Communication

Death of Democracy

Part 1

Before the [civil] war, it was said ‘the United States are’, grammatically it was spoken that way and was thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all.

~ Shelby Foote, historian

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”   So begins the preamble to the Constitution of the United States.   “We the People…” began with the idea of banding together in the spirit of democracy, in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  Oh, well! Could this period in which we now live represent the beginning of the death of the democratic experiment that was and is supposed to be the United States?

charlottesville.jpgCharlottesville, 2017  – image by Andalou Agency/Getty Images

As a second follow-up to Tim Snyder’s article On Tyranny, the post this week links to a lengthy article only briefly mentioned in last week’s post.  The article is called “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” (which appeared in Vox on September 5th, 2017).   The article, by Lee Drutman  is quite long, but well worth working your way through as it presents a series of issues we should all consider, including:

  • Our fundamental disagreement about what it means to be an “American”
  • The value of political parties
  • Reasons for why we maintain relatively intractable political positions and staunchly maintained polarization
  • How and why division in current U.S. politics is preventing democracy from functioning as it should
  • How the current political climate in the U.S. threatens to create a breaking point akin to the Civil War
  • That inequality and polarization have grown in tandem for the last few decades
  • That the intrusion of money into the electoral process is fueling voter discontent and the disjuncture between the public (actual constituents) and campaign donors (paying constituents)’.

As mentioned, the article is lengthy, not very sexy, but well worth the effort to understand what it presents.


Extending the Drutman article’s focus on political division, next week’s post– Death of Democracy – Part 2—frames this problem into a slightly more embedded historical context, reaching toward addressing our need not only for less division but toward more proactive socio-political solidarity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tyranny

tyranny11

In a country fond of seeing itself as “the land of the free”, in the last couple decades, fear seems to have considerably tarnished this idealistic notion. We say we want freedom, but for whom? Too often, such notions suggest that we want freedom within the boundaries of what we idiosyncratically define as “US”—a term that has increasingly become more grounded in exclusivity than inclusion. This “US” comes to inform our socio-politically charged definition of freedom. In an attempt to stave off fear, our expectations are tinged by a new found xenophobia; we redefine a continually shrinking concept we used to refer to as “a free American”. In so doing, we open the door for those who would exploit our assumed sense of vulnerability. But when freedom does not apply to all, ultimately, it will fail to encompass any of us.

On Tyrrany“European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s… The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

So writes historian Timothy Snyder in his recently published book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. On Tyranny is a tiny book, 126 pages measuring only about 4×6 inches. Each of the twenty suggestions forms a chapter consisting of only two to five pages.

Mr. Snyder does express certain biases (such as casting a jaundiced eye toward the Internet). However, for the most part, the book is largely written from a non-partisan perspective, focusing on various means of preserving freedom and staving off tyrannical control. As the book is quite easy to read, you can probably finish it in an hour (although you will likely ruminate over its contents for much longer).

Some of Snyder’s suggestions are expected (such as #3 – Beware the One-party State). Others are either surprising or defined in a thought provoking manner. For example:

  • #  2 – Defend Institutions
  • #10 – Believe in Truth
  • #11 – Investigate

All address–directly or indirectly–some of the more hidden aspects of what is currently happening in the United States.

In a Washington Post review, Mr. Snyder’s book is described as “a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital.”  Some folks have been so taken with this little gem that they have bought multiple copies to distribute for free (a little over $6 on Amazon).

Requiem - Chomsky book coverOnce you have read through the Snyder book a couple times you might, on reflection, find yourself thinking a bit differently about the state of affairs in the United States. While the twenty suggestions Snyder offers are pointed and helpful, the brevity of the book prevents comprehensive treatment of any idea. As such, you might want to follow-up Snyder’s book and expand your understanding the mechanism of tyranny by tackling the more in depth descriptions of “reality” in the U.S. by reading Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky’s new book. Professor Chomsky addresses tyranny from the perspective of identifying various tactics of oppression such as reducing democracy, attacking solidarity and marginalizing the population—all of which have been happening and continue to occur as you read this. Like On Tyranny, Requiem is easy to read, although not quite so brief.

