The cheapening of American public discourse … and its consequences

What do Noam Chomsky, Colin Kaepernick, and our family dog, Callie, all have in common?

Last night in the wee hours of the morning my wife woke me to help her take care of a sick dog. Callie is a rescue dog, who is more than a little neurotic. We’ve figured out some of the things that really bother her … loud noises, thunder, which she associates with rain, which she associates with wind. Calm sunny days are good days. Last night she woke up sick, and we aren’t sure why. Eventually I was able to calm her down to the point that she got in bed next to me; she then commenced hopping in and out of bed until she was tired enough that she finally fell asleep.

In the meantime, I found an old video from 1990, Noam Chomsky talking about peace, the media, and propaganda. Chomsky made the observation that in every single media reference to America and peace (in particular peace processes that were being engaged around the world), the media never presented America in any way against peace, especially when the American government was aggressively engaged in pursuing “American interests” overseas. Chomsky observed how the terms “peace” and “American interests” became virtually synonymous. (The “contemporary” counterpoint to the propaganda position is the excruciatingly painful reality of the Vietnam War and how the American propaganda machine sometimes succeeded, but mostly failed in its mission to convince the American public of the rightness of that war. You may recall that Chomsky wrote about that too.)

Chomsky has repeatedly demonstrated how media propaganda is harmful (and in today’s experience actually deadly) to our democracy. More than thirty years ago now Chomsky pointed out how media propaganda is designed out of a collaboration between media and government officials to promote wartime ideology. The hard reality today is that government is more and more becoming the enforcement arm of a media propaganda machine owned, operated, and directed by huge corporate interests. (This, by the way, is a phenomenon known as inverted Fascism. Please inform yourself about inverted Fascism. It is aggressively assaulting our democracy, and we are in present danger of losing our democracy because of it.)

I think older Americans, my parents’ generation, are more vulnerable to this, because they don’t understand the concept of propaganda or media manipulation, and they simply expect that what they hear on “the news” is “objective truth.” They frequent news outlets that most reflect their “American and religious values,” innocently not realizing that the corporate interests are manipulating them through their chosen “news outlet” to think and act (and vote!) not in their own interests, but in the interests of the powerful corporation.

This is just as true for my age-peers, those of us in our middle years, baby boomers who have cynically and opportunistically embraced participation in the corporate propaganda system, because too many of us think powerful corporations are too powerful to resist, or too many of us have become willing to soil ourselves with the manipulative lies, just to make a little (or a lot of!) money. I am mostly disgusted with my age-peers for willingly engaging in systems that are harmful to our democracy, all the while promoting the lie that just the opposite is true.

I hold out hope for the younger generation, that of our children, the all-too-disingenuously-maligned millennials. These are some of the hardest working, non-judgmental Americans in the history of our country. I know lots of them, lots of them, and I know this to be true. The divisive, self-serving rhetoric about “participation trophies” is a sad reflection of the hard-bitten cynicism of self-soiled, corrupted baby boomers, who like bullies on the playground attack the next generation in order to mask their own culpability for making life harder for everybody else. What has my generation done to lighten the burden of debt we are piling on the backs of our millennial children? Offer tax cuts to billionaires? While the working class may get a few hundred dollars a year for a “tax cut”? Less than a dollar a day? I’m choking on my breakfast I’m laughing so hard. But I refuse to be forced into a state of paralyzed cynicism. I look at the thoroughly grounded idealism and activism of our millennial children and I am inspired.

I’ve digressed a bit, and there is a point in all this. These are thoughts stirred in me by the Chomsky video from 1990, as I was also trying to figure out what was eating our neurotic rescue dog, Callie.

There’s something that should be eating away at all of us, and that’s the cheapening of American public discourse. In part cheapening the discourse keeps us divided, and that’s exactly where the corporate system wants to keep us. Divided and distracted from what they’re really up to.

