Deconstructing Narratives

In the study of postmodernism, one is confronted with the concept of narratives — overarching and comprehensive accounts of events, experiences, and social and cultural phenomena based on an appeal to universal truth or universal values. The narrative is the story that’s presented about the event, one that legitimizes power, authority, and social customs.

Each of us in the U.S. makes assumptions about life based on some or many narratives that seem to have been set in stone and against which we have no choice but to go along. We’re in a season where skepticism is increasing, however, as more and more people discover that these things aren’t really concrete but stem from the narratives of others like the ruling class, those who have the power to force rules and hierarchies on the powerless. This growing skepticism is a frightening perspective for the status quo, who demands that the rules be followed regardless of their source. Here, the great enemy is the postmodern exercise known as deconstruction, where narratives are examined to uncover both source and path. Deconstruction is the great commoner counterweight to the status quo.

Here’s an example from my own history. In the early 1970s, I was a morning news producer and part-time Assignment Editor for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. I lived in the suburb of Shorewood, not very far from the campus of WTMJ, and had to be in work around 4 o’clock in the morning. My street was a one-way street that ended at a normally busy street. I needed to turn left, but there was a sign saying “No Left Turn.” There was zero traffic on the street, so I simply turned left, and one morning, a cop was watching. I got a ticket and was pretty upset about it. I can’t emphasize enough that the street was completely empty.

I did research and discovered that many years earlier, a woman pushing a baby stroller was run over by a car making a left turn at the intersection. The driver didn’t see the woman, because he was blinded by the setting sun, which was directly in his eyes. The story got a lot of attention, and so the authorities banned all left turns at the intersection. Based on that narrative, I was able to successfully argue that the circumstances at the intersection were very different in the middle of the night, and I convinced the Traffic Safety Commission to change the law from No Left Turn to No Left Turn 7am-7pm. If I hadn’t found the narrative that was used to justify the law in the first place, I would’ve had much more difficulty reaching the commissioners.

The point is it can be very valuable to know and understand the narrative behind the things we encounter around us and elsewhere. So let’s dig deeper. According to the New World Encyclopedia:

A grand narrative or metanarrative is one that claims to explain various events in history, gives meaning by connecting disperse events and phenomena by appealing to some kind of universal knowledge or schema. The term grand narratives can be applied to a wide range of thoughts which includes Marxism, religious doctrines, belief in progress, universal reason, and others.

The concept was created by Jean-François Lyotard in his work, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979). In this text, Lyotard refers to what he describes as the postmodern condition, which he characterized as increasing skepticism toward the totalizing nature of “metanarratives” or “grand narratives.”

…Many Christians believe that human nature, since the Fall (Genesis 3), is characteristically sinful, but has the possibility of redemption and experiencing eternal life in heaven; thus representing a belief in a universal rule and a telos for humankind.”

The challenge for all of us in 2021 is to recognize narratives when confronted with events — especially those political — so that we might have a chance of separating the facts from the bullshit. If we adapt to this form of understanding, we’ll see it everywhere, because every person, every business, every institution has a narrative that helps explain their language and their behavior. A personal narrative is called “agency,” the freedom I have to present myself to the world in any way that feels right to me. The problem, of course, is that we’re all human beings, and agency narratives can easily slip into selfishness, which is a serious problem for those who are trying to exercise love in their lives.

MAGA Christianity, for example, is narrative, and that’s exactly why it’s so dangerous. Universal plausibility, not fact, is what determines the story, so the grand narrative presented is false but effective in providing its denizens with what sounds like a reasonable story.

“The democrats are socialists who want to take your hard-earned money and give it to those who ought to just work like the rest of us.”

This is, of course, quite false, but it fits the conservative grand narrative that the rich people are the smart folks in our culture and provide a path for people to follow, because wherever democrats are in charge, there is waste. All one has to do to succeed in this life, therefore, is follow the rules and conform to the narrative, including the popular myth that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish. The simple truth here is that the fishing pond doesn’t evenly spread the fish (resources) out in such a way that they can be caught equally.

