Friday, 29 July 2011

Feedback loops

The furore around the phone hacking scandal that engulfed the Murdoch empire continues relentlessly in the UK. Certainly, it's the biggest media scandal of recent decades.

However, whilst revelations about senior police officials, media, former and current Government officials continue, whilst top resignations go on and on (today even the head of the Press Complaints Commission exited), one has to reflect on another aspect of this whole mess.

The very fact that Rupert Murdoch was worshiped for decades in the UK, to such an extent that top politicians lined up to gain access to him, purely shows that his media empire, and media in general, had huge power that could make or break top personalities and their futures. It could create and destroy votes, could alter the course of British politics.

How it got to that stage, that's another story. The fact remains, that Murdoch ended up pretty much running the show on occasion, or at least key acts of some shows, as all the new facts revealed. Ultimately, we, the readers and consumers of his media empire created this power.

Considering the media in Romania, it leads to yet another reflection.

Yes, that media has some power - but usually it makes rather than breaks politicians. It can manipulate fantastically successfully, as even recent non-political hysteria around the Fukushima story showed. It can create votes via that manipulation, but we are yet to see the Romanian media breaking a top politician.

It may publish some shocking facts on shocking corruption, but even when there is real-time footage about some despicable character, what really are the negative tangible effects? There are none.

At most, the National Department for Anti-corruption picks something up. But usually they bow to political pressures (as recently showed, mafiosi robbing the country blind to the count of few billion euros could make this department investigate a senator about some tens of thousands of euros of alleged 'commerce of interest and influence'). Or they uncover things that are far from being triggered by media investigations.

The fact remains, yes, there was extremely powerful positive feedback loop between Murdoch's empire and British politics & business circles. But there was also a mighty negative feedback loop there. Hence the primordial fear that British power figures had and tried to stay in Murdoch's good books.

That negative feedback loop simply does not exist in Romania. There is free press, and press that can be used for political manipulation - but we are yet to see that power (good or bad) that some other countries have witnessed when confronted with certain media moguls.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Insanity

The recent events in Norway triggered plethora of discussions, to put it mildly. One has to reflect on the realities of organised and dis-organised evil, which always surprises with newer and newer manifestations.

Some of the polemic is deeply troubling, though. As a recent BBC discussion highlighted, we very clearly label certain manifestations of certain evils as terrorism and planned acts of individual or well-organised groups of terrorists. However, when something like this double Norwegian attack happens, we speak of... insanity. Madness and acts of madness.

If we look at cold, calculated, politically motivated evil, then history provides innumerable examples. And some of us have lived through some of those examples. If we stick to the last decades of the 20th century, we had plenty of small- and large-scale examples of such evil.

Those were not acts of insanity. And the acts of this terrorist, let's call a spade a spade, in Norway are also not acts of insanity.

He is profoundly motivated politically. He acted with spine-chilling lucidity and felt that executing perfectly innocent people in great numbers was perfectly acceptable as a means of political action.

To call him insane or mad, with the same promptness and ease with which we called all other bombers and assassins terrorists and extremists, is an easy, very easy path. Easy for us, easy for posterity.

We can not write off this pure evil as a sudden act of a madman. Asking the questions on what is the underlying though process that makes a person think: such acts are acceptable for achieving his goal, is a much more difficult process.

Like many terrorists, dictators, abusers of power, radicalised extremists, he carefully and lucidly planned all his acts over a long period of time. Madness was not the key force at work here.

Just because we can't pin the articles easily to an existing board of familiar terrorist patterns, it doesn't mean that it's an outlier for the bin marked 'acts of inexplicable madness'.

And then we have a bigger problem than classification. We need to look how in our 'free' world, political views can end up so radicalised, that regardless of age, gender, education, social background and geography, people can become monsters. Monsters who, as in this case, too, label their own acts 'necessary'.

So... please, let's not view him as mad. 'Mad' is a fantastically easy way out, that allows us to close the lid on that bin crowded with so many despots, extremists and political figures.