Social media, and I use it a lot, is probably the most obvious example of the cheapening of American public discourse. I use it a lot because I like to stay connected with people who live some distance from me, or who I don’t get to see often because I work so much. Social media is mostly emotion driven. Lots of emojis. Did I choose the right one? I don’t see one that fits what I’m “feeling” right now. I’m a little curious as to why ALL CAPS haven’t been replaced by red letters to express anger. But I suppose in a world where we’ve been manipulated to think only in terms of black and white, that’s no surprise.

I’m thinking in particular of those (manipulators) who call for national unity and patriotism, yet they engage in tactics (and language) that are designed to divide one group against another. (NRA?!)

By now pretty much everyone is aware of the (manufactured) “controversy” of athletes kneeling for the national anthem at the beginning of NFL football games. The act of kneeling for the national anthem has reached into our society, even to the level of high school athletes kneeling for the national anthem.

It began with Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sitting on the bench for the national anthem at a 2016 preseason game. After a genuine conversation with a veteran who suggested Kaepernick kneel instead of sit for the anthem, Kaepernick began to kneel. Kneeling has a long (even ancient) history as a display of reverence and respect. Hundreds of NFL athletes have followed Kaepernick’s lead, with the intent to draw attention to the civil injustice of police brutality against African American citizens.

In Kapernick’s own words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This is what the conversation should be about.

Instead of accepting at face value Kaepernick’s reason for kneeling during the national anthem, a number of corporate media outlets cheapened the discourse by manipulating the narrative to make it about Kaepernick disrespecting the flag and disrespecting American troops serving in the military.

It’s the cheapening of the discourse. It’s the aggressive manipulation of the discourse. Rather than having a conversation about what these kneeling athletes are actually trying to say with their non-violent disobedience, we let rhetoric crafted by corporate owned media outlets manipulate our emotions. And the result is that we are divided and distracted from the issue the kneeling athletes are trying to bring to our attention.

We love our neurotic rescue dog, Callie. Maybe someday we’ll get to the bottom of all the stuff that’s eating her, and we will learn how to make life better for her.

And I look forward to the day when corporate media manipulation will eat at all of us, when we will all (hopefully sooner than later) understand how powerful corporate interests manipulate our thoughts and actions to keep us divided and distracted, and then we will learn how to stop listening to divisive rhetoric and start listening to each other. Elevate the discourse. Talk about the issues that really matter. Love your fellow human being.

“… let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s justice.”   — James 1.19–20

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The insatiable American appetite for wealth and power and its fascist underpinnings

This came through my inbox via Naked Capitalism this morning and I could not pass up the opportunity to share. It is a must read as so many of the conservative persuasion decry the loss of liberty (religious liberty in particular), while they fail to see the real reasons for this loss. We think the loss of liberty is the result of moral dissolution and we rail against the beast with an indignation of superiority. But every instance of what are claimed to be the moral failures of our society is given a narrative of prejudice that is carefully orchestrated to divide. Division renders our population powerless. And every divisive narrative that we embrace is another nail in the coffin of our democracy, another brick in the wall of our growing fascist corporate state.

The perpetual struggle between democracy and oligarchy … a concise history of neoliberalism

This video recording of Tony Benn talking about the entrenchment of neoliberalism in Great Britain should resonate loudly with the history of neoliberalism in the United States since the 1970s. (Thanks to our friends at Naked Capitalism.) The challenge we face is not abortion or gay marriage. Those are two moral issues masterfully manipulated by the powers to keep our society divided and distracted. If you don’t think this is true, then you have to ask yourself, why do we virtually ignore the commandments against coveting, stealing (corporations and businesses), and lying (our beloved politicians), in order to obsess about the commandments prohibiting murder and sexual infidelity? The challenge we face as a society is the age old struggle against power, concentrated in the hands of a few because of their wealth, whose self-understood mission is to control policies to enrich themselves rather than improve the lives of the workers who make their wealth possible. As Benn points out, the model of work as slavery (in all its forms, including oppressive wage exploitation) persisted throughout human history until the early nineteenth century. Just let that sink in for a moment. It wasn’t until the workers started banding together that their lot began to change. There have been slave rebellions throughout history. Always brutally and unflinchingly put down in order to preserve the “order” of society as it was envisioned by the wealthy few. Now, in our time, we face the same struggle. What the wealthy powerful don’t understand is that we don’t want to eliminate them. We only want what is fair. Fair. That’s another word that is manipulated in the social and political discourse. “Life isn’t fair,” is one of the primary neoliberal rules that’s intended to keep the masses on their heels and noses to the grindstone. But the concept of economic fairness is biblical, and it is as American as the constitution. Read it for yourself. It’s there. We’ve just been conditioned by the neoliberal rule to no longer see it and to no longer expect it. It’s time to come together and fight, not to eliminate the wealthy powerful, but to demand and take our own share of power through standing together (against all the wedge-issue prophecies of the neo-liberal god), and to demand and take our fair share of wealth in an economy that works for all.

