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‘Conflict of interest’ arguments are a measure of media hypocrisy

Originally published by Andrew Sheldon

In the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election and beyond, the globe has been bathing in a media ‘blood bath’ that centered upon a scathing rebuke of a single man – ‘Donald Trump’. Surprisingly, the man is not just ‘still standing’, he has been elected to the office of President of the United States. This perverse outcome has hardly served as a source of reflection by the media. The exact opposite ensued, with the media scaling up their focused attempts to discredit him. You have to ask yourself ‘why’. I would suggest that there are several reasons, and they rest on the premise that, as much as lay people might like to think that certain people don’t have principles, or a moral point of reference. The fact is, they have a deeply entrenched code of values.
The problem is not their ‘absence of morality’, it’s the fact that whatever they believe, it is so perversely antithetical to evidence. Their knowledge is built upon a framework of assumptions, misconceptions and selective lines of evidence. They are essentially clinging to a ‘perspective they cannot defend’, and the more evidence that confronts them, the more important ‘false positives’ become, and the more desperate they come in their efforts to avoid the truth by grasping hold of  ‘false positives’. It’s not a conspiracy to lie, so much as a preference for clinging to a ‘world view’, in the vain hope of feeling ‘in control of one’s life’. Even sincere attempts to consider lines of evidence can readily descend into a framework of rationalisations. Such efforts can be surprisingly sophisticated, reflecting either people’s apparent respect for truth, or their greater intelligence, or pride in their mental efficacy. In any case, the result of this ‘inner conflict’ is a predilection for lies.
The bigger problem is that, not only is the prevailing political system not well-designed to arrive at ‘truth’; it is also really good at facilitating the creation of ‘mass organised extortion rackets’ intent upon fostering ‘their lies’, that stand in opposition to other’s lies. Whether you consider these organisations organised crime, gangs, political parties, lobbyists, foundations, schools of (intellectual??) thought, they all serve the same purpose. Their intent is to make people feel good, safe or comforted in the knowledge that they will get something for nothing. There is no question that some ‘schools’ are more credible than others, but in the context of a political system that rewards ‘democratic’ extortion, I would not expect high standards.

At root however, it might be construed as simply a tribalist, globalist perspective, where members of the ‘mob’ are seeking the positive affirmation of a shared crusade. This affirmation can be a ‘spiritual’ or remunerative affirmation, such as higher bonus payouts. In any case, it’s a predilection to protect one’s ego, or to ascend to a higher aspiration. Fear or greed are of course the underlying motivators, however there is something more basic than these desires; and it’s the notional ‘world view’ that your pursuit of values (i.e. greed), or your avoidance of loss (i.e. fear) depend ultimately, not on what you do, but how prepared you are to question those values. There are a lot of justifications to sabotage this reflection, starting with external peer pressure, busy schedules, material vested interests and ‘effort’. A preparedness of people to question or reflect is the most basic intellectual proclivity that differentiate people, and yet it scarcely goes noticed by people, or understood as the basis for change. It is the anonymity or the safety of Facebook that gives people some confidence to do this, but it is arguably the discretion to choose a group where your ego will not be bruised too much, or where one can learn passively by watching one’s peers face criticism at other’s hands. Criticism is nevertheless good for one’s constitution. It makes us stronger ‘mentally’, although some of us would have none of that; and yet those people so hostile to criticism tend to be the most ardent of critics.
Such conflicts divide people between:
  1. Tragic souls who find the world unfathomable, and see no respite when they glean an eye upon their fellow man. They only see the tragedy of the human spirit.
  2. Optimistic souls who find the world intelligible, if they only focus their intellectual efficacy upon it
Why globalist ambitions? Simply because in the midst of disempowerment, there is a proclivity to reach higher, for respite from one’s counterparties. That imbues one with a need to ‘look higher’, whether to the false god of government, or a fictitious comforting god in the skies. Even science can serve as a god of sorts. The same is true with the law. Everything is a dogmatic advocacy that seeks to quash dissent. There is no interest in engaging people, or being engaged.
