Of Spectators and Participants

spectatorsIn response to many questions years ago about the nature of postmodernism as a cultural era, I described it as the “Age of Participation,” for technology was making it possible for us to participate in culture in ways that were once impossible. As a young boy, I used play “bombs over Tokyo” with marbles in the back yard. We were about ten years downstream from World War II, so the name of the game was a reference to the war. When we were able to buy toy planes, we’d play the same game, but it took a great deal of imagination to actually put ourselves into such a game of good guys and bad guys.

Such it was with just about everything we did, from cowboys and indians to our little rubber models of Disney characters. It was all about making up some story and interacting with each others toys. Not so today.

Video games are so advanced today that the Armed Services actually use them as simulators to train the people who defend our freedoms, and this is what I mean about the Age of Participation. We are no longer forced into a spectator role in our games and entertainment; we can actually be a part of the experience, and this is only going to become more and more immersive.

But it’s way more than just games and entertainment. The Age of Participation will unfold as one in which free people are deeply connected and able to participate in a great many other walks of life. This is a staggering threat to our cultural status quo, which demands that the have-nots be spectators and not participants. It’s right out of the mind of social engineer and father of professional journalism, Walter Lippmann, who with his buddy Edward Bernays wrote the books on how respected intellectuals should run things for everybody else.

Bernays wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”

In his 1955 essay “Walter Lippmann and Democracy,” Herbert Aptheker refers to Lippmann as an “offended and frightened snob” to say such things as these:

“…there is no possibility that men can understand the whole process of social existence.” Forgetting “the limitations of men” has been our central error. Men cannot plan their future for “they are unable to imagine it” and they cannot manage a civilization, for “they are unable to understand it.” To think otherwise, to dare to believe that the people can and should govern themselves, that they can and should forge social systems and governments enhancing the pursuit of their happiness here on earth—this is “the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation…”

In writing about Lippmann, contemporary intellectual Noam Chomsky published the following insightful paragraph:

“The public must be put in its place,” Walter Lippmann wrote, so that we may “live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd,” whose “function” is to be “interested spectators of action,” not participants. And if the state lacks the force to coerce and the voice of the people can be heard, it is necessary to ensure that that voice says the right thing, as respected intellectuals have been advising for many years.

As we look at the chaos of today’s election season, we would all do well to remember that the whole system needs the kind of reinvention that only an informed and involved public can produce. In this sense, I have hope that 2016 is a part of the forthcoming cleansing and not something to be feared, an awakening on many levels that we’re all tired of being led around by Chomsky’s “respected intellectuals” for their own benefit and not ours. This will require a different kind of education than what’s being discussed today, one that I view as inevitable so long as we are connected and able to share freely amongst ourselves.

I’ve written many times about historian Chris Lasch and his wonderful 1990 essay, “The Lost Art of Political Argument.” This lengthy essay is eye-opening, especially as it relates to Lippmann and Bernays, for Lasch makes the case that the fall in citizen participation in the political process in the US is directly tied to the rise in the professionalization of the press. Participants need argument; spectators need a view of the arena in which others play, and that has been the role of an elitist press for many years.

We need lessons on arguing a position instead of simply passing along memes that tickle our ears but were created by somebody else. That’s simply lazy.

  • Let’s argue and not inflame, knowing that those who wish only to inflame are playing us through our emotions and fears. The only people in this for us are us, and we need to resist the temptation to be conduits for somebody else’s gain. In politics, nobody speaks the truth, for truth is not the goal of politicians. It must, however, be ours.
  • Ad hominem attacks are never allowed. Following this simple rule alone would lower the decibel level considerably as we worked out our differences publicly. Sadly, those who are smart in the ways of marketing know how easily people fall for character attacks in the place of reasoned argument, which makes the American public complicit in the hubris and hyperbole coming from those they support.
  • Argument is not a dirty word. It’s just a noun. In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the first definition reads like this: “A reason offered for or against a proposition, opinion, or measure; a reason offered in proof, to induce belief, or convince the mind; followed by for or against.” In other words, it’s simply stating your case with reasons. Too much of what we have today is the parroting of marketing or propaganda without reasoning, neither of which come close to Mr. Lasch’s use of the word “argument.”
  • Reasoning must be fact-based. Following this would be the most useful rule, because much of what we pass along today are emotional responses to triggers we “just know” we understand. This is useless in the creation of an argument, but it is so clearly satisfying to those resonate with the message solely on an emotional level. Smart marketers are able to use emotion in stating what they’re selling, and we all badly need to be educated about this trickery. Emotion is not to be confused with passion, for there is certainly a place for passion in the expressing of one’s argument. Those who argue that passion is the enemy of reason are blinded by their own arrogant convictions of rightness.
  • Facts from both sides in an argument must be on the table. This is why reason is so important to the art of argument, because the idea isn’t to blow the other guy’s facts off the table; it’s all about proving those facts to be otherwise. If that cannot be done, then your argument is weak, and this is why public debate is so useful. We’re all entitled to our opinions, propositions, and convictions, but unless we can state them in an argument, we run the risk of falsehood creeping into our consciousness.

