The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
On Stepping Up
I saw this
in the news this morning, and figured at the same time that it was
about time I ranted about something, just to keep my hand in. To
summarize, Albuquerque Public Schools is planning to make their
long-standing policy of not checking a student's immigration status
official. Evidently, they feel that they have their hands full enough as
it is and that every student who wants to be there, legal or not, is a spot of hope in a seemingly mangy future.
I agree with them on both counts, so I'm not going to rant about that. Instead, I'll rant about the comments below the story.
Of course, there are always people ready to bash the schools and the
entire notion of education because they're unionized and "elitist," and
some of the regulars can even spell competently. I don't know why I read
them because I always want to respond, which of course means I have to
sign up for yet another in an endless succession of little services
designed to allow me that privilege, and they often have frustrating
name/password requirements and I'm just not willing to keep all of them
straight, so fuck it, I'll just rant.
So some people think the schools should insure immigration status. Fine.
I want to know what THOSE people do for a living, and how they are
restricting their services to benefiting only legal Americans.
If you work in a grocery store, are you making sure that your customers
are citizens? Obviously, people won't come here illegally if no one
sells them food.
If you work for the cable company, are you checking to make sure that
Spanish package isn't being watched by illegals? Why should illegals get
to watch TV just because you make a hookup fee?
If you're an EMT, do you make sure that's a real American you're
scraping off the road and into an ambulance before using American blood
to save a life?
If you run a hot dog stand, are you asking for green cards? Again, no food, no stay.
If you're a landscaper, do you make sure the apartment complexes you mow
don't house illegals? Should good Americans like you do business with
If you're a bartender, do you ask for more than just proof of age when filling that order for dos Tecates?
What do you mean it isn't your job?
Certainly, if we're going to add immigration control duties to a
teacher's already wobbling plate with no increase in pay or input of
resources, isn't it fair to do that with everyone else, too? Shouldn't
your convenience store slow down the lines a little and make sure
everyone is legal? Your car wash? Everything in Wal-Mart is red,white,
and blue. Shouldn't they stand up for that? Somewhere BEFORE the
Shouldn't we ALL put on our Junior G-Man badges and do our part to make
sure that everyone we meet in our work lives is legal? Shouldn't we ALL
put America's needs over our own and adopt this standard, making our own
jobs, our own lives, more complicated and even rejecting business (and
the school-supporting tax revenue that comes with it) from those who
aren't here legally?
No, you say? Checking legal status isn't your job, you say?
As much as I've embraced subculture at times, I'm a traditionalist about certain things, like the English language. For instance, when reading I start in the upper left and move rightward and, at appropriate moments, down. This habit generally serves, unless someone needs to write something directly onto a street, and then as a driver I see
which I naturally read as "XING PED." When I see this, my second thought (the first is being stricken, as I have been for decades, with the fact that we can reduce the five-letter word "cross" to "X" but are stuck spelling "ING" out completely) is that it is upside down. The idea, obviously, is that while I'm watching the road, the "PED" will hit my eyes before the "XING."
But I don't drive like that. Mr. Magoo drives like that. I tend to look up and view the vast panorama of everything I'm careening toward: vehicles not in my lane, ones that are, road signs written traditionally, landmarks, and if they're lucky, crossing pedestrians. I think most people drive with something besides the road immediately before their car in sight and mind, so this inversion of words betrays a curious short-sightedness that, upon reflection, I see in many other areas of American life.
Take jobs, for instance. I remember getting my first transistor radio when I was very young in the early 70s, as well as my parents' comments that it, like so many things those days, was made in Japan. As I grew up it became a cliché. Hope and Carson joked about it and we laughed because it was true. People noted it constantly, bemoaned it patriotically, and resigned themselves to it when they shopped because this radio was half the price of that one and they're sure the quality was good enough and the other company wouldn't go out of business just because they didn't sell this one radio, anyway. Then Taiwan joined in, and Singapore, and China, et al. And while we joked and sighed about it, millions of Americans pretended that the benefits the American Dream offered – property, security, advancement, retirement – were still available – nay, owed - to anyone with a high school diploma and a good (or decent, anyway) work ethic. Now millions of Americans sit in import–furnished homes looking for someone to blame – government, unions, environmentalists, illegal immigrants- for the fact that the American Dream wasn't waiting for them with open arms. We've become consumers that don't produce over the last 50 years. Where were our eyes pointed? How did we look at the road leading to it for 50 years without seeing it?
We've done the same thing with energy. I wasn't yet ten when oil's future – or lack of it – became clear. The need for alternative energy was clear during the first energy crisis of the 70s, and clearer in the second. Then with the 80s came cheap gas, and the solar panels came off the White House and America forgot all about alternative energy sources. Now, when oil's international politics have gotten sticky and domestic production, particularly in the gulf, has gotten stickier, we find ourselves in a scramble for alternatives that, we hope, will provide jobs as well as savings and less pollution.
