ve just said has been repeated day in day out, for years and decades, by the papers and the electronic media wherever there’s anything resembling a free press. That’s the MSM’s real message in all democratic nations. Whatever else they talk about is secondary.

Is it true? Often it is. Is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Each one of us can judge by him or herself. And, as we have been doing so collectively for some time, the MSM has been losing most reliability it might once have had, to the point that, in countries like the US, it is not only as little trusted as the government and the politicians themselves, but it’s clearly seen as just another partisan political player.

That’s, however, quite a small consolation, because the damage they, the MSM, could do has already been done and, even without being trusted, they can go on doing it. What’s exactly this damage? The corrosion and eventual destruction of public trust. No open society can work without it and, though the government and all state institutions must always be closely watched, it works at its very best when the people’s default attitude towards these is one of conditional trust, not one of perpetual mistrust.

While a measure of scepticism is necessary and healthy, cynicism is counterproductive and eventually dangerous. Whatever else the MSM have been doing since at least the end of WW2, they have more often than not been treating governments, politicians, democratic institutions and public figures as guilty unless otherwise proved. Through the criminalization of normal politics, they have contaminated the public with a universal cynicism. In the meanwhile they have created the social space for a different kind of politics.

In a healthy society there’s an amount of credibility that can conditionally be given or lent to its democratic institutions. If these are under perpetual suspicion, that credibility will likely migrate to alternative ones such as religious authorities, revolutionary groups, cultural agents and so on. In the US, the MSM seem to have been the first to benefit from this migration of credibility. With their own demoralization, a result both of transparent partisanship and sheer incompetence, other newly-created institutions began to attract and almost to monopolize the credibility the society had to offer. Among these, the most important were the NGOs.

When no American president would be taken at his word were he to say “the sun shines” or “the sky is blue”, nobody, especially the MSM, doubted the good intentions of such organizations as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or the International Red Cross. Even those who weren’t exactly sympathetic towards, say, the UN or the ICC, didn’t spend much time questioning the workings and doings of those NGOs. And it wasn’t only their good intentions that were given a free-pass, but whatever they said or reported, their numbers and value-judgements as well.

Thus they became influential and, in a democracy, this means powerful.

Ultimately, however, such organizations can only survive if there’s no suspicion about their agendas and, above all, if they can and are willing to prove again and again they do not operate with double standards. When they’re under suspicion, it is not enough for them to protest a vestal-kind of immaculate purity. It’s part of their job to demonstrate their own innocence, because, lacking true accountability, not representing anyone officially nor being in any way elected for their job, the burden of proofs lies always with them.

A single suspicion of using double standards, if not convincingly dispelled, is enough to begin undermining whatever work they have done. It is not enough for them to be fair (if they are), they must also look as fair as fair can be. But, as has been seen in several recent cases, that’s obviously not happening: rather the opposite is taking place. These organizations are wasting their laboriously (and perhaps unjustly) accumulated capital of credibility by showing their true partisan colours.

When people realize they’re untrustworthy, it will become evident that the world can live well or equally unwell without their dubious help. Those organizations will then be reduced to what they more and more really seem to be, that is, political parties, with all their recognized partisanship, but none of their legitimacy in electoral politics. The same fate awaits most other NGOs and the one important thing that still protects their current influence is the complicity of the MSM.

Their credibility depends on the majority taking them at their word and not scrutinizing too deeply their workings, not because these are always necessarily good, but rather because, from the majority’s point of view, these go on below the radar. Once they become obsessive about something, say, about Israel or Guantanamo Bay, the neutral public may also become more curious about them.

That’s because their survival depends on staying far from the spotlight that should instead be focused on the subjects they’re talking about or dealing with. It is important for their stated neutrality not to look like an active player in any controversial or noisy cause. They must look like non-actors and most publicity about them is potentially harmful for their future. Any publicity, even if highly sympathetic, that distracts from the subjects they should be discussing, any discussion of their own nature, methods, alliances, income sources and so on will only do them harm in the long term.

