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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.

Update: WikiTribune – On its way!

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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. (more…)

Monitoring News Bias

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You want to know the “truth”, right?  As such, surely you spread your reading across news sources of varying political perspectives, right?  One can only hope your quest for truth is, indeed a quest and not self-administered salve to soothe intra-psychic fears about your future and the future well-being of those you hold dear.  “Truth” is larger than that.

Should you venture into the wild, attempting to get differing perspectives on current events, how can you know if what you are reading is valid?  If understanding the political leaning of any given site is important to you, check out Media Bias / Fact Check.

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A Win for Investigative Journalism

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In a previous post, seekingGood highlighted the need for more investigative journalism.  ProPublica has voiced a similar concern. As the first online site to receive the Pulitzer Prize— ProPublica is known for the depth and thoroughness of its stories. However, the articles posted by ProPublic can be challenging for the average reader.  Enter Vox.  As reported by ProPublica, Vox, a news and opinion website noted for its explanatory journalism, has teamed up with ProPublica to provide visual access to their material.  This might help clarify the message of more complicate stories.  Sharing resources and research, the ProPublica-Vox collaboration can only be a good thing for investigative journalism and, ultimately, for us.