John Fleming: Brian Williams (Albert Schweitzer) and the Humanitarianism of NBC - 8 January, 2002

Brian Williams, a television news reader for NBC, reported recently that "the International Olympic Committee is considering awarding the 2008 Olympics to Beijing, but [oh-ho-ho-ho] critics are already objecting on the grounds of China's human rights record." The way Williams read this was uncanny, as though he were convincing himself while simultaneously trying to convince others. The "but" in the line carries a freight of bias, distortion, ethnocentrism, ideology and lack of objectivity. What "human rights" situation? What "critics," and where may they be found?

For perspective, Rousseau observed that a natural disaster in Cathay (China) could hardly be expected to move Europeans to tears over the hundreds of lives lost. For good or bad, that is human nature. A man's life is complete with a family and friends, and he can hardly be expected to concern himself with the plight of strangers, busy as he is. We have no emotional concern for people we've never met; a face-to-face relationship is a human one, but social institutions do not spread friendship, love or commitment. (I have developed this principle further in my book "The War of All Against All: An Analysis of Conflict in Society.") In other words, affectation aside, we can only feel friendship, pity and love for people we know. "Magna civitas, magna solitudo." Today, if thousands died in an earthquake in China, humanitarian aid might be sent, and several media commentators in the West may express a sort of pity, but noone in the U.S. would be mourning for any of the earthquake victims; moreover, noone would expect you to mourn.

Suppose though that an immigrant Chinese family in California lost a few relatives in the disaster. There would then be one family in that state mourning. Other examples might help illustrate this point, which will lead to a conclusion about those chiding "critics." When the king of a modern country goes to his reward, does the entire nation bewail his loss? The queen could be expected to, but any display of grief by the peasantry--or the commoners or proletariat, or what have you--would be ritual, mere formality. No peasant would be in tears. A few loyal ones, however, may place a token (flowers, a picture) at a memorial for the deceased, and possibly even shed tears, especially females, though the close presence of a television camera invites some suspicion.

Thus, people should be skeptical about NBC's reference to critics. It goes without saying that the critics were not in Paris or Moscow. Since it was an American broadcast, you might naturally assume that the "critics" were American, but that still leaves unanswered the "critics'" class, political viewpoint, expert qualifications, or evidence. Following Rousseau's reasoning you could question the motive of the anonymous critics. It is very strange that any American would go out of his way to publicly state his opinion on people with a very different language and culture whom he has never met.

Though one wonders about the "critics'" motive and sincerity--and the fact that no attempt was made to balance the report with other views, and that the concern of the "critics" tendentiously passed over dozens of other stories about China, and that Williams should have specified the critics in question, still this devotion to the "human rights" of distant Oriental people is touching; it shows, or pretends to show (like any propaganda), that the problem is not at home--is not the slums in the District of Columbia right under the nose of the critics--but is an alien system (like the ancient Greek idea of "barbarian") far across the sea. It only remains for NBC, a profit-hungry company with no democracy, to declare that China is guilty of suppressing democracy.

John Fleming is author of the book mentioned--"The War of All Against All"--which may be purchased through toll free 800-462-6420, or by visiting the publisher's web site: The author will also e-mail to a reader his previous essays on (a) greed, (b) class conflict, or (c) satellite surveillance (at no cost or obligation).

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