The outcome of public debate will often depend on consensus, and we must be prepared to accept that, although we can always go back and hone our argument so as to make it more convincing. There is no appeal process. We accept and we move on. We take the matter up again the next time public debate brings it to the table in the process of our participatory culture. Nothing can be set in stone.

If we no longer wish to simply exist as manipulated spectators, then we must agree that participation involves a willingness to set our own wishes aside occasionally for the betterment of the whole. That means being prepared to listen along with stating our own case.

Call me idealistic, if you wish, but I don’t view the future through dystopian lenses. Life wants the human race to survive and thrive. I’m convinced that the explosiveness of the early twenty-first century is a necessary stage through which we all must pass, because as big as the world seems, it’s really just an island that we share in the midst of a vast and mostly dead universe.

We need each other. We really do.

Chapter One of my new book

As political events began to take shape last year in the U.S. and specifically with the candidacy of Donald Trump, I began gathering all of the documents from my days as Pat Robertson’s producer in the 1980s. I could sense what was happening and felt a sense of responsibility for at least some of it, for as producer of The 700 Club, I had played a key role in our efforts to influence Republican Party politics. I began writing my story – the story of How Jesus Joined The GOP. The book is about to be published, but the need to get at least some of the information into the public debate right now is great. Hence, I’m publishing Chapter One here today for your perusal.

Chapter One: The Seeds of Modern Discontent

If I must publish the whole book online, I’ll do it, for the people addicted to Donald Trump are ushering in something they really don’t understand. Trump supporters represent a serious and significant threat to freedom, and the sad thing is that most of these people formed the core of our audience target back in the early 80s. The fears they express were planted by us, and while I’m not saying it was insincere, cynical, or corrupt, I am stating that it was a deliberate attempt at social engineering. People need to know this, for we preached what I’m calling “the gospel of self.”

I hope you will take the time to read this, and that you will share it with your friends.

Donald Trump and the melting pot

memorial-day-2016One of the most profound cultural changes in the United States during my lifetime is the ongoing shift in the governing metaphor from a melting pot to a multicultural tapestry. Immigrant populations are generally grouped by marketing demographic lingo or self-identify as hyphenated residents. White people are thought to be the only “group” that still identifies with the term “American.” In the tapestry metaphor, perhaps whites are a common thread that holds the others in place. Nevertheless, the cloth is constantly morphing in color and pattern, and perhaps that’s one of its beauties – a freshness that’s determined by its ever-evolving threads.

The Washington Post studied this in 1998, and I’ve kept one of those articles in my bookmarks for reference. Let’s just say that almost twenty years later, the prophecies contained here are coming to pass, including the reality of dual economies. This was a profoundly important newspaper series, and I wish they would repeat it, for it’s at the very heart of the Trump phenomenon that everyone is clamoring to understand.

”The Ozzies and Harriets of the 1990s are skipping the suburbs of the big cities and moving to more homogeneous, mostly white smaller towns and smaller cities and rural areas,” (University of Michigan demographer William) Frey said…

…Frey sees in this pattern “the emergence of separate Americas, one white and middle-aged, less urban and another intensely urban, young, multicultural and multiethnic. One America will care deeply about English as the official language and about preserving Social Security. The other will care about things like retaining affirmative action and bilingual education.”