In the meantime, Ol' Reliable – that is, Big Oil – has its own short-sightedness poster boy in BP. To save $500, 000, they declined to use a safety valve that they use in other nations, one that could have stemmed the flow of oil by remote control when the leak began. Now look at their tab; look at the colossal environmental, human, and economic cost to our nation. This was a company looking directly down at the road before them. Had they looked up, they might have seen the billboard that reads "A stitch, in time, saves nine." Now watch as it happens in China and Michigan as well. No, we're not alone in this, but we should, after longer development, have learned by now.
Can we even count all the ways we've been shortsighted? After tax cuts during two unbudgeted wars can a deficit really have snuck up on us? After lowering standards and coddling self-esteem for 40 years can we really be surprised by graduates that barely read and don't know their own nation's geography but feel they're worth top pay? After falling for the same partisan political dogma year after year after year can we sincerely feel victimized by politicians that snipe more than they solve?
This isn't meant to be a huge epiphany. I have no wonderful plan to solve all of our problems, no claim to a magic key.
I just can't help but feeling that we could have avoided many of our problems, and may avoid many more to come, by the simple act of looking up from the road once in awhile to see what obstacles may be there that aren't presaged by inverted writing.
We're hearing a lot about blame these days. It's the economy, obviously.
A year and a half (not the two years that so many people seem to think) into the Obama presidency, a lot of people feel that it is far too late to blame Bush the Younger for our dismal economic situation. Besides, many of them will happily inform you, it's actually Clinton's, Carter's, and FDR's fault as well as Obama's. But don't try to lay the blame on Bush this late in the game.
Others are busily pointing out that the economy wasn't born on January 20th, 2009, and that the recession had already been born by that date as well. They'll explain that Bush being president when the recession began is a result of the trappings of a linear time system, one that allows only rhetorical revision. It can't be changed in reality the way a movie is edited with software. Besides, they'll say, look at all that GOP obstructionism since then. It's all the right's fault, every little bit.
The rest don't know WHO to blame. They'll decide on someone eventually. They'll probably be wrong.
Because, America, if you want to find the real culprits, the ones who allowed and helped our economy to circle the drain, you really needn't look further than the mirror. THERE'S the bastard you're mad at.
Let's start with jobs, which Obama should have provided for every American who wants one by now, right? Didn't you see the steady bleed of American jobs to foreign shores beginning in the late 1960s? Of course you did. You pontificated on it endlessly, warning people what would happen if they bought Volkswagens and Suburus and Hondas. You slapped that American flag from Reader's Digest on your Ford and then drove it to Sears or K-Mart or Zayre and filled it with foreign clothes and household goods that were excellent bargains. After all, YOUR job wasn't going anywhere. You were, of course, justly outraged when those foreign goods became the only ones available. Look what those unpatriotic bastards in their Kias had done!
Let's look at the deficit now. Did you happen, perchance, to notice the surplus that we had in 1999? The reduced welfare rolls that we had that same year? Perhaps you did. Or, perhaps, you were part of the vast majority that was uptight about a blowjob.
Stop and reminisce for a moment. In 1999, having a president who got a blowjob from someone other than his wife qualified as America's Biggest Problem. Ah, simpler times. I miss that blowjob, and I wasn't even the one who received it.
Things got complicated fast after that, didn't they? That surplus went up in a flurry of $300 checks before 9-11 burst forth. And from that day on you took your eye off of the ball, economy-wise, until Bush's presidency was in its last stretch.
Remember two wars, run entirely OFF the federal budget? Remember the tax breaks, the first ever during wartime in our nation's history, which came with these wars? You noticed that, right?
Sure you did, but what of it? It may have resonated on some deeper level that this wasn't a sustainable policy, but what the hell. YOU were keeping more money in your pocket, if you were rich enough and not prey to the already-stagnant wages making the rounds, and you were supporting the troops in spirit if not finance, right? You gave them all that hero-talk and bought that American flag – hey, when did they start making THOSE in China? – at WalMart for the SUV's window to show how patriotic you are. Why worry about something that wasn't a problem yet, especially when you were doing okay yourself? Besides, the guy running this show said that we'd pay for all this with the enemy's oil, and anyone peddling such easy answers HAS to be right.
You've had your steady stream of distractions to keep you busy, as well. There's Survivor, Idol, Dancing, Mad Men, Sopranos, longer sports seasons every year, all the things you have to know all about in order to be a normal person who can converse with other normal people around the coffee pot. Why not? There are people, after all, who are PAID to look at all the things that are going on, condense them for your easy ingestion, and tell you how to feel about them. The Becks, Limbaughs, Olbermanns, and Shultzes of the world. All you have to do is find the one that you are sure will never steer you wrong, the one whose opinions sound so much like the ones you would form that you trust him/her implicitly, no matter how ridiculous the rants get.
But whoa! Mr. Troll, you say. I'm informed! I watch the news, I read a paper!
