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.

Our addiction to formulas is killing us

pattersonFormulas are the greatest gift and yet the greatest curse of modernity. In a culture where the wheels of commerce are greased through mass marketing, there is no greater path to wealth than a successful formula. However, when formulas are used to stifle creativity, the whole culture stagnates and eventually is ripe for disruption. The United States of America is stagnating, because we’ve steadily embraced this obsession with road maps over the last century. Rather than elect leaders to take us forward, we choose managers who can show us bullet points, formulas, and a spread sheet. The result feels safe but is actually stagnating and deflating, because it has no imagination.

Formula addiction is especially useless for institutions during times when equilibrium is lost amid chaos. In the 21st Century, we are in one of those times.

But formulas can also become counterproductive value propositions when people manipulated by formulas gain their (formerly) secret knowledge. One, formulas then produce a boring and predictable sameness, and, two, anybody is free to take up the same formula, thereby destroying the value of its former uniqueness. Add to this the corporate greed of formula exploiters, and suddenly a formula that used to “work” becomes a net turn-off to its customers. This is where institutions fail the most, for modernist hierarchical groups can’t afford to talk with customers.

Star Wars, for example, is a very successful Hollywood formula. The rarity of its episodes (there have only been 7 in the last 40 years) doubtless contributed to that success, but we’re about to get one Christmastime movie a year (including spin-offs) from Disney, because they like the profits produced by the formula. This means other movies won’t be made, because why should a corporation that’s in it for profit take a chance when all they have to do is copy a known formula for success, right?

It’s the same way with publishing, which is why James Patterson is the only author you see in TV advertising. The man is one giant formula gone to seed. Formula addiction contributes to failures with media, with education, and every aspect of our society, even the arts.

Beancounters love to copy. It’s why nearly every client I’ve had in broadcasting – when offered my ideas – has responded with, “Who else is doing this?” The inference is a reticence to experiment rather than copy something that’s already been tried and proven a success elsewhere. The ability to show broadcasters what’s working elsewhere is the core competency of TV news consulting, so my iconoclastic approach didn’t win any business for my employer. My evidence didn’t matter. I could show clients the damaging pathway of their existing strategy, and it didn’t matter. I could appeal to reason and present clever images to spark their imaginations, but it didn’t matter. None of it mattered, because their profit was based on known formulas, and despite evidence that the formulas wouldn’t ever meet their digital expectations, they still cling to them today. It will be their downfall.

Christianity is another tired cultural formula that’s being picked apart today. The Emergent or “Emerging Church” movement exploded on the scene as a “postmodern” alternative to stagnating orthodoxy, but it has slowed down considerably in the wake of scandals and other mischief. As one who writes of postmodernism, I’ve always felt both kinship with and distance from the leaders of this group, for they were using the basics of postmodern thought and tools to create a new hierarchy (and sell books). This is quite absurd by default, for horizontal chaos is the authority in a postmodern culture, not hierarchies.

Keep this in mind as you go about your lives in this century, for it’s on display everywhere. The left brain thinking that has governed life in the West for so long is crumbling under the weight of its disrespect for imagination.

Deconstructing The Associated Press

apThe trade of journalism is facing trouble on all sides these days, mostly because its source of funding – primarily advertising – is going elsewhere. This squeeze is bringing out the worst in people who we used to believe dedicated themselves to the pursuit of truth. Not so today. It’s simply easier to embrace biased narratives than pursue facts, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East, where truth takes a whole lot of work.

But difficulty is simply an excuse, for if I can spot this stuff from my office in Alabama, it ought to be obvious to those still involved in the trade. With that in mind, I need to deconstruct (that tool of the postmodernist) a story by the Associated Press published yesterday that functions as a press release from the Israeli office of information. Oh, there’s a smattering of an opposing point-of-view, but the overall content, writing, and presentation represent the pro-Israel perspective.

The piece is structured in five chunks, so that’s the way I’ll present it here. My commentary will follow each “chunk.”

