Communication

What’s Old is New Again

Remember Dan Rather? Most of us who are even “just a little bit older” certainly do. Mr. Rather, a former anchor of the CBS Evening News, was one of the most well-known broadcast news journalists during a time when the news gave the appearance of being “truer” than many broadcasts manage these days. Some of us might find comfort in knowing such a persons is still at it.

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Apparently, Mr. Rather has teamed up with the Young Turks on their YouTube channel to present a weekly news broadcast. Take a look at the first one. Sober, direct, calm, seemingly non-partisan, the broadcast feels trustworthy enough. You might like it enough to subscribe.

Dan RatherThe endeavor, which Mr. Rather describes as “an answer to what TV news has become” is streamed on YouTube every Monday at 5:30 EST. You might at least get a bit of comfort, a brief respite from these troubled days of “fakenews”.

You might also want to check out the post “State of the Union Address” broadcast from the end of January.

 

Agitprop and Us

The point is not what we expect from life,
but rather what life expects from us.
~Viktor Frankl

agitpropWe constantly look to heroines or heroes to “save“ us. We wait for messiahs, we follow gurus and place considerable faith in politicians and other individuals, elevating them to the status of societal leaders, policy makers and ultimately gatekeepers of societal norms. Many of us dutifully cast our votes at election time, assuming our ballot can effectively shift the scales in our favor regarding civil liberties, personal protection as well as economic and physical well-being. Essentially, when it comes to getting things done, to make life better, we tend to look elsewhere instead of looking to ourselves.

History belongs to the people. So says Sophia Burns in her article “Star Wars: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Revolutionary Agitprop”. Such a belief portrays us as the captains of our fate, the rulers of our days. However the attitudes and behaviors expressed by most people seldom justify such heroic notions.

Yhero-01ou probably do not know the Russian word “agitprop” although you are certainly familiar with the concept. The term roughly refers to effort to spread ideas (pejoratively called “propaganda”) through popular media like movies, music, etc.. Sophia Burns proposes that while previous incarnations of the Star Wars saga presented a top-down view of leadership and socio-political change, The Last Jedi presents a very different idea. Stepping away from the focus on a single individual possessing some sort of royal birthright and almost single handedly challenging an evil empire, The Last Jedi manages to open the door for the rise of common people as a collective force against the Empire. But do we hear this message? Do we look beyond the space battles and the archetypical heroic figures to more pervasive, people-centered possibilities? Do we get the Gestalt, the overall message embedded in the relationships, the general narrative of the art form (the movie) itself? Are we even aware of the “propaganda” conveyed in ANY presentation over which we decide to linker for an hour or more?

Using our previous formula—to feature an article one week, then to post a more extensive follow-up in subsequent weeks—this week we present the agitprop article centered around the recent Star Wars movie. In the next few weeks we will delve into personal responsibility and the need for action by common people highlighted by Ms. Burns’ article. In the meantime, also consider Paul Street’s call for a strong leader of the more radical MLK ilk compared to a Naomi Klein/Opal Tometi article urging us to look past “leadership” personalities toward a more broad, global, interconnected understanding of our problems and the need for common people to build a saner society.

 

Free Tea in the South

Human freedom is not freedom from conditions,
but freedom to take a stand and to face whatever conditions
might confront [us]” ~ Viktor Frankl

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Remember the nomadic Giusepi Spadafora, the Tea Man? Instead of going west last fall, it turns out, the Tea Man and Edna Lu (the traveling Tea Bus) went south.  You can read a detailed account of what he has been up to the last few months on his blog.

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Death of the Internet

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It seems we are surrounded by death these days.  In addition to the various deadly attacks by men who seemed to think killing is some kind of answer to some questions to which most of us find more peaceful solutions, in addition to the genocidal enforcement of government policies and perspectives not shared by the populace in some international communities, in addition to the apparently cavalier, race-related violence perpetrated in the U.S. by law enforcement and others and in addition to the topic presented here for several weeks, namely, the death of democracy itself—in addition to all of that, so it seems, the Internet as we know it is about to die. (more…)

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

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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.