Sure, you get your daily dose of half-truths from the Short Attention Span Theater of the modern corporate media. Once again, you find one that echoes the values you want to hear about, reports the "facts" you want to be true. Thus you may believe that tax cuts are more stimulative than unemployment benefits, despite the evidence to the contrary; that adding to the deficit via tax cuts is somehow better than adding to it via spending; that only Republican obstructionism is to blame for the inadequacies of the health care and financial reform bills; that either party is taking the higher road when it comes to corruption or lobbyist influence; that the people who haven't been creating jobs in America during the Bush tax cuts will begin to do so if only those cuts are extended. You may even believe that Obama had a ghost of a chance to bring back, in 1½ years, the jobs we've lost over the last 40, regardless of how much was spent or not spent, how much was taxed or not taxed.
It could be very different. We have the best means of informing ourselves that has ever existed. You're looking at it now. (No, not my blog, silly! The Internet.) It can be a source of enlightenment, or it can just as easily – no, far more easily – be used to find what people want to hear. It can inform us as to what is really going on, or it can help us hide in our comfort zones (as I explain in detail here) and make uninformed decisions. We used to have Murrows and Cronkites to ask the tough questions. Now we have to do it ourselves, but we first have to be willing to challenge our beliefs and inclinations. As always, truth and good sense are out there, but won't be handed to us. We have to seek them.
And when you vote this year, remember what that fink in the mirror has been doing to you all this time.
education are so closely intertwined that they are usually considered
synonymous. If one is educated, the common assumption goes, one has been
schooled.When one finishes school, then
one is educated. As obvious as this seems, however, it fails to account for
many an ignoramus with a diploma or even an advanced degree.Certainly, in America practically all of us
are schooled, but few would suggest that practically all Americans are
educated. This is often due to what schools don’t do, but even more due to what
Education is not
necessarily schooling, and schooling frequently fosters a bad attitude toward
education.Do youngsters jump out of bed
each weekday morning with sunny smiles agape, eager to learn new words,
historical facts, and mathematical formulae? A few may, and be targets of schoolyard
derision for it, but for most any zeal relates to seeing friends, andothers lack even that. School may be
romantically recalled by adults but to many a child sitting aboard the big
yellow prisoner transports, the coming school day is viewed as an eternity
sitting still hearing “blah, blah, blah,” over and over and over while the sun
shines and the birds sing and the world turns outside where things are actually
able to happen. To them, education
(like schooling), is repeating things their teachers say until they can repeat
them without the teacher; it is writing the same letter again and again and again
in cursive script until their hands cramp up; it is having to pore over things that
hold no interest or relevance for them. It is, in short, hard work, not some
magical adventure over the Reading Rainbow, and it doesn’t end when they go
As the student
grows older and the work grows harder, it also becomes more abstract. What
teenager ever understands why he’s learning the quadratic equation? What
teenager ever understands why it’s important to understand the symbolism in The Scarlet Letter? What adult in his
thirties hasn’t had that sudden epiphany, that connection that springs savagely
to mind between what he’s doing and some bit of unapplied knowledge he picked
up 15 years before? Shouldn’t that connection have been present in the first
place? How does anyone learn to value education without seeing how it is
actually going to be used?
existence may be scuttled by the idea that education is the sole province of
youth. Graduation, for many, is the proclamation that you’ve learned all you
need to know, despite the predictably unheard exhortations to the contrary in
every faculty speech given. It is the goal, the achievement, the culmination of
hundreds upon hundreds of mind-numbing afternoons, and if society regards them
as off the hook, off the hook they will stay. College-level schooling is pushed
most heavily before high school graduation, as if it were most appropriate to that
age, prompting many to make a final choice far too early: sit at that desk for
another 4 to 8 years, or go out and try to make something happen.Haven’t we all known someone who was “too old
to go back to school” – at 25?
harmful message, however – its greatest betrayal to education itself – is in
teaching children to accept what they are told and not challenge their elders,
their authorities. With this boot educators stamp out the ember of youthful
curiosity that should, instead, be fanned to flame. This message says “Believe whatever
we tell you. What we don’t tell you isn’t important.” It wet-nurses not just
gullibility, but also the notion that being educated involves no more than
listening to a favored “authority,” be it Karl Rove or James Carville, Rush
Limbaugh or Randy Rhodes. How can one be educated without the ability – nay,
the inclination – to doubt not only what one is told, but what one thinks
I urge you, you
adults these children have become - throw off your schooling’s mental shackles!Be curious. Doubt. Examine. Double-check.
Reconsider. Turn off CSI and read a
book – or at least watch National
Geographic. If you decide to take a class, don’t worry about your
classmates’ ages; just think about how you will use the knowledge gained. Make
education eternal, even though school is not, because once you stop learning,
you’re dead – whether you’re schooled enough to know it or not.
My prior post, On Bigotry, was actually the first half of an assignment for my Writing with Classical Tropes class. The assignment was to write anything we wanted, within a certain length, and I had wanted to write that essay for Under the Bridge anyway. The second half was to select one paragraph and analyze it for the tropes, or figures of speech, that are recognizable. The main tools for this exercise are A Handbook of Rhetorical Terms by Richard A. Lanham (whom Professor Shea refers to as "The Holy Richard" but I think of as "Biggus Dickus") and a website called Silva Rhetoricae, or The Forest of Rhetoric. The assignment was NOT to use any specific tropes or a minumum number; it was to write as we always do and then pick it apart afterwards. These exercises are called "lemon squeezers" by Shea (although I'm leaning toward the term "trope mope." I chose the fourth paragraph, which begins "And so they divide." The italicized tropes are defined in the text, and the above link should help if I failed to make any meanings unclear.
