Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene & Chomsky’s right: The New York Times’ latest big lie

I’m just reporting or, better, re-sharing these 2 great pieces, worthy of a profound reading, a careful reading.

 

Flashmob die-in protest - Bourke St Mall Melbourne

Flashmob die-in protest – Bourke St Mall Melbourne (Photo credit: Takver)

 

The first, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, Roy Scranton argues quite effectively thatthe end is inevitable so we better adjust, ask the right question and learn to live with our deaths – individually and as a civilization:

 

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality. Read more …

 

English: A portrait of Noam Chomsky that I too...

English: A portrait of Noam Chomsky that I took in Vancouver Canada. Français : Noam Chomsky à Vancouver au Canada en 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In Chomsky’s right…, a piece that is likewise linked to Learning How to Die, but not in obvious ways, rather in subtle ways since Patrick L. Smith basically discloses how The New York Times tells only half-truths and is thus complicit with neoliberal – and disastrous – approaches to foreign policy – or any policy, including climate policy, for that matter:

 

In my view, we are amid a pandemic of misinformation as to our global behavior. The dishonesty with which we are given the world — an essentially fantastic version of it — is becoming abject to the point of danger. And it is frighteningly willful. Here is the paradox: We cannot bear to see things as they are because things as they are constitute a refutation of our dearest mythologies, but we must see things as they are if we are to make sense of ourselves in the 21st century. Read more…

 

You really can’t make this up, which is why I am humbled by these 2 articles and can only pass these on in hopes that we may begin, somehow, to get our heads out of some deep dark hole.

 

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ISSUE 74: Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here? by Mark Edmundson

Well, well, well … seem to be on the same page with Edmundson – great.

 

Education has one salient enemy in present-day America, and that enemy is education—university education in particular. To almost everyone, university education is a means to an end. For students, that end is a good job. Students want the credentials that will help them get ahead. They want the certificate that will give them access to Wall Street, or entrance into law or medical or business school. And how can we blame them? America values power and money, big players with big bucks. When we raise our children, we tell them in multiple ways that what we want most for them is success—material success. To be poor in America is to be a failure—it’s to be without decent health care, without basic necessities, often without dignity. Then there are those back-breaking student loans—people leave school as servants, indentured to pay massive bills, so that first job better be a good one. Students come to college with the goal of a diploma in mind—what happens in between, especially in classrooms, is often of no deep and determining interest to them.

 

Read more of what Mark Edmundson has to say in the Oxford American …

 

an evening with , June 13th, 20005. http://www...

an evening with , June 13th, 20005. http://www.cityarts.net/n.wiseman.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

And, along these lines, Frederick Wiseman‘s new documentary, “At Berkeley,” may prove to be quite interesting.  Here’s tidbit from a review in The New York Times by Stephen Holden:

 

In its refusal to identify anyone by name or job title, this four-hour film — Mr. Wiseman’s 38th institutional documentary since 1967 — makes a profound statement about democratic participation. It’s not the “me, but the “we,” that keeps democracy alive. From the humblest janitor to the most esteemed professor, everyone belongs to the same community and is equally important. The modern university is a complex organism that, to function efficiently, needs every component, including someone to cut the grass.

 

 

I Told You So: Towards a Different Future Post the 2012 Election

I told you so.

It’s not a hospitable way to begin this piece and draw your attention, but I just had to say it . I told you so.

In “Nothing Will Change: the 2012 Presidential Election,” written June 23, 2011, I said that, “the state and the corporation are the main sponsors and coordinators of an ‘unprecedented combination of powers distinguished by their totalitarian tendencies, powers that not only challenge established boundaries — political, moral, intellectual, and economic — but whose nature it is to challenge those boundaries continually, even to challenge the limits of the earth itself,’ says Sheldon S. Wolin in Democracy Inc: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.”

Here we are again, debating tax reform, taxation of the rich and entitlements. Mitch McConnell is still obstructing by any means necessary. Paul Ryan is still showing his colors, suggesting that they lost the election because “too many Blacks voted.” Too many? And Mitt Romney, acutely blind to what happened, before, during and now after the election, insists, speaking to the LA Times, that Obama won the election because he gave Big Gifts to Latinos and Blacks.

The rest of us, meanwhile, exhausted, are looking optimistically for a compromise. Sound familiar? Have we been here before?

In Obama we’ve chosen a kind of struggle that will work only be degrees, slowly, gradually — yet not alter the state of affairs at all. Romney wanted to drastically change everything and place a perverse oligarchy at the helm. With Obama, we’ll fix a tire here, a spark plug there, a belt, a carburetor — but the fact that the system is fundamentally flawed is not going to be addressed. Remember: I told you so. And I’m telling you now.

