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Why I Write for Salem-News.comDaniel Johnson Salem-News.com
I’ve made my share of trouble. This is why I never stayed with the so-called mainstream media. They didn’t want trouble.
(CALGARY, Alberta) - It’s coming up a year since I first started writing for Salem-News. I’d like to explain, to the open-minded and receptive readers of goodwill, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
I write, basically, because I have no choice. As an intellectual (not something I chose to be, but I’m not complaining). I read and write just like you breathe. If I don’t have something to read or have no outlet to write, I get irritable and uncomfortable, just like quitting smoking, which I have done many times in my life until it finally stuck in 2001.
Within that world I write because, to me, it’s fun. But for those of you who are wondering, I’ll tell you a little bit about what intellectuals do and how I fit the mould.
Intellectuals are society's metathinkers—to quote a cliché, they think “outside the box” which is often a source of misinterpretation to those at the hearing or reading end. The intellectual’s role, not always welcome or appreciated, is to see the world in a way different from the accepted norm. Sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann define an intellectual "as an expert whose expertise is not wanted by the society at large." I’ve run into this even on a much smaller scale, many times.
This is not a new societal attitude. In Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, Caesar says:
We live in a corporate-controlled world and, from a corporate viewpoint, business journalist Ferdinand Lundberg writes: "Troublemakers, so much sand in the gears, are especially unwanted and the place to spot them is at the personnel office, where the latest in psychological testing is put to use. Potential nonbelievers, doubters, scoffers, misfits and persons with 'negative attitudes' generally must be weeded out lest they contaminate a basically sound workforce and impede the flow of profits."
In the business world, that was me in spades. I used to do my job, just to gain a paycheque (like most people), but I was never a believer in the so-called corporate purpose, although I could mouth (and still can) the platitudes as well as anyone.
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, originally born in Canada and who became a member of JFK’s inner circle, noted that "intellectuals have usually thought themselves disliked because others were jealous of their brains. More often it's because they make trouble."
And, yes, I’ve made my share of trouble. This is why I never stayed with the so-called mainstream media. They didn’t want trouble. They wanted profits. Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), regularly attacked by conservatives as being left-wing, was fundamentally the same because the producers I worked for were watching out for their careers first.
Michael Ignatieff, a native Canadian, taught history at Harvard for many years before returning to Canada to head up the Liberal Party of Canada and run for Prime Minister. He could well be Canada’s Prime Minister at any time.
In a CBC program in 2000 he took a broader view:
“An intellectual is not an academic. An intellectual is not a specialist. And an intellectual is not a journalist. We've got plenty of academics, plenty of specialists, plenty of journalists. What we don't have enough of are people who ask questions on principle, fundamental principles about political and moral issues, and who put together general propositions from a host of different sources. An intellectual is a generalist, an intellectual is someone who is not an expert in a particular field but who takes propositions that are lying around the tables of many different places; journalism, academics, specialisms of various kinds of science and puts together general frameworks, general theories, general accounts, whose ultimate audience is the man in the street and whose ultimate purpose is to mold and shape the conversation of a country or a nation or a people. Intellectuals do that. It’s a frankly elitist function in the sense that it presumes that an intellectual does know more than other people. And we become, I think, much too apologetic about that elitism.
“Some people do know more than other people. Some people have earned the right to speak. Some people have earned the right to know things. They paid for it in hard labour. It's not a social privilege. It's not a financial privilege. It's just the privilege of having read all the books you see around [me]. And it's not something to be proud of. You put in the years. That's an intellectual's legitimacy. He's put in the years and also the test of legitimacy is intellectual honesty. Not being in hock to some ideology, not being in hock to some institution. Being independent. Being able to stand up and say what the hell you please”.
This latter privilege I’m afforded by the editor, Tim King, because he trusts both my motives and experience. He still has the power to stop something he doesn’t approve of, but that hasn’t happened yet and I don’t expect it to.