If you understand narratives, you’ll begin to understand the old adage that “in war, the victor writes the history,” and you’ll also start asking questions about the narratives that you uncover. If you’re super lucky, you’ll soon begin — at some level — the postmodern practice of deconstructing those same narratives in an honest search for truth. History is not truth. History is narrative. As Peter Lurie pointed out in his marvelous 2003 essay “Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left: Deconstructing Hyperlinks”, the web puts us automatically within deconstruction’s reach, because every link beckons us to dig deeper and discover for ourselves. We have no idea where this is going to lead culturally, except that it is going to be terribly difficult for the status quo.

“The content available online is much less important than the manner in which it is delivered; indeed, the way the Web is structured. Its influence is structural rather than informational, and its structure is agnostic. For that reason, parental controls of the sort that AOL can offer give no comfort to conservatives. It’s not that Johnny will Google “hardcore” or “T&A” rather than “family values;” rather, it’s that Johnny will come to think, consciously or not, of everything he reads as linked, associative and contingent. He will be disinclined to accept the authority of any text, whether religious, political or artistic, since he has learned that there is no such thing as the last word, or indeed even a series of words that do not link, in some way, to some other text or game. For those who grow up reading online, reading will come to seem a game, one that endlessly plays out in unlimited directions. The web, in providing link after associative link, commentary upon every picture and paragraph, allows, indeed requires, users to engage in a postmodernist inquiry.”

Be a deconstructor, but think positively. This is a time of tremendous opportunity. Distance yourself from the status quo, for it is crashing and will blow up in time. Before that happens, however, the heat on all of this is going to be burning furiously, and it points right now to civil war. Trump and his cronies continue to pull followers further to the right, and there will come a point when all their guns will begin firing. The ensuing terror will exceed that of 9/11, because this will be perpetuated by our neighbors, not foreigners who already hate all of us. Follow the narrative to get a glimpse of tomorrow. By presenting their political ideas as an overarching narrative, followers have no choice but to go along to the very end. The appeal, after all, is universal plausibility.

The media doesn’t get this, because the media presents itself as a special class, which is part of its own narrative. In other words, the media is simply unwilling and therefore not capable of presenting life as narrative. Goodness, that would be a lot of work.

A citizenry that does its own deconstructing is not easily fooled by political narratives, and that’s where we’re all headed thanks to the World Wide Web. This shift in human understanding is eonic in nature, and we can say with great confidence that the era of modernism is over, which likely accounts for all of the current conflict between ideologies that we’re experiencing today. One era dies; another rises. Welcome to the era of postmodernism.

The irony is that this changing narrative was brought about by a pandemic and the shutting down of the culture for a season. Suddenly home alone and with tons of “free” time, people retreated into survival mode and began a great awakening amongst the people that “jobs” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and that nobody really cares for anybody else, just themselves. This has spawned an entire generation of unsatisfied people who’re working the system to start their own businesses and thus be their own employers. Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, Doordash, and others have given many of these people a way to make a few bucks while exploring their options. I use Uber several times a month, and my survey of drivers strongly suggests this is so.

So, who’ll run things when the era matures? We will. The people. And that has a chance to be glorious.

Deconstructing Life, A Series Part II, Time

Astronomy Explosion Big Bang - Free photo on Pixabay

“…And there was morning and there was evening, the first day…”

Time is a fixed dimension. It doesn’t move, although we believe that it does.

It’s a created dimension within which the human animal lives. It favors youth and ravages the elderly. We can’t escape it, because it forms one of the two boundaries of life under the sun. We can’t descend into the past, nor can we leap into the future, for time appears to human nature as a moving entity. Science can only go so far in its understanding of time, because human logic and reason function completely and only within the boundaries of time and space. It’s what we know and what we’re left with after science has studied and defined it for centuries. The clock moves, but time doesn’t. Rather, it stands still while Life moves both within it and beyond.

This is an important difference for our understanding, because our options as beings moving through time are different than if time was itself was doing the moving.

