Discern [on Flawed Wednesday]

“For in the end, he [Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death in 1985. Cassandra, sounding the alarm to a community too distracted to listen. Were he alive today, he’d think – but would not say – “I told you so.” All the quotes in this post are his.

I read in my daily-news-horror-trawl a quote from a Wyoming man who believes he’s protected from the pandemic because of the color of his hair. It might sound wacky until you consider that his staunch belief in the virus’ preference for hair color is just one of the many misinformation narratives currently being fed to the angry and easily led. He is, without question or thought, breathing the gas of a political party that wants to keep him distracted, fearful and high.

If you are not choking on the fumes of excessive gaslighting, then you are among those whose eyes are burning from the corrosive air it produces. Are you as tired as I am of reading accounts of deathbed appeals for the vaccine? It is too late, in your final moments of life, to realize you’ve been duped. It’s a tragedy. Are you as disgusted as I am, having been witness to the undeniable violence of the insurrection, of listening to the blatant denials? Despite what your eyes saw, it was just another day of tourists wandering through the Capitol. Gaslight tears.

During the first year of the pandemic an acquaintance latched onto a comorbidity table lifted from the CDC website and circulated as “proof” that COVID was less dangerous than the common cold. It was, of course, taken out of context. A quick visit to the CDC website (seriously, less than 30 seconds), viewed in context and with an understanding of the meaning of the word “comorbidity,” easily debunked the claim. Our acquaintance, enraged, doubled down on his claim of “proof” – though he could not be bothered to spend 30 seconds to check the poison gas that he was gulping.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”

The legal defense has been successfully used to defend both Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow: the courts ruled that reasonable viewers should know the difference between news and opinion. This is news. This is not.

Do we have the ability to differentiate between public business and a vaudeville act? The evidence is not hopeful.

The court’s ruling, then, is likely based on a faulty premise: that people are able to differentiate. That the audience is reason-able or values reason. Able-To-Reason. Reason is the power to think, understand and form judgments through a process of logic. In order to be reasonable one must value reason. One must want it.

Logic and reason, both assume the inclination and capacity to question. Curiosity, real curiosity, does not seek agreement or group think. It seeks to step into the gap between what is espoused and what is lived. It seeks solid ground to build upon so must recognize sand when it sees it.

And, what if “reason” long ago fled the coop? Or, what if “reason,” has never been a dominant trait in the coop in the first place? What if discernment dies in the presence of so much gas?

“Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

read Kerri’s blog post about IT DOESN’T KNOW

Start Thinking [on DR Thursday]

“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists, who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”‘ ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Any day now I’m going to watch the 1976 movie, Network. It’s the film equivalent of a crystal ball to our current predicament. A veteran news anchorman loses it on air, threatens to kill himself, but instead goes on a full-blown rant. The network’s ratings skyrocket. An ambitious producer recognizes and exploits the opportunity by creating more and more outrageous programming. Fact falls prey to profitable fiction sold as truth. Ratings imperatives eclipse the north star of accuracy-in-reporting. Roger Ailes created his Fox News Network on the same premise; no veracity necessary. People like a good train wreck, just ask Jerry Springer. It is why the nation is so divided. The blues use news to sort out the lies; the reds use lies to siphon off the truth.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley‘s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” ~Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death before Facebook and Twitter were glimmers in their inventors’ eyes, before the internet hit the personal computer, before multiple channels on cable networks. We have, as Postman wrote, an infinite appetite for distraction with nary a need for honesty. And, as we are witnessing, distraction has arrived in the halls of Congress. We’ve now a party in government that actively shuns verity and raises funds on peddling fallacy.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death.

We are a nation that finds itself at risk. In my post yesterday I wrote that I no longer wonder how a society can willingly and knowingly take itself down. We have front row seats. And yet, the road to our recovery is as simple (and as difficult) as a collective valuing of the truth over ratings or poll numbers or bubbles. We worship at the wrong altar. We are inundated with info-dross. We would be better off if ratings plummeted every time a pundit ranted, a politician bullied, or a commentator lied. We’d be better off if thinking, if fact-checking, was a prerequisite to posting or tweeting or speaking. We’d find ourselves in a shared center, a place of possibility built on a generous commitment to probity.

“For in the end, he [Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

read Kerri’s much more positive post on LEARNING FROM TV

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Learn To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There’s something about opinions that needs saying. It is simply this: not all opinions are created equal.

Neil Postman wrote that “In the development of intelligence, nothing can be more ‘basic’  than learning how to ask productive questions.”

Hearty opinions, opinions worth holding, are generally sourced from a deep well of questioning. If you are, like me, of a certain age, you’ve seen the promise of the age of information warp into the age of intentional misinformation. Knowing what and how to question is not only a necessity, it is the only protection we have, inundated as we are, with so much malignant hooey.

An opinion – a perspective – worth holding is not afraid to be questioned precisely because it is the product of questioning. It is not rigid or defensive because it is an open-ended inquiry. It invites questions, challenges and more information. A worthwhile opinion strives to see more, not less – another quality of a developing intelligence. A solid opinion need not shout down opposing points-of-view or belittle a challenge or bully a questioner because it is not fearful of the light. It need not hide behind “alternative facts” or conspiracy theories or rely on deflection when revealed as ridiculous. It practices stepping outside of the echo chamber to check the veracity of the information upon which it is built.

A dulled intelligence is a choice. It is a closed fortress, leaving the inhabitant trapped inside, self-righteous, indignant and afraid of challenge, clarifying data, and fact. Protecting the fortress, whipping up anger and multiple specters of invasion, is the function of an information echo chamber. Refusal to step outside the fortress, take a look around and ask productive questions of information sources – unwilling to consider whether or not the vaunted opinion is worth the energy to hold – is a tip-off that the thought-house is built on nothing but the softest of sand.