Finally if you are really committed to understanding tyranny and how it might have been the underlying mode of governance in the United States for decades, consider Sheldon Wolin’s more challenging and comprehensive book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

Responding to Hate

beyond hate

The tragic events last week in Charlottesville, Virginia stand as a reminder that the actions of some of us express staunch opposition to what we might call Good.   Steve Tanner, writing under the umbrella of 500 Pens: an anti-hate news project, offers an annotated list of thoughtful actions we might take when confronting hate in EveryDayLife.  In Mr. Tanner’s own words:

By arming ourselves with a solid understanding of best practices, we can all be ready to respond properly — and safely — when acts of hate unfold before our eyes. Every situation is unique, but the following list is meant to serve as a guide for how to best respond to acts of hatred and bigotry.  ~Steve Tanner 

His brief list of suggestions includes the following.

  • Draw Attention Away From Hateful Protests and Demonstrations
  • Do Not Engage with the Attackers
  • Focus on Protecting the Attacked Person
  • Alert the Police and Other Authorities When Appropriate
  • Prepare in Advance

Food for thought:  Consider the principle of the “golden rule” which appears in some form in almost all major religions and which forms the basis of Good to which this blog often refers.  Does a “hate stance” espoused by a group seeking to exclude others fall within the definition of a golden rule-type Good?  (Do not answer too quickly.  This so-called golden rule is not the same as “live and let live”.)

For example, a white supremacist might be perfectly willing to live in peace as long as non-white folks (and in some cases Jews) live elsewhere.  While some hate groups essentially preach genocide, others simply do not want to have to deal with others they do not considers to be “us”.  Is this a non-Good stance?  What are the criteria for Good?  How can we effectively express Good—treating others as we wish to be treated—in a pluralistic society? Perhaps the deeper question is this: What are the requirements for a pluralistic society sustaining itself within the idea of Good? What does freedom look like in such a context?


You might consider subscribing to the 500 Pens newsletter.  You can also follow 500 Pens on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Update: WikiTribune – On its way!

WikiTRIBUNE_logo.svg

Remember the seekingGood teaser about the crowdfunding endeavor for WikiTribune, a new evidence-based journalistic initiative launched by Jimmy Wales (one of the founders of wikipedia)?  The group behind WikiTribune reached their funding goal and has entered the next phase of the project.  Take a peek here if you would like a more general update on what is going on with WikiTribune.

More specifically, as of August 3rd, 2017, WikiTribune has hired three journalists and an editor, all of whom you might like to know more about.

Journalists: Holly, Harry & Linh

wikitribune 1

Holly Brockwell: Former freelance journalist and tech writer from Nottingham, England. She is apparently fairly smart, having joined MENSA at age 12.  When she heard about the WikiTribune endeavor, Holly jumped at the chance to approach journalism in a wholly new way, to transcend its current limitations.

You can read more about Holly on her website.


Harry Ridgewell: Harry will be working on stories related to science and politics. Harry would like the practice of journalists referencing their presented facts (that is, posting their sources) to become an industry standard. Everybody tell the truth—a refreshing, albeit utopian idea. Perhaps it is just what we need in these dystopian times.

You can follow Harry on Twitter.


Linh Nguyen: An observer of trends, during her tenure at WIkiTribune, Linh hopes to cover “economic policy, human rights, mental health, foreign affairs, politics and the social side of tech”.

A free media is one of the pillars of democracy, and we must fight to sustain it
~ Linh Nguyen

You can follow Linh on her website.


Editor: Peter Bale

Peter Bale 2

A former editor for Reuters, Peter is an international journalist and a former CEO of Center for Public Integrity.  He is currently the President of Global Editors’ Network.   “Jimmy Wales has a history of creating web products with immense social value built on a commitment to engaging a global community of contributors. He understands the value of journalism to society and at the same time wants to revolutionize the approach to reporting on and explaining the big issues of our time. … It’s a privilege to work with him and a team of innovative journalists, developers and communicators to launch WikiTribune.”

You can follow Peter on Twitter.


WikiTribune plans to launch in September of this year.

 

Consider a Think Tank

The seekingGood.blog has endeavored to provide useful information such that readers might expand their understanding of themselves and their overall knowledge as well as to subsequently act in accordance with the “Good” they individually manage to determine. This blog has offered repeated admonishments to “find out for yourself”, to do your own investigations.  Furthermore, while this is a decidedly left-leaning blog, we have also endeavored to encourage open-mindedness, exploration of competing ideas and transcendence of the comforting limits of habitual ways of thinking.  In this light, consider the following.