The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches wisdom of life “under the sun.” Time is a created dimension under the sun, as are we as human animals. In this world, each of us moves through time and we age as we count the hours and the years that move us relentlessly forward along with them. In the world beyond the sun, however, we are the ones who are moving through time, and this revelation ought to stop us cold in our thinking about God and our relationship to Him. Actually, this is a misnomer, for time doesn’t actually exist in the spiritual world, at least not any form of time that we can understand under the sun. If time beyond the sun stands still, then we must consider the ramifications for life under the sun, because those sensitive to it are able to experience both history and the future and speak to both. This bears our study under the sun, for history always repeats and the future isn’t yet written in the world of the senses.

Beyond the sun doesn’t mean outer space; it’s a metaphor for the world of the spirit, the spirit of Life.

At younger ages, people actually have more time to think but fewer events to remember. This means major events are out of proportion compared to later years and therefore carry more weight as memories that shape the here and now. At age 75, for example, a major event just doesn’t seem as significant as those from younger days, because the perception of speedy time leaves less to remember or be influenced by.

A 25-year old would have to experience a year as only 4 months in order to sense the passage of time of a 75-year old. This raises a number of interesting questions as we examine spiritual events of the past.

Ever wonder why it’s easier to learn when you’re young? You have more time and better memory storage that those much older, and that more easily affords learning. It’s also true that youthful minds have lots of free storage space, but accessing it requires time, even in the form of overnight study sessions. Youth has the time to study.

In youth, longer moments lead to better memory, but what happens when people cross that imaginary line into old age? Every moment is shorter and requires more attention in order to remember. The upside is an increased ability to stay put in the moment, because drifting outside of the moment is drastic in terms of understanding even that which just happened. It seems only a fleeting moment, and that can produce a near panic as we scramble to get back.

Events within the boundary of time can become fixed, especially if they occurred in one’s youth. This is especially true for trauma.

Methuselah lived to be 972 years old. We are incapable of imagining his perceptions at that age, for fixed time would seem to fly by so quickly that we would be unable to even imagine. To say that Enoch “walked with God” isn’t nearly so hard to imagine, because he was also older than 900 years. It would be hard to separate conversations. It would be extremely hard to pay attention without completely living in the moment.

Aging pushes us closer and closer to life in the moment, for drifting from the moment is no guarantee that we’ll ever get back. There is little time to contemplate thoughts except for in the moment.

This is a good thing, for God lives in the moment, and it’s here that we meet Him.

Everybody seems so busy when you’re older. Everybody. Their pace of life is MUCH faster to me, and I marvel at what they can accomplish in that time. I’m aware that their time seems longer than mine, so the idea that they’re speedy is an illusion and further evidence that I am the one moving, not them (at least to me).

Since time is relative and we are the ones moving, it’s logical to make the leap that life itself consists of the consciousness of every person who ever lived or will live. Life is simply too efficient to reject the collective ebbs and flows of that consciousness, and in this way, we grow as human beings. We’re surrounded — always — by the consciousness of those who came before and those who are yet to come.

You have one week to accomplish task A. To our youth, that can seem like forever, which allows them to procrastinate while seniors know that they’d better get moving, because a week is nothing to us.

Eternity cannot exist within time and space, for it lies beyond. Humankind’s quest for immortality under the sun is impossible.

If we say that time is relative, then it can’t be used as a fixed point of reference, despite the truth of its true nature. It works in the creation and the application of rules to govern behavior, including that of computers, but it doesn’t rationally follow that anything about time is “real”.

As a man in his mid 70s, I’m regularly observing that I can recall events from my childhood much more clearly than I can those of just 5 years ago or even 5 days ago. Medical “experts” will say that this is a loss of short-term memory, but I think it’s much more likely that my sense of time is what’s at play.

The clock stands still as we tic-tock our way through the veil. We vibrate ever so rapidly, so as to be invisible to those who vibrate with us. The seasons are an illusion, and we relive each rather than each being “new.” Each time we do, the season seems shorter, because a lifetime is packed into each. We move along, ever forcing our way through the momentary curtains of time and space.