…the persistance (sic) of ethnic enclaves and identification does not appear to be going away, and may not in a country that is now home to not a few distinct ethnic groups, but to dozens…

…For the affluent, which includes a disproportionate number of whites, the large labor pool provides them with a ready supply of gardeners, maids and nannies. For businesses in need of cheap manpower, the same is true. Yet there are fewer “transitional” jobs – the blue-collar work that helped Italian and Irish immigrants move up the economic ladder – to help newcomers or their children on their way to the jobs requiring advanced technical or professional skills that now dominate the upper tier of the economy…

…Though there are calls to revive efforts to encourage “Americanization” of the newcomers, many researchers now express doubt that the old assimilation model works…

…Many immigrant parents say that while they want their children to advance economically in their new country, they do not want them to become “too American.”

Donald Trump’s followers are clamoring for a return to the days when the melting pot was the governing metaphor. His campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” is a signal to anybody listening that the tapestry hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and won’t ever work. In this sense, Donald Trump is a very mainstream candidate for President, because this message resonates so clearly with those who long for a country that promised equality through assimilation. American media, however – who long ago crossed the bridge into multiculturalism – keep badly missing it in trying to figure out what drives Trump loyalists. While it may be correct that the vast majority of Trump supporters are white, this conclusion distorts reality by moving it into a racial discussion. The melting pot, to the press, is by now a deviant thought in today’s culture and therefore is not to be considered for coverage except within Daniel Hallin’s outermost sphere. This is the fault and problem of the press and not of concern whatsoever to Mr. Trump, who keeps speaking past their filters (something pioneered by Ronald Reagan) and directly to those who self-identify as “Americans.”

trumptacobowlTake the case of his tweeted picture on Cinco de Mayo. It featured Mr. Trump eating a taco bowl and proclaiming his love for Hispanic people due to their food. This was greeted as tasteless, crude, and racist from the press but is a perfectly logical proclamation from the “American” perspective, because the melting pot is viewed as better for having Mexican food added to it. This perspective is not necessarily dismissive, for the same could be said of foods from Italy, Ireland, or China. Assimilation is what’s on trial with Donald Trump. It seems ignorant to most, because we crossed the bridge to the tapestry metaphor long ago.

Let’s think about this on Memorial Day, because the flag with which we decorate the graves of brave men and women who gave their lives for our freedom is symbolic to plain “Americans” in a way that’s different than those who identify as a hyphenated minority. No single view has to be right or wrong here; just different, and that’s all right. For all the criticism the melting pot has received, we simply cannot ignore the history of its great strength, for those very soldiers we celebrate today sacrificed everything for it, and we could not have survived two world wars without it. It makes me wonder how well we’d do with such today.

Melting pot or tapestry, we’re still individual parts of a whole, and we need to move that to the front burner as our cultural civil war rages on. If Donald Trump forces us to consider it and talk about it, then the madness that is our presidential campaign in 2016 will have been worth it.

Our neverending civil war

Let’s look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through a slightly different lens, shall we?

I’ve often written in describing postmodernism that horizontal connectivity makes impossible many axioms of modernity, and one of the most disruptive is that “in war, the victor gets to write the history.” As long as leaders are able to control the narrative, this is a fairly easy proposition. The American narrative, for example, is THE history of Pearl Harbor, unless you find yourself on a Japanese tour boat at the Honolulu memorial. There are thousands of other examples. The postmodern point is that the ability of people to cross formerly limited boundaries today makes controlling the narrative harder and harder. I view this as a good thing for humanity.

leesurrender

Take a moment to read this leaflet.

So let’s have a wee bit of fun with the idea of horizontal connectivity in the wake of the Civil War. American History wasn’t very kind to the Confederacy, and that remains the conventional narrative today. When the Union won, the north simply turned the page. After all, their position was judged “correct,” because they controlled the narrative as victors. Over time, however, the assumption of rightness takes its toll on intellect, because there is no controversy associated with their story. Hence, nobody argues, and so it goes.

But what about the people of the Confederate states? To them, edicts that came down from the Union – even generations later – do not carry the same weight, and it’s easy to imagine Facebook exchanges among the varying perspectives. A great many of the “defriendings” that take place in our little adventure are over these fundamental disagreements. Meanwhile, the positions of each side are solidified, as each group validates itself through common beliefs. In the South, no amount of righteous indignation from northerners is going to alter a core belief that “the South shall rise again.” The people may go along with what’s foisted upon them legally, but they’ll always do so reluctantly and teach their progeny what’s actually “right.”

