Archive for the ‘Media brainwashing’ Category
Now back to social commentary.
Here are some reasons you don’t want to use Facebook:
1. Basically lousy software: often doesn’t work; inflexible; lacks useful features;
2. Ads, ads and ads;
3. Unsettling feeling that you’re a pawn in Facebook’s get-rich-quick scheme;
4. Ultimately, Facebook is a tool of the corporatist/government/news media power structure, deceitfully hidden under the guise of a “community-building social network platform”.
They want to build a community alright – of dumbed down, brainwashed, stressed out, divided, agitated and confused consumer units.
The user-unfriendliness of Facebook is deplorable. Any decent software engineer could design a better interface over a cup of coffee (and probably implement it in a week!)
As proof, consider how easily we could lay out specs for a better system. It could be as simple as this:
1. Instead of subscribing to Facebook, you (and everybody) set up a personal blog, or just a Tumblr account.
2. Whenever you see an interesting web page or news story or have a picture or comment, post it to your blog or Tumblr page instead of FB. (These days you can do this automatically from your web browser.)
3. One more thing is needed. Each person needs a blog aggregator web page. This is basically a page you own, which has feeds to all your friends’ blogs. If one of your friends posts something to their blog, a notice is given on your accumulator page. This can easily be done using RSS feeds. Very possibly there is already way to set up such an accumulator page (or the equivalent) in Tumblr, WordPress or Blogspot etc.
4. If you see an interesting item on your accumulator page and want to comment, simply go to your friend’s blog and comment there.
Voila! A better alternative to Facebook, without ads, where you totally control the content. Someone with just a little programming knowledge could easily design a customized personal front-end page (i.e., accumulator page), in any format desired. For example, you could have your friends’ comments, news headlines on topics of interest, and announcements from business or organizations you like in separate columns or sections.
Another possibility would be to have some third-party service set up accumulator pages for people for free or a very nominal price.
(Yes, I know that, in theory, Google and Yahoo offer this feature; but you can only personalize the pages they supply to a very limited extent.)
This sort of thing — a fully personalized ‘news and views’ front end page is the whole point of RSS feeds anyway. These totally personalized pages should be routine. A likely reason people aren’t already using them is because the big corporate entities — Facebook, Google, etc. — are trying to co-opt the Internet for their nefarious purposes.
So, ultimately, Facebook is not needed – unless maybe you find it somehow beneficial to know how many of your friends’ ‘friends’ are illiterate, boring or nuts.
The Obsolescence of War and its Implications for Countering Terrorism
A point emphasized in several Nobel Peace Prize Lectures of the 1950´s and 60´s (e.g., those of Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr) is the obsolescence of war. It was noted that modern technology had produced weapons of awesome power. This meant we had no choice but to evolve beyond war, because, with such weapons, the prospect of war was no longer thinkable — too much harm would be done. For those too young to remember, this was a widely held view in the years following the development of nuclear weapons.
However this reasoning does not just apply to nuclear weapons. As the 9/11 attacks illustrate, technology had made it possible to easily inflict massive harm in other ways. A few extremists were able to get control of huge jets and fly them into buildings, killing thousands. It could have been even worse. The jets could have been flown into nuclear reactor power plants, potentially producing much greater devastation and loss of life. Other realistic scenarios we must contend with are use of biological weapons on civilians, attacks to the electrical power infrastructure, poisoning of water supplies, or even things like computer viruses. Any of these could be used by a few terrorists or a small country to inflict great harm. Coupled with the continued threat of nuclear proliferation, the potential threats are so many, and so easily accessible, that, we are more vulnerable than ever.
Fifty years ago, the consensus was that our only choice was to evolve ourselves — by dint of sheer will, if necessary — out of the mentality that begets war and violence. If that was so then, how much more true it is now. Further, the very fact that people are not saying such things today is itself extremely serious and revealing. It means we are collectively less wise and more confused than people were then. In this atmosphere of confusion, desperation, and loss of vision, people are even more likely to lapse in their judgment and make use of such weapons.
