Violence against the Press: Policing the Public Sphere in U.S. History

By John Nerone | Go to book overview

9
Conclusion

Our ways of thinking and talking about communicating place it in an entirely different category than, say, economics. On a commonsense level, we posit a fundamental difference between the stuff of communication--call it information or opinion or images or discourse or truth--and the stuff of the economy, which is thought of as material and tangible, as things that can be dropped on your foot. Only the ill-informed continue to think that economics is about things that can be dropped on your foot, of course. When the stock market crashed in 1987, half a trillion dollars disappeared from the U.S. economy. Where did it go? Well, the better question is, where was it in the first place? The shortest answer is that it existed as information. It's a truism to say that modern economies are more and more information-based; it's truer to say that information has always been central to economic production.

If economics tells us that the dichotomy between communications and the material world is false (or at least outmoded), what can we learn from the other part of the equation? We've inherited an apparatus of thinking about the intellectual world as essentially different from the material world. We tend to assume, for instance, that "truth" has power fundamentally different from other kinds of power, that information is a resource that can be used without being used up, that ways of thinking can be autonomous from other ways of being in the world: these are all notions embedded in Western liberal traditions. A contrary tradition of materialism, which denies the (actual or potential) autonomy of the intellectual, appeals mainly to intellectuals and hasn't won wide adherence. Let's leave aside the question of whether the intellectual itself is material. Not only can't we answer it, but the question is so abstract as not to be all that interesting. The question we can answer is whether the media are material. The answer is yes. And, if the history of violence against the press in the United States demonstrates anything, it is that people have always understood the materiality of the press. Violence is always an assertion of materiality.

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