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.

Oh, media, why can’t you learn?

princeThe death of pop music savant Prince this week provided a very visible example of the difference between those who understand the era we’ve entered and those who don’t. The raw emotion that surrounded his passing was palpable, and the event greatly transcended the basics of who, what, why, where, and when. This made it the perfect news event to observe the behavior of everybody – the fans, the press, and the music industry – in how we all reacted.

The first thesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto states: “Markets are conversations.” This, of course, means nothing to those who refuse or are unable to board the train, like the folks who continue to run traditional media platforms. It’s so fundamental to new media that its simplicity confounds the money makers and baffles those attempting to reinvent themselves. Let’s look at it this way:

The difference is like communicating with people from a stage and communicating with people at a party or family gathering. In the former, people are there, because they want to see what’s on the stage. They’ve paid for the privilege through a ticket price or their time. With all eyes focused on the stage, the performers are able to sell the audience anything, simply by slipping in either a point-of-view or an actual commercial message. The fact that all the people are there in one place at one time is what gives the venue value. We call this mass marketing.

At the family gathering, however, it’s very different. The host doesn’t plaster the walls with commercial messages, nor do the guests come wearing advertising placards. And imagine what it would be like to walk up to Uncle Harry to offer condolences for the death of Aunt Alice and providing first a message from Coke about the latest packaging craze. You wouldn’t open your phone to share pictures of your kids but first force them to sit through an ad for adult diapers. Why not? They’d all walk away, because you were acting like a fool. Plus, you’d never be invited back. Think about it.

This is the reality of what’s happened over the past week with the death of Prince. This was personal for people who grew up with the guy or were otherwise influenced by him and his music. We all knew the guy was special, and we were grieving. Media companies got everything about the event’s importance, but they forgot this was a wake and not a theatrical performance. I was both incensed at times and embarrassed for those who can’t bring themselves to board the friggin’ Cluetrain.

Bandwagons in the new age are untoward and off-putting. Turning a tribute into an ad produces the opposite of its intended effect. Taking hurting and bewildered people to a comical ad for car insurance or otherwise filtering emotional information is a violation of human decency, and this must stop if we really hope for any relevancy in the future. Who do we think we are? Oh there were some wonderful tributes made available to people, but everyday software often got in the way, because media companies still think they’re in the content business. Social media was flooded with both good and bad, but even some of the good turned bad when people clicked on whatever link was provided only to be greeted by a clearly out-of-place ad.

When things like this happen in our world, normalcy must take a back seat to the uniqueness of the event. And every single one is different and demands attention. When people are in shock, the last thing they need is to be treated like mindless morons who’ll gladly waste precious minutes so that presenters can pretend they’re on a stage.

People dress in black at wakes for a reason.

It’s called respect.

Applying a Postmodern context

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Current events continue to reveal what our culture is up against as the age of Postmodernism continues to unfold and expand. This vision is so clear to me that I see things that others don’t, and while I’m sure some people view that statement as arrogance gone to seed, it would be foolish of me to deny reality. The problem most folks have with this is a lack of context with which to view ongoing events.

Premodernism: I believe, therefore I understand.
Disruption: The printing press.
Modernism: I think and reason, therefore I understand.
Disruption: The internet.
Postmodernism: I participate, therefore I understand.

The single, most important difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that the former is hierarchical while the latter is horizontal. This produces an inherent conflict, and while these conflicts can be obvious, they don’t mean anything other than just news items unless and until they are put into the context of a significant cultural shift.

For example, here’s a cute story about 9-year old reporter Hilde Kate Lysiak breaking a murder story ahead of the local press. Ha-ha. Funny, huh? No, this is heavy-duty stuff in light of the culture change. Miss Lysiak has her own printing press – a.k.a. website – and considers herself a journalist. Here’s the way the Washington Post put it.

As the editor and publisher of the Orange Street News, in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pa., about 50 miles north of Harrisburg, Lysiak is a dedicated multi-media journalist who loves going after crime stories. Her father is an author and former New York Daily News reporter who took Hilde to his newsroom and to stories he covered around New York and hooked her on the rush of chasing news.

“I just like letting people know all the information,” Hilde said Monday. It’s also what she sees as her career, no matter what stupid adults might say about the future of journalism. “It’s just what I really want to do. And crime is definitely my favorite.” She said she learned of the murder story because “I got a good tip from a source and I was able to confirm it.” Well, that’s how it works.

