Where “cancel culture” has restricted cultural debates over the past decade, this trend has also entered into far too many newsrooms where even editors of independent media refuse stories due to personal bias or worries about losing subscribers. Between this and the proliferation of fake news largely due to the failure of most publications to pay writers, I have decided to create an independent media site that takes up issues central to political and cultural debates. I have written for Quillette, Spiked, TruthDig, Truthout, Dissident Voice, Forbes, CounterPunch, Black Agenda Report, Morning Star, and The Ecologist among other publications.
Now my main priority is to bring you articles every week that incorporate my background in cultural anthropology and investigative research through cutting edge, fact-based news and analysis. Towards the autumn and as funding permits, I will be bringing other writers on board to create a more eclectic publication with a diverse set of contributors who offer news and commentary in their fields of expertise.
As a subscriber, you will gain access to all the stories here, my forthcoming books, plus my last book, Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015), in electronic format. I will also be introducing a podcast later this year which will feature weekly interviews with some of the biggest movers and shakers on the political and cultural fronts. Additionally, there will be more writers joining the publication as funding permits.
Since 2005 when the HuffPost model of publishing kicked in, writers began to see their livelihoods decimated by blogging. While blogging has its place in society, it can simply not replace well-informed, fact-checked investigative journalism. Coterminous to the decline of journalism as a profession it is no surprise that“fake news” has vastly increased. These two facts are not unrelated. When journalists are not paid for their work they will be offered paid publicity pieces whereby we are asked to write an article about a specific company, CEO, legal dispute, etc. You can see paid content all over CNN, Forbes, and most every major publication today because they are taking their subjects and angle from corporations. So, what you are reading is often paid advertisement made to look like news. Notice the flurry of travel and vacation pieces on Forbes during the height of COVID-19. This was not a coincidence or an error—it was both fake news and marketing copy specifically designed at getting people to plump up the tourism sector with their money.
The only way to bring journalism back to its more noble roots is to rethink the purpose of journalism which according to the American Press Institute is “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.” I bring you my writing in the effort to return to journalism that asks hard questions, covers a variety of perspectives that you will not find in major media, and which pushes us to have the conversations that are necessary to move us forward as a society and global citizenry. Three ideas come to mind in how I have conceived of creating this publication.
The first one comes from British-American journalist, Sydney J. Harris, who wrote, “The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” This is a distinction that is rarely made today since people understand information as readily transmitted and absorbed. Today with the pervasiveness of social media, it has become increasingly difficult to tease out what is gossip or opinion from fact. I endeavour to make this distinction in using this platform to publish information from which you, dear reader, will hopefully transmit and communicate to others. The second idea comes from Oscar Wilde who ironised the relationship between legibility and the choice to read (or not): “The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.” I would like to create a journalistic core that is both information, fact-based and which is readable in the literary tradition to which Wilde refers. We need not jump the shark on either readability or information.
I aim to publish pieces that will present facts and that strive for objectivity and that hold all parties to the same level of interrogation. And in my op-ed pieces, that bring to the fore a critical approach that major media and think tanks are not asking.
Why Savage Minds?
Claude Lévi-Strauss’ La pensée sauvage (1962), translated as The Savage Mind, is a groundbreaking work of structural anthropology with the book’s title referring to the “untamed” human thought wherein he undertakes a critique of totemism laying claim to the idea that totemism never existed. Instead, Lévi-Strauss argues against 19th century anthropological tenets stating that, totemism is only one arbitrary mode of classification among others where “heterogeneous beliefs and customs have been arbitrarily collected together under the heading of totemism.” While Lévi-Strauss was highly critiqued by anthropologists like Clifford Geertz who advanced the notion of the interpretive approach to anthropology, Lévi-Strauss brought to the world a deconstructivist approach to anthropology where “ethnology is first of all psychology.”
Ultimately, Lévi-Strauss teaches us that structures are to be interrogated, minds to be queried and questions to be asked, and asked again. Where Geertz criticizes Lévi-Strauss for failing to gain insight into “how people conceptualize, understand their world, what they are doing, how they are going about doing it, to get an idea of their world,” Vincent Crapanzano, my mentor, turns this back upon Geertz, noting that the claim to specificity is an illusion: “His conventional tale of entry serves as a deictic function….It gives the illusion of specificity when there is no specific temporal or spatial vantage point. It attests to the ethnographer’s having been there and gives him whatever authority arises from the presence.” Crapanzano queries the authority of the ethnographer’s gaze, writing, “When Hermes took the post of messenger to the gods, he promised Zeus not to.lie. He did not promise to tell the whole truth. Zeus understood. The ethnographer has not.”
While journalism can never know the whole truth, we must persist in trying to read this truth, like Hermes’ dilemma and Levi-Strauss’ pensée sauvage.
Savage Minds is focussed on centring class without constraining it either by distortion or by identitarian/liberal frameworks. Though this publication is anti-identitarian offering political criticism but outside the bounds of the culture war, invariably there will be pieces that take on identitarianism as its hold over important political discussions is notable and quite toxic to current cultural debates. To wit, the representational politics of identity have led to a spontaneist liberal orientation on the left. The focus of this publication will hold a position against the identitarian modes of governance that have become hegemonic and threaten critique while constraining expression to passive reflection, assimilation and similitude.
With critical engagement at heart, Savage Minds will address key social issues and the constructive means through which they might lead to political action. For those who are currently critical of the these, we offer our publication as a riposte to leftism having become synonymous with progressivism. After all, in the current climate where much of the political action on the streets being organised and undertaken by the wealthiest, we must ask by whose consent has leftist politics been hijacked? Moreso, why have academics and those in economic positions of power become the managerial class who are time and time again cited as de facto leaders in projects that set out to throw into orbit the movements of “anti-racism” and #MeToo? Might these movements also be ideological apparatuses that form neoliberal capitalist subjects?
Our bottom line is that the left has been labelled and sectioned in this way, implored to conform to progressive ideals, without our consent. The left is an unwitting participant in this game. Similarly, the recruitment and baiting of the right into dynamics of fruitless culture war against an unassailable progressive liberal “left” for the benefit of the capitalist elite, similarly does not do justice to its political thought.
Our goal is fundamentally to think and actualise new ways of doing politics. Here is a list of axioms and question that set out what we aim to explore with Savage Minds:
Critical thought must not be the accomplice of late capitalist institutionalism.
We reject ideological actors’ and institutions’ ex cathedra labelling of the left as progressivism and fixing it within a straitjacket via the threat of being “cancelled.”
We will focus on solutions to the current aporia of theoretical overload and lack of social engagement.
We need mediation between ideas that have the right idea but that rinse and repeat the old dynamics that are proven not to lead anywhere.
What does “progress” even mean given that western notions of “progress” are completely linked to slavery and colonial enterprise morphed into low-wage and immigrant-exploitative practices?
We must address the issues that affect the way in which half the population has been written out of history, public policy and intellectual endeavours due to the tautological effect of capitalism which values only one type of social and political participation. Currently, women are being referred to as “individuals with a cervix” while men still retain the linguistic and social dignity of being named. This is no coincidence due to the meetings of neoliberalism on the one hand and conservatism on the other where women are tools towards an ideological end for both.
This project intends to turn the analytic axis on its head to review how subjects are addressed within legal, philosophical and cultural frameworks.
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