Think Tand (borderless) - from ClipartFest.jpg

[IMAGE from ClipartFest]

Introduction

Governments do not think.  People think.  Think tanks represent people thinking collectively.  Governments implement and enforce policies.  Regardless how much thinking individuals do, most will have little direct impact on public policy issues.  Think tanks—collections of thinking people–often help to develop or influence public policies. (more…)

July 12, 2017

This date – Wednesday, July 12, 2017 – has been designated by several organizations as aNational Day of Action” regarding the future of the Internet.  A large number of websites and companies have planned a protest against the attempts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to undercut the current Internet freedom we enjoy.   The issue is what most of us know as “net neutrality”.

Protect Our Internet - reduced.png

In a previous post on the seekingGood.blog (May 11th, 2017), we described a proposal engineered by current FCC chair Ajit Pai in which he is seeking to reclassify telecommunication companies. Of course, such changes do nothing in themselves. However, Pai’s proposal, once implemented, releases telecom companies from their obligation to refrain from restricting access to any Internet site–either through denial of service, slowing down that service, or by instituting pay walls to access content.

Whose Freedom?

Remember when many of us went through a “cable cutting” phase?  The proposed rule changes will essentially give telecommunications companies the ability to turn the Internet into a collection of Internet companies–structured like cable companies–leaving us with no escape.  Even with regulations, several of these companies have unlawfully attempted content manipulation.  With no restrictions, telecoms can essentiallynet neutrality outquote.png own the Internet, behaving as they choose, forcing us to pay for what we now access freely.  Additionally, consider the manner in which we have come to voice our opinions.  We do not post notes on a message board in the public square.  We seldom write letters to elected officials to be delivered days later through snail mail.  And most of us do not take to the streets in protest of current governmental decisions.  For most of us, speaking against what we do not like or do not accept has become a matter of expressing ourselves electronically.  The demise of net neutrality also means the death of free electronic speech.

Thankfully, there is already bipartisan support for preserving net neutrality.  Still, nothing is guaranteed.  The more We, the People express our ideas to the government, the more that government is likely to ponder its actions as our representatives.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if our silence tacitly validated some last minute, backdoor deal to allow telecom companies to steal the Internet?

Think this will all just go away? Or do you need more convincing?   Take a look at this video for a general idea of what could happen to your Internet access.
YouTube blocked.png

… or how about this one.

locked internet.PNG

Finally, look at this one (perhaps the simplest and the best).

telecom extortion 2.png

Defend net neutrality!


On July 12th, companies and organizations like Reddit, Netflix, Kickstarter, Vimeo, Amazon, The Nation and the ACLU among many others will participate in an online protest.  To find out more details, sign up here.

National Day of Action - Net Neutrality.PNG

Speak Out!

To let the FCC know your thoughts about potentially losing Internet freedom, follow the specific instructions, (originally posted by the Popular Resistance website) listed below:

Here are step-by-step instructions to help you submit a comment to the FCC.

  1. Click here to go to the page for Express Filings of comments. This is the simplest format to use.
  2. Type 17-108 into the top box called “Proceeding(s)”. Yes, in this Orweillian world Pai did title the proposal to end Internet freedom “Restoring Internet Freedom”. It should be called “Promoting Telecom Thievery”.
  3. Fill out the rest of the form. Yes, you do have to provide your address in order to be counted.
  4. Type your comment into the box at the bottom. See the advice [below] from Tech Crunch (midway down the page at this link).
  5. Review your submission and once you are satisfied, click on the ”submit” button at the bottom of the screen.

The window for your comments closes on July 17th – just a few weeks from now.  Voice your ideas!


Amy Kroin, Editor, edits all Free Press and Free Press Action Fund communications. She also edits and monitors the Free Press website and creates campaign, educational and outreach materials. Before joining Free Press, Amy served as a writer and editor for a division of Pearson, the media and education company, and earlier served as the arts editor of the Valley Advocate.

 

 

…Say Something

We expect the ordinary.  As much as we crave excitement and thrills, as much as we would love to live on a steady diet of novelty, we usually assume nothing special will happen in our lives.  All those controversies we read about happen to other people—until they happen to us.  Those of us in lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11th, 2001 certainly have had a change of heart on this matter.  Some of us—including some of us in the seekingGood collective—hold positions “inside” various government, educational and financial organizations in which all kinds of things could occur.  These potential events include a variety of nefarious machinations that should be brought to the light of public scrutiny.

Say Something.PNG

ProPublica, one of the best, most respected investigative journalism organizations, has done much to shine a light on shady dealings in various corners of society.  They have provided specific methods so we can  anonymously submit to them anything we might uncover.

So if you see something…