Why Einstein Should Rule the Waves
Walden, George, New Statesman (1996)
I spent last Sunday evening in Tariq Ali's house discussing the modalities of direct action. Our 20 or so co-conspirators included Jonathan Miller, Isabel Hilton and Melvyn Bragg, with Simon Jenkins, myself and several others representing a different tradition. Lord Gowrie is part of the plot but couldn't make it that evening, and Bryan Appleyard has indicated sympathy in the Sunday Times.
No time was wasted in outpourings of exasperation or in ideological debate. On the substance, we understood each other a demi-mot. Public broadcasting, it was agreed, was being debased. "Radio Einstein" was Tariq Ali's provisional name for a new radio station that would specialise in unashamed talk about ideas: on literature, science, philosophy, architecture, the arts and other such extravagances, which the authorities tolerate in moderate amounts, but whose prolonged discussion, considered to be wearisome to the populace, is not encouraged. (A friend, Christopher Hudson, has since suggested "Smart Radio". I know - "Radio Smart-Arse". Still, I like the youthful, contemporary ring.)
In any such meeting it is useful to have one or two people who know what they are talking about, and the presence of men and women with technical and broadcasting experience (including Gill Pyrah) kept us in line. The wavelength, the costs, the money-raising were gone through. It was heartening to hear that Tariq Ali had had a huge response, in terms of promised cash as well as enthusiasm, to his article on the project. But it was agreed that, before going ahead, we should not abandon all hope of getting the government and the BBC to find ways of meeting our grievances, which, like all insurrectionaries, we were convinced were widely shared.
Not by chance, as they say, did an apolitical meeting between people of firm political views take place at this moment. For me, it signalled a swelling revolt from diverse ends of the spectrum against the all-devouring, arrogantly populist, anti-intellectual, feelified middle. You see its triumphantly grinning face in our increasingly magaziney press, in the downwards pressure on books pages, in a World Service that is being blatantly chattified, in the travails of Radio 3, and on television. Above all you see it in the subtly diluted and Diana-ised Radio 4. "From my heart to your heart" is the universal medium of exchange, never from one mind to another. (Even if Radio 4 has better ratings, all this shows is that people resign themselves to the inevitable. And even if Radio 3 improves, we still need another station.)
It is an embarrassingly trite thing to say, but cultural conservatism, in the sense of a respect for ideas and the history of knowledge, has never been a monopoly of the right. Conversely, Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man can ring bells in non-leftist ears. The anti-popularist beat goes on: "In fact I am defending the conditions necessary for the production and diffusion of the highest human creations," wrote that scourge of the bourgeoisie, Pierre Bourdieu recently, in an attack on television. …