On January 28, 2012, looking at this system keen on manufacturing illusion as its primary feature, I wrote “Vero Beach, Florida and the Manufacturing of Consciousness: How the GOP Will Give Obama a Victory in 2012“, and said :

Vero Beach is the American Paradox: the extraordinary cost of creating and maintaining such lavishness and the economic drain of a lifestyle that is characterized by total mechanization, as the pudgy elderly try to stave off the inevitable by walking and biking, their lives well kept by Latinos and some, very few, African Americans usually found behind counters at Publix markets, gas stations and sanitation trucks. The divide is the evolution of manifest destiny that has assumed a contemporary look and feel.

We can hear Karl Rove’s grandiosity; we can also see the denial of the changing face of the American electorate: younger, bolder, Latino, women, the LGBT community, and African Americans that are now looking for Obama, their president, to address their ills in more concrete ways then he did his first go ’round. Privilege is indeed blinding. The GOP never saw it coming.

But things have changed. And we have to help things change even further.

Robert Wolf, Obama’s top Wall Street ally, says that the rich can tolerate tax hikes. As reported by Andrew Rosenthal, in The New York Times, Bill Kristol, the stalwart conservative of the Weekly Standard, has endorsed raising taxes.

So immediately following the election — and the devastation from Sandy that brought so many together in a dramatic tableau of self-reliance — we have reason to, well, hope for change. But don’t get carried away. As Chris Hedges tells us in Empire of Illusion, our best and the brightest are educated, by our elite instutions, to be mechanics, not change agents — fix this or that, never changing the system; the status quo is accepted. It’s how we roll in America — and why we’re fat, too.

What do we have wrong? What do we have to change?

For me, this can only be done through education, a creative struggle with ideas, difficult ideas, challenging ideas that are, if they’re to be effective, questioning the status quo and offering alternatives. We need to work to transgress. We have to re-examine what we mean by “progress” and, likewise, we have to conflate our sense of it with what we “value”; in the journey, we have to look back and try to also define “virtue” and “virtuous action,” the keys to any foundation that is looking to move to new and better ways of living. These are the road to happiness.

Handmaking America

So let’s turn to our socioeconomic challenges, first, since these are on everyone’s mind. Please run to your local bookstore and, whether you’re on the right or the left or somewhere in-between, pick up a copy of Bill Ivey’s Handmaking America: A Back-to-Basics Pathway to a Revitalized American Democracy. Read it. Then let’s have an educated discussion about who we want to be.

But if we’re going to do this, as Ivey says, we have to first accept that our values have been corrupted by consumption; this is why the constant affirmation of growth has lead us to a precipice — the so called fiscal cliff. (I can already hear the claims of “socialist”! from folks I know.) Here, listen:

Americans have been converted; we’ve internalized market values. We experience consuming as a liberating activity, strong enough to at times present the illusion of social rebellion. ‘Freedom’ is no longer a condition defined by the absence of debt and envy. Instead, modern-day advertising has transformed freedom into a central tenet of consumerist ideology.

This is called “Freedomism,” says Ivey: “the sentiment that allows buyers to somehow believe that the purchase of a new SUV is a ticket to the great outdoors, when the real effect is a hefty installment loan and the inevitable truth that to service the debt, one must work more hours, inside, at a desk.” Thus, “the transformation of every facet of human activity into marketable product in the end conflates money and meaning.”

We got to this place because we’ve been blind to the idiocy of growth, the notion that if we just expand, buy more, create more stuff, we’ll somehow buy our way out of our socioeconomic woes. In this world the Corporation is viewed as a positive “fixture of America’s democracy,” says Ivey. It happened gradually, but we accept the Corporate Ideological Apparatus and its insistence on the illusion of growth.

Grow where, though? How?

Look around: the earth’s resources are dwindling; we are being lead to believe that because we’ll be drilling our own fossil fuels, becoming less reliant on the Middle East for production, we’ll be better off. But here’s another I told you so: if you think that somehow this is going to change anything — price at the pump, price of heating oil, nurse the environment — you’re dreaming because, in the end, whether we drill, baby, here or there, this fossil resource is dwindling, too. It’s scarce any way we cut it. The costs, I tell you, will be higher. Watch.

The way to turn this around is in yet another source: Bill McKibben, my colleague and

Deep Economy

friend, in his Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future argues that More does not necessarily mean better. There are three fundamental challenges to the notion of growth, says Bill (it’s worth citing all):

One is political: growth, at least as we now create it, is producing more inequality than prosperity, more insecurity than progress. This is both the most common and the least fundamental objection to our present economy … By contrast, the second argument draws on physics and chemistry as much as on economics; it is the basic projection that we do not have the energy needed to keep the magic going, and can we deal with the pollution it creates? The third argument is both less obvious and even more basic: growth is no longer making us happy. These three objections mesh with each other in important ways; taken together, they suggest that we’ll no longer be able to act wisely, either in our individual lives or in public life, simply by asking which choice will produce More.