An internal discussion among the IMF staff regarding income inequality

IMFStaff members of the International Monetary Fund organization just published a document for debate regarding the global scope of income inequality. And while I dislike the phrase “income inequality” and prefer the phrase “opportunity inequality”, the document makes important points about what is probably the most serious issue of our times. The disclaimer at the beginning of the document warns against associating the findings of this paper with the IMF and that the paper should be taken as the views of its authors. That’s fine. It presents a lot of facts for serious consideration. The one overarching fact is that paying people more in real wages, rather than exploiting the working poor and gutting the middle class, makes for an environment that allows the economy to work for everyone, not just a privileged few. It’s worth the read.

The conservative attack on academics in higher education

Since conservatives have pushed the adjunct model to its limits over the last 10 year span and effectively can squeeze productivity in that direction no longer, now they are going after tenured faculty who were all but silent while the rest of us suffered. I try not to have hard feelings about a class of faculty who viewed adjuncts as less than themselves (even though adjuncts have the same credentials and many are more qualified than the privileged tenured), but I certainly don’t wish this on anyone and I think it is grotesquely small-minded of conservative legislators who are having their ignorant way with “liberal” academics.

Ellen Brown on our shift from democracy to oligarchy

Watching this happen for the last thirty + years has been very, very painful, especially as it gradually has become clear what’s happened.

Free Market Karma

Sometimes I get the impression that free-market economists think of the idea of the “Free Market” as if it were an objective reality or an inescapable cosmic force, in much the same way that Hinduism or Buddhism thinks of karma. In Hinduism as in Buddhism, karma is an impersonal force, a cosmic reality, a universal law, like gravity. The karmic wheel turns as an unalterable, unstoppable grinding reality. It just is. There is no escaping the consequences of one’s actions because … karma. From a historian’s perspective, the karmic system developed in the East where there were and still are densely populated areas and a very strident competition for material resources. So the development of a system that regulated human moral behavior (how we treat each other when the population is dense and competition for resources is pronounced) became a necessity. For those who live in the East, historically, karma was the answer to this very difficult human problem. Note the moral component. Now, to press the analogy a bit, the Free Market has within it cosmic power to reward and punish certain choices or behaviors. If you act in such a way that compromises or fails to implement the Free-Market ideal in its purity, the Free Market will punish you … or at least, so the ideology goes. It is not a moral or immoral system; so the argument goes. It just is. There is no escaping it. And if we remove all artificially contrived restraints on the Free Market, then its truly benevolent nature will emerge to reward everyone … everyone, that is, who makes the right choices. The Free Market is an impersonal force. So the argument goes, and its rewards and punishments ultimately are those of one’s own making. A lot like karma. … The failure of this ideology is in its misunderstanding of human nature. How do you convince the greedy to stop being greedy? How do you stop the murderer from having murderous thoughts? How do you turn the tyrant from using violence to seize power? … So the idea of the free market is just that, an idea. It requires regulation to prevent human beings from exploiting other human beings of lesser status and power, because having had success in the market they want to use the results of their success to use people instead of providing opportunities for others to have the same success. And once those regulations are implemented by a society that has ordered its government for the protection and the prosperity of its people, then it is no longer a free market. It’s called living and working together.