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July 12, 2008

Post Industry?

Let me take a minute to deconstruct deconstruction. I've heard the term post-industrial thrown around. This is where our problem lies in our postmodern society. There is no such thing as post industry because to say a society is "postindustrial" is to say that a society no longer relies on manufacturing, building, and other industrial pursuits. Engineers are still among the most employable and stable occupations. Public sector industrial work never goes out of style (particularly in PA with the way the weather works the infrastructure. Service industry requires a stable base of industrial development. If I want to open a restaurant, I have to have people come and build a place to host it. Then I need tables, chairs, ovens, kitchen tools, and of course, uniforms, tableware. And after that is done, I will need food products, wines, coffees, etc. Service directly depends on industry. It's just like the transition from agrarian life to mass industry. Believe it or not, there are still farmers in this world. Trees, plants and animals that aren't cats, dogs or ferrets exist. In order to make those crystal glasses, you need a carbon source. Raw materials are still being harvested. What is oil? Post industrial would suggest that we no longer rely on raw materials which would be a complete lie being as our recycling system is, I would argue, inadequate.

What marks the post-industrial age is not the reality, but the focus of society's gaze on reality. Cyber studies, media studies, media ecology, sensation and perception being psychology's next fad. We've merely directed the attention of the culture at large to a growing facet of our society. Industry has not shrunken, but with global capital is indeed, growing. So what seems like a diminishing demand of manufacturing jobs in America is actually a shift in the sectors where the jobs are placed (the outsourcing crisis ring a bell?). So, we should make clear that service depends on industry (every industry needs tools), that demand for industrial jobs has not diminished and that economic growth really does start with industry. What happens is a series of shifts in demand. Specialists are always hired because of the principles of competition that capitalism employs. We want the best candlestick maker, right? But let's say next year, there is an incident with fire that makes buying candles unfavorable and people see a new electric candle that the competitor is selling. Candlestick makers are now out of business and all the time invested in perfecting that trade is thrown out. What if a blight hits the beehives in that area and wax can no longer be collected for that plant? Those are all factors that affect people employed at that plant. Deregulation cannot address those crises and in fact, makes it easier for companies to shift around. The argument that taxes has so much to do with the state of the economy is such a fallacious argument. Yet many people buy this notion and I nearly vomit when I see how many NeoReaganists are out there. The economy is not driven by profits. It is driven by labor, and in particular, industrial labor. The goal of the economy is profit, but profit cannot be achieved without something to generate it.

So take the whole "greed is good" idea for example and let's be completely agnostic to moral, political, and philosophical convictions and ideology. If we loosen the grip on the stock market, banks, and corporate organizations, this creates a surge of money in the upper sectors of money holders and allows for these groups to invest in industry in order to generate more wealth for themselves. The trickle-down effect would be the kind and benevolent rich people bending down to the working class Americans and handing... or more accurately, that letting powerful capitalists off the leash for a while would resurrect industry and open a mass industrial job market to generate more wealth for the rich and rekindle the vague promise of the "American dream." It, even in my very cynical interpretation, sounds very glittering. Here's the catch: you only get half of the story: the macroeconomic perspective. What you get is glittering generalizations to which our culture has, in recent history, been built on. It sounds good. But more jobs does not mean better situation for working class families, does not mean more wealth for the ambiguous benefits of economic growth across the board.

This relies on the assumption that capital drives economic improvement. But, as any economist would know, bigger is not necessarily better. May we say "broken window fallacy?" The problem with these thoughts are they don't change anything really. Raising the standard of living across the board does not eliminate poverty. Poverty is a social condition marked by a disparity between one class of people and another. Being poor is not lacking the things necessary to live, but being of a social status so low one could not be lower. The trouble is the poverty line is very ambiguous and extremely subjective. Where do you draw the line of poverty? People were sent to labor camps in 18th century Europe for stealing food and stealing is socializing in the base classes. What stopped the people in the 18th century from going into the woods and killing animals with their bare hands and eating them? It was more possible then than now. Humans are social creatures and the presence of people is enough to keep people in a unfair situation. So food was not a need, but a desire in 18th century Europe. And a loaf of bread is no different than stealing a television set. Where did this come from? Greed. And from the lower classes to the upper, we are socialized to believe this wad of horse shit. And the greed trickles down. Poverty is the social frustration of desire. Poor people want to be able to have access to the things of rich people because the rich have it easy. And being part of society and all it's assumptions of wants and needs runs deep into the soul of every human being. We want to flaunt our talents and uniqueness and we want to feel special. Willy Loman was certainly special once. But when folks came back from the war and the GI bill put more college grads out there, a salesman became just a salesman. Bernards started replacing Willies and by Christ, look at what something as simple as an image does. Post industry is what happened to Willy Loman. How often do you see a show like Rosanne on TV? Working class people have been eliminated from our social awareness. They exist. It's funny how media, pop culture hype and marketing all play a role in shifting what we believe is reality. Postindustry, cyberculture, social networking are all glittery terms like greed is good, that call us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It's sad. And we all want to be the man, too. Which is more sad.

I have to repeat the words of my Mexican buddy who comes to America and is taken aback by how little we really stop and look at classism. "How much is enough? Is there ever a time when these people [wealthy Americans] say 'I'm satisfied'?" Luxury is disappointing. Just ask kids in the 1950s. Home life may be more tranquil in the suburbs, but building so-called solutions doesn't really solve the fundamental problem that has driven contemporary culture: the problem of society. We should learn from our Latino and Native brothers: how we mingle with others is a part of achieving happiness. And as business continues to grow and deregulation allows business to shift work around to suit the creation of profit and people are constantly competing and searching aimlessly for that "American Dream," we will still feel anxiety and unfulfillment. Free markets can't bring that fulfillment. We learned that in the 1950s as Jack Kerouac watched people wander around at night in their cars. Until we can start building small, stable, localized economies that only function to fill needs and not create them, until we can build actual communities where people help each other through real problems that are now reserved for disinterested professionals, until we can all view each other as a friend, we will all be lost travelers on these long and winding roads, whether in a car or on the roadside hitching for a ride. Please buy local produce, chat a while with people in your neighborhood deli, volunteer at a community arts festival or nursing home, take a look at all the hidden gems your community has to offer. You cannot change the world, or stop large corporations, or completely restructure the economy. But with 4 dollar gas, it might be wise to start the movement. Think locally, act locally. You might be surprised at just how many of the answers are hiding under your nose.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

January 30, 2008

Disinterest, intervention, and "democratic liberation"

Watch this:

Foucalt had taken a very radical and critical look at the history of interventionist institutions of Europe, in Discipline and Punish. Think about the very negative argument that he makes in this book. Modern prisons were not produced by a structural change of the aristocratic system of jails. Prisons were built on the pretext of "reform" and "discipline." The penal courts of Europe were another arbitrary institution, merely carrying out the laws created and defined by the values of the new ruling bourgeois class, without regard to an objective, central definition of civility and just behavior. Within the foundations of the prison system, Foucault points out, there was a strikingly large assumption that the codes of behavior instituted by "common laws" were based on just and ordered behavior. This rings true of the emergence of the American bourgeoisie in the post Reconstruction era with national prohibition declared in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, supported by the Women's Temperance movement, ironically before women's suffrage. "Civilized" America passed a law to restrict the freedoms of the populace. What does prohibition have to do with temperance? Moderation? Justice? With such narrow, concrete and specific definitions of law, we can see the fundamental alienation of truth from arbitrary law. No. Alcohol consumption has nothing to do with any of those. A national amendment could be seen as the red flag of the nonobjective opinions of the ruling class (consumed with fear, apparently, from the undeveloped and "uncivilized" state of America) being instituted within the administrative structures.

This is widely applicable to much of American law: abortion is a separate term from murder, even though the pretext of making abortion illegal is defining this term with the established definition of murder (trouble is, it is also established as a medical practice, making culpability almost impossible in a courtroom, or at bare minimum, a greater waste of public funds than prosecuting a murder case with the intent of capital punishment); marijuana is a plant that produces high levels of the chemical THC, illegal by the statutes of the US Code, a plant which is part of an existing ecosystem cannot be considered illegal (it would be like saying your dog's fur is illegal for citizens to touch and that Fido can exist, but you cannot touch your doggy) but making a part of the plant with no pretense other than the profound effects on the body (which include the alluring ability to synthesize treatments for Alzheimer's, Dementia, etc, etc); a contrary example would be the household cleaning supplies used to manufacture methamphetamines are legal despite the high concentration of poisonous chemicals and questionable value of their usage, but in synthesis, rather than analysis, they are illegal.