I dare say that this is, in fact, true, particularly if we go back and look at what I said, above, and examine the relationships between “progress,””value,” and “virtuous action” and Happiness. In this exercise, it’s incumbent upon us, as civilized humans, to examine Happiness for all, not just for the few. How can we work to create environments of Happiness, which could, in turn, be very different for different people?

To answer this question, we have to turn to another source, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. In Nixon’s words,

Slow Violence

…we can recognize that the structural violence embodied by a neoliberal order of austerity measures, structural adjustment, rampant deregulation, corporate megamergers, and a widening gulf between rich and poor is a form of covert violence in its own right that is often a catalyst for more recognizably overt violence…[an] insistence that the systematic burdens of national debt to the IMF and World Bank borne by many so-called developing nations constitute a major impediment to environmental sustainability…To talk about violence, then, is to engage directly with our contemporary politics of speed.

If we then conflate our “contemporary politics of speed” with the illusion of growth, we have our perfect storm, our current state of affairs that, following Ivey, McKibben, and now Nixon, create vast disparities between us, exciting an air of negative competition that seeks to outdo someone else — the Other — for my selfish benefit only.

But, finally, there is an answer — missed by the GOP during the election, noticed by the Obama campaign, but, yet, it’s still living in a kind of fog, just out there at our fingertips, waiting to be noticed and appreciated for its, yes, mathematical accuracy: DIVERSITY. Not growth, but diversity will give us the future.

We thus turn to Scott E. Page’s The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. (Here is Page speaking on leveraging diversity.) Page tells us that, “Progress depends as much on our collective differences as it does on our individual IQ scores.” This is a challenge for a society that “prizes individual talent and achievement”:

Diversity is a property of a collection of people — a basket with many kinds of fruit. Diversity and ability to complement one another: the better the individual fruits, the better the fruit basket, and the better the other fruit, the better the apple … We should encourage people to think differently. Markets create incentives to be different as well as to be able, but perhaps not to the appropriate level. We have to do more.

Page goes on to prove his thesis mathematically and logically; it’s undeniable — except to the GOP that lead Romney to defeat and continues to deny the very real diversity evident in our election results. Notice, too, that critical interdisciplinary work is an essential  component that will excite market-driven diversity, since we’ll need people who are not necessarily smarter then you and me, but rather, people who actually can address a problem by thinking differently. Mathematically, Page shows us that a group of diverse thinkers in a room can actually solve problems more efficiently, faster and more creatively.

What does this mean?

The challenge for politics, for instance, is that the same people are always in the room: corporate spokespersons parading as senators and congress people; we impose, on the poor, for instance, how they should live, rather then asking them, at the seminar table, what solutions they see; we impose on teachers standardization, across the board, without asking teachers to contribute to their profession; and, likewise, we impose, then, structural imperatives on students without asking students how they learn, how they go to school, what challenges they face in this community or that community.

In other words, the challenge today is far more complex — and subtle; it’s about understanding our diversity, acknowledging that what we may be doing in the name of growth isn’t better — and it hurts many, many people.

In this long piece (sorry), I am compelled to leave you with a shocking, 1991 confidential World Bank memo, written by the esteemed Lawrence Summers, and found in Nixon’s Slow Violence, that actually demonstrates all I’ve said; it’s the ultimate I told you so :

I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country impeccable and we should face up to that … I’ve always thought that countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles … Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the Least Developed Countries?

Don’t be shocked by this, not if you’ve read Empire of Illusion. Summers served as the 71st US Secretary of the Treasury, from 1999-2001, under Bill Clinton; he was Director of the White House US National Economic Council for President Barack Obama; he is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; and, he’s the recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal for his work in several fields of economics. Summers also served as the 27th President of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006 (he resigned after a vote of “no-confidence.”) And he received his S.B. from MIT in 1975 and his PhD, from Harvard, in 1982.

I mention all this, even though I link to it, because, if you’re reading this and got this this point, you have to ask yourself: What are we breeding in our institutions? And, how is it that thinking like Summers’ lands a man a job at the right had of the President of the USA, in this case, two Democratic Presidents?

See, I told you so. How do you want to live? How well are we doing in our pursuit of Happiness?

When Ideology Reigns, Humanism Suffers: November’s Fundamental Choice

Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as his VP demonstrates a conservative embrace of ideology. Ideological pursuits are anathema to humanism. Ideological pursuits negate the struggle indicative of the human journey towards anything resembling self-reliance, which is, ironically, what Ryan, et al, are suggesting we pursue. Ideologies tend to nurture solipsism and harbor a disdain for democratic decision making. Ideologies silence hope and give voice only to the most dominant. Ideologies establish a vituperative vertical system run by the inflexibly self-righteous.

November’s presidential election is asking that we either abide by a strict ideology suggesting that in times of confusion and insecurity we let in a version of Big Brother, as Whitaker Chamber’s suggests in his elegant review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or about pursuing a humanistic road, with its roots in Socrates and Romanticism, and emphasizing the individual’s drive towards self-actualization. These are our choices: the Republican’s pursuit of a strict ideology or the Democrat’s insistence that we protect self-actualization (they can surely be criticized for not nurturing it, however). How’s that for black and white?