No end in sight for latest Israeli-Palestinian violence, raising fears of uprising

JERUSALEM – For nearly a month, Israel has been dealing with a wave of Palestinian unrest that shows no signs of stopping. Beginning with clashes at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, the violence has spread throughout the city, across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Since the Jewish New Year last month, five Israelis have been killed in a shooting, a stoning and a series of stabbings. At least 26 Palestinians been killed by Israeli fire, including 10 identified by Israel as attackers and the rest in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops. Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in such confrontations.

The violence comes at a time when prospects for negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear nil.

While Israelis are on edge over the random nature of the current wave of attacks, many Palestinians feel hopeless because all paths to statehood and ending nearly half a century of Israeli occupation appear blocked.

The long-running diplomatic deadlock coupled with the current violence has raised fears that the region is on the cusp of a major new round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Anyone schooled in the practice of propaganda knows that how the message is framed determines where you can go with it. Here, the first paragraph frames the whole piece by announcing that what’s happening is a “wave of Palestinian unrest.” Those darned Palestinians, right? If they’d just stop it, everything would be fine. Moreover, the writer explains that this began in Jerusalem and expanded outward, even reaching the West Bank and Gaza strip.

This is entirely false. The “unrest” is a response to Israeli terror, last year in Gaza and this year in the West Bank, where a family, including a sleeping baby, were killed in a firebombing by Israeli settlers who operate as an armed militia with impunity in the occupied territories.  Then there are extrajudicial executions by the IDF that have become commonplace, the latest being an 18-year old girl at a West Bank checkpoint.

Let’s also make clear here that this “unrest” involves mostly stone-throwers and an occasional stabbing, whereas the full military might of the government is used daily against Palestinians.

HOW DID THIS START?

Clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site over the Jewish New Year, fueled by rumors that Israel was secretly plotting to take over the spot.

The compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, home to the biblical Jewish Temples. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Israel captured the site from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, but it remained under Muslim administration. Under a decades-old arrangement, non-Muslims are allowed to visit, but not pray there.

A growing number of Jewish visitors in recent years, coupled with calls by religious Jewish activists for a greater presence at the site, have stoked Palestinian fears that Israel is planning to change this arrangement.

Palestinians fiercely defend the site as both a religious and national symbol. Growing Palestinian fears that the shrine is in danger triggered unrest across the region.

Israel has repeatedly said it is committed to the status quo and has accused Palestinian and Muslim religious leaders of inciting violence.

Two things. One, the presentation of this as being started by a “rumor” is absurd on its face, although it fits the Israeli narrative that Palestinians are psychotic. There’s nothing new here, because Israel has always “wanted” all of Jerusalem. What did happen this year was that Israeli security forces aggressively stormed the mosque prior to the Jewish New Year in order to make it safer for Jews to visit the site. Firing stun grenades and rubber coated bullets, many Muslims were injured, and the Palestinians responded. Each year it appears to get worse. This year, Arab men under the age of 50 were forbidden from entering the Mosque.

Moreover, this mess didn’t “start” in Jerusalem. It’s been ongoing, and the current atmosphere was created by Israeli actions in the West Bank. One simply cannot understand the situation without accepting this knowledge, for to do otherwise is to utterly embrace the Israeli narrative in the region.

IS THIS A NEW PALESTINIAN UPRISING?

While some Israeli commentators have begun to call the unrest a new intifada, or uprising, it is premature to say so.

The violence has some things in common with the second Palestinian uprising. In 2000, a visit to the hilltop religious site by Israel’s then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, helped trigger what turned into an uprising.

Some argue that Palestinian anger over living under Israeli military occupation for nearly 50 years, the collapse of peace efforts and the lack of hope for gaining independence has made the region ripe for a new bout of violence.

Still, there are key differences. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence and has maintained security coordination with Israel to prevent the clashes from spinning out of control.

During the previous intifada, organized Palestinian militant groups were behind much of the violence, often with tacit support from their leaders. Most of those groups have been disbanded or their members jailed. The recent stabbings have been carried out by individuals with no known political affiliation acting on their own.

These “lone-wolf” attacks have made it hard for Israel to find a military solution to the unrest, or to predict how long it will continue.