If we wanted to stop drug usage or sexual activity, we would need to change the culture (the age-old evil socialism). Instead, to stop the drug culture from exchanging chemicals, we brand certain specific substances as dangerous (even with the questionable content of cigarettes, colas, and fast food) and declare their usage, possession (which this legal term is justified with preemptive rhetoric of "with intent to ___"), and exchange. Is this disinterest? I would argue it is class indoctrination. Laws of substances have circumstantial connection with justice and order. It's not the profundity of the chemical effects on the body, society, etc, it is the culture that is looked down upon with fear and ignorance, so the due process of law and order is circumvented and preemptive interventionism is carried out. Drug usage has nothing to do with order. People use conscious-altering drugs everyday. If drugs had a causal promotion of crime, chocoholics would all be in prison. Faulty assumptions, again. The leaders of the ruling class call it an "intervention," claiming it is based in disinterest. But how can drugs be defined as a crime if they are a promotion of crime? Money is exchanged so freely that IBM has concretely been linked to economic support of the South African Apartheid regime. But it's more than money here in America. It's fear and ignorance. That is why I can sit here and deconstruct American Law. If a teenage pothead can be held accountable for a little escape from the harsh oppressive world in his/her freetime, then all parties tied to the large corporate exchange of resources to oppressive dictatorships should be held accountable without any extenuating pretense or exception. How is the Law able to permit illegal actions like Enron, yet crack down on a group of reckless teenagers that have indisputably less impact on society? Why target the small, decentralized actions of certain people. That is your answer. Certain people. Antidepressants are distributed like candy. Psychiatry does not know enough nor do the "professionals" invest the time for clearly and accurately diagnosing such problems. You come in feeling the blues, they give you pills you feel happy.

This is a problem because the same antidepressants can increase thoughts of suicide and not just ideations, but plans as well. Here is clear culpability because of the lack of scientific rigor in large-market drugs. But drugs that impair or enhance certain processes of the endocrine and nervous systems to produce the "high" are all lumped into the same category: detrimental to social order. However, if such drugs are against such order, why must there be a "war on drugs" which relies on leads and arrests of recreational users to catch distributors? If drugs promote social disarray, it should be easy to end "the drug problem." But the assumption that certain drugs promote crime in all people is a faulty assumption. Dosage, interaction with other substances, and individual differences in the way each person processes chemicals all come into play with the effects of a drug on behavior. Go back to physiology or neuropsychology. And the issue is social disorder and the promotion of crime, which is a choice. Right-winged political movements can say they promote individual integrity and personal responsibility, but the rhetoric of the drug laws out of the heyday of American conservatism prove otherwise. You will not be held accountable to cause social disorder because we won't even give you the chance is the message. The assumptions lead one to see the oligarchical class interests present in the policies of our institutions. Guns have also been scientifically verified to promote violent thoughts and behaviors instinctively, that is, across cultures, genders, and age groups. If you want to stop social disarray, the best place to start would be the total prohibition of the production of weaponry. Just a thought.

I think people brand Foucault as a skeptic unfairly. Yes, this is skepticism, but also a call to re-evaluate the way we approach topics of justice, to be aware of the difference between justice and rationalization.

Now, what does this all have to do with Chomsky? Simple. Here, with two very contrasting philosophies (Chomsky is a very traditional, "old-skool" rationalist who places a large emphasis on free and objective inquiry), you can see an overlap. Chomsky addresses the same issues as Foucault with careful examination of the policies and going directly to the contradictions, not the gaps. There are both in the oligarchical, indoctrinational policies of American Law and also foreign policy. Prescription drugs are often released before real stability is achieved, and side effects that promote violent, antisocial actions can be observed. What a contradiction! You would think in a world of "free entreprise" that someone could create a meth lab and make a tightly-controlled factory of narcotics. You just have to scratch your head at such "disinterest." Can there be order? If there can be contradiction, I whole-heartedly believe there can be order. Laws, taxes, and other elements of American government privilege the privileged. America, the public institution does not support economic democracy. In fact, the favor is not on the person with a new idea or a better way to organize society. The favor is on the people with money and power to gain more money and power. Our "economic democracy" slipped away like the free citizens of Athens to a state of oligarchy. The top 10% of the economic class spectrum increased salaries by twice as much as the bottom 20% in the last decade. This is not real freedom. This is arbitrary "every man for himself" with hardly any accountability for actions. The social contract has expired. Bigger is the new better. And Reaganomics and deregulation has expanded into corporate welfare. As we can note in the application of social order and substance, it is easy to catch someone down below. Expand police deployment in an area and the amount of criminals caught and persecuted increases, that is the most certain statistic. People can be caught in a regional placement. Can a person with a private jet be caught? Do we deploy police to hospitals rampant with faulty medical practices? To pharmaceutical companies that release drugs before the recommended date by the scientists that make the drugs? Do we listen to the factory worker about whether an increase in production is feasible?

Regional economies work much more effectively because they rely on the presumption that people are capable of doing bad things. In fact, social psychology holds that people are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior if they know they are not being watched. The destructive effects of selfishness and antisocial views of people are easier to address in a smaller, decentralized, and organized grouping of people. The bystander effect increases in magnitude with an increase in bystanders and after a certain point, where there is a mass of people, a crowd, there becomes no noticeable change in this effect and a crowd simply becomes an impersonal crowd. We all don't like much of the Bush administration's actions, left and right alike, but what can we do? The President is so far removed from the people that direct arrest of this person is impossible. And conversely, the president is so far removed, the effects of the agenda set by his network of power elite leaders cannot be seen and comprehended. A CEO cannot ask his workers directly about the conditions, nor does he care. The social structures we cling to objectify the people who work who are the foundation of order and create all the stuff. You are just a number in the grid. War is a video game and soldiers no longer have to carry the burden of a bayonet and kill the enemy directly. Lower class society is placed in a depersonalized machine to produce for the people with the drive and agenda to do whatever they want. Criticize the ruling class and the only thing they can produce is insults, interruptions and rationalizations, as seen in the video where this "American" talks with a pompous, unnecessary, and fake British accent to assert some intelligence that he lacks, while interrupting Chomsky, who remains composed, rational and attentive to each question. Chomsky responds with careful, nuanced analysis to irrelevant metaphor, historical revisionism, and just outright snobbery.

Who can watch the watchmen when they are held in the safety of their penthouse and mansions? If the people below can be held accountable in the eyes of the law, so can the ruling class.

Freedom is the ability to make choices. Liberty is the freedom from being forced to make choices. In America, there are few who have both freedom and liberty. The social contract is not a computer algorithm, it cannot be expanded into infinity. I agree with Chomsky. The American fixation of imposing "democracy" upon the world goes against America's roots in Libertarianism (Classic libertarian. Emphasis is always on liberty and absence of coercion, not right to property. "pursuit of happiness" not "pursuit of financial gain." Conservatism is revisionism). Indoctrination, and policies that border on cultural hegemony are what we are dealing with. I salute Richard Rodriguez for rejecting the myths of both "melting pot" ideology and "multiculturalism." I am incredulous of such metanarratives of American culture. And yes, I am a skeptic. There is no term or image to replace these with. Such issues are frivolous and waste intellectual energy defining a culture that formed out of the Founding Fathers project to end the bullshit of Europe and allow pure liberation to evolve. We have a common history, that is the most important part of American identity. Any indoctrination about who we are, the food(s) we eat, the language(s) we speak are all detractions from the real issues: the promise of liberty and the institutions that corrupted that promise.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 10:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 21, 2008

The Making of America

Read the news - the stock market is wobbling and of course, investors are crying to Uncle Sam for intervention. And being that the government is filled by the same power elites with the similar investments, the government will comply to the requests whole-heartedly. Anticipate tax breaks for large corporations and upper-middle class consumers that buy most of the useless status goods that make our economy go. Do small businesses ever get tax relief in times of economic crisis? Why is this? The majority of jobs (jobs, not occupations or careers) are filled by large corporations. Numbers speak without context in capitalism. Relief happens at the highest level because our paradigm is set to globalization. Regional economies will be extinct after this epoch.

Here's an assignment: research a way to build a co-op or local organic farm with your knowledge and a recent-college-grad budget.

Development happens with a large-scale privilege. Anyone can call paradigms like regionalism, syndicalism and anarchy idealistic. But is it? What is the great benefit of large-scale economic expansionism? Europe exceeded the US economic strength with high productivity and innovative technologies. And Europe is built on regionalized, socialist economies. If there are people that want the laissez-faire capitalism that Rand envisioned, here it is. Consumerism is the most permissive form of laissez-faire possible without chaos and collapse into dictatorship, oligarchy, and fascism.

There is no one in the ruling class that has the intelligence and drive to create a function that can govern international trade. And if such a person existed anywhere, that person would not put forth the effort to create such a system because reason would tell anyone that has even read news articles about scientific research into global climate, global society and global mass development, that globalization is something that cannot happen and should not be attempted. We can play God, but there is no human above another. Charity is not relief, relief is going to the oppressed and exploited people of the world and fixing the collapsing houses, cleaning the water, teaching the people culturally non-invasive practices of farming, house building, cooking, medicine, etc. And while fixing the structural problems of deteriorating areas, lock up the real criminals of the world, the ones that pretend to be the solutions to all the "problems" of the natural order.

