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18 Nov

More thoughts on civility in political discourse

in Barack Hussein Obama, Democracy, Elections, Libertarianism, Marxism, Politics, Republicans, Tea Party
An illustrative representation of a "Civi...

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It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling to find my voice these last few years.  Those of you who have been following this blog since 2002 probably recall the days when I was a great deal more hostile than I am today.  I wish I could say that I’ve tempered this because of some transcendent cognitive shift or, even better, my fellow herd-mates actually doing less to piss me off.  It is true that my Ph.D., publications and other projects have given me a more proactive outlet for these emotions, but only among (let’s face it) a very, very small segment of the population both equipped and amenable to engaging on this this level.  In other words, eggheads.

No, if I have been more civil on this blog of late it is because I have been self-censoring.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing - the motivation for thinking before I blog still rings true.  I want to see some rather profound changes in the world I live, and that starts with me.  Poking fun and otherwise berating people for their beliefs, no matter how willfully ignorant I feel they may be, will not lead to change.  In fact, the opposite is probably more true – calling someone out on their idiocy is just going to make them a louder, more defensive idiot.  So I am trying (with at best a modicum of success) to be the change I wish to see.

That said, I remain a work in progress and have chosen to remain fairly mum throughout the last election season.  Yet following on Monday’s post about civility in the media, I do recognize that while my censorship may not add to the rampant taint among armchair pundits, it certainly does nothing to help either.  I want to be certain that I am not using civility as an excuse for cowardice; that friend, family, peace-activist or hater, if you’re being an asshat, I hope to have the courage to tell you so.  And I hope for the insight to tell you in such a way as to heal, not hurt.  I still don’t know if these aims can coexist.

Would, therefore, that I were a humorist instead of a cynic, I might be able to publish something constructive instead of telling you outright that if you think Obama is a socialist I strongly believe that you are either willfully ignorant of what this means, a weak-minded sheep, or an unabashed racist and I defy you to provide a smidge of evidence to the veracity of this nonsense.  But if you think he is on your side, that Obama spends his days trying to fight for the middle class, then you’re just as deluded. 

I lobbied for Obama.  I did it because I believed (and remain convinced) that he is infintiely more qualified for the job than McCain/Palin would have been and have neither regretted my efforts nor my vote.  But this president, like any other in my lifetime, is beholden to the same neoliberal machine as the Republicans you probably voted for (even if fooling yourself into believing that a ‘Tea Party’ candidate is not a Republican).  You don’t get elected to high-level office in this country without espousing the values of top-down economics, regardless of party.  The fact that you keep voting against your own economic interests is an indication of how strongly our global hegemons have convinced you to identify with their value system.  And I believe that this identification lies at the root of much suffering in the world.

I love you all, but will continue to shout - in the nicest possible way - that I think you’re being a tool until either the machine breaks down, we achieve class consciousness, or both.


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15 Nov

Are Americans too busy to think critically?

in Capitalism, Congress, Corporatism, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Libertarianism, Marxism, Politics

Image by UN MANUÉ via Flickr

Alternet has yet another compilation of 16 of the dumbest things Americans believe --- taxes went up under Obama, Hussein was connected with 9/11, ad nauseum.  Articles like these may salve the sensibilities of those not victim to the propaganda machine of a certain billionaire and corporate-sponsored “grassroots” movement currently in the ascendency, but no matter how blatant a lie is exposed, it will do little to sway those who believe the big lie – that U.S. media has a liberal bias. 

So what to do in a political and cultural landscape in which well-told lies have more validity than fact-based truth:

“ a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down. Republican politicians, and conservative commentators, told them Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic. They lied. The mainstream media did not do their job and correct them. The White House was too polite—"civil," just like Obama promised—to say much. So people believed the lie.”

We’ve entered a bizzarro world in which calling out lies is considered rude, says Perlstein, so liars are allowed to sit tight and dominate the discourse. This gels with Bill Maher’s critique of the Rally for Sanity, that calling for “balance for balance’s sake” ignores two important aspects of news reporting: facts and evidence.