This reminds me of a story that Galbraith told. He started his writing career with Henry Luce at Fortune magazine. Luce, the founder of the Time-Life empire, edited everything with a very conservative pencil. Galbraith said that sometimes, if he tried to put in a positive reference to, say, the AFL-CIO he would couch it in such careful terms that it would get by Luce. He says that what he didn’t realize at the time was that if it got by Luce, it would get by the reader as well.
There is also a psychological dimension to why I write. My son, Ben, was diagnosed in elementary school with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Almost his whole education was at a school for children with so-called learning disabilities. No one doubted, or doubts, that he’s very bright. He just had problems learning to read and write, which you and I take for granted.
I was the exact opposite. I was reading even before I started school. So, it was a real surprise to me about a decade ago to learn that I, too, have ADD. It was just manifested much differently in my life.
As a result I read a book by a Vancouver doctor named Gabor Maté. He, too, learned as an adult that he had ADD. He researched it and in more of a personal memoir, he wrote Scattered Minds. I learned much from the book (many of his experiences echoed mine) but one thing stands out in this context. ADD people are psychologically pre-disposed to want to help others. As Maté puts it: "This feeling of duty toward the whole world is not limited to ADD but is typical of it. No one with ADD is without it."
When Ben was about seven, we lived in a townhouse complex. In that complex was a mangy tomcat that everyone called Johnny Cat. He lived under porches and on scraps people put out, but no one could get near him. One day a few of the neighbors were having coffee at our place and the subject of Johnny Cat came up. Someone suggested he be caught and taken to the SPCA to be “put out of his misery”. I’ll never forget little Ben’s indignation as he stood up to all the adults and said in a loud voice: “You can’t do that! Johnny Cat has a right to try to live!” We moved away while Johnny Cat was still on the loose, so I don’t know whatever happened to him.
That’s why I’m a so-called left winger or socialist. I tend to come out on the side of people as opposed to the power structures—particularly the business world.
Now, to my actual writing. What I write I intend to be a potential dialog with my readers. My intention is to educate, inform and provoke my readers into seeing old things in new ways. But no one can accuse me of being malicious or writing to attack my readers. I’ll attack conservatives because I believe that they are fundamentally the real enemies of society.
Which brings me to how I see the dialog progressing. I write, you read. I have been criticized by some readers because I am also the moderator of my own articles. What they don’t understand is that my articles and the comments that go with them, are not a free-speech zone.
I will not tolerate name-calling and disrespect. You can disagree with me, but do so in a civil way. I have goodwill towards you and I expect the same in return. Just like someone phoning you and starting to verbally abuse you. Your first reaction is to just hang up.
I treat negative comments the same way and just delete them. But, if you disagree and show goodwill, then I’m open to having my ideas challenged. I’m open to learning new things. Otherwise, if you don’t like what I write, move on. You’ll get nothing more from me.
Last, but not least, here is the worldview from which I operate.
Most people live unknowingly in a psychological straitjacket. American philosopher Allan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind wrote:
“The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.”
A good example of this is religion. Until the 16th century there was no such thing as an atheist. Heretics, yes, but the idea of an atheist was outside the ability of anyone to even think of. So it is today with most Americans unable to see their country as part of a global reality. To them, America is all.
The most dangerous aspect of this mental straitjacket says American philosopher Lewis Mumford in his book The Pentagon of Power: The myth of the machine: “If the history of the human race teaches any plain lessons, this is one of them: Man cannot be trusted with absolutes.” (his emphasis)
This is the pathology of American culture described in two quotes. First, there are the people (in my most recent article the pro-gun, Second Amendment people) who are in a mental box and don't know, and are unable to understand, that there are other, legitimate, points of view. What keeps them in this mental straitjacket is their belief in absolutes, of which there are none.
If you believe there are absolutes and you can prove it, you'll be more famous than Albert Einstein who proved there aren't. Believing in absolutes is natural, just as it is natural to believe in a flat earth. But if you can get your mind around that counter-intuitive idea, then everything looks different and whole new worlds open up to you.
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place
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