Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

Last week, over at Voice in the Wilderness, guest blogger Princess Monkey had a perceptive post up titled, "Sucks to be Her", in which she reacted to Margaret Wente's column which denigrated the efforts of Bob Geldof and his "digging a hole to nowhere".

Said Princess Monkey,
"Margaret goes on about "Saint Bob" and how his efforts to help the African people amounted to nothing. The only thing that amounts to nothing is her column - and perhaps her sense of basic human kindness. Thankfully, her kind of cynicism can't compete with whatever it is that drives people like Geldof and Bono to do what they do. She looks at them and sees "arrogance" - others look at them and see hope. Sucks to be her."

Whereas my immediate reaction was just to the nonsense of the words (in Wente's column) themselves, Princess Monkey looked a little deeper to wonder just how cynical someone had to be to write something like that.

Anyway, Wente was back earlier this week writing about the noble efforts of Bill Gates to use his considerable fortune to effect positive change, in Africa and around the world.

Now most people would just leave it at that, feeling that it was enough to write a positive column praising someone's good work, and maybe suggesting we try to learn from what works in their approach. But with Wente, praising Gates seems to be just a device which allows her to criticize others. She opens with, "Who's saving more African lives these days than anyone else? No, it's not Mahatma Bob. It's not the Western governments that keep funnelling billions into the Swiss bank accounts of arms dealers and African dictators, or even those well-meaning NGOs with their well-digging projects."

One paragraph in and she's already mocked the efforts of Bob Geldof, everyone who's ever been involved in development work funded by the government and everyone who's ever been involved in development work not funded by the government (condescendingly referred to as 'well-meaning').

Then she actually talks a bit about Gates before relapsing with,
"His appearance at last weekend's Live 8 concert in London left some critics frothing. "The super rich got their wealth by heading a system of exploitation and imperialism which shatters the poor and wrecks lives -- not least in Africa," frothed one. "Will feigning concern for those less fortunate provide some nice PR for your predatory software juggernaut?" frothed another."
Aside from the use of 'frothed' three times in one paragraph when zero uses would have sufficed, what is the point of quoting these unnamed frothers? Surely we could find a couple of unnamed people to froth about just about any topic, especially one as famous as Bill Gates.

You wouldn't think this topic has much to do with global warming, but Wente finds a way to work it in,
"The other meaningful thing Mr. Martin could do is take all the money we're wasting on our futile effort to stop global warming and turn it over to the Gates Foundation. Global warming may or may not threaten our way of life a hundred years from now; no one really knows."

There's more, including a rant against governments which are against genetically modified plants but I grow weary. I could spend all day talking about the good which has come from Bob Geldof's efforts, about the good work which has been done by people funded by the federal government's aid programs, about how global warming is already affecting people's way of life right now, how efforts to prevent global warming are critical, how in a 100 years global warming, if left unchecked, could be destroying our way of life (not to mention any number of species), how Gates foundation might not be so effective if it became politicized and about the risks of genetic engineering, and the reasons why many people feel genetically modified food is a technology which should be used sparingly, if at all, and on and on, but, having read Princess Monkey's post, I now simply wonder about Wente's motivation in writing such mean-spirited columns as she has been doing lately.

Perhaps she is simply emulating Rex Murphy, affecting the attitude of the contrarian who doesn't 'fall' for the conventional wisdom. The thing is, when I think of contrarians I think of a Socrates or a Voltaire, the brave soul who takes on the establishment and (as usually happens when you take on the establishment effectively) ends up being punished for their actions.

What's really sad about Wente is that, while she portrays herself as the outsider bravely taking on the powerful, in actual fact she somehow, unerringly, always seems to side with the powerful against the weak. Far be it from Wente to take on the oil companies and their propaganda 'science' or the biotech giants like Monsanto who seek to patent both food and life itself. Instead look for her to take on unnamed protestors who froth at the mouth, pop stars who try to improve the world, and of course, the easiest target of all, our federal government.

This is perhaps an overly personal observation, but I think Wente might benefit from spending some time in the arctic, seeing first hand how human and animal lives are already changing to keep up with the climate. Then maybe spend a couple of days following around Bono or Bob Geldof as they work tirelessly to use what influence they have to make what positive changes they can, even if they don't have billions of dollars of their own to spend on it. Best of all, maybe go to Africa and spend some time digging wells with those 'well-meaning' NGO's. And maybe when she got back she would have left her phony contrariness and her deep, unpleasant cynicism down at the bottom of one of those wells where it belongs.

At the risk of insulting my readers' intelligence, I should note that the title of the post comes from Oscar Wilde's famous assertion that, "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing."

I suppose Wente might reply (as the character in Wilde's work does), "And a sentimentalist is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing.", but I don't think Wilde was implying (nor do I myself think) that those are our only two options.

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  • Thank you for this post. You have put into words what I have thought about and haven't had time to write.

    You get the point across very well indeed. Again thank you.

    By Blogger ricky, at 12:24 AM  

  • Hi Declan: Thanks for the link. Wentes' hostility does seem to be going a bit adrift. She knows she's something...or someone...but she seems to be having trouble nailing down a tangible adversary. It's a fun pathology to disect - and you've done so brilliantly.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:45 AM  

  • Thanks Rick.

    PM - I'm not even sure Wente is angry, maybe she's just pretending to be angry for the sake of her shtick - either way, her columns these days are more fun to dissect than to read, that's for sure.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:26 PM  

  • Yet another "Ed Anger" imitator. He's the pseudonym used for a regular, howlingly ludicrous right-wing rant in the Weekly World News. (The source alone should tell you something, eh?)

    Somehow, he's become reality and is permeating throughout the media. A phrase about inmates and asylums comes to mind...

    By Blogger Thursday, at 9:36 PM  

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