The internet is also reshaping our views of time today by pushing us towards an inevitable here and now experience. Twitter comes very close to giving us a real-time view of the news as it happens and not prepackaged for some platform.

As people age, those memories from our youth are easier to retrieve than those of recent days that are but fleeting. Thankfully, today we have pictures and video to bolster current happenings and aid in memory. And, again, we cannot imagine how time would appear to us at, say, age 500. Were there a way to measure such, I’m sure science would be on board, even though skepticism would reign, because science views time as moving. Time is actually a very, very efficient prison.

Einstein’s theory of relativity reveals that space travelers would return home younger in terms of earth years than their contemporaries. That’s because science views time as moving on earth, and even outer space experiences are therefore governed from the earth. It is the centerpiece of scientific reasoning, but, as described above, the evidence doesn’t entirely match that view.

As we learn and evolve in our basic understandings of Life, our minds need to be opened to thinking that challenges our sensibilities.

Because, our only real failures are those of imagination.

The news after Roger Ailes

What will history say about Roger Ailes? It won’t be kind, if the initial reaction to his death is any indication. I’ve seen him described as despicable, a career sexual harasser, a purveyor of conservative garbage information, slimy, dirty, unethical, one of the worst Americans ever, bloodthirsty, and responsible for turning Americans into “a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online.”

Holy crap, and this was even before he was buried!

Rolling Stone was among the harshest:

Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – “I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead,” he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old “ring around the collar” ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.

Roger Ailes was eulogized Saturday as the architect of conservative TV, but while he was the founder of Fox News, he didn’t write its playbook. That was done fifteen years earlier in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the home of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson, and The 700 Club. I know, because I was there and participated in the creation, development, and execution of “TV News With A Different Spirit,” a genius level rewriting of the rules of journalism and marketing to suit a politically conservative audience. There isn’t one strategy or tactic used by Ailes and Fox News that we didn’t pioneer earlier, and it’s vital to our current cultural conundrum that we understand this. That’s because the term right wing media is not only supportive of Republican Party politics but it’s undergirded by a worldview that is entirely Christian of the fundamentalist, evangelical ilk. Zeal always trumps reason with those who practice extreme forms of religion, so it’s not the political conservatism that matters; it’s the Christianity that places itself above reason in its ability to easily govern the lives of participants.

What this means is that arguments by reasonable people are automatically dismissed without consideration, because they are determined to be contrary to the faith. Rationalized responses become fact, regardless of their absurdity, because “God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound (shame) the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Hence, the many references among Evangelicals to Donald Trump as being like Cyrus the Great, the pagan Persian king that God “put in power” in order to free the Jews from Babylon and return them to Jerusalem where they rebuilt the temple. If Trump is a “Cyrus,” then, the thinking goes, it’s unnecessary to excuse his behavior, for God is using him anyway. The end justifies the means, although nobody is saying what that end will be.

…Trump had been elected by God…He was a warrior against the global “demonic agenda”, “raising the warning cry about the unraveling of America.” Trump’s obvious faults and flaws only confirmed the prophecy: Cyrus, like Trump, was powerful, rich, and pagan, not at all godly…

…Many Evangelicals who voted for Trump continue to have an abiding faith in his presidency. Just as Cyrus returned the Jews to Jerusalem, and restored their wealth, so Trump, they fervently believe, will restore a lost world of personal safety, psychological security and material prosperity.

The point is that unless you’re prepared to discuss the Cyrus argument, nothing else matters for those who put Mr. Trump in the White House in the first place. Just because the culture is uncomfortable with arguing religion does not mean that the basis for our differences aren’t essentially religious. The fact that we’ve generally dismissed such debates is what energizes the engine of American conservatism today. It’s what allows poor Republicans to vote against their own best interests and blindly sit by while the GOP deepens the pockets of the haves. The response of Christians is “I don’t care about his character as long as he gives us conservative Supreme Court justices.” To these well-intentioned people, abortion and same-sex marriage are the essence of all that’s wrong with our culture, and, by God, they’re going to fix it.