Firstly, the “uprising,” if there is one, is a Palestinian response to the apartheid state within which they live and the escalating violent actions by the IDF in maintaining the status quo, which, again, includes permitting bands of armed Israelis who simply attack (and kill) whoever they like and for whatever reason in the occupied territories. These acts are carried out with absolute impunity.

The “collapse” of peace initiatives is tied to recent statements by the prime minister and defense minister that there will never be a two-state solution in the region. Hopeless? Well, I guess so.

Oh, and let’s leave the Palestinian “leaders” out of this entirely. The idea that any one person or group speaks on behalf of or “for” the oppressed is a straw man used entirely for propaganda purposes. This is entirely a grass roots response to actual Israeli behavior, which can only lead one to the conclusion that Israel does NOT want peace with them.

HOW HAS ISRAEL RESPONDED?

The stabbings have caused widespread panic in Israel, prompting Jerusalem’s mayor and other politicians to encourage licensed gun owners to carry their weapons.

Israeli leaders say the country’s large number of well-trained military veterans provides an extra layer of security. And after several stabbings, assailants have been quickly shot by either police or armed civilians. But critics say such talk only increases tensions, raising the risk that over-eager gun owners or troops will shoot to kill, even when unnecessary.

In one case caught on video, a young Palestinian man wanted in a stabbing was gunned down by a police officer as an angry crowd screamed for him to be shot. In the video, it is not clear whether the youth was armed, and the police car was far away from him, raising the question of whether the youth could have been subdued without being killed.

The “widespread panic” is a response to how this is portrayed in the Israeli media, especially television, because isolated incidents in various places that are then strung together to support a narrative can be and usually are terribly misleading.

The last paragraph points to just one of the many incidents that Palestinians are using to plead the case of Israeli aggression. The boy (not a man) was running TOWARDS police and away from the Israeli mob. Only in Israel – and against Palestinians – is it acceptable to shoot first, ask questions later, and not be held accountable for it. “Wanted in a stabbing” is not justification for extrajudicial execution. Or is it?

Finally, the headline of this section is right out of the Hasbara playbook. Read it. “How has Israel responded?” Again, the narrative being presented is that innocent Israel is, once again, being forced to defend itself against those who would do it harm. If anything, this is a Palestinian response, but that is completely disregarded in a blatant attempt to present the Israeli narrative as “news.”

WHAT ABOUT POLITICAL LEADERS ON BOTH SIDES?

Both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could play key roles in ending the unrest, though both have been limited by external pressure.

Netanyahu is under heavy pressure from the public, and hard-liners in his coalition, to take even tougher action. In addition to his tough rhetoric, the Israeli leader has already beefed up the level of forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and loosened the rules on when troops can open fire at protesters.

Yet a severe crackdown risks triggering even more violence and international condemnation. For this reason, he has also taken steps to ease tensions, such as banning lawmakers from visiting the Jerusalem holy site.

Abbas is also interested in restoring quiet. But after years of stalled statehood negotiations — paralysis he blames on Netanyahu’s hard-line approach — he is deeply unpopular. Containing the violence and openly continuing the security cooperation with Israel risks promoting the image that he is weak and ineffective.

In any case, it remains unclear how much control either man has when the violence is emanating from the ground up, carried out by angry teenagers who have little hope for the future.

By presenting this as “Abbas versus Netanyahu,” the Associated Press takes us down a well-worn path that leads to nowhere. Netanyahu could conceivably stop this, but why should he? He was just re-elected by, among other things, scaring voters with last-minute panicky statements that “the Arabs” were voting in droves. He believes he operates with the complete support of Israeli citizens, and there’s nothing to indicate otherwise. Abbas has no power among Palestinians and certainly none with Israel.

Netanyahu is exploiting the response of the “occupied” population to Israeli violence by shoving more violence down their throats in order to maintain control. Sadly, the press – led by articles like this from The Associated Press, and especially the work of the New York Times – is assisting him in getting away with it.

If you believe, as some do, that conqueror Israel has the right to write its own history, then I hope you enjoy your bath in the tarpits. In a networked world, one-sided views of history can’t stand up to scrutiny, because horizontal communications allow us access to the very ground floor that is rising up in the occupied territories.

