Who writes the history in a postmodern world?

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As the American press attempts to deal with its devastating loss of authority in the 2016 presidential election process, it might be useful to review one of its most important, albeit self-assigned roles: creating the “first rough draft of history.” The job of writing history in an era where there is no governing narrative is going to be very tricky, as this election has proven. There is no single explanation of what happened, for each “side” has its own narrative. This is going to increasingly be the case, because postmodernism rejects grand or meta narratives as self-serving and biased in favor of, usually, the ruling class.

“The rich man writes the book of laws the poor man must defend.” Ricky Skaggs

Let’s review: We entered the postmodern era as the internet came into being. Thus, the mantra of Western Civilization is shifting from purely “I think and reason, therefore I understand” to more of a “I participate, therefore I understand” theme. Power is shifting from top-down to horizontal, and this will continue for many hundreds of years. Its end will likely not be dystopian, unless the priesthoods losing their power and control get really ugly. Then, who knows? Meanwhile, and especially for a man of my age, the conflict can be pretty entertaining. Civilization can seem quite unpleasant, uncivilized, and chaotic to those stuck on the modernist bus, where order and equilibrium provide the juice for the drive train.

One of modernism’s beacons of glory is Colonialism, humankind’s grand venture into conquest – often in the name of God – to acquire land and its resources in order to increase the wealth of the conquerers. Colonialism, it turns out, is a special kind of enslavement, for colonies are forced to submit to those who hold the power, and a big part of that power is information – the grand narrative that justifies and maintains the conquest. In order to be in charge in a top-down government, whether democratic or totalitarian, the top must control that narrative. If you’re sensitive to it, you can actually witness such attempts as they happen, and these are even more evident as modernism slowly slips away.

My favorite conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr., once said, “History is the polemics of the victors.” which was his version of the old axiom, “In war, the winner gets to write the history.” This served well in the top-down era from which we’re exiting, but it won’t suffice at all in the future. That’s because history – true history – is an ongoing, ever evolving and complex narrative, one that is highly suited to a connected universe. In the deadline-driven era, it was necessary for the press to provide a finished product for consumption, even if it was just a “first rough draft.” Thanks to hyperlinks and connectivity, however, we’ve no need to summarize and package anymore, for life presents itself as an on-going and chaotic mystery, even though it’s subject to the laws of seasons. Nothing “natural” exists in draft form, finished or otherwise; it is merely one, long, ever-evolving, chaotic mess, while we work our butts off trying to put everything into digestible forms of order.

The history book – with its beginning, middle, and end – will be replaced by search and living links, for the stories that comprise human existence never really conclude; they simply branch off and evolve. Our access to that never ending story won’t require packaging, for the story will supplant the package on the value chain of knowledge.

Essential to order is the myth of objective or absolute truth, the idea that foundational elements of life are set and therefore cannot change, an idea that includes grand narratives, often in the form of religious tenets and beliefs. These, however, fall apart upon honest deconstruction, for somebody always gains while others lose. Therefore, grand narratives are always a zero sum game. The total is the sum of everything. Postmodernism challenges the authority of this by deconstructing narratives to a point of conflict, and this will form a new understanding of history in the centuries ahead.

The best illustration of this today is an examination of the hot button word “terrorist” and how it is used for propaganda purposes. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, and we cannot resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction as long as both sides are a part of an ongoing narrative, the moving target that I’m calling postmodern history. The ruling authority would have to dismantle our ability to connect – and with it, our organized public disagreement – in order to stake its claim of terrorist or freedom fighter. Hyperlinks provide access to multiple points of view, and that cannot be tolerated by those in charge (the top), for we might then agree with the opposite of what the ruling authority is asserting. The postmodern world is immune from this, and one day in the distant future, we will be our ruling authority. The mischief potential of top-down authority is simply too great to be forever sustained by those requiring a special wool to pull over eyes educated to see.