Ideologies require a simple good vs bad dichotomy. So we’re forced to speak this way, as I’ve done, above. Humanism is cloudy, messy and ambiguous because it confirms the existence of “human nature.” An ideological apparatus denies the relevance of “human nature,” arguing that a person can be disciplined into a way of life, a way of thinking. The problem with this, of course, is that ideologies need efficient ways of transmitting discipline. Enter Paul Ryan. And in case anyone missed the point I’m making, Ryan’s appointment has been followed by another: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The junkyard dog is being released to bark and threaten, show his teeth. The ideological center of the GOP means business. Mitt Romney is actually rather unimportant at this point, which is always the case when a fine tuned ideology trumps everything — and everyone.

The last, great conservative, when we actually had the semblance of a public sphere in America, William F. Buckley, who, when he died, left a void currently being filled by buffoons, said, on Charlie Rose, that Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is “ideological fabulism.” In Rand’s Atlas, so passionately embraced by Paul Ryan and conservatives, it would be very easy to send anyone to the gas chamber, says Buckley. Fascism follows. And it is a world that, for us right now, as we watch China and other economies begin to scale — and dominate — makes sense; it is, after all, the China model. “The fight we’re in here,” said Paul Ryan following Rand, “is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” Any questions? Only individualism doesn’t trump collectivism; in American Philosophy, they co-exist and can actually thrive.

The other ideology Ryan embraces is Catholicism, though no one is speaking about it, not critically. In Catholicism, the institution, the Church, speaks for God; it is Christ, it is God, it is everything. The see of Rome. Disciples talk about the Church as if it’s alive, body and soul. Ideological fabulism? Ryan very easily conflates Rand and Catholicism. Rand is the secular Catholic (though embracing abortion because it’s a woman’s right) that is not thinking about universality, rather she’s thinking about allegiance. Catholicism, for instance, would not exist if it wasn’t for poverty — and the allegiance to its doctrine by the poor — and the uneducated suffering; it has an interest in maintaining this imbalance so that it can prey – pray on and for them, simultaneously. This is the slippery slope we’re on — a hall of mirrors. On this Ryan trip, we might see Mel Gibson appointed Ambassador to Israel, just to teach them a thing or two because they’re too reliant on us. Opus Dei might enter the White House’s inner sanctum.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in faith. I have faith — in my journey towards self-actualization, in the sense that I can be better, and in the notion that in these pursuits consistent with self-reliance, I want to be judged by you, another human being pursuing his / her self-actualization. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, my community. I can be better at all of these — without Paul Ryan – Rand. And I also know that a partner in this journey should also be a government that does not obstruct, rather it nurtures, it listens, it enters into a dialog with my needs and my community’s needs. This is the idea of America, words Ryan frequently uses; however, if we want to talk about this idea we have to begin with faith in each other. We have to acknowledge the idea’s Romanticism chiseled from the Enlightenment.

Alexander Hamilton, in the General Introduction to the Federalist Papers, says the following:

Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the subdivision of the empire into several partial confederacies than from its union under one government.

This is conservatism in its most enlightened form. So I wonder: instead of the ideological fabulism of Ayn Rand, made doubly more perverse by Ryan’s Catholic closing of the American mind, why aren’t we talking about Hamilton and the Federalist Papers? That’s our earliest notion of America. Isn’t Hamilton more relevant than Rand’s self-righteous — and nasty — inflexibility? “Were there not even these inducements to moderation,” says Hamilton, “nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”

Welcome to America, where candidates swing into battlegrounds to do war. America, as we see everywhere, is not in tune with Hamilton, with moderation. “On the other hand,” says Hamilton, “it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty;…that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government.” Real Housewives, reality tv, the Kardashians, the glory and violence of the most popular sport in America, football — all these things trend towards a collective mind set that abides by a stricter, black and white, easily definable morality, even if some have to suffer. This is a gruesome sign that we’re a lost nation as we ping pong back and forth over an ideological net bent on moving us towards the complete control of our human right to determine who we are, each of us.

Vero Beach, Florida and the Manufacturing of Consciousness: How the GOP Will Give Obama a Victory in 2012

At the height of the GOP primary race in South Carolina, I was in Vero Beach, Florida, and suddnely what came over me was the uncanny feeling that I was in-between worlds, a kind of vertigo, a foreboding I was not expecting since I was happily running up A1A.

In South Carolina, the reformed Catholic, Newt Gingrich, surged ahead by deploying a recognizable racist attack — Obama, the European socilaist, as food stamp president — rejecting his lobbyist self — though we know Newt was (Congress wrote the rules to ensure this kind slippage for themselves, post-Tom Delay, increasing their wealth on our backs) — and admonishing the poor for being lazy, resolving that it’s best to give poor children brooms and mops to clean schools.

