Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Archive for the ‘News bias’ Category

Healthy and Unhealthy Communication Patterns Within the US Political Spectrum

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THE theme of this brief article (illustrated in the figure below) is to note a contrast between two political conditions of American society:

1. Positive condition (top): Moderates of left and right converse with each other, producing a fruitful exchange of ideas and gradual improvement in social policies and government.  This is, arguably, somewhat the situation of the US in the 1960’s.

2. Disordered condition (bottom): This corresponds to the present situation, where the political narrative is dictated by radicals on the left and right, with the majorities on both sides marginalized.

The system dynamics of these two scenarios are completely different.  In the healthy situation, there is a moral majority, spanning left and right — the members of which share certain fundamental moral premises about right and wrong and the direction society ought to head.  Within this moral majority, people on either side of the aisle may disagree, but they still recognize and affirm a greater sense of community that transcends specific differences of opinion. This system allows and promotes gradual social progress, because each side is interested in listening, reason, negotiation, compromise and respect of self and others.  Communication media (news, articles, books) are oriented to the moderate majority.  Example: in the 1960’s, Democrats and Republicans read the same magazines (Life,  Reader’s Digest, Saturday Evening Post) and watched the same news programs; this helped (1) affirm a sense of community and shared values that transcend politics, and (2) allowed for examination of social issues along non-partisan lines.

In the disordered condition, extreme and radical factions on the left and right are elevated to functional leadership.   A false narrative is created which assumes that ‘radicals speak for everyone.’  Dissenters are censored, or ridiculed.  Extremely polarized communication media are used as a means to convey the false message that the radicals speak for everyone.  Radicals demonize opponents, and moderates in each camp are induced to dislike and hate moderates of the other camp for ideological reasons.  Anything that affirms the fundamental solidarity of all citizens (religion, tradition, fine arts) must be denigrated and ridiculed.

If this is a reasonable model of what’s going on, what can or should be done to correct things?

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The Iraq War Ten Years Later: What are the Lessons?

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To mark the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, we should consider what the lessons are:

1. The US government will lie to any degree necessary to start a war.

2. A war will last at least 10 times as long and cost at least 10 times as much as initially announced.

3. Once the war drums beat, most Americans will step in line unconditionally.

4. There is a single ‘war party’ comprised of the Republican and Democratic parties.

5. Once commenced, no politician will question a war; no reivews will be made of the prudence of continuing it.

6. Foreign-imposed regime changes lead to prolonged, bloody, internal fighting.

7. Those who protested the US invasion of Iraq were neither unpatriotic nor wrong.

8.  News and entertainment media promote and glorify war.

9. The Christian churches of America, who stood by doing nothing then and still refuse to denounce US militarism, are abrogating their moral authority, discrediting Christianity, and — though God alone knows for certain but we must dare suggest — grieving the Holy Spirit.

10. The US government will betray its veterans whenever that saves money.

These are the lessons that should be learned.  Whether they will be learned is another matter entirely.

Poll data reveals strong sentiment against Afghanistan war

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Though the information isn’t especially easy to find, semi-regular opinion polls on the Afghan and Iraq wars have been conducted by several sources, including CBS News, Fox News, USA Today, Newsweek, CNN, and the Gallup Organization.  The ABC News/Washington Post polls are especially instructive, because of arguably better-worded questions. (As we know, how a question is phrased can substantially affect results.)

Since 2007, the ABC News polling unit has been asking the question, “All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?” to groups of roughly N = 1000 respondents.

The latest results are described here, and cumulative historical data for the poll can be found here:

Because the cumulative graphs in the report are not very good, I’ve prepared two figures, below, from the data.

The first shows the proportion of respondents saying, “No” to the question over time.  The blue line indicates actual response rates; the green line is a quadratic trend line.  The important thing is the growth of negative opinion, now well over 50%.

Because, each time, from 3% to 5% subjects gave “Unsure” as their response, pro-war opinion and anti-war opinion sum to less than 100%. For example, in July 2010, 53% called the war not worth fighting, 4% were unsure, and only 43% were for the war – a 10% disparity.

Buried in the data is an interesting detail.  Respondents were asked to say whether they felt “strongly” or “somewhat”  that the war was worth/not worth fighting. This invites a stratified comparison of rates of strong approval vs. strong disapproval. This comparison is shown in the following figure:

As shown, when considering only those with strong beliefs, the disparity in favor of anti-war sentiment is more marked.  For example, in July 2010, 38% of respondents strongly believed the war was not worth fighting, vs. only 24% who felt strongly the opposite.  Factoring in degree of sentiment, therefore, makes an even stronger case that Americans do not support the war.

Maybe the media hasn’t exactly hidden this information, but they’ve taken no pains to draw attention to it!