Oh there are plenty of people trying today to interfere with this natural flow of civilization by demanding control. The best example is the Zionist government of Israel, a country where control of the narrative is essential to maintaining the status quo. Despite being only one side of a multi-dimensional and multi-directional overarching Middle Eastern reality, the Israelis are especially good at controlling the world’s view of their geopolitical nightmare. The greatest evidence of this is the way the government is approaching social media by defining disagreeing posts as “incitement” against them and demanding private businesses such as YouTube and Facebook remove those posts. This is trying to control the narrative in the first degree, but it’s merely a form of global censorship. It cannot be sustained, for the forces against it cannot be controlled in our increasingly postmodern world, and it would be much healthier, if we all agreed on what’s taking place in the Holy Land in such a way that the narrative was more inclusive.

I realize many will view my statements as vast oversimplifications, but the vision presented here is available to anyone who’s paying attention at the macro level.

We can either participate in the evolution/revolution or sit back powerless as others do it for us.

Going, going, almost gone

It’s time to update my graph of the Gallup organizations “media trust” measurement. In 1997, Gallup switched from taking this pulse every three to every year, and the graph they produce today only begins in 1997. However, I’ve never felt that was appropriate, for it misses a big part of the story, and so my graph goes back to 1973 and is spaced every three years.

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2016 is an off-year to include, so I’ve projected this year’s numbers forward. That’s because the drop-off between 2015 and 2016 is significant, and I don’t expect it to rebound. Here’s Gallup:

Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year. (Emphasis mine)

The culprit is the election and more specifically the Donald Trump campaign, which has been very effective at accusing the press as being party to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the accusation is accurate; in politics, perception is truth.

It’s fair to say at this point that the illusion of objectivity in the press is history and that transparency is all that’s left. Americans will never again heed the press as “the voice of God” as we did in the days to which Donald Trump wants us to return. This alone should convince Trumpers to look beyond the slogans, but it probably won’t.

Meanwhile, any media outlet believing it does its work with the public trust is operating daily under a highly fallacious assumption.

The logical fallacies of Benjamin Netanyahu

netanyahu-ethnic-cleansing-palestine-mondoweissAs Donald Trump continues to campaign using logical fallacies as his daily weapons (e.g. To deflect attention away from his admission that President Obama is a U.S. Citizen, he told followers that the whole idea was Hillary’s in the first place – classic), there is a more ruthless practitioner of fallacious reasoning across the sea. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu, and his latest got virtually zero coverage by media in the U.S.

An important part of Israeli hasbara (official propaganda) is a relentless dissemination of misinformation to American supporters. After all, the United States provides $10 million a day in military aid to Israel, so it’s understandable that the Israeli government would feel obligated to provide “evidence” that the money is being well-spent. The problem is that the money can’t be morally justified, and so the Prime Minister must twist the facts to fit a tired, old narrative.

Netanyahu regularly produces English language videos for consumption here in the U.S. These videos bend current events to shape the narrative that poor, defenseless Israel will ALWAYS need the support of friends to prevent another holocaust. Meanwhile, the IDF continues to perpetrate genocidal crimes against Palestinian neighbors in an illegal land grab in the West Bank. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Those crimes involve “extrajudicial executions” (what we call murder) of Palestinians, the terrorizing of legal residents, and the continued bulldozing of Palestinian homes in order to build Israeli settlements and expand the territory it polices. It is the systematic destruction of a people and their culture in order to remove them entirely from the land. There’s a word for this, and it’s called “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing.”

And yet, in this latest video to Americans, Netanyahu uses the same term in describing the Palestinian wishes to remove the illegal settlements. The Palestinians, he says, want to cleanse the land of Jews! This is a logical fallacy. It’s very clever, and we buy it almost completely.

Netanyahu was roundly criticized for this video – even in his own country – for it’s an obviously outrageous claim, especially in light of the evidence to the contrary. The State Department responded immediately, but again, this was not covered in the U.S.

So we have seen the Israeli prime minister’s video. We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful. Settlements are a final status issue that must be resolved in negotiations between the parties. We share the view of every past U.S. administration and the strong consensus of the international community that ongoing settlement activity is an obstacle to peace. We continue to call on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.

Look, let’s be real. There will be no two-state solution in the Holy Land. The best we can hope for – perhaps generations from now – is a peaceful solution that includes both Israelis and Palestinians under a single government that doesn’t discriminate against either. South Africa is the model, but that country was able to get past logical fallacies in facing the reality of its situation.