Obviously, what’s taking place now was bound to happen sooner or later. Credibility is a scarce good in the political market and particularly so in a time when both the politicians themselves and the press have lost theirs. As these were losing their credibility, the NGOs have been accumulating it, even if only due to the public’s distraction or disinterest in them. When it became clear that lack of credibility was a growing obstacle for policy making, those organizations that had it couldn’t resist trying to become active political agents. An important share of power was theirs to take. The siren-song must have sounded irresistible. Or else, they’ve been co-opted by other players.

Whatever their intentions might have been earlier, once they entered the power-game, it was easy to foresee that they’d bend to its own dynamics, which consists in working mainly to achieve more power and influence and not to lose those already acquired. As these organizations became more powerful and influential, their previous credibility wasn’t enough anymore to confer legitimacy on them, because it could stem only from accountability and it was precisely thanks to its lack that they accumulated their capital of credibility to begin with.

Accountability is the counterweight of power and influence particularly in situations where credibility isn’t and won’t be granted for free, where it is not aprioristically given in good will, but must rather be conquered and kept with much care and effort. That is the paradox about those NGOs: as they become more powerful and influential, they also become less necessary and, yes, less credible too. If they want, for instance, to arbitrate international conflicts without having been chosen or elected in any democratic or representative way to do so by anyone, then there are lots of questions about themselves they must answer whenever asked.

It is important to stress that these NGOs became political actors exactly because the traditional ones were losing the credibility to perform certain tasks. Much of this lack of credibility results from the invariably adversarial, even antagonistic, way in which the MSM have been covering politics in general for over half a century. It’s not all that obvious that the media’s main role should be that of the only watchdog, because in a democracy that’s first of all the role of other political and representative institutions, such as the independent judiciary or the political opposition.

Due to the complexity of modern democratic societies, the MSM managed to achieve a virtual monopoly first on credibility-granting and then, even when losing its own, on the withdrawal or corrosion of other people’s, organizations’ and institutions’ credibility. They have thus managed to corrode much of the democratic institutions’ legitimacy.

There’s, however, an even worse consequence to all this. In a world where people feel attracted to strains of thought that explain in simple and intentional terms complex and impersonal phenomena, the MSM, by working as a machine or mechanism the function of which is to automatically cast suspicion on anything and everything, became a source less of information than of perpetual mistrust. They do not have to spread conspiratorial theories themselves, though they don’t always refrain from doing so. It’s enough for them to suggest that anything that happens is done by someone and that anything that’s done by anyone is motivated by something suspicious. Putting always in doubt whatever is clear, looking always for something hidden where what’s obvious or mere chance might explain things perfectly well, turning rational questioning into an inquisitorial prosecution, perverting method into obsession, what they have been doing is creating the ideal breeding ground for all kinds of paranoia.

35 Responses to MSNM, NGOs and Paranoia: Nelson’s Reflections

  1. Lorenz Gude says:

    I think Europundit’s analysis of the hectoring and corrosive nature of the MSNM exactly right. I used this satirical YouTube of the way CNN would have reported D-Day in a post a couple of years ago.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px_XBJHrs4I

    It shows by demonstration exactly what Europundit is claiming.

    He may well be right on NGOs too – that they have garnered the credibility lost by government, business and other institutions. However, speaking for myself, it has been a long time since I have trusted NGOs if I ever did. They all strike me as being unbalanced to some degree by their very nature, being made up of people motivated to act on behalf of one cause or another. Actually, as I think about it, I believe I can take Europundit’s analysis one step further. Not only are NGOs the special pets of the MSNM, they are also natural allies because they are power seeking organizations who’s primary modus operandi is to keep their true agenda hidden. Everything he says about how NGOs have to keep the focus on their ostensible raison d’etre applies equally to the MSNM. The moment either become the subject of the conversation the jig is up.

  2. oao says:

    nobody wants to infer the correct logical conclusions from the evidence.

    nelson may be correct on the facts, but not in their interpretation: EVERYTHING has collapsed in the west: the private institutions (including the MSM), the public ones, the NGO’s, education, you name it.

    it is true that societies cannot survive without trust. but it is also true that there is nothing that can be trusted anymore.

  3. oao says:

    would you want to trust this configuration of corporate nd govt cooperation?

    http://newsrealblog.com/2009/07/16/free-speech-tv-the-fall-and-rise-of-goldman-sachs/

    the merging of govt with the corporate world is called fascism.