This pertains directly to the US involvement in Afghanistan, and the stance of modern governments towards terrorism. Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing, and we must be prepared to work with intense dedication to prevent terrorist attacks. But in today’s technologically advanced world we must ask more than ever: can terrorism be effectively prevented by pre-emptive aggression or a just war? And yet, not only is the US now falling back on the notion of a just war, one is astonished to see that no public officials are questioning it.
Even if the war in Afghanistan is ‘just’ – and there is genuine doubt as to that – two other questions must also be asked. First, is the war winnable? Events so far would suggest that it is not. We are not countering a conventional army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. The nature of terrorism in the age of modern technology is precisely that a group of dedicated extremists, few in number and extremely mobile, may hold at bay even a great military superpower. We cannot spend $1 trillion retaliating every time there is a terrorist attack — especially if the retaliation is ineffective.
Second, we must ask: does a large military response to terrorism cause more harm than potential good by affirming the principle of aggression as a way to solve problems?
Third, we should ask why governments are so chronically unable to work for peace pro-actively.
Fourth, what has happened to the moral and ethical fabric of society? Fifty years ago the view expressed by socially-minded intellectuals was that the moral evolution of humankind was not keeping pace with technological progress. But at least there was a sense of there being some progress. Now there is considerable evidence (and one need only turn on television any given evening to confirm this) that we are going rapidly going backwards.
We cannot lay blame on President Obama so much as on the failure of the intellectual community to question the continued dominance of war as a strategy for countering terrorism.
Letter to US Senator Barbara Boxer
December 24, 2009
Dear Senator Boxer,
Please be apprised that, I, as a US citizen, do not exclude the possibility of forgiving Osama bin Laden for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or of some form of general diplomatic discussions. I believe many Americans feel likewise. Neither will I hesitate to mention that ‘forgiveness of enemies’ is a central ethical principle of Christianity.
I therefore wish that the US government not proceed unquestioningly under the assumption that all or even most citizens are intent on revenge, or see no possibility of peaceful resolution of current conflicts.
Nor do I simply take it for granted that bin Laden and Al-Queda are inherently ‘evil’ and hold positions inherently and irrevocably inimical, hostile, and dangerous to the welfare of the citizens of the United States.
Further, I perceive a tendency of the government to actively shape — though perhaps unintentionally — public opinion in the direction of revenge and violence. The president’s recent remarks on Afghanistan, for example, nowhere seem to acknowledge that many Americans are hesitant about continued military involvement in Afghanistan. In effect, a false consensus on this issue is presented to the American public. The government is not making a sincere attempt to determine the true sentiments and beliefs of the people.
Indeed, if we are concerned about the events 9/11, should not our first priority be to take better care of the survivors and their families? Imagine how much more we could help these people were even a small fraction of the $1 trillion spent on Iraq and Afghanistan devoted to assisting them.
That we do not do so calls into question the sincerity of our expressed motives in Afghanistan and Iraq.
John S. Uebersax PhD
Liberals, Conservatives, Joan Baez and the Nation-State
The other night I saw a reprise performance of the recent American Masters episode on the life of folksinger and political activist, Joan Baez.
It was a good program and showed what a remarkable person Joan Baez is. She walked the walk, even to the point of voluntarily accepting incarceration several times because of her (nonviolent) opposition to the Vietnam War.
But one detail that caught my attention was a brief remark by Joan in a film clip from an early 1970’s protest: she was exhorting people to “end the nation-state”.
End the nation-state? Sounds like a good idea to me — where do I sign up?
And here was Joan Baez, one of most visible “liberals” of the second half of the 20th century, saying something I agree with, even though I am a political libertarian — which most people consider a conservative position.
But there was no mistake. Joan Baez wanted to end the nation-state. That was the wish of liberals in the 1960’s (as with John Lennon’s song, “Imagine there’s no countries; it’s easy to do….”). It seemed obvious to anyone with good sense that governments were the cause of wars, and that governments served generally to suppress what is best in human nature.
To liberals, the government was the problem, not the solution. The government was causing the war in Viet Nam, and hurting everyone. Liberals wanted to reduce government power and to end the cultic worship of governments.