Written by John Uebersax

August 3, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Liberals, Conservatives, Joan Baez and Ending the Nation-State

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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

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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.”

and also:

“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.”

and, further:

“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.

Written by John Uebersax

April 27, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Latest Pope Bashing by the Media

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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:

VisseyriasYour 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 [1] 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 [2] 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
Brussels, Belgium

References:

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).

Written by John Uebersax

March 27, 2009 at 7:03 pm

The Commission on Presidential Debates: A National Scandal

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The Commission on Presidential Debates: A National Scandal

Following up on a previous post, I did a little research on the mysterious Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which organizes the televised presidential debates.

The sordid details of this Commission supply the most tangible, unequivocal evidence imaginable that the Republican and Democratic parties are a duopoly, collaborating to control the government and to preserve the status quo. The details are also a tragic testimony to how easily the American public is duped. As this blog hopefully shows, I try to stay politically aware; but until a few days ago I, like most people, naively assumed that the debates are being responsibly run. It seems rather clear that they aren’t.

The History

For many years, the famous League of Women Voters (LWV) ran the presidential debates. They saw themselves as citizens, and the candidates as ‘guests’ — that is, citizens controlled the debates, and the candidates took their directions from citizens. By 1988, the Republican and Democratic parties began to collude in advance, drafting “memoranda of understanding” agreeing with each other on the format and content of the debates. They then tried to dictate format and groundrules to the LWV. At that point the LWV withdrew, stating indignantly, “the League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

So, in their place, the Committee on Presidential Debates was formed — a private and ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofit organization, but actually under the direct influence of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Since then the debates have existed for the sole purpose of consolidating the joint Republican/Democratic monopoly on American government.

You might say, “Wait, wasn’t Ross Perot in the 1992 debates?” Yes he was. That’s because both Clinton and Dole agreed to let him participate. Basically, both major parties saw it to their advantage: each expected Perot to divert more votes from the other major party.

But in 1996 this same Ross Perot was excluded from the debate, despite (1) having roughly the same level of pre-debate public support he had in 1992, and (2) having gained 19% of the popular vote in 1992. Until 2000 there were no objective criteria for inclusion — it was decided by the CPD and their advisers. They weren’t accountable to anyone except the Republican and Democratic parties.

This is all spelled out clearly in a revealing 26-page report, Deterring Democracy: How The Commission On Presidential Debates Undermines Democracy, written jointly by several citizen advocacy groups. I can’t improve on what the reports says and simply refer readers to it. I especially recommend the sections, Candidate Exclusion, and Corporate Sponsorship.

Leadership

A look at the leadership of the CPD, as shown as their website, leaves little doubt about their control by the Republican and Democratic parties:

Here are their co-chairmen:

  • Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. (former chair, Republican National Committee; gambling lobbyist;president, American Gaming Association; directs enormous contributions to Republican and Democratic parties)
  • Paul G. Kirk, Jr.(former chairman, Democratic National Committee)

Here are the ‘Honorary Chairmen’:

  • Gerald R. Ford (deceased)
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Ronald Reagan (deceased)
  • William J. Clinton

Here is the Board of Directors:

  • Howard Buffett: son of Warren Buffett (corporate investor and world’s richest man)
  • John C. Danforth: former Republican senator; grandson of William Danforth, Ralston-Purina founder
  • Antonia Hernandez: Democrat; “Her tenure with MALDEF [Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund] has been marked by controversy…”; narrowly escaped termination from MALDEF based on questions of leadership and administrative capabilities
  • Michael D. McCurry: former press secretary/White House spokesman for Bill Clinton
  • Newton N. Minow: veteran Democrat; former FCC head
  • Dorothy Ridings: former president and chief executive officer of the Council on Foundations
  • Alan K. Simpson: Republican; former US Senator
  • H. Patrick Swygert: Former university president; Fannie Mae board of directors

Corporate Sponsorship

The CPD is funded by corporate sponsors. An interesting trick: the Republicans and Democrats collude to form a non-profit, non-partisan organization for ‘public education’. Corporations can contribute as much as they want to this entity, freed from the usual concerns of limits on political campaign contributions.

Current or former corporate sponsors include: Anheuser-Busch ($550,000 in 2000), Philip Morris ($250,000 in 1992), AT&T, Prudential, IBM, Ford, General Motors.

For more information, why not visit www.opendebates.org. Basically this is a citizen-run group that would like to give back to citizens control of the debates. If the cloud here has a silver lining, it’s that there are still honest Americans like those at Open Debates trying to get the country back on track. You aren’t alone.

2012 Update

For more details and an excellent presentation overall, see this Democracy Now interview with George Farah, Director of Open Debates.

Written by John Uebersax

August 20, 2008 at 7:03 pm