The writers among you may be interested in this process and, given this example, be motivated to pick apart a paragraph or two of your own? (Note: I wrote this on Word and pasted it - if you see any cyberwierdness in it on your browser - IE especially - that's most likely why.)
On On Bigotry
By Joe Serio
In my essay On Bigotry, I make the argument that bigotry is alive and well in
America, and obviously so.Of course,
there is the racial and class bigotry that permeates every corner of the world,
but the essay focuses on the recent growth of political bigotry. This manifests
itself just as racial bigotry does with political opinions – both real and
imagined – as the basis, rather than race. The fourth paragraph comes after
political bigotry is introduced and defined, and serves as a complex exemplum, or example, of how political
The first sentence is wildly busy.
The first half is a clear brevitas, or
brief statement; “And so they divide.”A
series of three antitheses, or
contrasts, follow the semicolon.Atop these
antitheses lies a progressio, where I
build my point around a series of comparisons; “Republican or Democrat,
conservative or liberal, us or them.” The parallel structure, where each phrase
contains the word “or” in the middle of a three-word antithesis, is isocolon.
Furthermore, the second segment is also an auxesis,
in that I started at specific political parties, opened up to more general
political philosophies, and ended with the broadest and vaguest division
possible; “us or them.” Finally, and hypothetically, each part of the second
segment is, in itself, quite brief. Perhaps this entire sentence could be
considered a compound brevitas? (Just joking there, UtB readers!)
I begin the second sentence with anastrophe, the unusual arrangement of
words for a poetic effect; “As do racial bigots” rather than the more pedestrian
“as racial bigots do.” At sentence’s end I begin a device that I use for the
rest of the essay – emphasizing certain words with italics. Consultation with
learned council has led me to see this as a written form of augendi causa, the raising of the voice
for emphasis.This device permeates the
next two sentences, which serve as exemplum
to the second sentence.These sentences
are formed from two antitheses:
bigoted views of one side versus the other. The first part of each antithetical
sentence rests on hyperbole; in this
case, exaggerating the opposition’s faults. The second half of each rests upon euphemismus; ameliorating the home
team’s faults.It is tempting to
consider these sentences together to be another progressio, as they do offer another series of comparisons. Looking
more closely, however, these sentences compare and contrast within parallel
clauses – their this, our that - meaning I used syncrisis in both.Furthermore, I also used dialogismus in the wording, as I was speaking from another person’s
character; either a conservative bigot or a liberal one, it matters not. Brevitas
briefly returns with “They’re all liars.” Alliteration
arrives with “misquoted and misunderstood.”
The next sentence tropelessly begins
a repetition of the pattern set in the second sentence. It makes a
straightforward claim for the next two-sentence exemplum.These latter sentences
speak from the bigot’s point of view once again, in a more paraphrased dialogismus. Each sentence is a syllogism, or the political bigot’s one-premise form of the trope;
“if” this, “you must” that. Of course, giving the contrasting views one
sentence apiece formed another antithesis
between them.The structure of the
two sentences is parallel as well, with the aforementioned “if” followed by one
belief and “you must” followed by two assumed beliefs. This structure, unlike
that of the previous two-sentence exemplum,
is close enough to be defined as isocolon.
Having clearly illustrated the
division mentioned in the paragraph’s first clause, I wrap things up in classic
fashion with erotesis, more commonly
known as a rhetorical question – one that suggests its own answer. Here I
suggest not a division, but a likeness – a union, if you will - between
political bigotry and its more traditional cousin, racial bigotry.In this lay irony; for in their zeal to create differences, bigots are
ultimately all the same.
Lanham, Richard. A Handlist of
Rhetorical Terms. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1991.
As I mentioned in my last post, there are those who would now have us believe that bigotry is something America has outgrown. After all, they will say, racial prejudice is no longer a mainstream, accepted attitude. Any hint of bigotry, they'll tell you, and the PC Police knock down your door. If that still doesn't convince you that our shores are now free of racism, they'll simply point you to our Nigerian President.
While ruminating on such, I found this news item. It seems that a Jewish fraternity has been planning a move to a new house near the University of Memphis, so someone decided to welcome them to the neighborhood by painting swastikas on the house's exterior. No one can claim that the fraternity's behavior had made them unwelcome, as they haven't even moved in yet. This was simply simple-minded hatred against Jews just because they're Jews.
Now, people can argue until Ragnarok about whether it was meant to be a serious threat, or merely a childish prank. As it happened on Fraternity Row, it's easy to see the prank angle. What kind of mind sees such a prank as funny, however? What personality will see this as worth actually putting time and effort into? The bigoted mind, of course-the small, insignificant mind that says to itself "Well, they're only Jews (or Blacks or Muslims or Asians or Democrats or trailer trash or mimes or whatever) so I, being inherently superior, can have some fun at their expense."
