Conclusion

From: Active Radio

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This book has not attempted to disguise its admiration for Pacifica’s accomplishments . Neither has it narrated a triumphalist version of Pacifica’s history. Little in Pacifica’s opening the airwaves to controversy, erudition, and diversity has been simple. Lack of financial support, internal political and personal struggle, and constant surveillance by political enemies, both within the government and without, have marked Pacifica’s history. Yet in the past five decades, oppositional social movements, cultural avant-gardes, and various alternative media have come and gone while the radio network remains and continues to evolve. The fact of its persistence against many odds may be attributed to Hill’s initial understanding of the special reciprocal responsibility established between the volunteer and poorly paid staff and the network’s hundreds of thousands of listener-subscribers, a reciprocity impossible within the world of commercial broadcasting. As has been the fate of radical libertarian politics generally, the network has consistently seen its utopian aspirations falter on the shoals of both human foibles and repression from the forces of order. A cynic, reviewing Pacifica’s history, could note that there is little consensus of what democratic broadcasting might communicate , which audiences it should serve, and the manner by which it could sustain itself. That free speech on the airwaves is the cry of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh , that human creativity is ever more rather than less tightly bound to the imperatives of the market, that economic disparities are greater today than fifty years ago, and that meaningless slaughter persists throughout the globe might elicit an even greater level of pessimism. Conclusion You can, nevertheless, work toward a situation that keeps alive the power to break the limits: to think thoughts that shatter the available canon of reason and discourse, to experiment with forms of collective life that the established practical and imaginative order of society locks out or puts down. — Roberto Unger, Passion: An Essay on Personality 143 How does one finally gauge the accomplishments of a project whose lofty goals remain unmet or have been distorted beyond recognition? There is an important, well-rehearsed answer that the Left provides. Beginning with Marx’s “On the Jewish Question,” historical materialists have criticized those who elevate “civil” liberties. This critique is based on the fundamental recognition that within a capitalist democracy, actual freedom is always and ultimately constrained by that locus of unfreedom, the market itself. Corporate capital might allow, indeed even encourage, consumers to pursue “expressive” freedoms in every arena except in the sphere of daily work activity — where one spends most conscious, productive time. From the early Marx to the late Marcuse (a frequent and charming guest on dozens of Pacifica broadcasts), socialists have warned against liberal, or reformist, politics that privilege civil rights, personal transformation, nonviolence, or community over the struggle to unite forces engaged in class conflict. Postmodern social movements espousing identity politics are simply the latest manifestation (and failed instance) of an idealistic project gone astray. It is also possible to consider the struggles Pacifica endured as indicative of the antagonisms internal to the ideals of liberal democracy itself. The persistent tension between equality and autonomy within the United States, as Tocqueville observed, remains a defining circumstance of democracy. Within the network’s development, one pole (justice, equality, community) has consistently interacted and struggled with the other (excellence, liberty, autonomy). Therein, perhaps, lies a different way of understanding Pacifica’s ongoing, uneasy, at times bitter transition from “free speech,” to “free,” to “community” radio. Consider in this regard Ed Goodman’s (WBAI’s general manager in the early seventies) summary of the lessons of this period. In a program guide from 1973, he lamented about the persistence of strife at the station: The tension between access [to the microphone] and quality appears to me inevitable. That tension is now more pronounced due to the heightened consciousness of various disenfranchised groups such as gay people, blacks, women, etc. The fact is that when access is first enjoyed by any previously denied group, pain, anguish, and anger are the main ingredients that come across the air. . . . This is not a tidy process. It is cumbersome and replete with loose ends, dangling participles, false starts, and effrontery.1 This may be one of the central lessons of the network’s history and one of the central riddles: Must “access,” that fundamental egalitarian ideal, interfere with “quality”? In the yearning for both justice and excellence, who is to determine 144 CONCLUSION that Archimedean point...


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