But roll things forward 35 years. Now so-called liberals are supporting massive government-run healthcare.
They’re militant about it, insisting that “poor people have a right to healthcare, and the government
should supply it, whatever the cost.” This is not only different from the liberalism of the 60’s, it’s really the complete opposite.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the view was that if governments would get out of the way, people could sort out their own problems. I can say that for sure, because, at least in the 70’s, I was there marching and singing “give peace a chance.” People were thinking, “Life is good. If governments would get out of our lives the natural impulse to enjoy life and to love and help others would manifest itself spontaneously.”
That’s still my view. If John Lennon were alive today, I’d like to think that would be his view, too. Somehow I just can’t imagine him singing, “Hooray for government! Let’s give them more power! Let them pick our pockets and design aversive, government health programs, so we can all stand in line, put up with terrible service, and be at the mercy of arrogant public officials.” No, that’s not how a working class hero would see things.
So the great irony is that true conservatives and true liberals are on the same side: both groups want a world which affirms human values, welfare and happiness. And opposed to these things is an ever expanding “statism” — a vast, inhuman, oppressive machine.
This is a rather important idea, and bears further thought. Consider how much the media makes of the supposed opposition between “conservatives” and “liberals.” What if this turned out to be all bunk! Could it be that human beings are in basic agreement about core values — and in an instinctive aversion to abusive government power? And could it be that the dominant economic institutions try to invent a false conflict in order to divide and conquer the population?
Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself – 2009
The famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” come from the first inaugural address of Franklin D. Roosevelt (March 4, 1933). These comments, of course, were made in the midst of the Great Depression. The parallels between those times and the current economic crisis are worth considering.
Roosevelt’s address contained some other remarks applicable to our times:
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
“Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion.”
“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.“
Unfortunately (in my opinion), Roosevelt was correct in his diagnosis but wrong in his response. He leapt to the conclusion that the correct solution was to supply the federal government with massive new powers. It was correct to conclude that the solution was to be found in new commitment to service of others, but arguably incorrect to assume that the federal government must be the primary agent of this. We have paid the price of that decision ever since. Indeed, some suggest that the current economic problems are partly the result of ill-advised government policies and regulations in the 1990’s. Thus, Roosevelt also said in the same speech:
“But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis — broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.”
However this is no place to criticize the policies of FDR. The goal, rather, is to make two points about the current situation.
The first is that things now are not necessarily as bad as people (especially the media and governments) are making it out to be. What really counts in life are love, happiness, kindness, friendship, respect, virtue, education, and, above these all, religion and spirituality. Not only are these things money can’t buy, there is general agreement that unnecessary concern for money interferes with them.
In reality, at least those of us in the United States and Western Europe, things right now are, comparatively speaking — not that bad. Perhaps life is not (or superficially does not appear) quite as nice as 15 years ago. But, overall, it’s still better than it was 100, and probably even 50 years ago. (Recall that 50 years ago we didn’t have computers, the internet, mobile phones, compact discs, or color televisions.)
The most important of today’s problems have nothing to do with the recent economic crisis. They concern things like insufficient planning, inept government, easily preventable chronic disease, and loss of moral direction. In short, we are today experiencing a “values crisis” which far exceeds in importance any kind of economic crisis.
Further, one must seriously question whether the crisis is being exaggerated for the express purpose of producing fear in the citizenry. Fear, and its companions, anxiety and anger, have the effect of reducing the ability of the mind to focus on and solve problems. Were it not for incessant fear in modern society — a fear actively fed by popular media — perhaps we would wake up and realize how good we actually have it.
Yes, the current economic “bailout” is equivalent to placing each US citizen two or three thousand dollars in debt. So what? Before that happened I had to wake up each morning, go to work, and earn a living. It can be difficult, but it can be rewarding, too. And today nothing changes. I still do the same work, and in most outward ways my life is the same, yet somehow there’s this ominous word “crisis” floating about.
It is a blessing to be alive. It is a blessing to be in the midst of other people. The only problem is our own inability to see what great, miraculous things these are!