You can see this being played out globally today, and it’s only just begun.

It’s like the boy who’s being punished by his father. “Sit down,” the old man screams, but the boy just stands there. Again, he shouts, “I said sit down!” The boy still refuses, so the father grabs him by the shoulders and forces him into the chair, to which the boy responds, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

During all of this, the press assumes a position of recording history after the war, which includes the narrative of the victor. They fall into the trap of assumption that events that unfold in the wake of “victory” are natural and uncontroversial, and so opposite views become increasingly deviant and unnecessary points of view in reporting “the truth.” This is the case whether speaking of the Civil War or culture wars, which, by the way, are always started by the silk stockings, those who suffer from the deadly and relentless fear that they won’t get what they think they deserve or that someone is going to take away what they already have (See Stephen Prothero’s new book “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).”

Fast forward to today where we find a vast army of people who’ve been sitting down on the outside while watching the things they hold dear destroyed by the natural assumptions of those who’ve won the culture wars and controlled everything for too long. Their jobs and consequent lifestyles have disappeared. Their faith is ridiculed. They don’t like what their kids are being taught. They don’t feel safe in any real sense of the word. They hear the judgments of their ancestors from the teachings they were given long ago. They’re filled with rage against things outside their control and feel they’ve been enslaved by those with the power to dismiss them and diminish their humanity. They witness the unchallenged complaints of those who march along the assumptive narrative’s path and get all the news coverage. The tyranny of the minority opinion is given free reign – the war over “rights” no matter how far removed from their core beliefs – which produces even more rage over being taken for granted, because the enemy narrative continues to move farther and farther away from everything they know. Their suffering – and it is very real – is irrelevant, because it is judged deviant with regards to the developing history.

In the above light it’s easy to grasp the enormity of the gap between both sides and the intellectual void in those attempting to understand the support for the candidacy of Donald Trump. Over the past year, I’ve watched as he was dismissed by literally every professional observer and journalist, because they’ve lived for so long on the narrative’s path that they’re completely unaware of this other America. Moreover, they’ve been taught and trained that people follow candidates when, in Trump’s case, it’s the exact opposite. The people following Trump are actually leading him, and that’s what makes the whole thing so interesting. They hear in Mr. Trump their own voices, and that’s new for them. It’s not about political party; it’s about deviance standing up and saying, “You WILL listen to me!”

The chorus of groans from the “normal” world is growing louder, and threats by people to leave the country if Mr. Trump is elected have taken on an aura of seriousness since his nomination now seems likely. The press continues to grasp at straws in a vain attempt to get their arms around what they disparagingly view as the absurd. The most common press narrative the past few days has been that a Trump/Clinton campaign will be one of extremes, and that is likely quite fine with Mr. Trump.

I don’t view this as apocalyptic whatsoever, because the union has been fractured for a very long time. It’s simply that it’s dismissed, not discussed, and it has to be on the table before the light of examination can produce anything other than division. In the end, we will be stronger for it. Some think it’s all about education, and I agree. My view, however, is that everybody needs to be educated, not just those whose views are held as ignorant.

Nobody wins culture wars. Not really. It is the scent of victory that produces change, not victory itself, and even then, the subsequent narrative cannot be held as universal.

We aren’t nearly as advanced as we claim.

The prosperity gospel mess

money2smAuthor and historian Kate Bowler has penned a deeply touching, personal, and provocative look at what’s called “the prosperity gospel” – a twentieth century Christian heresy positing that a better, more prosperous life is available through faith. Based on her book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, the New York Times article covers this controversial topic with powerful accuracy through the telling of her own story. Ms. Bowler has stage 4 cancer, and the prognosis isn’t good.

There’s so much to like about this article, but here’s the money paragraph to me:

The prosperity gospel tries to solve the riddle of human suffering. It is an explanation for the problem of evil. It provides an answer to the question: Why me?…The prosperity gospel popularized a Christian explanation for why some people make it and some do not. They revolutionized prayer as an instrument for getting God always to say “yes.” It offers people a guarantee: Follow these rules, and God will reward you, heal you, restore you…My world is conspiring to make me believe that I am special, that I am the exception whose character will save me from the grisly predictions and the CT scans in my inbox. I am blessed.