The reasons are clear: You need to educate people because democracy is a ‘sanctioning system’ for extortion. Your political opponents carry a legal sanction to coerce. Of course no one thinks extortion is good or justified, and yet they are begrudging advocates of democracy. There are basically two reasons:
a. They have a ‘subjective’ notion of reality. i.e. What’s right for you is right for you, and I’m different. This is a compartmentalised repudiation of human nature. Such people get lost in the ‘complexity of human nature’. They might well argue that we are ‘same’ and ‘different’. It is the difference that serves as a point of equivocation and rationalisation, rather than for contextual insight. It is an pathway for escape rather than to new knowledge.
b. Alternatively, they can have a skeptic’s notion of reality. In this case, they acknowledge that humanity probably has a nature. But how can we be sure that we can know it? Can we trust our judgement? Such people are predisposed to silence their mind, forever wondering about it, ensuring that it remains in an intellectual fog.
Both groups of people are motivated by inexplicable ideas. Either ‘practically’, you just become another school of thought, or they are compelled to diminish other’s ‘certainty’, as that is a threat to them. The more intellectual connections you identify that challenge their established incomprehension, the more you displease said people.
You can imagine that the journalists behind these news agencies pat each other on the back, and get a lot of validation from their colleagues. But that is a source of relativist ‘validation’; it isn’t truth. Truth is not their concern. They are paid for articles that engage readers. That means appealing to people’s fears, apprehensions, greed and practical interests, and serving your employer along that path. What is good for a journalist is also good for their employer.
So what is the concern of the media, if not the ‘truth’?
Well, Bloomberg has a story based on some of its internal investigative journalism that has ascertained that Donald Trump has a ‘conflict of interest’ on the premise that:
  • Donald Trump’s administration has selected certain Muslim-majority countries as being subject to stricter vetting for entry into the United States, after he failed to achieve tighter regulations before a Supreme Court intervention.
  • The Trump administration has not adopted restrictions on other countries that also have Muslim majorities, and the premise is that Trump’s family has investments in those countries
This is of course a ridiculous argument to make, and it arises due to the application of a popularised ethical misconception. That misconceptions has become the foundation for media reporting, and in so doing, it becomes a widespread standard for ethical judgement, and it goes without reproach because the media are not readily open to accountability. at least not condemnation. Certainly people can stop buying media content, but the media vets their own criticism. More concerning perhaps is that the media don’t display much integrity. i.e. They don’t seem to subject themselves to the same ‘conflict of interest’. Consider the following:
  • Bloomberg didn’t expose the ‘conflict of interest’ by the Clinton Foundation
  • Bloomberg can be seen to take a very favourable position on the receipt of payments from foreigners and foreign governments, when said acts are performed by parties aligned with Bloomberg
This is strong evidence that Bloomberg didn’t just ‘miss a story’, but that its journalists ‘as a collective’ [subjected you would think to homogeneous standards of ‘due diligence’] arrived at a media content decision that is inconsistent. This would be construed as a ‘conflict of interest’, and a bias. This isn’t just a question of different people adopting different personal standards that can be ‘reined in’. This is a ‘corporate value’ decision. This is a conflict of interest if it is involved in some game of political patronage. The conflict of interest might well extend to the Republican Party. But we can be sure that Bloomberg is not accepting of Trump, given that he has taken the Republican Party away from its patronage of ‘the Establishment’.  Trump has become a considerable threat for that reason. It doesn’t mean that Trump doesn’t represent another group of extortionary interests. That remains to be seen. It remains to be seen if there is a ‘moral, fair-minded’ corporate sub-culture in the USA, or whether there is just a number of vying corrupt corporate interests. In any case, ‘competition is good’, and that is no less true of governance, which is why I have been an advocate of anarchocapitalism, or competitive governance.
But we might well ask – ‘What is in fact a ‘conflict of interest’? 
conflict of interest is a situation where a person takes advantage of their position to derive personal benefit from the decisions made in their official capacity as a public custodian.
Aside from having prohibitions or disclosure requirements with respect to personal conflict of interests in certain countries, we might well ask, ‘what is wrong with a ‘conflict of interest’ from a moral standpoint, given that laws ought to be arrived at by moral argument?