(Am I the only one that’s reminded of Mussolini and Juan Perón, here — the self-righteous tauting of fundamentalism cloaked by the Church’s altar, the word of God Almighty?).

Benito Mussolini

Newt Gingrich

Juan Perón

In Vero Beach, as I went for runs, I was ovewhelmed by the illusion of reality — MacMansions by the sea (guilty: I was in one!), gated communities, vegetation that is not indigenous (all of it has been imported, except for sea graves and the St. Augustine grass,) and a constant burning of fossil fuels to maintain lavish lawns — mowers, blowers, chain saws, large trucks, off-road vehicles and yachts; the late-model luxury automobiles that are required in a place where pedestrain traffic is, as in L.A., non-existent and strip malls and golf courses that have become the new valhala.

And not a single person of color within sight — unless cleaning houses, mowing lawns and on garbage runs standing behind large trucks.

It’s not surprising that Vero has it’s own Disney Resort. The master of illusion has made Florida its own. Does this illusion follow the America psyche or does it help construct it, as do our politics, I wonder?

I was shaken by the very plastic nature of this living — and perhaps the very plastic, constructed lives we lead that scream unsustainability.

Vero Beach is the American Paradox: the extraordinary cost of creating and maintain such lavishness and the economic drain of a lifestyle that is characterized by total mechanization, as the pudgy elderly try to stave off the inevitable by walking and biking, their lives well kept by Latinos and some, very few, African Americans usually found at Publix markets, gas stations and sanitation trucks. The divide is the evolution of manifest destiny that has assumed a contemporary look and feel.

The BMW’s and Cadillacs and late model SUV’s abound. It is prosperity writ large; it is also a final sign, at the last third of someone’s life, that I’ve arrived, I’ve achieved. It’s what Mitt Romney argued in the GOP debate in Florida: this wasn’t handed to me, it was earned. This is the American way now.

But our American way has become divisive, we know that now — we can feel it. The left and the right are so distant from what we the people perceive our American mission to be, that we’ve lost any real understanding of Representative Democracy. Who is representing what and whom?

If it was only that we’re in an economic quagmire, the way out would be simple; we would collaborate and cooperate, plan and execute. But our condition is beyond being simply a bind — it’s a new construction that sprinkles old, recognizable American rhetoric over a new order that is redefining Representative Democracy: we no longer vote for people who represent us, the people; rather, we vote for representatives of multinationals and narrow special interests; we vote for extreme special interests that only comply with a very fine line defined by those holding the purse strings — or worse, with interests that comply with ultrathin social ideology, such as the complexities of marriage, civil unions and a woman’s right choose.

In an enlightening interview on the PBS News Hour, Thomas Edsall, a longtime Washington Post reporter, now a New York Times columnist and professor of journalism at Columbia University, who has written a new book, The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics, said, “Well, what’s happened, I think, in the past — really since the collapse, economic collapse, is that the country now is — has become dominated by the issue of debt and deficits.” Edsall goes on to say that, “Somebody’s going to take a hit. It’s no longer a nice and friendly game. It’s who’s going to get hurt. That makes for — we already had a polarized politics. When you add this notion that politics now is one not just of what can I get out of it, but what do I do to the people to get what I want, that makes it a much nastier and much more hostile circumstance.”

Thus our confusion. We don’t understand this bifurcation characterized by a nastiness and indifference to the well being of most Americans.

At the heart of this problem are the psychologies of liberals and conservatives, respectively, says Edsdall:

Liberals are very concerned with compassion and fairness. Conservatives have what one person describes as a broader spectrum, but not as much focus on compassion and fairness, but also on issues of sanctity, of a different kind of fairness. Their opposition to affirmative action, for example, is a different kind of fairness.

Edsall clarifies, saying, that

…the idea that conservatives are willing to inflict harm is not necessarily a criticism. If you are in a fight, and you’re fighting to protect what you have, being loyal to your own people is not necessarily a bad thing. If you and your family had to protect what your child is getting what your husband and so forth — if they face serious threats of lost goods, in effect, you’re fighting for them, and, in fact, if that meant someone else had to get hurt, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

This is the crux of the matter because, as Edsall says, “There is a stronger natural instinct among conservatives to see contests in zero sum terms, (witness: GOP debates AND NEWT — which is why I’m reminded of Mussolini and Perón), that there are going to be losers and winners. Therefore, I want to get into this and be sure that I am the winner and that people that are around me are winners” (parenthetical inclusion mine).

This is short term thinking, not long term planning that is creative; it takes away and does not build. It is destructive in nature since it means, by design, to push certain people away.