You know…… assholes.
Of course, this is just one out of millions of instances of bigotry that happen every day, in every state, every town, every block. It's a little flashier, wholly reprehensible, and invokes a war we actually won, so it gets the media attention. They can't possibly show every slur or threat against minorities, every lie about people of the other political party, every loogie in a cop's fast food sandwich. But then, they don't have to, because bigots will create their own displays, like the one in this news item's comments.
The first one comes from a person called "Susan" (hereafter, the sarcastic quotes around these peoples' names will be absent, but understood) who charmingly suggests that the Jewish fraternity did this themselves for the publicity. This is, of course, idiotic. Who needs this kind of publicity?
Still, nothing is so idiotic that someone won't reply to it (unless inured by experience) so Susan finds a sparring partner, Michelle. Her first volley is the old "I'm more educated" game – I'm a history major so I know about these things. Predictably, her opposition turned out to have two graduate degrees in something or other, which of course makes HER the most educated. The education bigot loses round one. Susan (with sarcastic quotes, remember) then decides that Michelle isn't a real Jew, while she has traced her lineage back to the "real Jews who stayed in Persia."
Other bigots begin chiming in. A political bigot blames the swastikas on "liberal socialists," obviously confusing them with National Socialists and more than likely not understanding either term.
Susan returns with a lot of news. First, she agrees with Ahmadinejad about the Holocaust, she makes an anti-Christian comment, and then finally comes out of the closet as a Muslim, after which all her opponents simply say "Well, no wonder." Very naïve of them, I'd say, because I don't believe Susan for a moment. After all, do militant pro-jihad Islamic fundamentalists normally begin their tirades with "I'm a history major, so I know!" or "You're not a REAL Jew, and I am?" No, they normally come out of the gate with a bunch of genocide-stolen land-White Devil- Glory of Allah type stuff. Susan is simply one of those people who like to start arguments on the Internet and will pretend to be anything or anyone toward that end. I forget what those people are called. Oh, yes – assholes.
It doesn't end there. One person who decides to actually make sense argues against the whole "Zionist agenda" argument by saying "An educated person would know that races of people aren't conspirators as a whole." But bigotry cancels out education, doesn't it, just acids and bases or matter and anti-matter.
Going further, Robt.in Ctown expresses hatred toward all immigrants, someone else chimes in with a statement against all religions, someone comfortable with the screen name Kikehymie suggests that the vandalism should have been a lynching of Jews instead, and then the crown jewel of it all, a comment titled "The November Criminals," which lays out the 12 point creed of the KKK, including hatred toward:
All non-white immigrants
All welfare recipients, regardless of race
All HIV+, regardless of race
All foreign investors
All free trade partners
Consider, for a moment, that in 50 comments, this was what stood out the most; people taking the opportunity to share their own bigotries and petty, pointless hatreds. Again, we see that bigotry nullifies the effect of education, as an educated person would instantly know that the article itself does not invite such a reaction.
Oh, yes, I'm afraid that bigotry – racial, religious, class, education, and political – is very much alive and well in America, and I fear that the intellectual homogenization enabled by the Internet will only make it worse. When people can easily find support for what they want to believe and join online communities with "their kind" exclusively instead of taking part in a greater marketplace of ideas, the "us and them" mentality becomes easier and easier to adopt, even when it's aimed at people who are very like the bigots themselves. I'm afraid that we aren't finished with bigotry by a long shot.
There is much talk of bigotry fueling President Obama's opposition, along with many denials. "How can there be bigotry in America when a black man has been elected President?" some ask, as if the election had been unanimous. Others deny bigotry by claiming that they oppose the President's policies, not the man himself, and the fraction of them who also decried Bush's skyrocketing deficit and government expansion may be in earnest about that.
It's clear, however, that bigotry plays a role in the President's opposition. The 400 % increase in death threats since Obama took office is hardly attributable to concern over health care reform. Arguing for racial bigotry's complete absence is impossible when facing propaganda that portrays Obama as an African witch doctor, pre-election statements about the "White House" having that name for a reason, and "Barack the Magic Negro." On a clear day I can't be convinced that the sky is any color but blue.
I can give the bigots this, however; not all the bigotry we see is racial bigotry. Another kind, political bigotry, has been growing. It's evident when we see people both right and left picking "sides" the way they choose a football team. They frequently don't consider what the labels are supposed to mean; after all, they have media-supplied stances to follow after they pick their side, whether these positions make sense or not. They never view debate as an opportunity to see another point of view, a different aspect to an issue that their experience does not provide – no, debate is to show how stupid they are and how smart we are. Political bigots see no validly differing philosophies; their side is wrong and bad, ours is correct and good, just as racial bigots view other cultures.
And so they divide: Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, us or them. As do racial bigots, they defend their own faithfully while finding whatever fault possible with them. Their intern-diddler reflects on their entire side's moral decay; ours is an aberration, shamefully exploited by a spiteful media. They're all liars; we're misquoted and misunderstood. The political bigot can sum up an opponent in a second by simply applying a stereotypical platform to anyone espousing one item on the list. If you're against the war, you must be anti-capitalism and anti-gun. If you're against abortion, you must also oppose church/state separation and health care reform. Is this any different than the bigot who assumes than any given one of those people is a criminal or welfare cheat or just loves watermelon?
