Good News, Bad News?

Commentary No. 480, September 1, 2018

Most of us receive daily news by reading some set of headlines available to us. We tend to classify these headlines as good or bad news about our local community, our country, or the world as a whole.

But what is good news or bad news? The most obvious question to ask is: good news or bad news for whom? It is not at all simple to answer that question.

If we discuss the daily news with someone whom we think shares our values, our multiple identities, and our socioeconomic status, we often discover that this very compatible friend or neighbor had drawn different conclusions about whether a particular piece of news is good or bad. Obviously this other is including additional measures.

There are many questions about any sort of measurement of goodness. First of all, we probably have an implicit scale of one to ten. We probably search for news that is very high or very low and dump the rest as not important, calling it the Establishment.

That still doesn’t get us very far. Let us say we want an answer in terms of a left-right scale. Within a large field on the right or the left, there are always people who denounce others that claim “extreme” positions as practicers of sham or pretense. There seem never to be secure holding of the position furthest to the left or to the right.

Take some recent debates. Is a denunciation of Pope Francis good news or bad news for the left?

Are the maneuvers of Lula’s supporters to get his name included on electronic ballots good or bad for the Brazilian or Latin American left?

Are the so far successful efforts in South Africa to limit the support to Julius Malema a victory for the left or right?

Are China’s attempts to build a single trade path across much of the world an effort of the left or the right?

Should the left be applauding Trump’s efforts to disband NAFTA, a structure that the left had previously denounced, or be dismayed because it furthers Trump’s objectives?

Is BREXIT a left operation or an ultra-right one?

Each of these issues merits a long, detailed, comprehensive analysis. But is it worth it? Does it matter?

It matters to all who believe that the world-system is in structural crisis and that therefore the highly volatile and analytically obscure chaotic realities are in fact the essential battleground of the world left and the world right. Analytic clarity makes more likely a victory in the battle. Just reading headlines is simply not enough.