The modern left is saddled with a two-fold curse.  The first is the erroneous belief that civility is paramount – a paradigmatic weakness that prevents us from calling out lies and the liars who repeat them.  The second is the conundrum that left-leaning politicians are beholden to the same corporate interests that drive such lies.  True Enough has become the mantra of the modern-era; a policy of ignoring the “little” lies, laughing at the big ones, and losing elections rather than bucking the status quo.

Blaming Americans for being ignorant unwashed masses--or taking potshots at an education system that doesn’t teach critical thinking-- would be the easy answer to this conundrum.

But the reality is that if messaging has such a big effect on Americans, then messaging matters.

And indeed, it is messaging over fact that drives the 21st century political consumer.  The intelligentsia and masses alike fight a perpetual battle over whose lie can achieve critical mass (hint – the corporate media are neither left- nor right-wing, but overwhelmingly neoliberal) while multi-national corporations continue to consolidate power.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter what liars control which body of government; the debate itself is king.  Our capacity to choose tribal identity over self-interest keeps us all distracted from the only truth that matters – that the interests of the ruling class are not our own.

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25 May

Don’t Kill Our Only Democracy – Support Net Neutrality

in Capitalism, Corporatism, Democracy, Internet, Science & Technology

Contrary to the rallying cries of various grammatically-challenged teabaggers, we have never had a functioning democratic society.  If you’re a long-time reader, you may have seen a quote from Chomsky on this page:

Personally, I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.


Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...

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Indeed, the internet is the first and only example we’ve had of a truly globalized forum in which all may enjoy equal participation.  The powers-that-be hate this and have tried (will try) everything they can, from firewalls to censorship, to squash it.  Net neutrality – the principle that the equality of all internet traffic is protected by the force of law – has been long-resisted as antithetical to the free-market.  This is, of course, utter hogwash.  It is about far more than whether Comcast can throttle down their competitors bandwidth - at this point the internet underlies so much of our lives that it has become a basic necessity to participating in our global economy.

There is an interesting parallel here with the advent of electricity.  While most of us take for granted the ability to plug in our refrigerator, there was a time when power lines were something that only rich people could use, and even then only for their new-fangled light bulbs.  Back then, there was nobody who could imagine other uses for it – the idea of using this form of fire to clean your clothes or freeze your food was preposterous.  Those who pushed for governmental intervention to ensure equal distribution were decried as socialists.  Much as with the internet, for as indispensable as it has become, we quite literally have no idea what the future will bring.

In this day and age, I would say that it's hard to believe that we're still discussing whether net-neutrality is a good thing, but this is what happens when money becomes intertwined with power and influence:

Oddly, dozens of Democrats (perhaps 70 again) have signed a letter supporting the talking points and agenda of Glenn Beck and one his major corporate sponsors, AT&T. This letter also contradicts the technology agenda of Barack Obama, Obama's Federal Communications Commission, and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees that oversee the communications industry. The "congressional" letter is being peddled by cable and phone lobbyists to the staff of Democratic Congressmen who have a history of putting their names on cable and phone industry's debunked talking points, sometimes apparently without understanding their meaning.

This letter, being pushed by Rep Gene Green (D-TX), pertains to whether or not the Internet will remain an open engine of economic and democratic freedom. In D.C., legislators and lobbyists are debating something called "net neutrality," which is a common-sense FCC proposal to keep phone and cable companies from interfering with what you can do online and how you can use the Internet. Without net neutrality, phone and cable companies can limit your online speech and freedom. I think the Daily Show explains the issue best (here (with John Hodgman) and here).

For the time being, I think that the net-neutrality debate may suffer from poor branding - the phrase itself reeks of techno-elitist packaging that makes all but the geeky among us sglaze over.  But however much you may care about the issue itself, you should know by now that the 21st century is the age of the internet.  The series of tubes is not just about watching videos of cats - it is how you talk on the phone, watch TV, do your banking, and participate in our democracy.  It is far too important to allow the so-called 'free' market to destroy it through greed.  We need to start thinking long-term about having alternate sources of bandwidth just like we have alternate sources of fuel.  But in the short-term, we also need to ensure that our fledgling global democracy is not co-opted by those who would destroy it for profit.

With the present structure of cable-TV, is it so hard to imagine the internet's future to be something like this:


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