Of course, political bigotry infects both sides. It is disingenuous, however, to pretend that both sides display equal symptoms; the greater gangrene is on the right. Obama's first seven months have seen more partisanship than Bush's entire first term, and people who pretend otherwise are lying to themselves. Those who claim that the unanimous opposition from Republican congressmen is a payback for what Bush received are particularly self-deceptive; they are ignoring, not forgetting, the ease with which two wars began and the PATRIOT Act passed.
Saddest of all, political bigots can't be friends with those they disagree with. The bigot's preference for filtering input – getting news from pundits because the media is biased toward them, for instance – eventually includes personal input. A polite disagreement is answered not with facts, but insults; a request for sources becomes an attack on the speaker's integrity. The bigot eschews the company of anyone who disagrees, becomes entrenched in reinforcement, even brags about moving cross-country to get away from them and be among us. Therein lay the grandest lie; for what could be less patriotic than freely and purposely choosing to despise your countrymen because of their –real or imagined- opinions?
For certain, I'm not prepared to OPPOSE such a thing, but to be honest, I'm not sure I see the point.
Does anyone really observe Pearl Harbor Day anymore? A few, but only a few, and fewer every year.
No one really bothers to Remember the Maine, though. Remembering the Alamo is done purely for reasons of tourism.
The morning of 9-11 was something that no one who was alive and
cognizant that day will ever forget without help from Alzheimer's. It
was, I guess, our generation's "moment." Just as our parents all know
exactly where they were when Kennedy was shot, we can all recount our
tales of how we found out about 9-11. In fact, I just did so this
afternoon in an exercise for my Documentary Videomaking class. I was
planning to make several callbacks to the Trade Center that morning.
I'd been building a phone rapport in a few of the offices over the
prior weeks. I've often hoped that those folks were on the lower floors.
The point is, I'll always have that connection to the date. I'll think
of it every year. I won't make a show of it with an FB post or a
t-shirt, as I'm not the demonstrative sort (not that there's anything
wrong with that), but I'll think and feel about it without any
prompting from anyone.
However, the next generation won't, because to them it will be as Pearl
Harbor is to us: a piece of history. Not a shaking event that rattled
the nation's sense of security to the core, as these two events were to
their respective generations, but as a a date in history that they have
no heartstring tied to. That is, unless we fail them as our parents'
generation didn't fail us when they solved the problem themselves. Even
in that event, however, the feeling won't quite be the same.
So the reality of it is that our generation doesn't need to be reminded
of the day or how we feel about it, and if made official it will be
mere calendar clutter by 2060 at the latest. Not that our legislators
wouldn't LOVE the distraction of having to run this through the
channels, mind you.
And why, knowing that we'll never forget it ourselves, do we want to
make a holiday of it? That question could lead to some serious
self-discovery, couldn't it? Careful, now.
Certainly, people are sincere in feeling that this day should never be
forgotten, ever, but they must know that this isn't realistic. Again,
people felt that way about the Alamo, and they were sincere, too. Life
will always heal the wounds of such atrocities under bandages made from
bigger, newer atrocities.
Perhaps, and this is only a suggestion, we need to feel that after
eight long years, something can actually be done decisively about it?
Even if we can't get Osama, even if we can't eliminate Al Queda (whose
name should really be HYDRA, they've got so damn many arms), we can at
least do this? Perhaps it will make us as patriotic as the Pearly
Harbor folks, despite the fact that they sacrificed their rubber, meat,
sugar, and cookware to help the war effort where we took tax breaks
instead and went shopping? Perhaps we just need to do something because
we don't know what the hell to do but aren't ready to drop it, either?
So really, you want to give the folks in Washington the nod to pursue
this aside from than the truckload of issues they're already falling
behind on, I won't fight against it. I'll just be over in the corner,
Note: To see what Shuffleathon 2008 was about,see here.
This was a very difficult piece to begin writing.
Usually, when I need or want to write something, I think about it a while and then I sit down and write it. I can write about things I never even thought about before researching them for a piece. I can write about things I don't WANT to write about, like those damn reflective essays Burbank likes to assign (and which are always useful). I can even write fairly easily about the time I saw my grandma's tits even though I trytryTRY not to ever, ever remember that.
But for this piece I had a definite and longstanding pattern of avoidance and that really got to bugging me, mainly because I was still doing it after I recognized it. Hell, I continued doing it even after I decided to write about it.What was that about?
I mean, a day without music doesn't happen very often to me. One wall of my living room is devoted to CD racks, and even when – as now- my player is on the fritz, I have Gregory, my Cowon iAudio7 (named for Pope Gregory I, whose contribution to the spread of music was considerable to say the least). There is always something to listen to – piles and piles of stuff to listen to. I thought that Shuffleathon was a good idea, I was pleased as punch to get a post from England(hey, who was that? All I have is an e-mail address, as I've long since lost the envelope.) and was impressed with the nifty origami card stock thingie that the disc was placed in, although it made the list a bit challenging to read as it was spread about the perimeter of the unfolded sheet. It listed only a couple bands that I've heard of, and none that I had actually listened to. "Cool," I thought, "I can learn about some new bands."