Everyone is, after all, entitled to their own opinion. We can agree to disagree and we will remain on opposite sides of the crevasse forever. Common ground is infinitely available – and will return for us – when stoking anger is less important than embracing the ‘basic’ and learning how to ask productive questions – of ourselves and of the information we are being fed.  Until then, all things will be stagnant, the narrow mind will proclaim itself victim to confirmed facts and relevant questions.  Pathological lie, division and deceit will be called virtuous by those too angry and unwilling to step back and care enough about their hard opinion to ask a simple question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AGREE TO DISAGREE

 

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Scatter News [on DR Thursday]

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I’m reading a book by Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words. If you google him you will read that he is “hailed as the philosopher poet of the environmental movement.”  He is also described as a “radical environmentalist.” He is thoughtful. He is well researched. He asks very big questions. Agree or disagree, he has strong, clear opinions and reasoned beliefs. Step back from his environmentalism and you will find that he speaks directly into the layers of shadow and denial that wrap our national narrative. He isn’t afraid to call a lie a lie. I suspect he is considered radical not because of his beliefs but because of his insistence on bringing into the open what the national narrative would rather keep hidden.

Lately, this word, radical, has become curious to me. Like so many of my friends, I have felt our community is the rope in an angry tug-of-war. We plug into news sources tailored to our political leanings that seem dedicated to reinforcing our divisions.  Dedicated to keeping us angry. And, we know it. And we eat it up. We tear ourselves apart, define ourselves too narrowly, and that is not understood as radical.

For example, we do not consider it radical that there have been 22 school shootings this year alone (at this writing). We do not see our utter inability and/or unwillingness to address it as radical. That more American school children have died of gunfire this year than soldiers in combat is astounding. Or should be.

What should be radical is now the new normal.

A few decades ago, Neil Postman wrote that we were in danger of amusing ourselves to death, that we were going down a path that would render us incapable of discerning between what has gravity and what is concocted. More to the point, we would invert the two, investing in the dross at the expense of the substance. It seems that we have arrived at the doorstep of his prediction.

Our acceptance of the radical is radical.  And what is the cost?

This is the meditation behind Earth Interrupted VI: News. Worthy. and this week’s morsel, Scattered News.

 

SCATTERED NEWS gifts & products

read Kerri’s blog post about SCATTERED NEWS

www.kerrianddavid.com

scattered news design & products ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

earth interrupted vi: news.worthy. ©️ 2018 david robinson

Do Anything Else

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It occurs to me now that all along I’ve been asking irrelevant questions. Or, perhaps framing my questions too narrowly. For instance, years ago I went to graduate school to study systems because I wanted to follow a question that reached deep into my life and identity as an artist: can a mythology be rekindled once it has died? Art, after all, is one of the primary life-keepers of a culture’s story and the beating heart of the story is its mythology. And, according to all indicators, our mythology is mostly dead [as Joseph Campbell said, for evidence of our mythological demise, all you need to do is look at the news]. So, the younger version of myself wanted to understand the purpose of my life as an artist if, indeed, I was in service to a dead mythology. Heady questions, yes? Relevant questions?

In the early 1990’s I was invited to a photographer’s studio to see the “newest thing” in photography. The photographer had a new “program” called Photoshop. Before my eyes he “photoshopped” me into a picture, a place I’d never before visited. Today, all of this seems commonplace. Now, any 5 year old can manipulate an image but at the time a photograph stood for proof that something had actually happened. A photograph could not lie. It was evidence of truth. That day, standing in the photographer’s studio, I realized that the old reliable anchors for truth no longer existed. What was our anchor?

The truly significant events in our lives rarely come in with a roar.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about fake news – as if this was a new phenomenon. It brings to my mind a terrific book written in 1985 by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death. Here’s bit from the first page:

“Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

I suppose fake news refers to something wholly concocted but I’d argue that when news agencies pander and promote themselves to conservative or liberal viewpoints, when ratings drive content, it’s all fake news. News with an agenda is…not news. It is, however, dangerous to a democracy and no longer free (as in free press, a cornerstone of our democracy). Historically, newspapers have always had a point of view but there was some attention paid to what was printed as news. Opinion was confined to an editorial page. When the line between true and concocted is blurred, when a populace cannot discern between entertainment and substance, it no longer has the capacity to make sound (read, “informed”) judgments. Worse, it is gullible, gossip-eaten and infinitely manipulate-able. It is, as Neil Postman wrote, entertaining itself to death.

I recently wrote about the absence of recognizable communal anchors (mythology) and the dangers of a community with nothing but the soft soil of belief and opinion as its driver. Is planting a personal-truth flag and defending its territory all that is left to us?

What else can we do? Now, there’s a relevant, open-ended question! Roger once told me that he would never be able to understand suicide. He said something like, “In that moment, rather than take your own life, why not do anything else? Why not make any other choice?” Another relevant question!

What else can we do? In the face of our own entertainment-driven suicide, why not do anything else? Turn off the blather, go outside, meet your neighbor, tell stories of your children or your ancestors. If common ground can’t be found it can certainly be created. Inhabit something bigger than opinion. It’s less entertaining but certainly more useful. Great art – no matter the form- lives in those bigger fields.

 

MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF PEACE – GIFTS

to kickstart your peace, listen to this:

for PEACE on iTunes, go here (track 5 on the album AS IT IS)

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