You can say what you wish about Fox News, but don’t be fooled into thinking there isn’t the constant hum of religious superiority that seeps through all of its programming, for contemporary political conservatism is sustained by evangelical Christianity.

Whatever you think of Roger Ailes, you must also concede that his efforts brought to the surface what had previously been hidden and assumed irrelevant by the progressive culture. Contrary to blaming Ailes for dividing the country, we should thank him for bringing that division into the light, where we might be able to actually do something about it. Actually, I don’t think we have a choice; we simply MUST do something about it in order to bring a sense of unity among us as a people. The problem, of course, is what to do and perhaps moreso, how to do it.

To me, it’s a personal journey that each of us has to make. It just won’t happen overnight in a one-to-many environment, because the “one” always — ALWAYS — begins and ends with self-interest. Neither side in this zero-sum game can “put forth” an unbiased representative to participate in an open debate. This can only lead to same‑o, same‑o. And this has always been the problem — even perhaps the cause — of our division. Each side instead must challenge, with open minds, its own assumptions, those that undergird what is presented as absolute truth. It is the unfortunate thinking of humans to posit that one cannot be simultaneously just and merciful anymore than one can be simultaneously liberal and conservative.

Meanwhile, we need to hear Christian arguments that challenge the assumptions of the right wing crowd, because that’s where the real battle lies. It’s THE challenge to journalism in the wake of Roger Ailes’ passing.

How ironic that our current president — the beneficiary of all that fundamentalist faith — would be lecturing Muslims in Saudi Arabia this weekend about Islamic fundamentalist extremism.

Just the facts

Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday

The principal assumption of modernity — the human era governed by logic and reason — is that there is an attainable objectivity when it comes to facts, even when applied to historical narratives. This is arguably false, however, when the postmodern practice of deconstruction is applied to any event or occurrence involving multiple narratives. It is perhaps the single most disruptive force of the current era, for a networked citizenry is able to seek out, create, and approve its own narrative while rejecting that of any self-serving hierarchical authority. The election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 was, in part, a reflection of this, for Americans find themselves in a season of questioning facts presented by any group through one-to-many (mass) media, including that which is highly political. Even the top-down messaging from the President of the United States to the citizens of the nation is becoming less and less “factual” with the citizens’ ability to deconstruct any presented narrative.

I view this as a good thing; many others don’t. It would be quite foolish, of course, to assert there are no “facts” in life, but those that drive narrative establishment are fewer and father in-between than you might think.

The 2016 presidential campaign brought to light purveyors of “fake” news, those websites disguised as news websites with deliberately false reports designed to gain pageviews without a conscience. More than for purely economic gain, these sites exploited the zeal of mostly right wingers who were motivated to pass along their lies via social media. One can argue the degree to which such false information influenced the election, but it certainly wasn’t zero. The term “fake news,” however, was too catchy for conservative commentators to ignore, so — in a remarkable feat of doublespeak — they simply applied it to their long time straw man, the so-called “liberal press.” This is the most dangerous leftover from the feast that put Mr. Trump in the White House, and it threatens every single one of our liberties. Since the birth of the Fourth Estate in the French Revolution, the press has served as a check on power in Western Civilization. They did not become such by pleasing the status quo, and this was a given for many centuries. To successfully label the watchdogs as “fakes” through political hackery is a result that could only come from the strategic use of propaganda.

Liberal political bias so dominates the mainstream press, the thinking goes, that it requires a deliberate conservative balance. This is a clever lie that I was partially responsible for spreading during my work as executive producer of The 700 Club in the 1980s. It’s a lie, because it presupposes that whatever we’ve historically known as “the news” is, in fact, politically motivated at core and therefore requires — no, demands — a corrective or “balancing” political response. The mind that drives President Trump’s strategies, Steve Bannon, repeated his description of the press as “the opposing party” in his appearance at this week’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon mocked the media for how it “portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they’re portraying the administration,” saying “it’s “always wrong,” during Thursday’s speech at CPAC

… Last month, Bannon told the New York Times, “The media here is the opposition party,” adding, “They don’t understand this country.” The former Breitbart executive and other Donald Trump surrogates have been combative with the media, often calling CNN “fake news.”