The people that rule are not gods. They are not even more intelligent. They are simply powerful. In Greek mythology, gods were not divine and omnibenevolent beings. Gods were simply humans with exaggerated human abilities. What does competition produce? Refined skills. Period. You can produce a large set of great items and become adept at selling them (or simply the latter, in most cases). We got good at creating chemicals from the Earth. Good at building and refining chemicals that can kill with a drop. But wait... we suck at contextualizing. We look at things in a fragmented, blinder-eyed way. Sure, we can perfect killing someone, but...

We should spend more time in fixing our society - a society jaded with over-crowded cities, which are the only place to find a good job anymore. We see problems everywhere but here. Children are starving in Africa, of course. But you cannot help Africa without relocating. I suggest if you feel bad for African children, pay a visit to your local charity organization and demand to create programs for helping the children in Wilkinsburg or East Liberty. Me, I would love to be nostalgic and subscribe to the way it was in the 50s. You go to work and get paid enough to live. But you can't go back. People call me idealistic? We're all scrambling to "advance," to "climb the ladder." Where? Where are you all going? Y'all look like your going insane, to me. We all are. We look at this social organization and don't so much as bat an eyelash. It is more reminiscent of a bunch of people thrown into a tank and scrambling to get above the other one to prevent themselves from drowning.

This is not order with random acts of chaos (a society envisioned by Rousseau). This is chaos with random acts of order (what simply allowing people to do whatever they desire without governance by greater principle). The social contract is not something that cannot be achieved. If you can put all you energies in supporting a global economy, you certainly can make a change in "the way things are" (tm). Thomas Paine held the idea that America could exist without the governance of English nobility and that every generation would be a new opportunity to push for liberty and equality. After the failed Articles of Confederation, do you think the founders of our country were expecting a document that would last this long without extensive revision? (Whatever happened to the idea of reviewing the Constitution every decade?) Democracy cannot statically exist. Ask the ancient Greeks. Paine was right that it is something that should get deeper and richer. Did it?

I am libertarian-socialist in outlook, but I wish more people would stop relying on the large structures to create America. America is not up there, out there, over yonder... America is here. And we still don't have a unified society or a coherent culture. The oligarchies of Europe at least had a sense of collective identity. Now, I shall slip into an acid-dropping Lewis Carrol state and ask:


I'm not out to rationalize a particular view of American identity. I disagree with both the idea of the "Melting Pot" and "Multiculturalism." "Brown" is a better idea and Richard Rodriguez should be crowned with sprigs of olive branches for that book. But we seriously need to consider what is America because we now have not only transgressed the natural order with pollution and genocide of Native peoples (yes, full genocide. There are only a handful of surviving Native tongues. Native Americans are a culture, not a race. That is the way Native people identify themselves and we killed them more when we forbid their language.), we have transgressed the foundation of American government (right, Mr. Bush?).

The question is not a trick question. We all know what America is, but we can't put it into words. But you don't have to. In fact, it cannot be put into words. It cannot be put into symbols. "These are the times..." right? Keep your eyes open for propaganda. It worked in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, 9/11. I think everyone that's lived in America for most of their life knows what it means to be American. The issue is not identity, the issue is organization and right now, I think we should pay more attention to our social order.

Just a thought...

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 7, 2007

Anarchy for the USA

If it looks as if I have been pissed off lately, I have. I am restless. I saw the Rodriguez lecture and that put at least a glimmer of hope in my conscious-laden mind. You see, the very immoral Oklahoma bill HB 1804 has been in effect for exactly one week now. The fascist conservative power elite politicians and companies that run the shithole economy and government now have started to make a move to bring the "privitized charity" that supposedly should replace welfare under the control of the state. If you give an undocumented immigrant so much as a mouthful of bread and a blanket, you are a national criminal. Now, doing the work of Jesus fucking Christ is illegal. The government is going to crucify you. The corporations that are not required to produce documents and become incriminated by them are getting praised like Caesar fucking Augustus.

There is no crime greater than denying another human being the God-given dignity that that person is born with. Your nation, your economy, your society are all depraved, you sick, selfish, bourgeois leaders of everything. This is fucking America. The Constitution issued all of us a check to the funds of liberty, but those funds are dry. The check bounced and it's time to rip it to shreds and start over. This government is so out of touch with the human beings that occupy this part of planet Earth, that we should just smash it. To pieces. A child is not a fucking criminal. A family that is starving and crosses a fucking arbitrary line drawn in this shamed soil is not a traitor. The Monroe Doctrine was set up to keep South America from being under siege by colonizers, but now we are colonizing South America. The FTA, Augusto Pinochet, all the popular uprisings against right-wing dictatorships that were stopped. In the name of Democracy? What a joke. Just like the new Attorney General that has to pause to think about whether he supports the use of torture... "Well, my department will execute extensive investigations to see if these actions violated American law or the Constit..."

What?! Are you serious? It doesn't matter if torture is wrong or inhuman? The Constitution only applies to people that support this fascist regime?! You can throw "unalienable rights" out the window and do some thing in contradiction with it, but don't do it in the name of America. No one is innocent. If you don't so much as throw a brick at an oppressor you are an oppressor. Personal responsibility is only for a stateless, class-free society. If, in protecting your own liberty, you suppress the liberties of others, you are not supporting Libertarianism. Libertarianism is not arbitrary freedom for the few. This new movement of Log-Cabin Conservatism, while a breath of fresh air from the nutjobs in office now, is still conservatism. Sorry, the harsh reality is the Constitution is dead, even more than social security (seventy years as opposed to 250 years to deteriorate?). Get over it. You can't bring a document that has been revised 27 times. You can't keep patching up a document every time something new comes along that no one could account for in the context of history.

I guess my point is... the spirit of the constitution is not dead. Punk is dead, but DIY, anarchy, freedom, youthful rebellion, love without borders, and the future... those are things that you can't destroy. Communism may not have worked in practice... yet, but the past doesn't matter. You have another good fifty years on you... all of you graduating seniors. A future that is yours. Not the government's, not the "American workforce," not society's or tradition's... yours. I keep watching things go to the shithole because of all the panic-mongering, all the fear and loathing, all the trust in corrupt people. Capitalism takes more trust than anything else. I'd sooner put my faith in people who were motivated by the good of humanity and the survival of the species than someone motivated by selfishness. If there is anything I hope everyone believes, it's that their voice matters. Don't hide it in your stuffy little bedroom, while guarding the door with a shotgun. That is where all the problems in America began. Fuck complacency. It's neither my fault nor my problem that stuffy old bastards lose their idealism because of their weak, unmotivated conservative reversions. The future is not for the people who look longingly on the past. Want to go back? Go back. But stay out of the way of the people who want to go forward.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 5:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 1, 2007

New Horizons

Okay, so American society is mangled. That is an obvious thing. But I think I've found a yearning in everyone for the same thing people in America have been yearning for since Independence: identity. No one ever says "I am an American." Are we proud of our rich history? Our bright and vibrant cultures? Our helpful people who don't want to be better, have more, or oppress others, but just want to get by and hopefully be part of something? We've allowed these alien ideas of "spreading democracy," "free markets," and enterprise to taint our landscape to the point where America is all image and no feeling.

I am here to say America is a feeling. America is where every man and woman is free, well-fed, and belongs. We've allowed politicians and capitalists to tell us who we are. I say we should tell them who we are. Being black is not being absorbed in basketball, rap, bling. Being woman is not being a determined autonomous feminist. Being Native is not being a spiritual, complacent primitivist. Being an immigrant is not being weird or trendy. Being an Italian American is not being a mobster or Sinatra in "Little Italy." Being gay is not being out and proud, socialite, flaky, trendy, or fashionable. Being male is not being a rough, muscular, lady-pleaser, unemotional, pissed-off, competetive meathead. Being American is not waving a Goddamned flag over everything you own.

Being American means hating fascism of any form and being willing to stand up and fight it, whether with words, with guns, or with ideas.

What does it mean to be an American?

It means you don't have the right to tell us what is American. We are American. If you breath the air above this land, you are American and no one has the right to block you out or smuggle you in. We are not your cheap, crafty, innovative workforce. We are not your marketing demographic. We are no longer fooled by these "images of America" and now we are starting to get pissed. You don't want to piss with America.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 10:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 27, 2007

The Misnomer of the "Politically Correct"

I would be hard-pressed to find any highly-informed liberal thinker who would say that he/she fully supports the concept of "political correctness." The term was not readily adopted by the movement of cultural progressivism. In fact, I would venture to stand in support of the British columnist Will Hutton's claim that PC was in all actuality a pejoritive term created by conservative factions to be applied to and discredit a movement in liberalism taking shape in the 1980s. With a second wave of feminism, increased emphasis on race issues, and the gay liberation movement, it makes sense that the dominant political ideology would be shitting its pants. When people begin to question, it produces mass protest. The movement of cultural progressivism could be thought of as forming on two grounds: linguistic and political. The grounds of the linguistic created the concept of "inclusive language." This is derived from the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (biased language promotes biases). Often, when I hear conservatives say "damn PC run amok..." I often think they only consider the linguistic grounds. Political grounds for cultural progressivism are harder to pinpoint to one source. If I had to take a stab, I'd say that cultural progressivism was a challenge to the "gentleman's club" mindset of capitalists. But even more, cultural progressivism was seeking to do something that the term PC claims it goes against: creating an open discourse.