Then it languished. And languished. And languished on. Meanwhile, I listened to a hundred+ bootlegs over the course of a semester. With so much music at my beck and call (at time of this writing, I still have well over 50 burned discs awaiting a spin and 182 folders of mp3s waiting to be loaded onto Gregory, each representing a concert – and high multiples of those numbers in discs and folders already listened to) it is easy for something to be lost in the tide. On the other hand, how difficult is it for me to put something on TOP of the stack? Shouldn't break an arm.
After several reminders, I sat down to listen to it and take notes about what I heard (and I'd sure like to know where THOSE walked off to!). I did just that and liked, for the most part, what I heard. I kept thinking about other things I should be doing, though. After about six songs, I stopped it and went on to something else. I needed to, and that bugged me even as I did it.
I remember the excitement that greeted a new LP in my youth. I would sit and give it most of my attention, reserving just a little for the cover art, the inner sleeve, the notes, any and all information that came as part of the package. Then, if I liked it I would do this over and over again. I could easily memorize albums, and become familiar with every detail of the packaging. I was the guy who always knew who was in the band and what they played, who produced it, who guested even to the tiny details like Toni Tenille's spoken role in Pink Floyd's The Wall (Wanna take a bath?), and who made the cover art (usually Hipgnosis).
I'm not really certain when that ended. Did it end when the cover art became postage-stamp sized, or because I got older and have more stuff to do? Gregory helps me listen to a lot more music because I can have the music with me when I'm DOING things, which, it seems, is how I always listen anymore. But I wasn't busy when I tried to listen to this disc, just restless. Did I simply outgrow the desire to pay that much attention to a disc, or is it that there isn't as much these days to become enrapt in? Is it because the albums themselves grew longer as the format shifted? Was it the result of the great musical deluge?
The deluge started when I joined the BMG music club and designed a way to get loads and loads of CDs at their cheapest price, "free" (which comes to approx. $2.50 per disc). I stocked the blues and jazz collection up quite a bit, but didn't sit and absorb anymore. I had begun school part time and worked full time, and listened to discs mainly in my car. Then the concert deluge began. For a long time, I gathered as much as I could, figuring that the opportunity would be brief. Two of my favorite sites, in fact, were shut down within a few months of my getting into it even though they had policies against sharing commercially available material. I had to get what I could while the getting was good, I thought. So I did. Months turned into years, and I slowly realized that even if this scene disappeared overnight I had enough to last a lifetime, so I've slowed down considerably. I can't stop completely, of course – Jeff Beck still tours, after all. Still, a new acquisition doesn't have the emotional impact it did when I had to save my sheckels for weeks to buy something.
So, having realized the problem, I addressed it by converting the disc to mp3 and loading it into Gregory. And there it languished. And thus I learned a couple more things about how I've changed.
First, I don't really think about individual songs that much anymore. While buying individual tunes online has, for most people, ushered in a new era for the single, I tend to listen mostly to concerts and see things in terms of entire performances. Just as I used to say "That was a good album" I will now say "That was a good show." This happens even more when I listen to several shows from the same tour, which will frequently have the same or similar setlists. I listen to it as a performance, and judge it as a performance, not a collection of songs. It is the instrumentation that really matters – what the musicians can do in the moment. For instance, I haven't listened to the studio version of Stairway to Heaven in over a decade, and I don't want to. As part of a Led Zeppelin concert, however, I can listen to it over and over (I've picked up a lot of 1980 Zep shows lately) and always hear it freshly when I do, because it isn't Stairway to Heaven as much as it is part of a Zep show. Does that make sense?
Secondly, I pick what show I'm going to listen to according to my mood. Am I in a Pink Floyd mood, or would a Dexter Gordon show suit me better at the moment? If Floyd, am I in the mellow, mysterious mood good for a 1970 show or would the harder, more cynical edge of the 1977 shows be better? Mix discs, by nature, usually try to express a flow from one mood to another, encompassing several. But I'm never in SEVERAL moods at once. I've grown more accustomed to the thematic thread that will run through a performance most of the time.
Still I managed to listen to it all while on campus, and found it to be an enjoyable listen. Still, I didn't write, mainly because of finals. After finals, I found that I still didn't have notes for each song, which seemed requisite, so I really had to listen to it over again. There we have another change – I realize now that rarely do I listen to anything twice in a year. If you had over 200 things ready to listen to at any given time, how often would you listen to the same thing? I consider, for example, Led Zep's June 18 1980 show in Cologne to be different from their June 21 1980 performance in Rotterdam despite the identical setlist. The solos aren't exactly the same, the energy isn't exactly the same, and so it isn't the same to me. It's hard to listen to ANYTHING again when there are a couple hundred things awaiting their first listen. Especially if you have to sit there and pay complete attention to it.