This is a political talking point and nothing more, The problem is that conservatives have hijacked the brand “liberal” and redefined it to suit their wishes, They’ve framed the press into an indefensible corner, a false hegemony that requires more than denial to escape.

The truth is that while “the news” may indeed cover politics, it cannot be political at core, for the proper word for that is propaganda, the toy of the public relations industry, not journalism. Granted, there has been a destructive blending of the two over the past 100 years, but there are a great many journalistic enterprises that remain untainted, and they are nearly all newspapers. Ethics matter in journalism, and I say that as a former ethics professor. The First Amendment, which gives the press a unique liberty, requires self-policing. Speech may be free, but consequences, economic or otherwise, are not, and no journalist in her right mind would dare venture beyond ethical protections. This is why newspapers created the editorial page, where leaders and members of the community could express political views based on “the news.” As one who has practiced journalism for over forty-five years, I can state emphatically that there is no liberal conspiracy or political slant to the news. By definition of the word “news,” what is considered news is, well, new, and by that measure, one could accurately state that “the news” is progressive by design. But that does not make it political, and therefore, a political response isn’t justified whatsoever. This is my beef with so-called “right wing news,” for it was created as a political response to the mainstream press, which makes it false by definition. There is no such thing. Its purveyors are living an illusion, and its followers are a mislead group, for the very best one can say about it is that it is propaganda disguised as “the news.”

As it exists today, this group has little regard for facts and has partially fueled the rise of the postmodern culture’s desperation to find, for themselves, order within the chaos that threatens their peace. The mainstream press is astonished at being labeled “fake” or Bannon’s “opposition party” and doesn’t yet have a strategy for fighting the label except to deny it. They cling to the long-established assumption of “objective historical facts,” while the social engineers on the right argue for alternative meanings. While I believe this is all quite necessary for our culture’s advancement, we’re going to have to eventually agree on this business of facts. Rather than addressing ignorance in productive ways, we’re hung up on yelling at each other, although I believe this will pass eventually.

Even arguing the opposite — a “distortion of objective historical facts” — is committing the same error of reason as relying on those same facts in one’s arguments. Those who do are trying to make a case for said facts without evidence. They are merely attempting to make an inarguable argument over often highly questionable assertions they are trying to prove, and it doesn’t work anymore, because people can make up their own minds with just a little research. The idea of objective facts has served our Western culture well, because modernity refined the concept of top-down rule based on this assumption. If the rulers said it was fact, it was fact. It doesn’t matter if the hierarchy is dictatorial or democratic, for both ultimately rely on the power to control narrative in matters of fact. When such hierarchies are revealed as self-serving, however, those on the lower rungs are free to question the narrative or narratives that gave the top its authority in the first place.

What Donald Trump represents is the figurehead of one of these deconstructions, which is reasonable and understandable. Many Americans view their current circumstances as the chaotic fruit of those despicable liberals in charge who always act in opposition to the best interests of their conservative thinking. This would be completely acceptable in a postmodern universe were it not for the false assumptions that created its propagandistic narrative in the first place. Postmodernity doesn’t “replace” modernity, and that’s the problem. One does not give up his ability to think and reason simply because participation and experience suggest otherwise.

The postmodernist may discard historical narratives in her quest for truth, but she must in the process investigate the facts that the authors used to create the narrative in the first place. This is the proper role of deconstruction, for one may reject the conclusions of her predecessors, but she may not do it at the expense of truth, whether objective, absolute, or chaotic.

Facts, we must always remember, do not exist solely to create order, for order, as Henry Adams so brilliantly put it, “is the dream of man,” while chaos is the reality of nature. Therefore, the postmodern mind embraces the idea of factual chaos, while the modern mind must consider such as functionally unreasonable. Thusly, the right wing narrative is as false as the left wing narrative, because neither represents the entirety of chaos. Time and chance do not suit the modernist mind, but these are part and parcel of the postmodern reality and beyond.