A good example of the value of this movement and why PC is a misnomer for it can be seen in the movie Philadelphia. The corporate culture can be seen as the inciter of this riot. Because corporations were ruling the show under the economic conditions of the time and because most of the corporate culture was disparagingly white, male heterosexuals, there was an extreme injustice not just in the policy, but also in the birth of future policy. The idea is that no one person or group of people should dominate the political discourse. Because our society is based in self-interest, in order to get the interest of every person met, you need to have every voice represented. The whole unifying concept is that some groups have dominated the discourse with a language based in bullying, and thus, without the ability to use harsh and hurtful language to dominate and exploit minority voices, every voice gets a better chance of being heard. And if every voice gets heard, the problem of the tyranny of the majority can be to some degree solved.

Political correctness is an empty word. It is a self-contradicting value judgment. Restraint must be practiced in holding the conversation so that the dynamic of democracy in our representative system would not succumb to the mobocracy of conservative interests alone. The idea of PC gives the impression that there should be no restraint; that people should be able to speak their minds when they want and the loudest voice is the most right and deserving of power; that anything against this idea stifles progress. But really, discourse without order accomplishes nothing besides one dominating voice and an ochlocracy (mobocracy). The somewhat-anarchic ideals of extreme conservatism are held for a reason. Anarchy not only allows, but promotes exploitation and mob mentality. If the American population thought citically about what these ends achieve, they would see just how fascist and "anti-American" the progression into extreme conservatism and anarchy is. If we look at an inventory of extreme conservative ideas and actions, we see why the current admistration can be seen as subverting the Constitution (ie: wiretap monitoring of American citizens, convictions without trials, the way in which we entered the war with Iraq... the list can go on forever). If we are to uphold the Constitution, we need more than cultural progressivism, we must keep the spirit of democratic discourse alive. If I could suggest anything, get active in politics. Political apathy allows fascism to creep in, even if little by little.

Get up, go out and do a Thomas Payne! The fate of America is riding on your shoulders!!!

Posted by EvanReynolds at 5:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Teaching Teachers to Teach

I've noticed, ever since I've committed my energies to the professor track and getting into grad school, that despite the numerous differences in teaching styles, there is a fundamental core to a professor's methods that will affect the learning environment and the class dynamic. The core is a spectrum. There is, on one end of the spectrum, teachers who have a clear, pre-defined destination and a clear, pre-defined classroom methodology for reaching that end. Moving toward the center, some professors seem to have the destination laid out, but refuse to include a pre-defined methodology. On the other side of the center, some professors will give a clear and pre-defined methodology, but will leave the destination either ambiguous or non-existant. Then, at the opposite extreme, some professors neither define a set methodology nor a set end.

In my experience, the most comfortable environment is one where the destination is not defined, but there is still a natural order to the progress. I feel this type of teaching creates the most natural and often the easiest environment to learn in because it most closely mirrors both the pursuit of philosophy and the pursuit of science. Scientists, in the truest sense of the word, do not seek to justify a pre-established conclusion. Philosophers in the purest sense set out to find the nature of reality without seeking to justify what their first impression of reality is. The problem with the effects of all the other teaching styles is that the first extreme seeks to establish a set conclusion without creating an environment in which all avenues can be explored and all assumptions can be set aside. The problem with the other extreme is that there is no order and nothing is accomplished. It creates a postmodern learning space in which nothing can be achieved and thus, there is no motivation to do anything.

I just wish there was some way to teach teachers to teach. I could greatly benefit from that in my future plans. I guess the most critical element is listening more to the students. When professors are more detached, the only thing a student can really gain is memorizing a bunch of concepts and blindly finding out how to fit them together. Ah, the value of a liberal arts education!

Posted by EvanReynolds at 3:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 16, 2007

Pay it UP!

"...I will differ with you in that I believe Linux has taken off. If you are looking only with eyes of an economist it would be hard to distinguish that in fact Linux is in flight. For one thing, penguins are a flightless bird at home in cold water where they soar as much as they waddle when they walk on land. Linux is not your average community project.

If you look at competitive markets, there is only one Microsoft, and only one Mac OS, but there are at least 4 commercial distributions of Linux, not to mention the plethora of free distributions. As much as there seem to be three main desktop OS options, the fact is there are more. If that would spell out competative for you I could stop there. As far as market share success, we have seen the pie; but what shows in the pie? The Money? No. The fact that Linux shows up at all is a testament to it's basic success, given it's general lack of funding. Dedication to purpose is clear sign of success, or so the MacAdicts will tell you; does that same generalization apply to Linux, only if Linux is running on a Mac. I am trying to just stick to desktop Linux because that is how I believe you framed the the question, but if I were to digress at the diversity of the market, I would say count the number of hardware platforms the system is applied to, at that you can see a wing flap but it is not the flight you speak of. The fact that you have to ask about success in a narrow range, imho, says most comparisons should be going the other way in terms of proof of success. To me that is a sign of success...

Linux will succeed in the face of commercial apps that run on it long beyond any quarterly statement because people make it. They love to make it. And because they love to do it, it will persist against fiscal judgments. Will any one become another Bill Gates out of the Linux world? I doubt that kind of success will follow any individual out of the Linux world even Linus Torvolds, that kind of success only comes from an overwhelming self-serving capitalist. That doesn't make Bill evil, just rich; and he has the rest of his life to work out what community service means to himself. Because in the long run, the success of Linux will not only be financial, but in it's diversity as a good place for education, arts, and community, because people just want it that way."

The most inspiring analysis of the open-source movement I think I have seen.

See the full comment response to a sleezy scam proposal.

Linux is about Freedom. No other OS gives you so many choices and options. Linux had been running on x86, AMD 64, and PPC architectures to name a few before windows got on a mac and mac got on a pc. I agree with Paul. Linux is a community project. People across the country and across the world gather at conferences, etc to develop this software without monetary compensation. You know what? He's right! Linux never can and never should be evaluated with the same conventions as proprietary software. If you measure the success of Linux soley based on mainstream appeal, you are missing the point of Linux.

Linux doesn't lack a mainstream audience because of this concept of "by geeks, for geeks." Who ever authored that one is a flaming idiot (just like the author of "for us or against us"). I am an artist of sorts who is really happy with the sheer amount of options to express creativity in Linux. (I'm starting a magazine with a friend with the goal of using only F/OSS for pre-press). All the parts are there, but you got to help put 'em together. Linux is absent of a mass mainstream audience because the mass mainstream audience is still living in that glittering corporate illusion that computers are chic, sexy and "just work." It's rather pathetic. Computers are machines. If you don't know how the computer functions to complete your tasks other than the pretty little rainbow pinwheel spins for five hours, you won't be able to complete those tasks with the most efficiency.

That's right. I went there. Adobe Photoshop is just a centralized GUI that automates the same tasks that can be performed in Linux if you invest time in knowing what you are doing.

If you are looking for a "free-beer commercial equivalent," don't use Linux. Go download some cracks. If you want to free your world from corporate lock-ins, big media company restrictions, and hype... you've come to the right place. Welcome to the land of the living. Everyone else will be joining us eventually.

To all you proprietary software vendors: Pay it up!

Posted by EvanReynolds at 4:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 1, 2006

Blogs: the Transient and Poetic

Note: this post is in an attempt to supplement my inquiry about the medium blogs in function to the acquisition of a philosophical outlook.

"Being in Time"
First, the distinction must be made so as not to confuse "being in time" (being as a noun) and "being in time" with being as a verb. This is not to copy Heidegger's language, but to illustrate how blogs exist in time. Think of the aural tradition... Language was, before the advent of writing, a system of sounds that moved through time alone. Writing was a system created not just to create an artifact from language, but to move language into a more privatized domain. (Hence the tradition of refusing to let people read over one's shoulder). Language could then be quantified through more objective observation. The downfall of print was that it further stratified the classes of people. Since print was labor-intensive and expensive, access to the resource of knowledge was limited to the nobility and the gentry. If the medium truly is the massage, what medium is most readily available to you affects your overall worldview.

How do media shape us? Who has access to what medium for information?