In “The Obama Memos: How Washington Changed the President,” by Ryan Lizza (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012), we learn from Thomas Mann, “of the bipartisan Brookings Institute,” and Norman Ornstein, “of the conservative American Enterprise Institute,” in a “forthcoming book about Washington Dysfunction, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, that,

One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, and scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Ultimately, this kind of hostility ensures that none of us sees clearly, least of all politicians. It’s by design. While Obama came into office with a spirit of change, trying to direct the country in new, fertile directions, Lizza tells us that the President, “was the most polarizing first-year President in history — that is, the difference between Democratic approval of him and Republican disapproval was the highest ever recorded.” Obama, we learn from Lizza, had to change in order to survive. And we also learn that, “Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street.”

It’s because of Obama’s accomplishments, I would argue, that, alongside dwindling resources, the Republican willingness to inflict harm, divide and (try) to conquer, even by waging war on voting, has become the strategy that is overwhelming this run to the 2012 elections.

What’s left, then, is a populace running towards Vero Beach, running to escape this violation of our rights, close our eyes, and enjoy what small, square plot of earth we can call our own, even though much of the American people will be left out.

Welcome to the new, uncanny presidential election cycle where we might see how inflicting pain may become the winning solution for the GOP — or it may undo them to such an extent that, perhaps, Obama’s willingness to work for change, his 2008 promise, can become something closer to the truth during a second term.

What we do know, is that the system is broken and it’s unsustainable.  This is certain.

Knowing what you know, what America do you want?: Mainstream media and Truth

Dedication:

to my Afghan students, my past, present and future students in Media, Sports and Identity, and to all my Midd students

Mainstream media protects and serves systems of power. Its role is to push the central narratives of our culture by implying a tension with the dominant culture involving representations of class, race, and gender–and especially masculinity. Political campaigns know this. Case in point is how the McCain campaign is accusing Obama of using the ‘race card.’ The McCain campaign knows that the media will fixate on this; however, this isn’t news, but rather, another sign of the manipulation that goes on for the control of images in politics today given the symbiotic relationship between mainstream media–it acquiesces–and political power–control by the few. (I’ve already covered an aspect of this, here.)

In a democracy, we’re in a bind. Democracy requires an informed citizenry. Are we informed? How are we informed? What work do we to do to keep informed? Who do we trust?

In The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the 21st Century, John W. McChesney tells us that “the creation of such an informed citizenry is the media’s province.” All theories of self-government have this as a premise. Which means that controlling what the message is–the information, the images–requires control over how the message is delivered–the systems of media production.

“The crucial tension,” says McChesney, “lies between the role of the media as profit-maximizing commercial organizations and the need for the media to provide the basis for informed self-government. It is this tension that fuels much of the social concern around media and media policy making.”

I’d add that it is this tension that produces the shallow reporting we experience today, particularly in agenda driven Op-Ed pages. The agenda is partisan, which is fine and expected (this is why we read opinions), but more often than not, this is tainted by a journalist’s need to push his or her own career in a system that rewards star quality rather than substance. To have “star quality” requires bombastic statements, ill-thought and narrow conclusions about life and death subjects.

The critical problem is that our system hurts the pursuit of freedoms, democracy itself, since to be totally free demands understanding; it, in turn, requires that we participate and debate, challenge and ask questions, and then involve ourselves in the processes of decision making. We must therefore critique and challenge those that describe–and define–the conditions for our debates concerning our differences, needs and dreams.

Media obfuscates this process–it’s been profitable to do so. Good examples are Thomas Friedman and David Brooks of The New York Times.

In the case of Brooks, after William F. Buckley’s passing, his voice is the most formidable of the conservatives. Friedman is difficult to pinpoint because he struggles with attempts at insight while trying to provoke. More often than not, he provokes because he carelessly makes grandiose statements that are extraordinarily one sided, failing to account for any other perspective–The World is Flat is full of these, as undergraduates at Middlebury have pointed out in my classes.

“When the world goes flat, the caste system gets turned upside down,” says Friedman in The World is Flat. “In India untouchables may be the lowest social class, but in a flat world everyone should want to be an untouchable. Untouchables, in my lexicon, are people whose jobs cannot be outsourced” (italics in original).

Friedman must be talking about the lives of sex workers in India, as described by William Dalrymple in Letter from India: Serving the Goddess” (The New Yorker, Aug. 4, 2008). “The majority of modern devadasis (deva means “god”; dasi means “a female servant”) in Karnataka are straightforward sex workers; the devadasis…estimated that only about one out of every twenty of those dedicated as children manage to escape into other careers–not least because almost all of them leave school and begin work from home soon after puberty…Nevertheless, the main outlines of their working lives are in reality little different from those of others in the sex trade.” From Karnataka to Amsterdam to Las Vegas–globalization at its finest.

My students didn’t need Jeoffrey Sachs to suggest that in a world that requires collaboration and cooperation, the “special,” “specialized,” “anchored” and “really adaptable” (Friedman) workers are going to require a totally different form of education, particularly in the humanities, with a strong emphasis on ethics, something that never comes up in The World is Flat.

