Who could have suspected back in the 1780s, when Edwin Burke coined the term “Fourth Estate” in referring to journalists, that in two short centuries the fourth estate would fall into the shadow of a fifth estate, social media. With the arrival of the heads down tribe of bloggers, Wikileaks and Eric Snowden the once powerful daily has lost its punch.
But then all of the first four estates are weak and anemic today. The first estate, the clergy, has suffered immeasurably from the ascendance of zealotry. The second estate, nobility, has atrophied to irrelevance, though mammon has effectively filled that void. The third estate, common folks, well, they text, make love and tweet.
The fourth estate however, is in the worst shape of all. Rupert Murdoch has managed to trash journalism in the UK almost single-handedly. In this country the constant political campaigning required to remain in the House of Representatives has given us a media-fueled democracy, where money speaks louder than words.
Fox and MSNBC have provided us with amplified reverb chambers for the like-minded. Anybody who watches either one on a regular basis will eventually become hard-wired to the right of King Lear by Fox and the left of Timothy Leary by MSNBC.
If I could have lunch with any two people at the same time they would be Ann Coulter and Rachel Madow. Now there’s a lunch for which I would be happy to pick up the tab.
So what can we do to make everybody in the estates healthy again? Well, I would suggest teaching the humanities. Cultivate cultures that cherish education and venerate educators.
Regrettably, colleges are cutting back on humanity courses. Why? Because students are signing up for courses that will place them on the right side of the inequality equation.
This generation of college kids just might bear witness to the death of the Renaissance Man & Renaissance Woman, left in the cold to starve while colleges morph into training grounds for the professions, and the noble goal of educating the whole person is lost to antiquity.
Had our present members of congress been more broadly educated in the humanities they might know how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Harry Reid and Ted Cruz must have given pretty wide berth to the humanities while at Utah State and Harvard, that’s all I can guess. And so we have the fever swamp that is called our capital, where congress people comport themselves like dunghill roosters.
I repair to the groggery with this question on my mind, how will history judge the fifth estate? What will the good citizens of 2313 think of Eric Snowden? I’d like to know. Three hundred years ago we were burning witches in Salem. I have to believe in reincarnation, because I want so badly to see how these things play out.
All I can do for today is to rely on this thought from Mark Twain: “And yet ours is a useful trade, a worthy calling, with all its lightness and frivolity it has one serious purpose, one aim, one specialty, and is constant to it -the deriding of shams, the exposure of pretentious falsities, the laughing of stupid superstitions out of existence; and ... who is by instinct engaged in this sort of warfare is the natural enemy of royalties, nobilities, privileges and all kindred swindles, and the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.”
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.com.