"The Poetic Evolution"
More than ever, people want to express themselves. We often ramble the words "punk is dead." For good reason, too. People like this poser and that sell-out make people believe punk is nothing more than a couple of hot-topic plaid skirts, eyeliner, and a $200 tie. The problem is simply that... punk was never alive! How the Hell can it be dead? There continue to be punk bands that defy the convention of image. I know. I've seen them. Corporate America may try to turn every cultural revolution into a huge money-making scheme, but even with the increasing futility of resisting, there are people who are still defiant.

What does this all have to do with blogs? Simple. Think of the concepts above in terms of the aural culture. Is the aural culture dead? How can it be? It was never alive! There are people that will try to convince you that true music is only for some people. Such people are power-mongering fascists who think they know what "true music" and "real music" is, but have no clue. The visual culture has increasingly privatized music. First, people started playing in small groups or by themselves, then they played indoors, then they made sheet music, then records, then mp3's, then iPods... what next, somebody implanting a microchip in the brain that simulates music and can be heard by no one but yourself?!

Over-individualism is a drug that has - and continues to have - decentralized and intoxicated media of communication. As the visual culture gains dominance, the aural culture disintegrates. You can sell artifacts as a commodity. Its much harder to sell the transient and poetic. If services can be sold, how is this possible? It is important to remember that since the aural meme was never alive, you will not be able to kill it. People crave interaction. We live on responses. It's the basic function of the cosmos... stimulus, response, stimulus, response. We are built on a temporal and changing framework. Our functions will serve the same end.

Privatizing service into the domain of the individual is harder to do. Since service often involves more than one person (Higher education, for example... I'd love to see a college try to have a 1:1 ratio!). Media are reflecting this trend. Although cell phones are a good example of how the aural has remained, they privatize the medium of speech and reduce it to the lowest common denominator: one person talking to one person.

Thus, the trend is edging toward a new paradigm - a paradigm of social networks. Strikingly, with each electronic medium revolution, there came a folk music revolution - (In the 1930's with the vacuum tube radios and in the 1960's with the mass television broadcasts) - except with the age of personal technology (cell phones, computers, iPods). McLuhan felt the trend of the TV connecting people in new ways. With the iPod revolution, we can start to see a trend toward a more aural culture; however, our society (both the producer and the consumer) is trying to contain the transient and move it further into the domain of the visual culture.

The age of the television could be seen as the transition period from the division of the visual culture and the aural counter-culture. On the surface, this seems like a reconcilliation, but in the age of networks, this phenomenon can be viewed as an attempt to contain the aural in the visual box.

Thus, we stand at a critical point as blogs enter the mainstream. Blogs have the ability to turn the tides of this cultural conflict. McLuhan notes in the Medium is the Massage that you simply can't apply the wrong set of expectations/conventions/paradigms to a medium. This also applies to the macrocosm of media. Trying to contain the aural in the domain of the visual takes away the true nature of the aural, and thus takes the richness and fecundity of life along with it.


The quantifiable and the poetic must exist in a yin and yang balance. We should not have knowledge without mystery, reason without passion, space without time. Both create a stable environment. Blogs can help to foster a movement into an age where knowledge is both absolute and relative. An age in which we don't enforce one ideology, but neither do we stand ambivalent to all ideology. When the next technological revolution happens, I pray that it seek to balance the aural with the visual without placing one in the context of another.

This will keep the conversation in balance. This environment will allow for philosophical communication to be more equally distributed among those who participate, without domininance. But, the environment would still be adventageous for progress. Many postmodern scholars feel the universe is fragmenting. It's only because our present media create the perception of fragmentation. Truth is still out there. It's still attainable. The over-emphasis of the visual compartmentalizes the truth. The reason you think you can't know the truth is because the visual is dominating the aural. When they exist in balance is when the truth fully manifests. (Note: do not try to interpret this on a physical level, this is more of a metaphor for your methodological approaches when engaging in discourse. Deaf and hard of hearing people can listen... Often better than hearing people. This paradox is imporatant to note because listening is not about the tools so much as it is about the process.) You wouldn't use a freezer to cook an egg. Why do you search for the truth with your eyes? Listen, and perhaps you will find something unexpected.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 12:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 6, 2006

Aesthetic Anarchy

I have a great idea. Since I am under the impression that we should accept the inevitable relativistic "dethronement" of all authority, why don't we tell our miserable leader that he has no authority! Let's tell all these CEOs and CTOs of corporations that they mean nothing and the economy is just a social construction! Let's tell God that, well sorry to say, but Nietzsche was right, you don't exist, never have and are only an excuse for not living our life to the fullest hedonistic ego-trip possible!

Perhaps we can do this while people starve in the streets, while politicians bastardize our already dastard democracy, while corporations monopolize an already corrupt classist system. Perhaps it's best to debate how to make an egocentrical medium more beautiful rather than more collaborative, just, ethical (??? pick one).

Authority is always bad and people not only have the God-given right to freely exploit knowledge, but also each other. Yes. The future is inevitable. We probably don't even have free will, after all, free will disintegrated when Lyotard, Derrida, and Fouccalt opened their mouths and barked. They aren't any kind of authority, but that's irrelevant because authority doesn't matter anyway. Woof. Woof. Bark.

PS: If you didn't understand any of that, suffice to say Postmodernism is not progression, it's pure destruction. It won't liberate anything. It can't. It doesn't go anywhere. It would be much more productive to bark than to propose any such rubbish.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 9, 2006

What Would Buddha Do?

This article from the Engaged Zen Foundation is simply brilliant. Written by David Loy (an active teacher of Zen), this article digs deep into the constructs of War and Terror and exposes them for what they are. This article goes where few dare to go.

The line that struck me the most was:

"To be quite blunt, if you are not at least dimly aware of these urgent problems, then you are living in some very strange bubble devoid of news (perhaps in the late stages of a 20-year retreat in some Himalayan cave?), or there is a deficiency in your spiritual practice."

This is so true. And it relates to my previous reflection on politics and religion. The problem of religion isn't that it is inherantly weak, the problem is that we have bastardized religion by letting our politics inform it. Thus, we have desecrated the Word of God by replacing it with the word of man (a Western perspective).

What I find particularly fascinating about this line is that it demythologizes our very -narrow- conception of Buddhism. When we think of Buddhism, what do we picture? Seven plainly-dressed, clean-shaven monks meditating in a monestary. Loy prods deep into our conservative Western values and exposes the dirt while challenging the conservatism of the East. Fascinating read.

Religion hasn't failed us, we have failed religion with our greed, power-seeking, and blatant selfish ego/ethnocentrism. Loy reminded me that Buddha did not want people to just blindly follow his teachings--that we simply don't transform ourselves with religion, but the entire world with us. I still have faith that the world will rise up with one voice and say "enough." Loy has restored my faith in the human race.

(Thank you Joel for the link!)

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

July 8, 2006

Religion is a Verb

What is the point of religion? If it's just going to be a set of static dogmas that dictate one's life and restrict one's otherwise free thought, why bother?

Why bother?

Because politics and ethics have little or nothing to do with religion, and yet religion has everything to do with politics and ethics. Religion is not a noun, but a verb. Imagine going into mass sitting down, and then... Well, that's it. Just sit down and watch. The priest takes out the Holy Eucarist and sets it on the table and then... You watch.
If God was merely an aesthetic, this would be about all you could do. About as boring as going to an art museum, right?

Losing sight of the richness and fecundity of the transcendant is easy to do. I mean, we have it down to a science! It's the formula of religion: go to church, pray, seek repentance, etc, etc. I'm not saying those are bad things, but what I am saying is that when we lose sight of what they mean and what they are helping us to remember, they become fruitless objects. So, what are they helping us to remember? Religion is a verb.

Politics seeps into the religious infastructure and makes cracks in its rocky base. Politics was invented by man, but religion was merely discovered by man. Politics is a noun, but religion is a verb.

Faith is the largest part of what makes religion a verb. The concept that we have faith is, from my perspective, inaccurate. We can be faithful, put our faith in, or come to an understanding of faith. But can we have faith? How can one own faith? Faith is not some static object that we can wrap our arms around or contain within a Tupperware box. Faith is also a verb. But we use faith every day; how can it be a verb? We use our ability to walk everyday. Faith is not the ability to walk, but it is the walking itself. To be more specific, faith is the medium through which we come to know God. Buddha describes this phenomenon as a finger pointing to the moon. The real essence is not the finger, but the moon.

If we apply the principles of communication and media theory to religion, we find that there are some striking parallels. Just like people can "get something out of" a text that is different from other people's readings of a text; people look at the same transcendental experience and "take out of it" something different from other people. But really, if God is divine truth, then our religions are merely interpretations of that divine truth. Thus, how can one own divine truth? If God is perfection and we are imperfect when compared to God, then how can we say we "know God."