  4. oao says:

    how about trust in this?

    Obama to NAACP: Muslims & Latinos Are Down With the Struggle; Only They & Blacks Experience Discrimination
    http://www.debbieschlussel.com/archives/2009/07/obama_to_naacp.html

  5. nelson says:

    There’s another strange phenomenon that has been taking place and, though I don’t know exactly how to interpret it, it seems to indicate a diminishing trust in representative democracy.

    In such a system, it is basic that anyone should be able to represent anyone else, at least up to a point. Thus, depending on his political platform, a white, old, Jewish gay men should be as good a representative, say, of the interests of young, straight, black, Muslim women as anyone else.

    But when each group and, eventually, each person starts believing that only someone resembling them/he/she can be their/his/her representative, then we have a problem.

    A representative should be like a $X,00 bill, but when one stops trusting paper money and wants something that actually, instead of representing the written vallue, is worth that very value, a modern monetary economy beacomes impossible.

    If a woman can only be represented by a woman, a black woman by a black woman, a lesbian black woman by a lesbian black woman, eventually each and every decision, begining from the smallest ones, will have to be taken through a referendum, and society will come to a standstill.

  6. oao says:

    There’s another strange phenomenon that has been taking place and, though I don’t know exactly how to interpret it, it seems to indicate a diminishing trust in representative democracy.

    just one?

    how about this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXlxBeAvsB8

    all systems collapse over time. rep democracy is not any different, despite the illusion to the contrary.

  7. Rich Rostrom says:

    Nelson has put his finger on a very widespread trend. In the last 50 years, the MSM and the culture lords have continually attacked the credibility of mainstream institutions. “They’re all corrupt, they’re all on the take, only fools believe in the system.”

    The result is a great deal of what I call “naive cynicism”. It’s people who really don’t know anything, but are ready to credit any report of corruption. Ironically this makes things easier for corruptionists, because the naive cynic assumes that “nothing can be done”, and that the adversaries of known corruptionists are also corrupt, so there’s nothing to choose between.

    The naive cynic wants to be “sophisticated”, so he refuses to believe that there is a right side in any conflict. He assumes, for want of knowledged, that “there’s something to be said for both sides”; he embraces “moral equaivalence” because it’s easier than taking sides.

  8. oao says:

    “They’re all corrupt, they’re all on the take, only fools believe in the system.”

    they ARE, to the bone. the corruption of the MSM does not negate reality. it is quite thoroughly documented by the non-MSM media to be much worse than what the MSM reveals.

    btw, the MSM cannot possibly both protect alibama’s admin AND attack its credibility.

    The result is a great deal of what I call “naive cynicism”.

    naivity is due to ignorance and inability/unwillingness to reason. that’s precisely what allows the utter corruption. that’s why the system gets increasingly worse and does not get fixed. the public lives with the illusion that because the MSM has exposed

    because the naive cynic assumes that “nothing can be done”, and that the adversaries of known corruptionists are also corrupt, so there’s nothing to choose between.

    from the average individual’s point of view nothing can be done — prisoner’s dilemma. and the adversary mechanisms of collective action are also corrupted.

    The naive cynic wants to be “sophisticated”, so he refuses to believe that there is a right side in any conflict. He assumes, for want of knowledged, that “there’s something to be said for both sides”; he embraces “moral equaivalence” because it’s easier than taking sides.

    i strongly suggest you read THE LOGIC OF COLLECTIVE ACTION by mancur Olson. it may remove your naivity.

  9. oao says:

    there is a paragraph not finished in the previous comment:

    “the public lives with the illusion that because the MSM has exposed it, the corruption will be fixed. but there is a problem fixing it — see below.”

  10. oao says:

    how about trust in this?

    Tariq Ramadan Makes Progress in the Era of Hopenchange
    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/34228_Tariq_Ramadan_Makes_Progress_in_the_Era_of_Hopenchange

  11. oao says:

    and btw, MSM has not and probably won’t cover it.

  12. oao says:

    or this:

    Congresscritters vote on being forced to join federal healthcare plan

  13. nelson says:

    Here are some rather random observations.