This will not end well for either “side” unless and until the world intervenes.

I’m not holding my breath.

The Handwriting on the Wall is Now Shouting

A few headlines and items in the news point to the continuing decline of legacy media, now especially television, and yet nobody is reading the tea leaves properly in terms of what to do. This will only hasten the inevitable end.

First up, Ad Age asks Where Did Everybody Go? TV Premiere Week Ratings Sag As Young Viewers Vamoose. This doesn’t really require comment except to say I told you so. Yeah, I’m going to be pissy here.

Next, the New York Times reports Fall TV Season Opens Onto a Shifting Ad Landscape.

The current television landscape is a challenging one for advertisers. Ratings are down but the amount of programming is sharply up, along with the number of streaming options available, many of which allow viewers to skip commercials altogether.

Now, as advertisers consider the best ways to spend their money, the excitement that once greeted the beginning of the fall television season has given way to anxiety. Industry analysts and advertising executives said the upfront market — the annual ad sales period that begins in May with lavish presentations by the networks — was unambiguously weak this year.

Then a remarkable (for its lack of focus and leadership) Wall St. Journal interview with the head of the IAB, Randall Rothenberg, on ad blocking, viewability, and click fraud, none of which he deems a really serious problem for digital advertising.

And, finally, the first of a two-part series by industry watchdog promotional group, TVNewsCheck on digital, Digital Turning ‘Broadcast’ Sales Upside Down.

The digital advertising revolution sweeping through the media world has reached local TV, upending the lives of broadcast salespeople, requiring them to do more and learn more, while sometimes earning less.

In markets of every size, stations and station groups are creating and offering a host of new digital products to prospective and long-time clients to keep pace with the invasion of digital and other media on their turf.

The broadcasters are re-emphasizing training, creating new digital-only positions, hiring digital specialists and even establishing whole new units to sell digital products and consulting services that often have little or nothing to do with selling traditional TV time.

Sorry, one more: TVNewsCheck also reports: FCC’s Lake: Time For Exclusivity Rules To Go.

The comments on some of these articles suggest that at least some people within the industry understand what’s going on. The problem is the industry itself can’t and won’t talk about the elephant in the room – culture is advancing horizontally every day in what is now clearly a revolution against the established way of doing things. Unless we accept this, we will continue to flop around like fish on the dock gasping for oxygen when none is there. Death will come sooner than most think, and I will not be happy when it occurs, because it all could have been prevented.

Marketing in the traditional sense is done. Put a fork in it. It truly is the fish out of water, for the rules of marketing all apply to a mass, and that is quickly going the way of downtown shopping. And here’s the important thing: the people formerly known as the audience are REJOICING! This is what media and advertising people simply won’t accept, because it means the end of their money trees. Instead, they’re pleading with Washington for relief. Mr. Rothenberg’s comments to the Wall St. Journal are oozing with denial, including his assurance that the “sky hasn’t fallen.”

There is a real issue. I’m not worried because the marketing and media value chain has shown remarkable resilience. There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services and vice versa. You need to have that communication. I’m really not worried about whether advertising will be able to find its way through digital channels. I am concerned — very, very concerned — that costs of ads will go up and up and up from this unethical obstruction.

“There is a natural human need to have businesses proposition you with goods and services?” This is delusional, and that’s being kind. As Dave Winer wrote last week, “Advertising is unwanted.” It’s especially unwanted when it’s friggin’ everywhere as if it has some special right to be! One-third of prime time is commercials! One. Third. Why do these people think that viewers are ignoring or skipping them? Why do these people think the same users are blocking them online? Mr. Rothenberg (and others) would be well advised to read what Dave his written here and what The Cluetrain Manifesto published 15 years ago.

Times are changing, folks, but that’s a dead horse I’ve been beating for far too long.

Headlines like the above are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. The industry rejected me and my message, and you’d think I’d find a little joy in watching my prophecies come true. I don’t.

I’m very angry, and I’m very sad.