Friedman’s flat world is either you’re this or you’re out. This is not sustainable–or tolerable. The disenfranchised, the marginalized and the small are voicing challenges to the globalization at any cost because the already powerful can gain even more power and control mantra. Proof is evident in what is being described as the “DOHA failure.” I partially agree with what Tim Worstall points us to in an interesting piece on global trade negotiations by Martin Jacques in the Guardian:

The irony of Doha is that it is being killed by western disinterest in the face of the growing power of the developing world. The rise of China and, to a lesser extent India, is likely to be accompanied by a parallel irony. The west, which has been the traditional defender of free trade – because free trade always favours the most powerful and advanced economies – is likely to run for cover and put up protectionist barriers, unable to cope with the political, social and economic implications of the rise of China. In a sense, the death of Doha is a dress rehearsal, albeit an early one, for the end of globalization. And those who bury it will be those who designed it and proselytized for it – the US and Europe.

All systems move towards entropy. Friedman never accounts for this–ever, anywhere. He is a part of an old system that relies on fragmentation and departmentalization, which is buttressed by an education system that relies on partial truths, fractured information and decontextualization. This is how a ruling hegemony is supported. This is also why we fail to see and understand the solutions we need today.

In Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Plent, Jeffrey D. Sachs says that,

To solve the remaining dire problems of environmental degradation, population growth, and extreme poverty, we will need to create a new model of twenty-first-century cooperation, one that builds on past successes and overcomes today’s widespread pessimism and lack of leadership…Such multipolar cooperation is time-consuming and often contentious. Solutions will be complicated; the problems of sustainable development inevitably cut across several areas of professional expertise, making it hard for any

single ministry—or academic department, for that matter—to address the issues adequately.

It is therefore incumbent on institutions of learning to engage in the myriad ways technologies are enabling a closer look at how we educate and learn, how we become. This requires a focus on the process of learning as defined by a critical pedagogy that questions and articulates that relationships that exist between knowledge production, the teacher and the student, and technology and the ever shifting terrain of language. This also involves understanding the relationships between knowledge production, educational institutions and power.

A few years ago I taught a course where I placed Friedman’s The World is Flat side-by-side with Bill McKibben’s Wandering Home and asked one simple question at the beginning and at the end of the course: “Knowing what you know now, how are you going to live the rest of your lives?” Resoundingly, after criticizing both texts, the class concluded that Friedman’s pursuit of rampant globalization misses the point, particularly in terms of individual rights, the pursuit of happiness and how both of these interact in a single life that has to live close to the earth, a prerequisite, students concluded, for being a vital part of the human race.

There is no accounting for how to maintain a world that is obsessed with more production for consumption’s sake. We have to collaborate and cooperate in a world where we are increasingly intertwined.

Stories in the media, and Op-Ed pages in particularly, aggravate the disciplined world bifurcated along differences that stress continued exile–and concomitant tensions–along borders. If we want to see how the world is really being shaped, we need to actually examine those who are exiled because of war and natural disasters. Our inability to confront these challenges shows how narrow our thinking is.

A perfect example of Friedman’s lack of personal connection with his subject, a lack of understanding of his responsibilities as a journalist in a democracy is his Op-Ed piece “Drilling in Afghanistan” (July 30, 2008). I sent this out to my six Afghan students, friends of Afghanistan I know and to folks that are living and working inside Afghanistan. (Has Friedman ever been to Afghanistan? Does he know any Afghans?).

Most distressing to my students, and others, was Friedman’s cold, callous statement that, “The main reason we are losing in Afghanistan is not because there are too few American soldiers, but because there are not enough Afghans ready to fight and die for the kind of government we want.”

Countless Afghans have died for the cause of freedom; theirs is a historically long battle for independence. In fact, Afghans are known for their tenacity and skill on the battlefield. And what about the Afghan journalists that have died trying to practice the most fundamental premise of democracy, freedom of expression? According to the Kabul-based South Asia Media Commission, five Afghan journalists were killed in 2007. This is on top of countless suicide bombings that have killed civilians and police. And On December 20, 2002, 65 civilian Afghans were killed by U.S. air strikes.

Where is Friedman on any of this? Where is any mainstream journalist on this, faulting the Bush Administration’s callous indifference immediately after 9/11? What about John McCain’s pursuit of the exact same policies as the Bush Administration?

Afghan blood is being spilled without cause. Afghan military and Afghan police, along with Afghan journalists, are the first line of defense–this we know for sure. But Friedman is blind to this. He also knows how responsible we are for this tragedy since we evolved a vituperative foreign policy that turned its back on Afghanistan for an energy policy that required the occupation of Iraq. Now the entire situation is a disaster. Afghans aren’t doing anything? The real question is what have we done? Answering this question is the first step towards reconciliation–without it, we can’t move forward.