    I do agree that democracy is being corroded (from the inside) in much of the world. That’s what I spent three years seeing all around me in Western Europe during my Parisian séjour (2001-04). The mechanism through which that was happening there was the transfer of power from more or less representative (and answerable) national institutions to Brussels. Corruption there also plays a role, since the European Union is, on average, more corrupt than, for instance, a small northern European country like Holland, Denmark, Finland. Curiously, anyway, a measure of institutional national corruption helped some southern countries like France and Italy to better resist the EU’s encroachment and to protect their own local interests and independence. That reminded me of Louis, the Vichy Officer in “Casablanca”: it was his venality that allowed him to subvert the actions of his German allies (or masters).

    I’ve also seen, against all odds, democracy getting stronger in my country, Brazil, during most of the 90s, when it was governed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who managed to dismantle at least some of the inherited state machine, a state machine that had been built up mainly by the conservative military, but whose principal defenders were and are the leftist Workers Party that is just now in power. If it depended on Lula and his followers, they would already have made their own Chávez-style “Bolivarian” revolution here. But, against their will, democracy, though far from perfect, proved much more resilient here than they had expected.

    Now, in the long run, all of us will be dead – and so will democracy, the USA and, likely, Islam too. But this long run is different in each case. The US seems to have been doing pretty well in the last 200 years, and I wouldn’t predict it imminent, irrecoverable collpase anytime soon, though I might be wrong. Corrupt governments, greedy individuals, the concentrations of income and so on are nothing new either in democratic or tyrannical countries, and the US has been no exception. I’ve heard or read of no time in history when American politicians and ruling classes have been better, more patriotic, honest and so on. Even so, the country has survived until now and thrived, beating both its free and un-free rivals. My actual curiosity is not why democracy is doomed, but how come it has, at least in some places, resisted and prospered for so long.

    My commentary above, which Richard has been kind to republish, was written three years ago, and it has no intention of being the ultimate description of anything. As far as I can tell, I was trying to knit together some loose ends and trying also to make some sense of apparently disparate tendencies. Whatever I wrote only gains from being tested and criticized. And, though I’m reluctant to attribute predictive powers to what isn’t even a working model, I have to add that both the NGOs’ and the MSM’s contribution to the making of Obama is, from my point of view, a relatively new fact in the American political universe.

    There’s no doubt that most, if not all, NGOs and the majority of the MSM backed not only his election, but him, Obama, from the very beginning of his career, if not before. I say before, because, after all, Obama’s mother herself was a beneficiary of Ford Foundation grants. Then, much of BHO’s access to good schools, college and, then, to good jobs has something to do with one of the NGOs’ pet projects: it is a consequence of affirmative action. Finally, when a new and almost unknown young politician appeared on the scene, his most dynamic basis was this NGOs and MSM alliance. If it didn’t elect him alone, this alliance surely made a fundamental difference in the end. So, it would be worth to take a better look at how unconventional was the coalition that put him in the White House, how his trajectory has been unique when compared to that of almost any other important American politician.

    Some national politicians in the US (and many more in Europe) have been elected to important positions with the backing of the NGOs of an earlier generation: the unions. These, however, resembled, in the inside, much more the traditional political parties, they represented discernible groups with their interests, were, up to a point, democratic, had mass following, elected officials and so on. Not so with the NGOs. As I’ve said, they represent nobody specifically (except themselves), do not have open finances, are not accountable. If they’re close to anything already seen in the past, it is to Leninist revolutionary parties. And, though many of us here have misgivings about them, their credibility among most people is still very high. Were a research to be made about the credibility of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or the International Red Cross, they’d beat any government, any governmental institution, political party etc. hands down. Now we know that under certain circumstances they can conquer power. Can they keep it?

    Up to now the modern representative democracy’s winning formula has been the following: a combination of a (mainly) private economy with a (mainly) public political power. What an administration like Obama’s is trying to do is to invert this formula to achieve the combination of public, but actually state-owned economy (not the same)with privatized political power that is held by any number of unaccountable organizations.

  14. oao says:

    The US seems to have been doing pretty well in the last 200 years, and I wouldn’t predict it imminent, irrecoverable collpase anytime soon, though I might be wrong.

    depends on how you define collapse. in certain ways it has already collapsed. anyway, the us is no longer what it was and it will never be again.