Israel’s current government is simply incapable of such.

When right wing media isn’t

Let’s begin with this, one of those “People Also Shared” sections from Facebook. These things will point to just about anything and anywhere with the common denominator being the references have been shared on Facebook. Here’s one from my browsing today:

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Notice the first one. It is completely unbelievable and leads to a story on the website Every News Here (ENH). Note that the story begins “News outlets around the world are reporting…”

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This website feels it’s necessary to promote a disclaimer in its top line navigation, which is as follows:

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The story posted here is a summary of a story from the website WTOE 5 NEWS, a link to which is provided by ENH. The main thing lifted from the WTOE site is the quote from the Vatican, which most people would see right through. The Pope would simply never refer to himself as the “Holy See” or the “Holy Father.” The WTOE website’s “About Us” tells the story. It’s a fake news website! “WTOE 5 News is a fantasy news website. Most articles on wtoe5news.com are satire or pure fantasy.”

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The point of this is that fictionalized stories are regularly provided to impeach Mrs. Clinton, largely through headlines, by people paid to do just that. It’s effective, because everyday people rarely fact-check these items for themselves and dutifully pass them along, but not without first feeling comforted and affirmed that Hillary is the devil in disguise. Despite this, I have faith for the future, because the actions of the followers here is based in ignorance, not stupidity, and that can be fixed.

Meanwhile, we get closer to electing a shallow, slick-talking salesman to administer our federal government. Oy.

The false narrative of right wing media

(Excerpted from my forthcoming book “How Jesus Joined The GOP”)

In the early 1980s – during my days with CBN – we innovated “TV Journalism With a Different Spirit,” a news animal that sang a different song from others in the journalism world, whether television or print. We knew what we were doing, and it was very clever. In the process, we built the philosophical model for Fox News and many others. Here’s how it worked:

The idea that the press represented only a liberal perspective was developed in the days of Richard Nixon, specifically by his vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew argued that the President ought to be able to speak directly to the American people without going through what he viewed as a liberal filter, one that would distort Nixon’s views through its blurred lens. Nixon’s was the first conservative administration in the golden age of television, and it struggled with its inability to control the message during an incredibly volatile time in history. Many others took up the claim in the wake of Watergate. After all, only a political opponent would strive to take down a sitting President, surely not a press that advertised itself as objective.

These complaints fell on deaf ears, because the complainers lacked a media stage from which to make their case. As a result, they had to rely on that same blurred lens, so efforts to “speak against liberals” were dead before they started. We had such a stage at CBN, one of the original ten transponders on the first RCA communications satellite, Satcom 1. Moreover, ours was a video show, and we had the production chops to create whatever we wanted along the artificial plane known as political perspective. It didn’t matter that the press didn’t really belong on this plane, only that it was convenient for our purposes, which we claimed to be preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ.

So we publicly moved “the press” in its entirety to the left on this political plane in order to insert a convenient fence on its right edge. We placed ourselves (and the ilk of Rush Limbaugh, etc.) to the right of that fence, which gave the appearance of the bigger overall culture being represented under the banner of “news.” After all, most people were either liberal or conservative politically, and politics – or influencing politics – was our real goal. I can’t possibly overstate this reality. You don’t change the world by changing the press; you simply must make the case that the press isn’t neutral, and the rest is easy. The press, of course, helped us with this, because it was easy to pick news coverage hooks that represented a more progressive view of culture for us to hone in on. We were free to assign bias even in cases where the press was simply doing its job.

Dog bites man, it’s not news. Man bites dog, it is news. This simple old metaphor points to the false narrative we created, because the very definition of news is tied to that which is different, that which is, well, “new.” And new always means progressive, for basic conservative logic is tied to the status quo and the maintenance of tradition and its accompanying hierarchies. Many if not most journalists are educated, passionate about their trade, and ethical when it comes to the rules of professional observation. Only in the sense that some of this can be applied to “liberalism” is the press liberal. It’s a fake moniker given to them without their consent by people who need it to be that way in order to fit their own self-serving narrative. There is no conspiracy. Journalists don’t regularly gather to discuss how they’re going to manipulate unknowing masses with lies and deceit. That is much more likely to be found with those who claim participation in “right wing media.”