When community members squawked on Facebook that a 9-year old has no business reporting on such, Miss Lysiak went ballistic: “If you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computers and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”

Meanwhile, across the sea, two people described as “freelance multimedia journalists” produced a video about Israel bulldozing Bedouin homes and a school in the occupied territories, presumably to one day build Israeli settlements on the land.

And of course, the big story worldwide this weekend was the release of what are being called “the Panama Papers” from an unknown whistleblower. Wired reported that the cache of documents leaked was enormous:

”In total, the leak contains: 4.8 million emails, three million database entries, two million PDFs, one million images and 320,000 text documents. The dataset is bigger than any from Wikileaks, or the Edward Snowden disclosures.”

So the whistleblower – presumably someone with access to the knowledge of the “business” dealings of the Panamanian law firm that was the source of the documents – was able to transfer these files to investigative reporters around the world via the same network that makes participation in the distribution of knowledge files possible in the first place. This has nowhere to go but up, and if you’re involved in some hierarchical dealings that you’d rather not your underlings know about, I’d be pretty damned nervous about what’s going on in this “Age of Participation.”

Technology may be providing the means, but it’s the culture’s rebellion against hierarchies that is providing the heat for the Postmodern awakening. The press, in the form of a 9-year old neighborhood reporter, freelance multimedia journalists in the Middle East, or whistleblowers distributing confidential business documents, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of disruptions to modern western culture. Every complex organization will be impacted, because the view from the top is no longer private, and as I wrote long ago, every day that an average person uses the internet, they become more and more disruptive. This principle shows no sign of slowing down, as long as the Web remains open. Efforts to close it – through government or privatization – are already beginning to appear, for example, with net neutrality threats.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.

Censoring the personal media revolution

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.24.35 AMThe great hope afforded Western civilization with the advent of the network is the ability of those being ruled to share among each other outside the filters of command and control, whether economic or the bayonet. This is no small thing, for institutional authority, in part, is founded on the perpetuation of the institution, and this is a self-serving exercise resulting in little regard for those being served. Part of the institution’s job, therefore, is the maintenance of the problem for which it is the solution, and this is done by controlling the narrative associated with the institution’s role in culture.

This forms the fabric of conflict today, because network connectivity is allowing the lower class to challenge historical references in attempts to improve its place in the world. The postmodernist refers to this as “deconstruction,” and so the ruling class must work that much harder to control the narrative that authorizes its rule. This is being played out before us in many ways today, but it takes certain eyes to see it, for otherwise, it simply appears as it’s always appeared – the complex wheels of life in action.

Nowhere is this conflict more obvious today than in the Middle East, and yet, Western journalists seem incapable of calling a spade a spade.

As demonstrated here for years, YouTube is the principal stadium where the personal media revolution is played out. Anyone with a camera is given media company status in a place where people are free to discover whatever they wish. It’s where the bottom of the information pyramid talks to itself and shares its own views of life and interest. Moreover, the structure of the site has always afforded easy unbundled distribution via other sites in the network, including those that we (foolishly) call “social” in order to differentiate them from “real” information sites, whatever that means.

Israel, a state requiring narrative control in order to maintain its justification in the world wants Google, the owner of YouTube, to censor videos that it deems “inflammatory” in which Palestinians reveal a different narrative of events between themselves and the Israelis. Of course it does. This isn’t rocket science; it’s propaganda 101.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has created a new 10-person bureau responsible for finding videos it deems inflammatory and issuing some form of take-down notice to Google. This new bureau was described in an article in Arutz Sheva last week:

The bureau will concentrate on three main issues: The first is finding videos containing inflammatory content and subsequently filing an official request to have the social media sites take down these clips.

The second measure will be the development of an application which will identify keywords such as “knife” and “Jews” in Arabic or other languages, enabling the ministry to track the creators and poster of inciting content.

The third, and perhaps most important, is the actual intervention of staffers in discussions on social networks, where they will be tasked with distributing hasbara materials from the Foreign Ministry.

“Hasbara” is the Israeli term for propaganda.