Upon consideration of the above, the modern mind will default to its versions of absolutism and especially the nature of expertise that is gleaned from an educational system designed to promote the hierarchy. This boxlike structure rejects anything outside as undesirable and attaches labels that dehumanize through mockery and disdain such people. This includes the “liberal” moniker, which has been defined over the last thirty years as anyone or anything that wants to take away what one has or prevent one from getting what they believe they deserve. It’s neat. It’s simple. And it’s also utterly self-serving, for the hierarchy must protect itself at all costs. Anything else is assumed chaotic, and chaos is never to be accepted in the governance of humans, even though John Wycliffe wrote upon completion of his common English language Bible, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Wycliffe knew that an internal governor was preferable to an external governor, because humans are so easily drawn away through self-centeredness, especially those with power over others.

The real American dream is self-governance, and without it, there is only the nightmare of the bayonet.

Donald Trump is by no means the end of this cultural shifting, but he is quite likely the beginning. For those of us in the trenches of life, we must do three things that are quite necessary in order to assure a bright future for our progeny.

First, we must protect at all costs our ability to freely connect. The web is open, for example, but Facebook is not, and this will drive darknet and backbone development in the decades to come. Net neutrality is the most important issue facing our culture, but most people don’t even know about it, which will enable corporations to steal the net from us. This will favor the haves, and we will be worse off than before.

Two, our day-to-day activities must include the recognition of narrative in those with claims of truth, any truth. This will be a challenge, for the education must begin with children. It is, however, an opportunity for someone. The dream that if we just work hard and keep our noses clean, we will be rewarded is a self-driven illusion of the ruling class, the only ones who really reap the rewards of a satisfied, lower-class labor force.

Finally, we must prepare ourselves and our children for an era of work very different from our parents. They’ll probably work at home or a home office of sorts. That means space, tools, a stout internet connection, and privacy. I agree with Mark Cuban that creative expression — and especially the ability to interpret data and provide creative analysis — is the job skill that will be most coveted downstream and especially in the near future. If you’re going to opt for college, move basic liberal arts to the top of the degree list, but it would also be useful to consider options outside college that will stretch the creative mind.

In essence, I view all of this as a necessary evil that we must get beyond. My entire life has been lived in a growing slough of bull crap, and humanity — free humanity — will never reach its potential in such muck. Life is certainly hard enough without being forced to trudge through the senseless nonsense designed to trap us all forever at the bottom of order’s pyramid.

Let chaos reign, at least for awhile.

Understanding “Alternative Facts”

Here’s a little perspective on the matter before us: Marketers have been lying to us since the days of the snake oil salesman. I’ve told the story before of the TV commercial I witnessed many years ago during the grapefruit diet fad. The ad was for so-called grapefruit pills that would help people lose weight. At least that was the assertion of the creator of the commercial. One scene featured a guy washing a horse who turned to the camera and actually said, “It’s so darned easy, it’s GOT to work!” If the FTC ever wanted to crack down on false advertising (they won’t), it would open the eyes of consumers everywhere.

There are many, many ways for marketers to lie. There’s lying by omission. When tissue companies, for example, sell the same sized box with fewer tissues inside for the same or slightly reduced price as before, they are lying to increase profits while giving the impression of holding the line on consumer costs. Welcome to the world of Madison Avenue and the secrets of mass marketing.

Well guess what? People are slowly catching on to these lies, and they’re sharing their knowledge with their families and friends, some of it via social media. It’s getting harder and harder to get away with such, even though there are still a substantial number of folks who’ll believe that it’s so darned easy it has to work. This is where we find ourselves today with all forms of mass media in the worlds of politics and news.

I have an ongoing study, for example, of events in the Middle East, thanks to my family living in Amman, Jordan. There are publications working to deconstruct the Zionist narrative that has been the public face of Israel since 1948. We all need to learn more about narratives, and especially those that undergird even our most basic assumptions of life, for very often these narratives are propaganda and very definitely false, at least to the point where they deserve regular review and often deconstruction.