Evangelical Christians almost always leave out the original pioneers in the pro-life movement, the Catholics. This is an important element in understanding right wing media, for the Catholic Church is hardly conservative. In addition to calling out the pro-choicers for what was actually taking place in the wake of Roe v Wade, Catholics also pleaded the cause of those “unwanted” babies after they were born, and also opposed the death penalty. That, my friends, is the very definition of pro-life. Catholics also tended to vote for the left, so their voice in the debate about abortion carried far more weight than that of any other group. But that voice didn’t fit the narrative of the right, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In seizing upon abortion as an Evangelical Christian cause, the political right gained an emotional grassroots appeal to which it wasn’t entitled. The same thing applies to many of the right’s causes, because political power is the real goal.

The mere suggestion that manipulation can result in rolling back laws that are tagged as culturally offensive to some is folly and a chasing of the wind. This includes the idea that if only conservatives could appoint enough Supreme Court justices, they will eventually overturn Roe v Wade. The odds of this ever happening are remarkably small for many reasons, and wishers would do well to consider anyway that the original opinion in Roe v Wade was written by conservative justice Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee to the court. Nevertheless, right wing media needs to continually dangle this carrot in order to maintain the hyperbole in its claims as members of the press, albeit with a different worldview.

Right wing media is not, nor will it ever be, a part of the press, for its core purpose is the manipulation of culture through distortion, the very thing it assigns to the so-called “liberal” media. Moreover, many contemporary right wing media outlets are nothing more than political operatives with the sole purpose of repeating over and over again their purely political arguments. To this end, nothing is out-of-bounds, for baseless and provable lies are fair game in a sea of ethical emptiness. Again, the irony is that these groups practice out loud the very things they accuse their political opponents of doing in disguise, as if that somehow justifies deliberately “balancing” the public square by any means necessary. Even when bonafide “fact checker” organizations prove beyond a reasonable doubt the falsity of certain claims, these political hacks continue to repeat the allegations, presumably because they feel under no obligation to retract or otherwise accept responsibility for such lies. Moreover, they know that as long as they can keep the drum beating, there are people “out there” who’ve been trained to listen regardless of the evidence.

The press is a political animal only insofar as it covers politics, and even I have to admit there can be mischief in this particular hen house. NYU journalism professor and author Jay Rosen has been studying this for 30 years and refers to the Washington Press Corps in particular as the “national press or political press.” He argues strongly for transparency and accountability and against opacity and demagoguery. He’s also acutely aware of the difference between “journalism” and this “political press.”

If your job is to make the case, win the negotiations, decide what the community should do, or maintain morale, that is one kind of work. If your job is to tell people what’s going on, and equip them to participate without illusions, that is a very different kind of work.

The press is the latter and politics is the former. Right wing media, however, claims to be the latter while functioning as the former, and this is why its narrative is a fraud. Again, there is no such thing as “right wing media.” It is entirely political, and we shouldn’t stand for it. Drudge is not a journalist. Hannity is not a journalist. Limbaugh is not a journalist. A thousand websites with “news” in their titles are not practicing journalism whatsoever. They are like the local advertiser who presents his commercial message during the 6 o’clock news disguised as a news bulletin. There are ethical rules against this, but in desperate times, there are also exceptions.

Finally, nearly every attempt to create a “left wing media” has failed, the most visible being Al Franken’s program on the Air America Network. Billed as an alternative to conservative talk radio, Franken’s show never garnered the ratings of his counterparts on the right and certainly didn’t inspire a generation of progressive radio talk shows. While there are some successful progressive programs today, there doesn’t appear to be a wellspring of an audience for this fare, perhaps because it’s so obviously there only to counter the right.

Right or left, these “media” are political activists and not members of any journalistic effort whatsoever. We’ve got our work cut out for us, if we are to educate the public about how they’ve been duped and manipulated by smart political operatives, those who only have their own best interests in mind. We pioneered this in Virginia Beach, and while our motives may have seemed to be just at the time, the truth is we were just another group of social engineers with the political motivations of power and influence.

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.