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.


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.

IDF Sergeant charged with manslaughter

The shooter, Elor Azraya

The shooter, Elor Azraya

This is important, because it’s the first time in ten years that the Israelis have issued the charge in a killing that took place during field operations. According to Haaretz, Elor Azraya is being charged in the death of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif on a street in Hebron. In a report here on the shooting, I showed frame-by-frame how Sergeant Azraya raised his weapon and executed al-Sharif as the Palestinian, barely conscious, lay bleeding on the street.

Haaretz reported that “Sgt E,” as they referenced Azraya, was heard prior to the shooting to say that al-Sharif “deserved to die” for taking part in the stabbing of another IDF soldier.

The shooting by Sgt. E. was filmed by a volunteer with the human rights group B’Tselem, and the film made wide rounds on social and mainstream media. The pathology report later confirmed that it was Sgt. E.’s shot caused Sharif’s death …

The killing lit a political firestorm with many Israelis hailing Azraya a hero. A major rally in his defense is scheduled for today.

A report from the Chinese news service Xinhua contains quotes from the indictment:

“The soldier took several steps towards the terrorist, aimed at his head and fired a single bullet from short range,” according to the indictment.

“The defendant did this in contradiction with the rules of engagement and without operational justification,” the indictment added.

Initially, the prosecutors said the 19-year-old soldier was investigated for murder, but they later changed that to manslaughter.

This case is one of the most egregious examples of extrajudicial execution ever caught on tape, and the Israeli government is acting according. An indictment, however, is a long way from an execution.

FBI Director Says Cameras Increase Crime

Let’s review: One of the “sure bets” for the future is the continuing cultural disruption of what Jay Rosen tagged “The Great Horizontal” – everyday people being connected and able to communicate as media companies across-the-bottom of culture. Every top-to-bottom institution of the West will be disrupted, assuming net neutrality continues to be the law of the land. Of course, the predictable reaction to disruption is to defend, and we’re seeing this in ways big and small.

As I recently wrote, for example, the Israeli narrative machine is finding it harder to maintain hegemony in the face of citizen videos, like this one, that show a brutal and mistaken arrest.

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

Last week, during a forum at the University of Chicago Law School, FBI Director James Comey actually said that police anxiety over ever-present cellphone cameras and viral videos partly explains why violent crime has risen in several large U.S. cities. According to CBS News, Comey said it has negatively impacted relations between police and citizens.

Ya think?

“I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year, and that wind is surely changing behavior,” Comey said.

He added that some of the behavioral change in police officers has been for the good “as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force.”

Comey likened the strain between law enforcement and local communities to two lines diverging, saying repeatedly that authorities must continue to work at improving their relationships with citizens. But he added: “I actually feel the lines continuing to arc away from each other, incident by incident, video by video.”

We’ll all just have to adapt, because this is only going to get worse for institutions that depend on information control in order to function. We’re going to require tort reform of some sort to deal with the liability issues that will arise, but mostly, we’re just going to have to function as better citizens, all of us.

We’re also going to be seeing a lot of “what if” stories in the press from various players who have a lot of lose in flow of information at the bottom. The institution of medicine, for example, will fight hard to keep others from what they will call the “practice of medicine” along the bottom, which they will lobby hard to protect. Think of tools, for example, that have the best interests of the patients in mind – like the sharing of individual experiences – rather than those of the institution. Third-party insurance will be impacted, because cost is such a big part of medicine.

So get yourself ready for a bumpy ride and keep the network free. The cries of Chicken Little will surely be heard, because institutions don’t know how to function absent equilibrium.

We’re going to have to learn.

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.

The lesson of Bill Simmons and ESPN

bs_report_300The always astute James Andrew Miller, writing for Vanity Fair, makes an important observation for all media in his “Inside the Shocking, Abrupt Divorce of Bill Simmons and ESPN.”

In the end, one could say with minimal originality, but considerable accuracy, that Bill Simmons simply flew too close to the sun. He miscalculated how much value ESPN put on him and on his unique abilities and talents. He might also have forgotten a cardinal company rule that remains sacred whether it’s ESPN’s Old Guard talking or its new one: Nobody, but nobody, can be bigger than those four initials.

On the other hand, it could be said that Bristol forgot a kind of cardinal rule itself: In an era where fans can get not just scores but highlights, and a ton more, on their smart phones, distinctive and original content is the way to engage and hold onto an audience plopped in front of big 99-inch screens. That content often comes with a big price tag—and with a requirement that the people with unique abilities and talent who create it be treated like the stars you’ve paid for.

In a world of mass media, the single brand of the company rides atop every other marketing concern. This is a core Madison Avenue concept and the truth behind Miller’s statement that “nobody can be bigger than those four initials (ESPN).” In the next paragraph, however, he describes the truth of Jay Rosen’s The Great Horizontal, which is the newer and greater reality of today and, especially, tomorrow.

So allow me to restate what I believe is obvious. Media is increasingly about personal brands, because those are what’s permitted in the revolutionary conversation taking place among the people formerly known as the audience (another Rosen witticism). Even where brands are able to “act” like people, they are not, and this is the harsh reality of doing commerce in the age of the consumer. Harvard’s brilliant Umair Haque noted long ago that companies should be spending money on products instead of marketing, and his justification was this very thing.

This is why I encourage students and people already in the media industries to expend the energy necessary to create and maintain their personal brands. In the end, it’s the only thing that really matters in a networked world, where exchanges of knowledge and information occur at the personal level. The age of slick marketing is drawing to a close. You won’t be able to buy your way into anything downstream, because the process for doing such is slowly disintegrating. In 15 years of trying, Madison Avenue has returned to an old stand-by – one that empowered consumers have already dismissed – the pop-up ad. It’s truly amazing that, just like The Odd Couple, this tired old irritant is back with a vengeance. How true is the old saw that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Commerce in the Great Horizontal will require great products and services and people willing and able to pass them around. There’s already the idea that “influencers” at the personal level are what product manufacturers need to buy, but that’s merely wishful thinking from the hammer known as Madison Avenue. I don’t have a map with the route from here to there charted, but the laws of attraction will be more useful than the laws of promotion.

The power of personal media

I had the good fortune of spending a few minutes today with Amy Wood, the social media pioneering TV News anchor from Spartanburg, South Carolina (WSPA-TV). Amy has an enormous following online and was a very early practitioner of personal branding. Far more people in the market follow Amy than the TV station she works for, which is the point of working social media as a single entity over a “brand.” Her father recently passed away, and the outpouring of love she experienced online was absolutely overwhelming. Enjoy the next 16 minutes and learn a few of Amy’s secrets to success.