Surely the problem with a ‘conflict of interest’ is not:
  1. It is bad to benefit from one’s actions – This is the natural and proper proclivity of every person, as long as they don’t profit at the expense of others. In actual fact, his wealth has fallen since he took office, despite a general rise in the market.
  2. It is wrong to be deceptive – There is no evidence of lying or concealing his affairs. i.e. Trump is lawfully not required to disclose his private tax returns. Nor has Trump secretly built hotels around the world or attempted to hide his policy position.
  3. It is wrong to say one thing and do another – There is no argument to say Trump changed his position because he had investments in certain countries, or that he has changed his position since the election.
  4. It is wrong to make a mistake – There is no argument made to suggest he has made a mistake – only that he benefited from a position of power.
From a moral standpoint, if we accept the premises of Bloomberg, that Trump indeed has excluded from his travel ban certain nations where his company has assets, then the only reason to think that Trump has misappropriated influence as president would be if:
  • Excluding Saudi Arabia and other countries he ignored would be a source of advantage to the United States
  • Relinquishing or suffering the risk of having Trump (and other US assets seized) was a greater risk
  • The US had no recourse to avert any possible loss of assets
  • President Trump could take advantage of the news to make ‘trading profits’
None of these arguments are valid for the following reason:
  • Restricting Arab countries would be construed as a reasonable preventive engagement in the way of terrorist threats and declining civility other countries, namely Northern Europe
  • The US has ample opportunity to seize assets in the United States from those countries which Bloomberg is concerned about, knowing that a US court could freeze assets under a Trump-instigated court injunction
  • The US could actually enforce a ‘threat of reprisals’ for such a loss or seizure, though that this might not be consistent with the actions of previous administrations, there is perhaps reason to think that it will be different for Trump.
  • Trump is unlikely to gain from upsetting foreigners given his family interests in hotels. Hotels are readily targeted by terrorists, so he is in fact, very vulnerable.
Stepping aside from this particular policy initiative of Trump, ‘conflict of interest’ concerns is ‘silly policy’ that attempts to rectify an illegitimacy in law, and that is the democratic tradition of political discourse that functions as a legalised extortion racket. The philosophical foundations of democracy are what ought to be in question. Democracy sabotages good, rational and effective decision-making, and this is where Bloomberg has ‘ample hypocritical capital’ as a compromiser of rational or coherent debate, along with a litany of other global media organisations that fear that their privileged standing is threatened by:
  • Competition from the loss of their prior privileged access to government officials
  • The possibility of Trump winding back the permitted market share of media organisations. Since the 1960s we have seen an immense concentration of media influence. This has been diminished by the advances in online communications, but there is every reason to believe that the ‘media space’ will become increasingly regulated to advance the interests of media conglomerates in time, like the finance sector has been able to achieve.
  • Prosperity and the prospects of people feeling less likely to follow the news if things are going well.
The same arguments can be applied to other examples of ‘conflict of interest’. The concern ought not be against politicians who receive a $2000 bottle of wine from a corporate president, who might well be expecting some form of patronage. The same concerns for disclosure are equally pathetic, whether we are talking about a bottle of wine, or a donation of $50,ooo to the politician or their political party affiliation. There is no knowing whether the payment is support for democracy, support for the party’s broad policy proscriptions, or to buy favours. Disclosure is not going to buy that confession. Only an admission would do that, and no one does that. Perversely, it would be surprising if anyone would not make such a connection, and it is equally questionable whether two people could not orchestrate arrangements to conceal their dealings behind a ruse – like a sponsored lunch. This is precisely what occurs. This is how people tragically think of other’s conduct, and its tragically how things actually occur in this political system, for which a public sanction is sought and ‘freely given’ every 3-6 years. If there was a payment; it must be for an illegitimate motive. It couldn’t possibly be because he valued the political proscriptions of the politician. But that ignores the broader context in which people act; and it is this that we must deal with: representative democracy.
