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Rob Wijnberg

De Nieuwsfabriek * Rob Wijnberg (2013)

Rob Wijnberg (1982-) is a Dutch philosopher and journalist with a flying carreer. Before reaching the age of 30 he was editor in chief of a part of one of the Netherland’s major newspapers. His work as a journalist has made Wijnberg increasingly critical towards media and the news. In previous books he philosophically explained his objections, his latest book is more like a manifest for new journalism. The title of the book translates as “the news factory” which shows accurately what Wijnberg tries to tell his readers. News is selective and interpreted information. It is never about what is normal, so it does not tell the consumer about the world, but about exceptions. What is worse, news is increasingly subject to commercialisation. A newspaper is no longer to inform people about important subjects, but to sell advertisement and the advertisers have a big influence on how news is presented, because you are not going to aim for a middle class by combining the advertisement to extremely scholarly essays. When looking at television you can notice that news has become entertainment. Many items talked about in news programs and bring little to our understanding of how things are. Also the audience has such a short attention span, that news has to be short. Because is has to be short, it can only repeat what is already known, because in 30 seconds of a news program or 400 words in a newspaper one simply cannot describe and substantiate alternate views. Then there is the point that news has to be fast and easy. There is a race who brings news earliest and in this race media has to “have an opinion first, think later”.
Wijnberg’s book is not large, but gives a lot to think about. I share many of his views on news and media, so I am glad that Wijnberg ends his book with some sort of manifest for new journalism and he is going to try to execute it too. If all goes as hoped, “De Correspondent” (‘the correspondent’) is going to daily, but beyond the issues of the day and bring things in a framework and looked at from different viewpoints to make then understandable. I hope this is going to work out well, since I have stopped watching most of what is on TV a long time ago, news on commercial TV stations has been crap for a long time, but also news on our public chanels is increasingly filled with non-news.
2013 De Bezig Bij, isbn 9023477588

En Mijn Tafelheer Is Plato * Rob Wijnberg (2010)

This is the second book of Wijnberg that I review. The first one I got as a present, this one I bought myself. Wijnberg is a young (1982), Dutch philosopher and active column-author who writes about current events and current society, mostly the Dutch. The title of this new book translates something like “and my host is Plato”, it is a reference to the author’s appearance on television and how he hopes things might be some time. This new book is again filled with essays that he wrote before, many of which are also available on his website. They are ordered a little and a relatively lengthy introduction preceeds them. Wijnberg likes to write about the Dutch politics of today and the populistic politician Geert Wilders in particular, but the scope of subjects is wider in this book, especially towards the end. Scientology, raising children, the ‘sexualising society’, technology and Darwin’s theories, to name a few. All essays are about 5 pages. In these 5 pages Wijnberg manages to put a subject in an historical perspective and give an alternative way of looking at it. Since he has done that hundreds of times, he is (as noone I know) able to do that. This makes this book again a very easy and very thoughtprovoking read. Since there are way too many subjects here, it is impossible to give you an idea of what this book is like, so let me just very shortly summerise one of the essays. The essay “Obama and the tyranny of the weak” starts with Obama’s right on health insurance. The gigantic discussion this bill rose, is ununderstandable for a European because here health insurance has been secured for many many years. Wijnberg uses this subject to explain the fundamental difference between the American Democrates and the Republicans. Republicans base themselves on philosophers as Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755) and think that the government has to interfere with the lives of individuals as little as possible. The obligation to have a health insurance is an illicit interference of the government, since freedom for a Republican is freedom from force. Democrats, on the other hand, think that freedom of the individual increases when the government helps them, with a health insurance that they would normally be denied for example. Taken to the extreme, for the Republicans the norm are the strong/rich, for the Democrates the weak. There is more to say about it, but just to show how the author explains things and gives something to think about.
Only available in Dutch though and one thing that would be nice for a future book is a real book with subjects not touched in 5 pages, but rather something more in depth.
2010 De Bezige Bij, isbn 978023458418

Nietzsche En Kant Lezen De Krant * Rob Wijnberg (2009)

I got this book as a holidays-present. Good, because I would probably have never heard of it otherwise. It is a philosophy book about modern politics and society, not really my subject. Wijnberg is a young man, seven years younger than myself, but with an impressive carreer already. This book is his third and the copy I got is 7th printing only half a year after the first publication. Wijnberg used to be an editor at the ‘opinion section’ of one of our major newspapers in which role he declined a pamphlet of the most famous Dutch politicians: Geert Wilders. Currently Wijnberg writes a column each week in the same newspaper, a speed at which he is apparently able to fill books too. “Nietzsche and Kant read the newspaper” is built with such essays. The title is rather cheesy but the subtitle “thinkers of the past about dilemmas of the present” is a bit more promising. When I started to read the book, I was immediately captured by this young man’s eagle eye regarding modern society and politics and his ability to describe his findings critically razorsharp and with the use of old and recent philosophers. The prologue alone is worth buying this book. The variety of subjects are bundled to ‘chapters’ about freedom, truth and power, God and faith, sex and love, identity, equality and the state. Very basic discussions such as the opening essay “why more choice leads to less freedom to choose” or freedom of speech come together with thoughts about journalism, animal rights, “why a believer is hurt so easily”, terrorism and homosexuality. A lot of space is used for current Dutch politics, of course mostly the popular right thinkers Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk, but also established parties from left to right (but mostly of the right) are carefully dissected. Our beloved systems of democracy and capitalism are spoken of, but also the last two American presidents and the war in Iraq. No matter what subject Wijnberg chooses for his ponderings, in easy to read terms he places the subject in history and current society and he finds philosophers from every corner who said something about it. The book is as impressive as it is easy to read and Wijnberg manages to write both critically and constructive without taking sides or passing judgement. Both my own and the previous generation should read this book to learn something about themselves and the world that we live in. I always enjoy fingers on the sore spots of modern living and Wijnberg shows that a philosopher is more than able to do that. Suggested reading, unfortunately as of now, only available in Dutch.
2009 De Bezig Bij, isbn 989023440864