If Google takes down even one video as the result of this bureau’s efforts, it’ll spawn the development of similar “bureaus” in both the public and private sectors, because much is a stake culturally. At least some of this will occur in the name of “fact-checking,” and that might not all be a bad thing. Unless, however, we’re not seeing it for what it actually is, in which case the work of all who’ve enabled the Great Horizontal will have been in vain.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

It’s time for the press to grow a spine

bigjsmallIt’s amazing to me that for all of the studied, intelligent, imaginative, and articulate journalism observers we have among us today that none of them – not one – will touch the living, breathing J-Lab that is the Middle East. Here we have a daily demonstration of all that’s wrong with humanity along with a press that embraces narrative rather than facts. What do we do with it? Absolutely nothing.

That it is too complex and multi-dimensional to study is a convenient but unforgivable excuse. It’s all there; everything, but what it needs is some really courageous aggregating, filtering, and analyzing. In other words, serious reporting, the kind of which is completely lacking on the matter today, and that includes the New York Times, which embraces only one of the narratives. Instead, most journalists act only on fear: of being wrong, of being on the wrong “side,” of alienating important others, of showing bias, of the appearance of impropriety, of being called “anti-semitic,” of being called out by peers, and of many other things, both religious and secular.

For all the talk we talk about journalists being truth seekers, the reality is we’re afraid of what we might find here, and so we simply ignore the situation entirely. All this accomplishes is to advance the status quo, which is violent and ugly and has been so for decades. One-state solution? Two-state solution? Solution to “what” is the question. What’s the problem that needs solving? Is this really something that journalists of today can ignore forever?

And it’s damned important for us to study and report about it, for to do nothing is to look the other way as false history is being written about both sides. We’re talking about the cradle of Western Civilization, folks, and what could be more important than that? Moreover, the situation is a perfect laboratory for studying everything related to the core concepts of professional journalism.

Here are 10 examples:

  • It’s way more than a simple “he said/she said.”
  • Actual human beings are being sacrificed and killed.
  • It’s a war of narratives about history.
  • It’s filled with social media participation.
  • It’s a U.S. story, because the we’re involved up to our necks.
  • It’s a checkerboard of international politics.
  • It’s overflowing with emotion and drama.
  • It’s a study in human nature at work.
  • It cries out for a kind of deconstruction that only an involved press can provide.
  • It demands at least the spirit of objectivity.

We may occasionally get into reporting about one or more of the above, but nobody is looking at how all of this is intertwined in the story of human conflict and resolution. Is that too big a story? I don’t think so. In fact, I think the human race is not only ready for it but is begging for the opportunity to participate somehow in undoing the manipulation that makes us all feel so powerless. Journalism should be our servant in this noble task, but its self-absorption prevents it from reporting on the very people they work so hard to rub elbows with. Journalism is the one institution of all that cannot and must not allow assumptions to substitute for truth.

This is life! Why are we so consumed by surface stuff when technology has given us the ability to see with our own eyes, connect with all sides in an open conflict, and make sense where we never could before?

It’s a matter of shame for an institution that used to be important and necessary.

Acts of citizen media

For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been saying that the ability of everyday people to communicate across the bottom of culture is a disruptor that will completely alter the modernist world. This is because those influences that have always spoken from the top-down are no longer the only ones capable of speaking to everyone. The price of participation in the process is no longer reserved only for the elites. Dan Gillmor was the first to really explore this with his brilliant and prescient book “We, the Media.” In his book, Darknet, J.D. Lasica coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to define the phenomenon of everybody functioning as a media company.

I’ve long used the Middle East as an illustration of this, and while the subject truly angers those who unconditionally support Israel, citizen media in the region is making it harder and harder for Israel to maintain the narrative that it is always the victim. In the news today is a report from a human rights organization that describes the matter perfectly. From its press release:

While the Israeli government has to date escaped serious accountability for repeated human rights violations, “citizen journalism”—in which excessive acts of force are caught on camera—now is making it more difficult for the acts to be obscured or brushed aside, says the report.

“Thanks to the courageous acts of activists, family members and bystanders, Euro-Med has collected video footage and eyewitness testimonies documenting numerous, egregious abuses by Israeli soldiers during the last few weeks, which we believe is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Daniela Dönges. “In our report, we name eight of them, because they are not just numbers. They are human beings with stories that must be told.”

Here’s the video itself. It’s not easy to watch.

The Middle East is a laboratory in which this cultural disruptor can be studied, and yet, very few do. That’s because it shakes us to the core and raises the difficult question of the permanence or reliability of anything.

That may be discomforting, but this is only the beginning.