Sure there is corruption in Afghanistan. But ours is not a corrupt system? The Bush Administration has been quite efficient in its pursuit of destabilization as a means to profitable ends for the very few friends of the White House–mostly oil executives. This is a strategy deployed by banana republics we thumb our noses at–but we’re no better, not to the world we’re not. Why is the media not taking this tack?

But as one of my friends (from Benington, Vermont) pointed out, as did an incredible Afghan student, it’s best to listen to people that are in the country, such as Barnett Rubin and Ashmed Rashid. We don’t though, and this is one of the causes of our problems, giving the Friedmans of this world the opportunity to gloss over lives sacrificed for catastrophic policies that have no vision at all.

We exist in a world where life is cheap and sensationalism, bombastic statements and a fixation on aesthetics is more important. We’re headed deeper into the abyss created by a conservative agenda.

David Brooks is a voice for continuing down this dark path. In Missing Dean Acheson (August 1, 2008), Brooks says that “In a de-centered world, all it takes is a few well-placed parochial interests to bring a global process tumbling down.” By “parochial,” Brooks means the weaker nations, those that are commonly the labor on which globalization for the dominant is built. These nations should reconsider their narrow local concerns for the greater good of humanity (read: the powerful, the societies that already have).

This is an old agenda ensuring that many will still reside on the borderlines; it is the last breath of audacious colonialism. Brooks fails to see that the disenfranchised live in-between spaces that provide terrain for elaborating new strategies for articulating identities. The Doha failure is no failure at all, but rather, a new narrative emerging. But Brooks can only rely on existing–and very old–systems of power. He longs for them. The smaller but emerging nations are articulating their sense of difference from a minority perspective we cannot now turn our backs on, as we have in the past. They won’t let us–the consequence of our interconnectedness.

Brooks clearly wants to hang on to a world that no longer exists. “The dispersion should, in theory, be a good thing, but in practice, multipolarity means that more groups have effective veto power over collective action. In practice,” says Brooks, “this new pluralistic world has given rise to globosclerosis, an inability to solve problem after problem.” As is his style, this is not what Brooks means; he means that the failure to solve problems is a consequence of smaller, weaker and developing nations not acquiescing to the will of the powerful–the US, mainly, but now China, India and Brazil that are, in turn, also challenging the hegemony we’ve learned to rely on. Collaboration is only good when it’s among the powerful. We need not collaborate and cooperate with the marginalized. The future, though, is dependent on how creative we are in our work with others, and particularly with those that have suffered greatly because of our needs.

Our vision is myopic. A new discourse is essential. New disciplines for the US are required as well. Brooks says that “for the first time since World War II, an effort to liberalize global trade failed.” Of course! The effort would have meant further destabilization by ensuring that the “resourced power of tradition be resinscribed through the conditions of contingency and contradictoriness that attend upon the lives of those who are ‘in the minority,'” as Homi K. Bhabha teaches us in The Location of Culture. Simply going along with how things have always been done would mean further estrangement–but estrangement is good for the powerful because it guarantees a “slave class”; it guarantees that the devadasis will continue their trade, though devastated by AIDS.

In Brooks and Friedman we see how media protects and serves. By merely echoing representations of the surface structure of things, nodding to an alleged tension with the dominant culture, we, the citizenry, are dealt the illusion of truth. There is no truth in what Brooks and Friedman say–other than it would be best if the ways of production designed by the ruling hegemony remain. Everyone need simply go along. It is still, in their hands, an “us vs them” world, which is exactly the Manichaen world defined by very close minded conservatism that is running out of air.

Of course there are moments when Brooks blasts the conservatives for not being conservative enough. And there are moments, likewise, when Friedman addresses the Bush Administration’s narrow field of vision concerning the Middle East and the environment. But as Noam Chomsky points out in Manufacturing Consent, the progenitor to McChesney’s work, dissent is built into the system, it is allowed, even expected so to give the illusion of a dialog between differences, whcn in fact, read this way, dissent becomes merely another vehicle for the strengthening of the ruling narrative.

(We never see Chomsky, for instance, anywhere in mainstream opinion pieces, do we? Why? We never saw Edward Said, either–why is that? What’s the relationship between power and the control of voices of opposition to the ruling class?)

So, knowing what you know now, how are you going to live the rest of your lives?

Freedom and democracy require a lot of work; ciphering through information delivered by powerful institutions is the most difficult thing we have to do because it requires that we first face our biases, then our differences and pierce through the fog of mythologized idealism.


There are alternatives to mainstream media. It’s up to you, the reader, to seek these out–and to read.   Here are but a few:

Asheville Global Report: Progressive News Sources

Democracy Now!

Pacifica Radio

WBAI, New York–99.5 FM Pacifica Radio

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

Foreign Exchange with Daljit Dhaliwal

Dahr Jamail’s Mideast Dispatches

Raising Yousuf and Noor: Diary of a Palestinian Mother