Re-writing history by erasure

Media in the U.S. is more often than not the servant of special interests, even though professional journalists would scoff at the idea as absurd. Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s been this way since the early 20th Century and the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. I’ve written extensively about the Creel Committee and its manipulation of information about World War I and especially the later work of its members, Walter Lippmann and his friend Edward Bernays. The only way to overcome this and set the historical record right is to participate in the postmodern practice of deconstructionism. The problem is rarely one of the facts but almost always of the narrative or grand narrative that comes from selecting certain facts and dismissing others.

Journalism in the future – it is certainly my hope – will embrace active deconstructionism to separate truth from self-serving narratives. It simply has no choice in a networked world. That’s because people can talk to each other without filters. Truth in mass media is often obscured for the sake of populism and nationalism, and we have a great example of this underway currently in the Middle East.

Zionism is a very real attempt to eliminate certain portions of history in order to establish a direct connection between modern day Israel and the historical record of the Old Testament in the Bible. There are regional political and economic reasons for so doing, and I get that. However, we don’t need to sit back as a culture and look aside as crimes are being committed in the process, no matter how righteous our intentions. The truth is there isn’t a direct connection between contemporary Israel and the Israel of the Bible, and attempts to make that connection by eliminating everything between are entirely self-serving. We must not only be concerned with what’s happening today, but what will happen tomorrow, if such a connection becomes a part of the grand narrative of world history.

mamillaMondoweiss, a publication that searches for verifiable truth in the region, today published the words of Sergio Yahni, an Israeli journalist and coordinator of the Palestinian-Israeli organization, the Alternative Information Center. The article expresses concerns about the necessities of Zionists to establish Jerusalem as entirely a Jewish city, despite prior agreements to keep it multi-cultural. The article specifically references an important Islamic cemetery.

“They are commercializing the city, selling it as a modern Jewish city, but at the same time as an ancient one. The mayor, Nir Barkat, wants to sell Jerusalem to the world as an opulent tourist attraction, because of this, he is transforming its character and the nature…”

“To reach this goal, it’s erasing the Islamic history and tradition of the city. Jerusalem is built on multiple layers, a unique stage of history, but the municipality is working hard to simplify it. How? Erasing the Islamic layer in order to replace it with the Roman and the Jewish ones…”

“The scientific archeology was replaced by the ideological archeology: all the Israeli work in this field is based on the Bible and the Old Testament, trying to demonstrate their narrative, and obviously, in this context, there is no space for the Islamic and Arab tradition. Let’s take the example of the Moroccan Quarter, in the Old City, just beside the Wailing Wall: it was built in the 12th century and it was destroyed after 1967 because it was contradicting the Zionist narrative. The same thing is happening in Silwan with the City of David and in Mamilla: the archeology is a tool to justify a personal and self-interested narrative, erasing the real one”.

I realize a lot of people simply say “so what? After all, Israel won the war, so let them do what they want.” The problem is very simply this: The prophecy that both Jews and Evangelical Christians use to justify this (Ezekiel 36:24-36) must be edited in order to apply it to contemporary Israel, for the text concerns God scattering the Jews for their misbehavior regarding the covenant God had established with them. The verses describe God’s great mercy in cleansing them and bringing them home. So one is free to ask the only pertinent question in light of the prophecy: is the nation of Israel’s behavior righteous or is it not? Are the people living in accordance with the laws and sacrifices ascribed to them as the people of God?

Even an idiot could answer that question correctly, unless they’re only given a tilted form of truth.

If Zionism is allowed to get away with this ruse, we will all bear the global consequences of a country, armed to the teeth, doing whatever they please in the name of God.

It’s enough to make you wonder who are the real good guys and bad guys in what we see unfolding day in and day out in the Middle East.

Enough is enough, saith the people

horizontalHere is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, Local Media in a Postmodern World:

Humanity’s Greatest Challenge

In discussing what’s happening to traditional media – including at the local level – we need to understand how the culture around us is influencing its disruption. It is culture, not technology, that is fueling institutional disruption in the 21st Century, and it’s going to continue for a very long time. The bottom of culture is rising up to challenge the underpinnings of the ruling class, led by a simple tool of the postmodernist, deconstruction.