I address this issue head on in my forthcoming book, How Jesus Joined The GOP. Here’s one particularly distressful story:

Unfortunately, the relentless emphasis on a God that was “always” healing had a very dark downside, and that was with those viewers were never were healed and had no explanation. I got a letter late in my first season with the ministry, and it was one of the factors in my decision to leave in 1986 as Pat was beginning his run for President. It came from a father in Indiana. He and his family were members of a faith church and regularly watched The 700 Club. He ripped into me for producing a program that always showed people getting healed, because his 9-year old daughter had just succumbed to cancer. “Worse,” he wrote, “than the agony of her suffering with the cancer towards the end, was the rejection she felt from God, because He wouldn’t heal her.”

“She watched your program every day,” he went on, “and was ever full of faith that she would be healed based on the stories you showed. In the end, she felt an abandonment and rejection like few have ever known, and she cried constantly in shame that God didn’t love her, because He was letting her die.”

“She came to this belief by watching The 700 Club,” he concluded, “and I will never forgive you for that.”

This letter affected me deeply. I cried not only alone but also with others over what this little girl had suffered, and while we all could come up with justifications, we knew that the father was right. To this day, I pray for that little girl and her family and beg forgiveness for playing a role in what she went through.

Fortunately, these kinds of letters weren’t commonplace, but the fear that we were manipulating people into believer status by bending the truth of miracles in such a way was omnipresent, not only for me but also for others on the staff who were in the trenches trying to deliver the sometimes-merciless demands of our leader. We spoke of immutable spiritual “laws” of God’s kingdom that people “should” follow to be in sync with God’s will. We read Answer to Prayer forms live on the air without vetting anything. This further advanced the narrative that God was moving mightily among us, as we invited viewers in to experience it with us. The lines we regularly blurred were trouble to many of us, but we didn’t speak. We dared not, for the benefits of participation in what we were taught to believe was happening outweighed the possibilities that we were actually doing people harm.

This is such an important issue for understanding how certain voters can set aside reason in their political and social choices. It’s not (necessarily) the lack of intelligence; it’s a form of conditioning that flows from the pulpits of their houses of worship. In order to change minds, one must begin and end with their faith, which is impossible for secular media types who seem unable to look beyond the surface.

I’m so sorry that Ms. Bowler has to go through the suffering of cancer, and I hope you’ll take the time to read her important story.

Fearful citizens make good citizens

CowerNew research is shedding light on something we’ve all suspected for a long time, that those who believe in a God who will punish them if they don’t, tend to give more to others and be better citizens. The study, published yesterday in Nature, suggests that even geographic separation doesn’t stand in the way, as long as the givers believe in a punishing God.

“People may trust in, cooperate with and interact fairly within wider social circles, partly because they believe that knowing gods will punish them if they do not,” the study’s authors wrote.

“Moreover, the social radius within which people are willing to engage in behaviors that benefit others at a cost to themselves may enlarge as gods’ powers to monitor and punish increase.”

In a report on the study, Discovery News, noted that participants played a game during which they made critical decisions about giving. According to Discovery, the study’s lead author Benjamin Purzycki said the results suggested people of the belief that one’s actions are monitored, judged and punished by a deity were more likely to play fair than to play favorites.

This shouldn’t shock anyone, for it is the key social management tool of colonialism, the modern era’s weapon in seizing control of foreign lands and claiming the land, its natural resources, and its inhabitants for the good of the invaders. The idea that reforming the natives was in the natives’ best interests worked hand-in-hand with the business goals and ideals of the conquerers, and this is a truth we’re beginning to discover in the postmodern deconstruction of history.

It’s also why religious evangelicalism, regardless of the religion being evangelized, is first a governing strategy, much in the way that Santa Claus is used to govern the behavior of certain children. As I cover in my forthcoming book, How Jesus Joined The GOP, the need to convert others is self-serving, if the benefit to the converter is a future reward.

Christianity was a big part of the internal governor that helped form the United States. It will be a big part of my focus as The Pomo Blog shifts gears from media to religion.