Never mind the consipracy theorists, the death of literacy, and the Democrats' chronic foot-shooting 'Page Two' needs a break.
One can spew statistics, cite histories, and offer endless anecdotal evidence in rebuttal. By no means am I suggesting that things are great, or even noticeably better. In terms of cognitive understanding, compared to most people the six blind men examining the elephant are cosmic visionaries. Unless you promote an anti-historical, brutally sanitized, and fantastically romanticized version of the past, the reality is that for most people on the planet, as bad as it may be, life is better now. Many would argue that disease, war, inhumanity, deprivation, and poverty are now more widespread than ever. Instead, consider that while, relatively speaking, things haven't changed, vastly improved media inherently exaggerates all events. Modern technology and communications bombard us with more information but, rather than dehumanizing us or limiting freedoms, this actually allows us more options than ever before.
The following paragraphs are not inclusive, absolute positions but rather points for thinking:
People lament the death of literacy, as though written language were a defining human characteristic. It isn't. Communication is. The Phoenicians and Chinese needed to communicate across considerable distances, so they evolved language. The core idea was to communicate ideas. I grew up with and love the written word. I love reading; look what I do for a living. But to decry the collapse of literacy because this generation can't read or spell is like complaining about a winning team's dirty uniforms. It's not about formalities; it's about communication and ideas. The younger generation takes in, processes, and distributes more information daily than we did in weeks; they just do it differently.
My childhood friend Steven is a math and technological prodigy (he teaches artificial intelligence at the University of Pittsburgh). Once he argued that a beautifully done equation is the same as a poem. I violently disagreed: "How can you even make this comparison!? Poems are explicit. They use the language we all speak to contemplate life."
The best new poetry is read by, at most, thousands. Often the beauty is formal: Poems are admired for their construction as well as content. Equations have changed the world thousands, if not millions, of times over since my childhood. Some equations are only functional, but many are admired for their construction as well as content. If we limit the meaning of content in the most restrictive ways, then we can argue they are lacking in content, as they are simply mechanical. This is a pre-Marshall McLuhan Luddite statement.
Generations of researchers and behaviorists have detailed modern media's twisted relationship with violence. Violence on TV and elsewhere in the media both excites us to violence (as many clinical studies have proven) and at the same time dehumanizes it, desensitizing us to its brutal, bloody reality. Humankind has always been violent. It used to be both more celebrated and more casual. The strongest man led the tribe, and the greatest warriors were the most honored heroes. Not only was the acceptance of it so much more widespread, but the actual celebration of all types was common. Westerners were heroes for slaughtering Indians. Within their own culture, certain tribes privileged violence over almost all else. Legally, Australians could kill Aborigines, and in the first half of this century the lynching of African-Americans was almost common in some Southern states. Not to mention slavery, which at one time or another has covered the globe in its existence. Violence is hereditary, historical, and within us. The notion that the media created and create it so a tamed, pacifist media would lead to a tamed, pacifist population is ridiculous. Let me suggest quickly that violence was once the determiner in most political and social situations; the growth of population has changed that, but maybe, in addition, media demystify violence. Given that it is all around us, is being desensitized to it such a bad thing? Maybe and maybe not, but think about it.
I have as little use for most Democrats as I do for current Republicans. The current Karl Rove brouhaha is a perfect example. The president said that if there were anyone in his administration leaking information to the press, he or she would be gone. Now the same conservative pundit block that howled with outrage at Clinton's arguing over the meaning of words and wanted him impeached not for having sex with an intern but for lying about it in a deposition are rushing to defend Rove.
One argument holds that we should forget what the president said, since Rove hasn't broken the law. Then we're assured that notorious dirty trickster and media manipulator Rove was just trying to be helpful to the reporter these notions offered with a straight face by those who high-five each other in the back room afterward at how Grandmaster Rove has those Democrats spinning again. It looked as though there was no way the administration could come out of this one looking good that is, until the Democrats' worst instincts took over. They are so hungry for any political meat that they can barely hide their satisfaction at the Iraqi dead, so this was tailor-made for them. John Kerry's presidential campaign was bested in every way by Rove, so common decency would suggest that, with such a personal axe to grind, Kerry shouldn't weigh in. Instead, he's calling for Rove's removal.