The perversity of this situation arises not from the existence of a ‘conflict of interest’, but from the existence of a ‘public interest’ where really no such interest should exist. These perverse political interventions and the regulatory frameworks used to justify them, are really attempts to patch up a failing political system that benefits politicians. This is why politicians adopt these concessions to placate public distrust, but politicians never end up being prosecuted, which is unsurprising. They merely take the exit door with their tail between their legs.
A ‘conflict of interest’ can arise because a vested interest wants to recoup a loss which would not otherwise be suffered if they didn’t act in a ‘democratic’ extortion racket. i.e. A person who might feel they have a legitimate reason for immigrating to a country, could pay off a politician to get ‘special consideration’. They might only do it to expedite their application. These concerns tend to get swept aside if there is a ‘public interest’ qualification, and generally the legislation is written in such terms to permit it. But immigration itself or welfare could be construed as ‘conflict of interest’ policies, but they are never so.
Doesn’t the Democratic Party have an immense ‘conflict of interest’ with respect to:
  • The provision of welfare
  • The accommodation of foreign aliens
  • The expansion of immigration programs, if they were deemed to be a source of political support
Of course this is the case, but it is accepted because the Republican (and other conservative parties in other countries) are in an equally compromised position, whether it’s helping business people to circumvent a specific law. This is ultimately what is wrong with the West, and there is no culture to change it. The reasons are that the media and public education have simply compromised the personal integrity of all constituents. For this reason, integrity is a rare feature in any nation. One of the most enduring fallacies of modern times was that the United States is great because of its values. This is not the case. The US grew to be the biggest, most powerful country because:
  1. Until recently it lived off the legacy of its historic greatness as a ‘relatively’ individualistic, market based economy
  2. The expansiveness of its population, i.e. The US borders were very open before, but that was when the US didn’t have a ridiculously generous welfare system
  3. The benefit of a fully-functioning economy at a time when its Western European competitors post-WWI & WWII suffered from a war-crippled industrial complex. This was particularly the case with the escalated threat of aerial bombing in WWII.
  4. The size and geographic expansiveness of the US nation is actually an immense source of parochial advantage.
The solution to the ‘conflict of interest’ concern, isn’t persecuting people for having a ‘conflict of interest’, or even suggesting that there is any such conflict, or that it must be disclosed, because the mere disclosure will not resolve in anyone’s mind whether the act was illegitimate. The solution is to:
  • Make the system voluntary. Cease taxing people so that there are people who are able to profit from other people’s money. When you tax people, there ceases to be a counterparty who will act as a ‘good custodian’of said money. If a person makes an investment, they pay the cost, and carry the responsibility of resolving any poor conduct they sponsor. When a taxpayer is forced to pay tax, they lose ownership of the money, and a politician obtains an illegitimate ‘unqualified’ or ‘unaccountable’ custodianship over it. This is an important source of abuse.
  • Adopt rational standards. The voter is powerless to stop said abuse in a politically-relativist system comprising a ‘2-horse’ party race. Inviting other parties will not make a difference. The standard of value in a ‘democratic’ majoritive extortion racket is coercive mob sanctions. To achieve meaningful accountability would require rational ‘intelligible’ standards as well as voluntarism.
This is of course why we need to adopt an anarchocapitalist system of ‘non-government’. Society has to be a voluntary system of authority regimes with full personal sovereignty, voluntary or discretionary sanction, and intra-jurisdictional competition. Not the ‘power sharing’ regime we have today between international, national & local governments. Even parents could be construed as a ‘power sharing’ extortion racket if you consider the refusal of governments to intervene in the lives of abusive parents. This is a conflict of interest because the politicians don’t want to suffer adverse claims or consequences of imposing upon a parent’s rights or privacy. But the travesty is bigger than that. The political system is serving as an organised crime racket, and not as a protector of people.
We might also wonder – doesn’t the media have a conflict of interest? Go further. Doesn’t everyone have a conflict of interest in the case of any advocacy? They have an ego to defend. So repudiating other’s posture as a ‘conflict of interest’ is really nothing more than a ‘red herring’ that resembles much of the ‘religious-like’ persecution of atheists, or ‘other churches’.