But this post isn’t a simple morality sermon. Yes, I would indeed exhort all to discover the immense potential of love and joy in their lives. But I am more really more concerned here with drawing attention to what prevents this, which is fear.
The System creates fear. The System wants fear. That is the problem we have to face and overcome.
But what is the System? We know it exists. We suspect that in involves interacting levels of government, economic institutions, and the media. But we can’t define it exactly. Its very ambiguity, in fact, is one of its most problematic features.
But fear is its greatest weapon, because once the mind is occupied with fear, the two things the System most wants to prevent — namely love and reason — are crowded out.
At least we can say this much with some confidence: whatever produces fear, especially in a widespread and systematic fashion, is likely a direct manifestation of the System. Knowing this we may remain alert, prepared to defend ourselves, and able to avoid getting drawn into fear. We know the face of the enemy.
However it is too simplistic to merely to see an external System as the cause of all our problems.
While, again, the details are not clear, it is nevertheless a consistent empirical observation that the System is somehow connected with our own internal states. To some extent the System is a projection or external manifestation of our own personal disorder. Thus our primary weapon against the System consists in self-improvement, growing in virtue, and purifying the ego.
Here we have alluded to two related but distinct issues. There is fear, but there is also failure to appreciate the good things in life. It is not only that fear makes us unable to see the good things. To a certain degree the reverse is also true: by failing to remember and see the good things, we leave ourselves open to fear.
Thus, fear and failure to appreciate the important things interact: fear reduces mental clarity, and lack of mental clarity makes us unable to consciously direct our attention to positive things and away from fear.
However living in a community of other human beings works to our advantage here. We should use every opportunity to build up others, to encourage them, and to direct their attention to positive things.
Latest Pope Bashing by the Media
Eager to seize even the slightest pretense for bashing the Pope, news media, European governments, and even medical journals have taken his recent comments about African AIDS completely out of context.
The Lancet even went so far as to accuse His Holiness of “manipulating science” and having “publicly distorted scientific evidence”. Apparently his critics have not bothered to read the transcript of his remarks. The context makes it plain that Pope Benedict scarcely denies the physical effects of condoms. His point, as his preceding sentences makes plain, was that the real solution to the AIDS crisis is to strengthen spiritual values in society — including a respect for continence and personal virtue. It is not condoms per se which contribute to the AIDS epidemic, but materialistic values which over-reliance on condoms as public policy promotes. Governments are happy to distribute condoms, but afraid to tell people: “look, you are spiritual beings with moral responsibilities; act that way.”
The Pope isn’t afraid to say that, and for exposing the pretensions of atheistic civil government they are attacking him.
They are counting on the fact that people won’t bother to read the transcript of the interview in question.
The relevant portion is as follows:
Moderator – Now a further question from a French speaker: our colleague Philippe Visseyrias from France 2:
Visseyrias – Your Holiness, among the many ills that beset Africa, one of the most pressing is the spread of AIDS. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight it is often considered unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this theme during the journey? Holy Father, would you be able to respond in French to this question?
Pope - [Reply in Italian]. I would say the opposite. I think that the most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against AIDS is the Catholic Church herself, with her movements and her various organizations. I think of the Sant’Egidio community that does so much, visibly and also behind the scenes, in the struggle against Aids, I think of the Camillians, and so much more besides, I think of all the Sisters who take care of the sick. I would say that this problem of Aids cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension [se non c’è l’anima -- literally, if there is not soul], if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering. And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.
Here is a letter of reply I submitted to The Lancet.
To the Editors:
Subject: The Lancet Catholic Bashing
Concerning your editorial  on recent comments of Pope Benedict XVI:
A basic principle of science and civil discourse holds that, as words are inherently limited and ambiguous, one should consider context and interpret another’s statements generously. This is especially true when translation between languages is involved.
The opposite — to interpret something in the least charitable way — implies prejudice.
Clearly the Pope does not wish to “manipulate science” and has not “publicly distorted scientific evidence” as the editorial states; to suggest this reflects badly on the motives, credibility, and critical thinking of the Editors.