    Corrupt governments, greedy individuals, the concentrations of income and so on are nothing new either in democratic or tyrannical countries, and the US has been no exception.

    with emphasis on “no exception”. it’s been claimed it was an exception and for 200 years it might have seemed that way. but now we see that was wishful thinking and ignorance of history.

    My actual curiosity is not why democracy is doomed, but how come it has, at least in some places, resisted and prospered for so long.

    historic circumstances.

    There’s no doubt that most, if not all, NGOs and the majority of the MSM backed not only his election, but him

    there were not better options, only much worse ones, as you can see from the state of the gop. the problem is societal, not just of this or that party or personality.

    but it’s very likely that it was the novelty of a black president that drove them — they could not resist it. had he not been black, he would have had no chance in hell with his nothing background.

    it is a consequence of affirmative action.

    so is his election.

    btw, all that affirmatve action did not make much of him, just gave him patina. he is an empty suit.

    So, it would be worth to take a better look at how unconventional was the coalition that put him in the White House, how his trajectory has been unique when compared to that of almost any other important American politician.

    simple: collapse of knowledge and reason. e.g. is alibama himself, despite his education he knows zilch history, economics, you name it. consequently his policies are all failures.

    Not so with the NGOs.

    excuse me? 1st, they are NOT ngo’s, they are go’s. 2nd, foundations are not inside? soros is not inside?

    If they’re close to anything already seen in the past, it is to Leninist revolutionary parties.

    i am not sure a truly leninist party would go beg for money from saudia. and how are they different from the EU bureaucracy — does THAT represent anybody? isn’t that supportive of the ngo’s?

    And, though many of us here have misgivings about them, their credibility among most people is still very high.

    only because people are utterly ignorant of what they are and do. they gave up on the politicians and they think they found something better. the ngo’s managed to fool them in these circumstances and so do the politicians.

    Can they keep it?

    for a while. but as you can tell by HRW, they are corrupt themselves and reality will fail them too.

    What an administration like Obama’s is trying to do is to invert this formula to achieve the combination of public, but actually state-owned economy (not the same)with privatized political power that is held by any number of unaccountable organizations.

    interesting way of putting it, but not very accurate. there is really not much private in NGO’s. they’re a mechanism used by govts to try to maintain power when they can’t by other means.

  15. oao says:

    we already know how a public economy will fare, and we also know the consequences of unaccountable power. the combination is lethal — the worst of both worlds.

  16. nelson says:

    It’d be a good question to know whether by now it is the government that’s using the NGOs or vice-versa.

    Anyway, I’d say the paradoxal idea of state-sponsored NGOs was created by the USSR, with its “neutral” and/or “apolitical” front organizations in the Western countries.

  17. Eliyahu says:

    oao & Nelson, those who want to control power and policy in a democracy must control public opinion. The role of the so-called “ngos” is to help manipulate public opinion, launch new ideas, twist public understanding, etc. These overlap with the functions of the media but work differently. They must also work through small group organizing, techniques that obama learned at ACORN. So “ngos” are usually agencies of either govts or rich and powerful persons for shaping public opinion. Think of the Ford Fndtn and the like. Think of the EU as an example of an active user of NGO services.

  18. oao says:

    So “ngos” are usually agencies of either govts or rich and powerful persons for shaping public opinion.

    isn’t that what i said?

    It’d be a good question to know whether by now it is the government that’s using the NGOs or vice-versa.

    the ngo’s could not operate without govts. i mean who went hrw to for money — the GOVT of saudia!!!!

    Anyway, I’d say the paradoxal idea of state-sponsored NGOs was created by the USSR, with its “neutral” and/or “apolitical” front organizations in the Western countries.

    might well have been how they started. after all most ngo’s are left to far left. and EU govt is essentially left.

  19. oao says:

    nelson,

    how about this?

    http://pryce-jones.nationalreview.com/post/?q=N2JiM2JlNTY0NzMyMzI4ZTc2NTY3MmRmYTUzZWIzNDc=

    note the reaction of the “intelligentzia” to it.

    as i said, rotten to the bone.

  20. oao says:

    in the context of my claim that journos are as ignorant and unable to reason as everybody else, if not more:

    Why Should We Listen to Them?
    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2009/07/024092.php

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