Bloodlust upon them, in making too big a deal, the Democrats appear to be adolescents throwing tantrums. Have they ever heard of letting someone twist in the wind?
Almost any time orthodoxy is placed above humanity, self-satisfied self-righteousness ends up trumping self-critical evaluations of beliefs and politics. The Chronicle is designed to spark debate and discussion while attracting criticism and attacks.
The most unforgiving critics are the conspiracy theorists. Why isn't the Chronicle investigating what really happened on 9/11? Certainly, the adult advertising could pay for it. Why isn't the Downing Street Memo the only topic we cover, since it is that important? Why are we not unmasking the Bush family/Nazi connection, detailing the Republicans' massive vote fraud during the last election, uncovering fossil fuels' finite and soon-to-be-depleted reserves, or revealing the international machinations of the Trilateral Commission? How can we do what we do, ignoring these huge, untold stories?
Such theories can be neither validated nor disproved. Conspiracy theorists start with an assumption that they accept as a lot more than speculation. Then they collect any bit of information that lends credence to their point. Almost anything in contradiction is accepted as incorrect if not intentional misinformation. Arguing with a conspiracy theorist is grabbing the tar baby in a bear hug.
One of the great modern lies of all ideologues, regardless of political specifics, is that media is not covering enough. Every hate-radio show harping on exactly the same issue, as every other show complains about how the issue is not being reported. Even the annual Project Censored journalism review, lacking literally suppressed choices, has shifted more toward those that are "underreported." Frequently, we are accused of not covering a story that nobody is reporting on that 1) we've covered, 2) international and/or local media is all over, and 3) the Web is going wild over.
I do get somewhat outraged, however, when letter-writers criticize News Editor Michael King or our news/politics staff for lack of dedication, courage, or intelligence. A few heavily edited excerpts from recent communications:
"And with due respect to Michael King, we can all be virtuous, have our cakes and ale, and quote Shakespeare as much as we want. However, these things by themselves will not end governmental corruption. That can only be remedied by a concerted effort to expose the corruption, backed by a unified public demand for justice from our leadership."
"It's been nearly two months since ... the Downing Street Memo [was revealed] ... and yet the Chronicle has yet to do this subject service. What the fuck is going on with you guys?! Are you a secret front for the GOP? Grow some cojones, you pansies."
"The American government and corporate interests are conspiring so deeply against their country's own citizens that I feel it is indeed appropriate that 'a small newsweekly of local interest with adequate reporting access to local and state stories' consider changing up their format for perhaps one week and help educate the public. I, unlike you, am trying to get to the nasty substance of these conspiracies. ... I would ... desire that The Austin Chronicle use its power to inform its good-hearted, globally- and politically-concerned reader[s]. ... These are the big issues I can see. Your helpless attitude that these issues are no secret to the public is weak. ... The world is in the dark. You claim that your publication does serious reporting. You imply that I am 'resorting to hysterical paranoia.' The press has become a disgrace. I am pushing you and your publication to increase public awareness, but you have unimpressively responded that these topics of enormous consequence don't seem to fit into your format."
Forget that the Chronicle devotes more space to politics and news than do most weeklies, that we have a disproportionately large editorial staff and have outspokenly taken any number of controversial positions over the years; King and his staff are doing the really important work, day in and day out. Sure, local schools, water quality, and land development codes pale in their excitement factor next to the Bush administration's supposedly blowing up the towers on 9/11. But to most of us, this is where and how politics impacts us every day. King and his staff are telling that story.
Michael King is passionately committed to social and economic justice. He works this beat 24/7, to the point where I'm often urging him to slow down. He leads an amazing staff that appreciates him as a superior writer and editor as well as a remarkably clear and fair political thinker. He understands that grand conspiracy theories rarely, if ever, have any kind of real-world relevance. Mostly they are fun for the theorists, who are rarely political (why worry about council elections, state government, and congressional races when a group of men in three-piece suits smoking cigars in a dark room are really making all the decisions?). Disagree with King and his staff as much as you want. But how dare anyone lecture, scold, condescend to, or admonish them!?
This is the last "Page Two" for a number of weeks. We still haven't made any decisions as to what we will do with this space. Nothing overly dramatic in this decision: I have some personal work that I have to either finish or abandon. Now is the time to really make a determining effort.