As the full transcript  shows, his comments were ethical in nature: they observed — correctly — that an excessive public emphasis on condoms, and the resulting underemphasis on issues of the soul (“se non c’è l’anima”), personal virtue, and continence, supports an overly casual cultural attitude towards extra-marital sex which is a major contributor to the AIDS epidemic.
To paraphrase your own remark: When an influential medical journal makes comments that misrepresent the intentions and statements of religious leaders in ways that could injure the religious health of many millions of people, it should retract or correct the public record.
The Editors should seek the causes of their inability to discern the plain meaning and intentions of the Pope. Perhaps this is a clue: Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. (Eph 4:18)
John S. Uebersax PhD
1. The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9669, Page 1054, 28 March 2009
2. “Interview of the holy father benedict xvi during the flight to Africa”. 17 March 2009.
Available at: http://www.vatican.va. (Accesssed 27 March 2009).
The Irony of Jon Stewart’s Diatribes Against Wall Street
Lately Jon Stewart, dean of cable television comedy and host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has been sanctimoniously criticizing Wall Street for their role in the economic meltdown. Technically, he’s right: greedy financial speculators supported a climate of easy mortgage lending, made loans, sold the loans for profit, then walked away to leave everybody else holding the bag (or in this case, a lot of defaulted loans.)
But he’s really missing the point. He’s not delving deeply enough into the collective psyche of the American public — and that’s where the root problem is to be found. This is a topic about which much still needs to be said, but the point at present is to note the irony in Jon Stewart’s being so self-righteous.
The ultimate problem with American society, which has led to the current economic problems, is an erosion of traditional values and common sense. And the milieu of false values, materialism and moral confusion actively promoted by the media — and television in particular — is a large contributor.
Jon Stewart has never severed his ties with MTV, where he got his start. On the one hand, you get the impression that Jon is a nice, conventional Jewish guy, with traditional values and views about God, morality, and so on. Yet he still actively promotes MTV, with personal appearances, among other things, seemingly oblivious to the tremendous negative impact that channel has had on the minds of the young. I say “young,” but in fact those young in the 1980’s, when MTV got started, are now middle aged adults.
It would be difficult to enumerate all the ways that MTV exerts a negative cultural influence. At the very least we can say it promotes a philosophy of: atheism, relativism, sensualism, anti-intellectualism, and condescension towards traditional religion and values.
Now keep in mind that I am scarcely a fundamentalist, right-wing reactionary saying these things. I am a pretty open-minded person. I write essays on things like the Egyptian Book of the Dead — not exactly the kind of thing you find in the “Christian right.”
No, I am simply someone who still has at least half a brain, and am able to see the shabby MTV brainwashing for what it is: a crass attempt of commercial industries, including television and the music industry, to dumb down the public, to appeal to base appetites, and to shape thinking — for the sake of profit.
And Jon Stewart is there in the middle of the whole thing. He’s potentially doing more harm than good. Yes, he’s drawing some attention to Wall Street’s role in the economic crisis. But he’s also presenting the Comedy Channel, where Stewart’s show appears, as place people should be looking to get the straight story. They shouldn’t. Remember, folks at the Comedy Channel are the same nice people who’ve brought America (and the rest of the world), that wretched show, South Park.
So look, I’m not going to pull my punches here, or be afraid to call a spade a spade. If you want to know what’s really wrong with America, look at the show South Park. The fact that such trash is on television at all is sad testimony to the lack of values of the entertainment industry. It’s partly because Americans are dumbed down that they bought into (literally) the easy lending scam that produced the economic crash. Obviously the entertainment industry is not the whole problem here, but (1) it is a large part of it, and (2) it’s more than ironic that Jon Stewart, as spokesman of the industry, is now acting like a moral watchdog.
So Jon, if you want to help Americans, tell them this: turn off South Park, turn off MTV, turn off Stephen Colbert, and, yes, even turn off The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; stop buying into entertainment industry propoganda; and get back in touch with the true, enduring values. Dust off that old concept, “virtue” and start thinking about what it means.