All of this is to say that KellyAnne Conway’s “alternative facts” is really a fruit of what’s been taking place for years, that is the struggle of those who need to maintain narrative control in a media environment that questions narrative as self-serving propaganda. This is the beauty of our newly connected universe, for it’s impossible now for an institution (and government is certainly an institution) to maintain its own version of truth at the expense of those at the receiving end of their “service.”

This is going to get much worse in our culture, until we all learn that such falsehoods begin with lying to ourselves. Shakespeare wrote: “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, that thou canst not be false to any man.”

May that day come quickly.

Journalism’s “post-truth” era

ChaosThere has been much public weeping and gnashing of teeth by professional journalism observers in the wake of the industry’s (is it an industry or a trade?) loss in November with the election of Donald Trump. “Journalistic handwringing” has become one of my favorite current phrases. Everybody has their opinion about what happened that resulted in the press discovering it was far removed from the everyday people who make up the interior of the U.S. I’ve expressed my views, but I want to think out loud today about the latest revelation of the journalism world — that we’ve entered the “post-truth era.”

What exactly does post-truth mean? The Oxford Dictionary made it their 2016 “Word of the Year” and defined it thusly: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I think this definition serves journalism well, for we’ve already agreed that “transparency is the new objectivity.” Objectivity, it seems, was never really objective and hasn’t been since Creel Committee social engineers first wrote of “Manufacturing Consent.”

However, “post-truth” is terribly misleading as it relates to what’s happening beneath it, and that is that we’re on a learning curve for a new cultural era in the West. It’s not “post-truth;” it’s post-modern, which means we cannot rely on any single, top-down historical narrative anymore. I’ve been following this and reporting on it for fifteen years. Here are thoughts I expressed in an essay from December of 2002:

The digital era, created by the logic of a modernist world, has done far more than simply empower young people with knowledge. It is the force accelerating an enormous cultural shift and leaving broadcast news organizations in a very fragile position. Like Dorothy, Pomos have cast aside the curtain and revealed the Wizard for what he really is — a profit-motivated entity that they believe has fooled people for decades.

I’ve been predicting blowback against this the entire time I’ve been covering the beat, and the election of Donald Trump is certainly the fruit of this cultural shift. Why? Because we’re all deeply frightened about what it means. The uncertainty scares us. We feel unprepared. We stand before progress, as Henry Adams did in Paris over a century ago, when he wrote, “Chaos (change) is the way of nature. Order is the dream of man.”

So it isn’t really “post-truth,” because truth has historically been determined by those with the power to decide what it is, and that power (knowledge) is now being spread horizontally. The web itself — with its associative links — is constructed to function as a machine of deconstruction, the postmodern practice of slicing grand narratives to pieces in order to reveal the biases therein. In the end, the truth of history is revealed for what it really is: the subjective views of the writer, and we’re going to have to get used to something different. We’re going to have to start thinking in terms of multiple narratives and do our best to find information regarding each, so that we can decide for ourselves which is more believable and why. That’s why I say we’re on a learning curve that will be fraught with mistakes along with discoveries. Can we exist in such a world? We have no choice but to accept, study, and learn.

For example, someone recently asked me for “objective resources” on the Middle East, so that they could study points of view other than purely the Israeli narrative. I responded that there are virtually no “objective resources” anymore, and that the best we could do regarding this particular issue is include Mondoweiss in our daily news reading. The slogan of Mondoweiss is “Bringing the news to you that no one else will,” and it is serious journalism that offers alternative views — those outside the Zionist propaganda machine, hasbara — so the people can explore multiple narratives and be better informed. This is what “news” will be in our postmodern world, and we’ll all be much better off for it.

We are most certainly in a culture war, but this one transcends right versus left. Those two terms have become largely meaningless as they battle it out for supremacy throughout the land. It’s really modernism versus postmodernism, logic and reason versus participation, top-down versus horizontal, and it will change the world forever.

It has already begun.