No one could call the BBC a bastion of philosophical thought, but just recently they’ve gone “deep”. In a few short days, they’ve exemplified Thomas Kuhn’s “change of subject” across a paradigm shift, embraced Tolstoy’s view of history, and applied something like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to whole new realm of supposed indeterminacy. This is not the result of a new-found capacity for philosophical reflection, but the by-product of a headlong rush to avoid blame for some of the most cock-eyed, mealy-mouthed, weasel-worded Thespianism they’ve so far palmed off as journalism.
The BBC have long believed — and longed for it to be the case — that Israelis are perpetrators rather than victims, engaged in rather than the subject of war crimes. So when it initially looked to them as if Israelis had “killed 500 innocent civilians by blowing up a hospital” — by taking the word of such factually and morally authoritative sources as “Palestinian officials” — everything looked perfect. All the boxes were ticked. Admirers and followers of the BBC (such as RTÉ) joined in the joyful chorus of moral outrage. The President of Ireland demanded prosecutions for war crimes.
But then… it didn’t look quite like that after all. Suddenly, silence. The President of Ireland popped back into his hole. And the BBC went “deep”. Did they admit to being factually wrong? — Of course not. Instead, they “changed the subject”, in a manner they deemed appropriate to the New World Order. Cataclysmic events that occurred not on but some time after October 7 made it necessary for the BBC to take on a new role not as mere reporters of events but as chroniclers of history as it unfolds. The important facts are no longer the individual details of who fired what, where, or when, but the mighty tidal forces and shifting sands of human affairs, the main mover of which is popular opinion. To the BBC, the important facts are now sociological. Their move from focusing on the minutiae of individual events to doing sociological plate tectonics mirrors the Kuhnian paradigm shift from talking about this or that particle to doing quantum field theory. The matter of who killed whom — or how many — is now deemed irrelevant compared to “how things are perceived” by large swathes of popular opinion.
If all this paradigm shifting seems a bit, er, shifty, let me remind you that the BBC’s new vision of itself inherits the respectability of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest thinkers: Leo Tolstoy. In his novels, Tolstoy traced the intimate stories and recorded the day-to-day events of individuals with distinct personalities. He was pretty good at it, to his own apparent embarrassment — embarrassment, because his understanding of history was much, much larger than that. He saw even well-known individuals in apparent positions of great political power as tiny ball bearings that merely smooth the revolution of the mighty bank vault doors of historical inevitability (as Herman Wouk might say).
Never mind the quality, feel the “depth”… and it gets even deeper. Because of their charter to serve the public interest, BBC journalists still feel obliged to ask experts such awkward questions as “Who is most likely to have done this, in your assessment of the available evidence?” — And in every painfully reluctant interview, conducted through gritted teeth, such questions are preceded by remarks like “we’ll never know for sure, of course, but…”
Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t an expression of scepticism, but rather an assertion of Heisenberg-style uncertainty. In quantum theory, the more accurately we measure the momentum of a particle, the less accurately we can measure its position. A proper grasp of the quantum world doesn’t treat such limitations as mere shortcomings in our ability to know things — they’re a feature of the world itself. It isn’t just that we can’t know a fact: there is simply no fact to know. Looking at things the old-fashioned way leads old-fashioned people to ask mistaken questions. Something similar is going on in the BBC’s post-cataclysmic sociological-historical vision of itself. The question “Who did this?” is mistaken: there is simply no relevant fact to know. Now move along.