I have been asked on several occasions by different people who (how do I put it?) were "on fire for Jesus" whether I "knew God." My classic response is: "Well, I don't know God... but, I put faith in Jesus." (Note: if you ever want to confuse any extreme fundamentalists, this is a good way to do it! :P) In a classical Western sense, faith is like a horizon that we can get closer and closer to, but never touch (alluding to the example from LA150 in Cindy Boland's class). Keeping in mind that religion is a medium, religious experience is limited to what we are able to perceive and comprehend (after all, this body is a medium, too!). Since the divine reality or truth or whatever-you-want-to-call-it is--in theory--boundless and limitless, both our mediated selves and the mediated tools we use to bring an understanding of this truth give a limited picture of such truth.

We could weasel our way around this argument by denying that God is limitless and renouncing God's perfection. But, that puts us on the same plane as God. And if you were coming from an Eastern perspective (such as Buddhism or Hinduism) this thesis would be moot as well. But I am talking specifically in a Western understanding and even more specifically, a Christian understanding, with the fundamental premise that God is beyond us.

We seek God in many different ways. This is why there are so many different religions. Just like romance novel readers would think SF is nothing but dry and pointless information dumps and SF fans would find romance just icky, people find different religious expressions to be more fulfilling than others. Genres of religious expression, or religions, form. Just like litterature, they seek to fulfill different means, but in the end, they are really all made of the same 100% pre-consumer material as these paperbacks.

Just like the story of the Tower of Babel suggests, the world split into different factions. It happened to litterature, it happened to music, it happened to art. From one concept (media), you get get differing media. From one God, you get differing religions. How do we reconcile all these factions? How do we bring a sense of unity to all people without losing an identity? Religious synthesis seeks to answer these questions and more. The major concept of religious synthesis (I better get this right, or Dr. Leap is gonna shoot me! :D) is that there is one ultimate truth that all religions are aiming for and where the religions converge, there the truth lies.

If religion was simply us blindly seeking God, then there would be no need for revelation. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed would have sat back idly if that were true. But, since religion is a verb, there is a two-way communication. And thus, Moses spoke to his people the word of God and Judaism was formed, Jesus walked among us and showed us the way of God and Christianity was formed, and Mohammed revealed the word of God, and Islam was formed. So, the dynamic is that religion is like a transcendental communication system. God speaks to us through revelation and experience, and we speak to God through faith and commitment.

However, since we cannot forget our limitations as a medium, we cannot forget that our experience (that is, our perception of the experience) is limited. We see only a facet of the true fecundity of God. This is not to say that when God can only reveal His divine presence to us as a sliver of an almond in the tree of reality. Our perception (broadly defined) can only see so much. Thus, faith and experience take us the next leap forward, and the next, and the next...

Returning to the very first question (yeah, remember that one? hee, hee, hee!!!): why bother? I bother with religion because keeping on the journey you discover that, in the converse of the words of Pete Seeger: "Christianity is no more what the Churches make of it than Communism is what Russia made of it." The more you pursue God, the more blessed and cursed your life will be. Blessed in the sense that you find a joy beyond words... Cursed that you wish the whole world could be filled with the same joy. But this paradox is what moves you forward. It's what makes you act more and more justly. It makes you more aware of other's feelings because you want them to find joy whether it be with your religion or not.

There is a line from a song called "Sadeness" by Enigma which goes: "Si tu es contre Dieux, tu es contre l'homme!" (If you are against God, you are against man). I feel the converse is true as well. Perhaps if we look beyond the dogmas and cultuses, and really considered what they represent, we would find that there is a whole other world to explore that is beyond heaven/hell and good/evil. If we become motivated by the desire to share our joy, then we wouldn't need to be motivated by law and consequence, nor reward and incentive. This is not mere theocracy. This is not simply "being ruled by conscience." This is the movement of society as a whole and in solidarity toward the future. This is the premise of Christian Communism.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 5:04 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Life after Life's End

Vous jammais menerez si vous cherchez continuellement pour le sens de la vie sans la menez.*
-Albert Camus

-No one seems to understand-
she said to the mechanical butler.
She reached for a cigarette,
but remembered that the nanochip
implant replaced them long ago.
She pushed a button and felt the
rush of nicotene...
But, somehow it wasn't the same.
She tried to argue, cry, something
to remind her she was alive.
But the butler looked at her as if
she had lost her mind.
Trapped in her science fiction utopia,
she pouted like a little girl whose
wish never came true.
Completely dissatisfied, she turned off the computer
and leaped into what remained of the field of daisies.

*Translated back into French from the English. ( was being shut down, grrrr!) Loosely translated: "You will never live if you continually search for the meaning of life without living it."

Posted by EvanReynolds at 3:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

May 11, 2006

A Critical Reading of "The Line Between Fact and Fiction"

Roy Peter Clark wrote a fantastic essay on the epistemology and ontology of journalism. But he missed a huge chunk of the iceberg, in my opinion...

"The post-modernist might think this all irrelevant, arguing that there are no facts, only points of view, only "takes" on reality, influenced by our personal histories, our cultures, our race and gender, our social class. The best journalists can do in such a world is to offer multiple frames through which events and issues can be seen. Report the truth, they ask. Whose truth?"
-Roy Clark, "The Line Between Fact and Fiction"

I am in no way a postmodernist. There is one reality. There is one truth. I'll even toss in that there is one universal virtue. But, the question remains, what is it? Humans are mediated entities. We can see only what's in front of us. No one individual can possess the truth. (YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!) Why? Because of the limitations of our mediated selves. I would argue that it is not that there is no universals, but that everything we see is subjective, so we will never attain full knowledge of the truth. It's not that it doesn't exist, it's just that it cannot be quantified within one single frame of reference.

Imagine there are three blind men on differing sides of an elephant. One can only touch the tail, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Another can only touch the trunk, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Yet another can only touch the ear, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Which one is correct? You see, truth is multi-faceted, like the elephant. There are many dimensions to truth. Because we carry a lens with a certain set of restrictions, we only see certain facets of the truth.

We are, as I said before, egocentric beings. We only see our side of the story. For example, is the person who treats you like total shit a bad person? If you say yes, I guarantee that you don't treat everyone so mighty fine yourself! Thus, if that statement is true, then we are all bad people. If it were only Adam and Eve and Eve bitchslaps Adam for leaving the toilet seat up, then, yes, maybe Eve was a bad person. We are nice to whom we delight in being nice to and we love to loathe our enemies (even though Jesus told us not to, damn hippie!).

Perhaps if we focused more on the ontology and epistemology of media studies and journalism the world would get closer to the truth. Instead, we focus on the unchallenged classical assumptions of journalistic values. I commend Roy Clark for writing such a thought-provoking piece. He raised some issues in my mind that have been silenced to acceptance by people who study the media. To answer the call that journalists should report the truth, YES! But the question still remains, "where do we begin?"

Posted by EvanReynolds at 3:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The Id, the Ego and the Photo

Journalism is egocentric. Hell, I'd be willing to bet that all of life is egocentric. We only see what we choose to see. What makes journalists so different? Are they any less human than other workers? No. If you want someone who is not very human, talk to a lawyer. All jokes aside, anything mediated has certain sets of limitations. These limitations, therefore, create a frame of reference. I like to call this frame of reference its ego, simply because I am also a psychology major... You can call it something else if you like. Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum lies the id. The id is the reader, the viewer. He or she is embedded with unconscious desires and biases -- perhaps more so than the reader cares to admit. The problem is the id and the ego don't get along. At all. Their quarrels of ideologies and agendas create a certain amount of alienation. The id and the ego of media are the macrocosm of what goes on inside each and everyone's brain daily. And that is a blatant oversimplification...

To avoid a strict dichotomy, Freud observed that there was a third construct of the brain called the superego. Just like Freud's construct, the superego mediates the desires and biases of the id (reader) with the agendas and biases of the ego (reporter). The superego is my personal hero. What is the superego in terms of media studies? Simple: a critical reading of the news.

Let's take the example of a photograph. Simple, right? How can a photo be biased? Well, remember from earlier, the medium is the message! The limitations of the photo allow the reporter to only take one static image. This limitation may seem irrelevant, but think about it... How can you capture every side or faction of a story with one photograph? You'd have to make a collage of images to capture every side.

Take a look at this simple search for news photos on the immigration issue (via yahoo, what is the immigration issue?). Okay, now you may think this a stretch, but I don't. What is wrong with the results?

Of all the photos of the first five tiers of results, how many Americans do you see advocating immigrant rights? How many Mexican officials to you see protesting the emmigrations from Mexico? You either see poor Mexican workers advocating their rights or a group of blue-collar Americans holding up American flags in protest. Is that unbiased? Is that fair? Is that proportional? Probably proportional, but as you see, the proportionality is lost in the masses upon masses of blatantly dichotomized images. Who looks at every article and every image just to find all the sides and perspectives involved? As the news agencies see it, the fairness is in the fact that they try to portray two sides of an issue in their most positive light. I guess adding complexity and ambiguity would turn off viewers to the news.

You see, from my frame of reference, the news is not about truth. It never was. It's usually about persuasion and money. We are, as said by Susan Sontag, still in Plato's Cave. Capital is America's frame of reference. Because money talks, right? Obviously, the medium is the massage. People don't need to be challenged; they just need to consume the facts and everything will fall into place, right?

News is very egocentric. In this Western world, we live in a bubble. News is never fair, never proportional, never objective. Why? Because of the sole fact that we view everything from a Eurocentric, capitalistic ideological lens. Does this mean I want to go into total anarchy? Perhaps. But, I feel the most quintessential element in journalism is transperancy. We cannot use words such as fair, proportional, objective, and balanced (yes, that goes for Fox news, too!).

How do we remedy this issue? Simple. Transperancy: we must admit the pervasive biases of the media. This doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for a fair, accurate, proportional, objective and yes, balanced news media, but we should be careful to place these labels on any reporting when they are not completely true. Critical reading: perhaps the most important element in this issue, a critical reading is how we process the biases of both the news reports and ourselves. We must strive to know the reporter's frame of reference, but also strive to know our's. Socrates posed the challenge to "know thyself." Within that short sentence, lies far-reaching implications for media studies. The more we know about our own frame of reference, and the more we know about where others are coming from, the closer we are to the truth.

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January 8, 2006

What Is He Talking About?!

I know I have mentioned several times in my analysis of video gaming the terms Postmodern, Postmodernity, Postmodern condition, etc. What exactly do I mean by that? I know there have got to be some puzzled faces out there, so I have decided to include a "crash course," so to speak on Postmodern Philosophy.

Wikipedia defines postmodern philosophy as: "an eclectic and elusive movement characterized by the postmodern criticism and analysis of Western philosophy." That's nice, but it really doesn't get to the heart of Postmodern Philosophy. When I ask my (anonymous) philosophy major friends what it is, they usually dismiss it as relativism or Nihilism. (This makes me sad that not even philosophy majors can describe what postmodern philosophy is).

The source I find who gives the best definition is my former philosophy professor, Dr. Martino. He once described it to me as (paraphrased): the decentralization of truth knowledge and ethics. This is a great start. Postmodern philosophy is not out to destroy what 2,600 years of Philosophy has built up; it is simply here to challenge it. By dismissing postmodern philosophy as relativism or nihilism, one only shows a superficial understanding of what this philosophy is all about.

Whereas nihilism denounces any truth, postmodern philosophy seeks truth in different places or overlooked dimensions. Whereas relativism views all things with a great degree of truth, Postmodern Philosophy is critical of this assumption.

The biggest characteristic of this philosophy is the criticism of dualistic views in tradtional Western Philosophy. Post-modernism claims that the ultimate source of knowledge cannot be found in the logos, but in the discourse itself. This is the decentralization that takes place in postmodern philosophy. People often confuse it with relativism and nihilism, I think, because they are still thinking in a modern paradigm.

There is often a problematic contradiction that "extreme" postmodern philosophers have. By whole-heartedly attacking modernism and proposing postmodernism as better and more correct, they have made a value judgment and indoctrinated truth. Yes, the literature of postmodernism is not perfect, but all humans carry imperfection.

I feel that the fallacy of radical postmodern theorists is that postmodernism has to replace modern thought. In my opinion, it simply adds a new dimension and has the potential to make the conversation of philosophy more accessable to everyone.

Try not to think of Postmodern Philosophy (as scary as the word sounds) as some high-flown, abstract theory. Think of it as a historical response or movement. As our technology develops and the world around us changes, we need to re-evaluate, redefine, and rethink the common assumptions we carried before and move into a new stage of thought. And that's what Postmodern Philosophy is about.

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November 20, 2005

A Merry Un-Birthday to Journalists

Which source would you trust for coverage of the Iraqi reaction to the military operations in Iraq: an American journalist or an Iraqi blogger.

Before you answer, let me remind you that this is about Iraqi reactions.

If you would trust an American journalist for this one, all I can say is: "you're as mad as a hatter!" Some coverage of journalism is subjective and calls for people who understand the context of the situation. An American wouldn't know the cultural contexts necessary for giving an accurate interpretation of another culture's response.

This can be seen in Zeyad's Healing Iraq, to which Zeyad said in We the Media: "...coming from an Iraqi, they [the readers] give it more credence than if it were coming from Western journalists."

Like the Mad Hatter declared a "merry un-birthday" in Alice in Wonderland, ordinary people with extraordinary knowledge of important events of our time are becoming journalists. And electronic media again are causing us again to redefine everything, including journalism.

I have alluded to postmodern theory regarding digital media before. This is yet another example of the decentralization of episteme (Greek: Knowledge): with the diversity of individual expertise, instead of people turning to one comprehensive source of knowledge, we can turn to compartmentalized sources of knowledge.

This is the core feature of the internet. Because it is so easy to publish, we get not just a range of trustworthy and untrustworthy sources--that is too simplistic and dualistic--but also a wide range of specializations by people who are passionate about their specialty. Thus, we can't know everything, but we can all know something.

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November 13, 2005

Redefining the Media: A Preface to We the Media

What is the media? Many people can give examples, but few can actually define and get to the root of this issue. Semantically, media is "middle," something in between two other objects. In art, a medium is a method or genre of artistic expression--in other words, the medium stands between the image the artist has in his/her head and the image on canvas. In terms of size, a medium is between a small and a large. But what does this have to do with news? That's what this is all about, right?

Well, yes and no. Media is often confused with mass media, which is the system of people and products which deliver the news. Keeping with our concept of media, the mass media stand between the news and the news consumers: us. The mass media delivers and we take in. It's just like the artists: the artists paint, sculpt, draw, and in the same laissez-faire way, the audience takes in.

Now, if you think about this in terms of Marxism, who has the power? The media! We as consumers are dependant upon the mass media for our information. Without making a value judgment, this was and, to some extent, is our society.

What is the problem with this construction? We are starting to learn in this Postmodern age that we--the people, the once passive consumers--have a lot to contribute to the framing of history. So, with the advent of technology, we are starting to learn that every voice counts. Information is becoming more important than who delivers it.

Technology has fueled this Postmodern revolution and the Postmodern revolution has fueled technology. For the scope of this discussion, we are more interested in how technology has fueled this revolution. Information technology gives instant access to information. Never has this been more true than with the internet.

But, on the converse and more critical to the understanding of new media, information technology gives instant access to the delivery of information. Now, the lecture of historia has become a conversation, where we are all able to take part in--all with access to a computer. Obviously, privilege comes into play here, considering not everyone has access to a computer. However, the privilege of the corporate mass media is being torn down with the global village.

Now, the mass media has become what was previously the consumer. We are now delivering the news--right from where it happens. From Manhattan to Baghdad, from London to Paris, we are the news--we are the media.

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October 28, 2005

A Postmodern Understanding of the Glass

Is the glass half empty or full?

Statistics often lend themselves to being interpreted in many different ways. People can form opposing arguments based on the same statistic. This seems confusing in a dualistic-minded society. The fact of the matter is, things can be in opposition to each other without being polar opposites. Donnie Darko made this point painfully clear to his health teacher.

For example, I can say that racism is a problem caused by a particular culture's misconceptions of another race...


I can also say that it is a problem caused by a lack of positive cross-racial experience resulting in a negative evaluation of another race...

Both claims made consider racism a problem; so, they are not contradictory. But, they do oppose each other, just not directly. These are contrary statements. This gives us a sense of a multi-dimensional understanding of truth. Truth is not either this thing or that. Truth is a dynamic which can be interpreted depending on context. Maybe these two statements are both right. Hmmmmm... If they both are valid and accurate, why not?

Proportion and scale play into this understanding. These are two distinct ways of looking at facts. Proportion is the contextual side of fact. It's like a pie chart; it compares the part to the whole. Scale is the more linear understanding of fact; it evaluates the part individually. Both are very accurate and truthful ways of looking at something. However, neither one is the be-all-end-all for measuring fact. Both are equally good ways of measuring fact, but their strengths and weaknesses are different.

Let's say we wanted to measure--as in the book It Ain't Necessarily So--whether or not the state of traditional (nuclear) families is declining. Which method would be the most adventageous to use?

Since there is also the factor of population that can rise or fall, thus affecting the number of families, we should take the number of nuclear families in proportion to the whole and compare the data to the proportion of non-traditional families.

If we wanted to see whether or not AIDS has increased greater in men than women--also in the book--we would use scale. Why? Because AIDS declines year-by-year, proportions of cases would not have the same common denominator. In other words, the raw number of cases in women may have decreased more in number than men, but risen in proportion exceding the male proportion.

Is the glass half empty or full? It all depends on context.

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October 27, 2005

The Journalism of Science

It Ain't Necessarily So made a case for the uncanny ability of Journalists to be absolutists. That's fine, but when reporters try to report on scientific statistic--which is by no means absolute--they run into a problem: the facts become misleading. The irony of this situation is: the objectiveness of the news becomes compromised by being objective.

The conventions of research lend themselves to being convoluted and based tremendously in context. For example, if you've browsed journal databases, you may find the abstracts that come up read something like, "study on the effects of aspirin on pregnant women age 20-35 in Belgium (1980)." Although the example is made up, it shows the preciseness and context of a research study.

There are too many variables that can have a severe impact on the accuracy of the research. Therefore, researchers must limit the sample based on which variables they wish to consider. This limit puts the study in a certain context. The context of our example would be pregnant women age 20-35 in Belgium during the 1980s.

The problem occurs when the relatively subjective work of researchers is published through the objective paradigms of reporters. There is nothing wrong with reporters being objective. Crime stories, articles on the campaign trail, and natural disasters need to be reported objectively without much consideration for issues of race, gender, class, age, etc.

However, in the research world, these can all be variables which affect the methods of research and the scope of research. That being said, when reporters remove these variables from the statistics in fear of being biased, they damn themselves in terms of accuracy and clarity. By removing the details of the sample the researcher selected, they have--as the book said--"made a journalistic mountain out of a research molehill."

If a reporter were to take a statistic from our example, say, 1 out of 3 women in the study experienced a miscarriage while taking aspirin (made up statistic), and removed the context, it would sound like every woman would be affected by this. We know better because the make-believe researcher only studied women age 20-35 in Belgium during the 1980s.

Although there is a possibility that this could affect every culture and age the same throughout time, we don't know because it hasn't been proven by research. Thus, we see a clash of conventions. The reporter wasn't overtly lying; however, the information that she gave was not put in context and has the potential to be misleading.

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October 23, 2005

When Newspapers are Unfair

Best Practices in Journalism

There is a broad feeling in the public that newspapers not only make too many mistakes, but that they also are unwilling to correct them fully and promptly.
-Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists
One of the biggest problems for newspaper credibility, it seems, is when newspapers don't want to admit their errors. It seems logical that if a newspaper were to publicize all its errors that the public would distrust the newspaper even more. But, according to Robert J. Haiman, the research in Best Practices, and the general public, that simply is not the case. Some statistics from Best Practices:

The reading also noted that four of ten people feel editors fail to report their errors because they want to hide their mistakes.

I personally feel as a consumer, I have a right to the correct information. I would feel better about the news if papers would offer corrections more readily; that way, I know the information I am getting is accurate. I feel that accuracy matters more than reputation. A paper that makes corrections to a host of inaccurate statements is better than a paper that hides a few errors in my book. Papers have a responsibility to their readers: providing the news in the most accurate form.

It's better to get the truth out there, even if it is from a correction. In the Setonian newspaper meeting tonight, we covered many of these same issues. I am proud to say that the Setonian has a commitment to excellence in these areas. Bias aside, the Setonian is writing a correction to one of its articles. This demonstrates to the audience that it cares about informing and reporting the truth.

I feel one of the major reasons people think the newspapers are untrustworthy is this fear of correcting errors.

A cause of this problem is the lack of open communication between reporter and editor and the reporter's fear of penalization for errors. When editors are more authoritarian than authoritative, reporters don't want to be honest for fear of penalization. I feel that editors should focus more on the positive side of things. For example, editors should be more apt to reward and reinforce practices such as correcting errors as soon as they are caught and offering more clarifications.

This will give way to a more open relationship of communication between the two functions. When this communication is present, there are less errors and the readers get a better article. I like the suggestion to let readers communicate errors. This gets the readers involved and lets them know that their voice matters. It also builds a relationship with the paper and lightens the error-catching load.

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October 10, 2005

Investigative Reporting or Advocacy?

Drawing the fine line between the two:

Investigative reporting raises some key problems or issues that challenge the conventions of the news. When reporters become more cynical than skeptical, more doubtful than inquirous, investigative reporting starts to walk on that fine line of advocacy. Offering a voice to the voiceless puts a value judgment on who has or lacks power. Thus, the reporter advocates the voiceless. The same is true with the converse, when a reporter is out to tear down and rip apart the person of authority, there is a conflict of interest.

Process vs. Product

We see this all the time--especially in broadcast journalism: reporters looking for the "story of the century." But in pursuit of this story, they get caught up in the product and not the process. The first example I can think of is the CBS scandal of Dan Rather. Perhaps he was too caught up in the product to focus on the process. Who knows? I am not out to make a value judgment on Rather, but I am trying to make a case that process is a focal point for investigative reporting.

Curiosity Saved the Cat's Ass

I think the watchdog metaphor is too often misunderstood, and--since I'm a cat fan--I say investigative reporting should be modeled after a cat. If you've ever seen a cat on the prowl, you'll notice that each move a cat takes is cautious, deliberate. A cat rarely goes into a barking frenzy and chase the bloody prey all across the yard.

A cat's moves are calculated and most of all, curious. Investigative reporting should have these same qualities: cautious and above anything, curious.

As with the cat, the strike is the last move. Striking a figure down should be the last resort of a reporter (that move is for the blog journalists ;c)). I would like to think that unless there is some overwhelming substantiated evidence that a reporter will not go out to "tear down the authority" or be an "administrative watchdog." A cat puts these preconceived notions to the side and focuses on the prey at hand.

The Balancing Act: Hearing all Sides, Feeling all Pains

Honestly, you do not have to avoid exposing damning (not necessarily of the criminal variety) evidence, when it is fair, accurate and balanced. When Bob Samuelson criticized America: Who Stole the Dream, I wouldn't think that he necessarily disagreed with the message, but I would think he disagreed with the bias of the story.

Balancing stories is not standing in the middle point of view, but it is like giving out consistent and fair portions to everyone. Simplified, it is like leveling a scale: both sides must be equally represented.

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September 28, 2005

Grace Precedes Essence

I have neglected to put my beliefs forward because I feel the need to cultivate conversation of diversity. Don't worry, I'm not turning into a "holy roller," I just feel its necessary for me to express my views publicly and to invite people with different viewpoints to share how they differ from my own and to invite people into religious dialogue.

There is a certain level of mystery in the understanding of "grace." Nowhere in most sacred texts is the term deeply explained, only is it exemplified. However, the most notable examples of grace can be found in the parables of Christ. One in particular stood out to me in the homily of today's Mass: Matthew 20:1-16

In this passage, vinyard workers are sent to do work. The workers who had worked the most hours received the same pay as those who worked fewer hours. The workers who had worked the longest were offended at the fact that the others received the same pay. To which the vinyard owner responded: "...Are you envious because I am generous?"

This passage is chock-full of ethical and theological implications. Workers who barely worked a day were given the same pay as workers who sweated out the heat and sun? That's crazy! Which makes us wonder: is that fair?

Putting politics to the side (*cough, cough* *Jesus proclaimed communist ideals* *cough, cough*), grace transcends essence.

What do I mean grace transcends essence? Simply this: grace does more than take into consideration a person's status. Grace is immanent and can move people and create growth. If that is the case, then why do some people break down and give up hope? In my opinion, it is because such people have lost sight of grace and we as people have not reached them.

If we were to help only the rich, what would we accomplish? Making them richer? But if we help the poor, the marginalized, the people who have lost all hope, what have we accomplished then? Lifting up those who were once down. What difference does a hundred dollars make to a millionare? Not much. But to children starving at home and abroad? Worlds of difference.

There is a paradox already forming: status means nothing, and yet it means everything. Jesus concluded the parable with: "So, the last will be first and the first will be last." Status means nothing because grace precedes essence (including sins), but it means everything because grace impacts people differently.

On the converse of grace is suffering. Job certainly sees his share of misfortunes, even though he was described--by God in the intro--as "blameless and upright." Why does Job suffer? For sin? Or perhaps he was suffering because he started to think that he was being punished?

Buddhism teaches of Four Noble Truths, one of which is that suffering is caused by ignorance or perception of events as suffering. This seems like the same humbling message that Job finally grasps at the end: "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." In every situation, there is a "good light" and a "bad light." The good light is the most positive possible outcome and the bad light is the most direct and immanent hurt. There may not always be a motive for events, but things generally happen for a reason. It's just a matter of finding and cultivating that reason.

Suffering for doing good is caused only by the light in which we see it. Peter raises this issue and has this to say:
"It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1Pet.3:17)
It's like that old saying: "the comfort of the murdered is that he is not the murderer." People seemingly don't always get what they deserve and conversely, they also seemingly get what they don't deserve.

This issue is resolved when we see the good light in all trials and times of suffering. This is called joy. My favorite verse which captures the essence of joy is from 1Peter: "But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed."(1Peter 4:13)

Conclusion: no matter what your religion or spiritual views, we all experience pain--especially for doing what is right. No good deed goes unpunished. However, we can either ignore it, be burned by it, or embrace it and grow from it. Engaging and being open to the mystery of suffering sheds a new light on our experiences.

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