Ultimately, the music and I reached a compromise. I listened once again and took notes while writing all of this. You'll see them below. Taken as a whole, I enjoy this disc, even though my tastes for years have been running more toward blues, jazz, and instrumental jams – I almost never pay attention to lyrics anymore, except (as in this instance) when I really try to (ever try paying attention to lyrics while you write? Not the easiest thing I've attempted so far today). I've decided, over the years, that nothing can kill a great tune faster than stupid or trite lyrics (Elton John's Rocket Man being my favorite example). Given that, my notes below may seem incomplete or unfair. Music, like any other interpretive art, unfolds itself to me slowly, however, and many times I don't know how much I like a new song for quite awhile, and the music itself better be interesting enough to get us there. The sound of it comes first in all instances. That said, I like the feel of this disc, I like the way it flows from one feel to the next, and I can genuinely respect the thought that was obviously put into it. There are a couple bands here that I will definitely try to find more of – and I'll be interested to see what they can do live, naturally. Any time I learn something new, I like.
More important, though, is the way it made me look at things. Sure, it took a long time to get into it, but that time, I see now, was an essential part of the journey. This disc didn't just turn me on to Death Cab for Cutie (whom I had hard of before, but ignored, frankly, because of their name) – this made me actually spend considerable time in introspective analysis about how I listen to music, and how the change in how I treat music reflects greater changes in my life and my personality. In that, this may be one of the most important discs I have received in my adult life.
I think I'll keep it on Gregory for a while. That Rotterdam show should be so lucky.
The Disc Itself
1) Quote from TV or something..... all the pieces matter, obviously her intended approach to making the disc.
2) Fuse - Joe Henry. Mellow, bluesy, kind of just flows through me.
3) Strawberry Letter 23 - Shuggie Otis. A little faster, kind of Beatle-ish. Catchy tune. Repetitious bit at the end that could be much shorter. What's a Shuggie?
4) Angel - Massive Attack. I like this. Starts really moody and builds to greater intensity, going back and forth. This would be a great Chicago-expressway-in-the-middle-of -the-night song. The type of song that should never be heard in adequate lighting.
5) I Will Possess Your Heart - Death Cab for Cutie. Great groove, wonderful bass line. Reminds me of New Order in a way. I don't know who plays bass for this band but the style evokes Sara Lee, formerly of Fripp's League of Gentlemen and the B-52s. Would work great as a mood piece even without the vocals. In fact, I would probably prefer it as an instrumental. It's a shame more artists aren't brave enough to do that. Still, it's my favorite from this collection.
6) A & E - Goldfrapp. I don't know the name, but the voice sounds familiar. Is this because I've heard them before, or because so many female vocalists these days are going for that breathless, wispy sound? Anyway, I'm thinking of a pharmaceutical commercial because they often use this kind of tune with these kind of vocals. Mind you, I don't DISLIKE it, but I'm not intrigued.
7) Station Approach- Elbow. I almost didn't notice the song had changed, as I am writing while I listen. This shows how well one song leads into another on this disk.
8) Driving Away from Home - It's Immaterial. Kind of rockabilly sounding, a nice little romp with a haunting echo to the vocals.
9) Faron Young - Prefab Sprout. I remember this name from WXRT long ago. The flow remains steady. This has the rockabilly undercurrent but moves more into pop territory.
10) Apres Ski- Cinerama. Pop. It doesn't piss me off, but doesn't interest me, either. Kind of like the Cure when they aren't trying.
11) Mardy Bum - Arctic Monkeys. I don't know what this sounds like, which is odd because it doesn't sound outstandingly original. One of the few attempts at soloing on this disc, but not much.
12) The Opposite of Hallelujah - Jens Lekman. More interesting. Quite pop-ish, yet using an interesting mix of piano, strings, and bells. Brain-pop. Toes definitely tapping.
13) When the Morning Comes - Lloyd & Michael. Suzanne Vega's more depressing twin? Still, the minimalist tune is somewhat entrancing, especially the solo that reminds me of that Playskool xylophone I had as a tot. I like when instumentalists think outside of the box. The sound perfectly fits the simple, childlike melody and lyrics.
14) This track wasn't listed. Shades of the Kingston Trio! Their sound somewhat updated for the new century, but still evoking the old folksy-railroad sound of the early 60s.
15)I just realized that this is track 15 on the disc but it is obviously "Ghosts" by Laura Marling, which is listed as #14. This is obvious because the chick just sang the word "ghosts" about ten times in the past five seconds.
16)Young Folks - Peter, Bjorn, & John. Similar in mood to the Death Cab song, so I liked it right away. Intriguing bass groove, and I like the whistling for the melody where many others would have used guitar or synth.
17) Time to Pretend - MGMT. I can't decide on this one. None of the elements are especially interesting. The rhythm is old, the meaning is not exactly new (lost childhood innocence) and the weird sounds I can remember being used by Gabriel-era Genesis. Still, it seems to work as they've put it together, and makes quite a listenable song.
18) Love You, Love You - Yachts. Put Blondie's keyboardist into a Devo song, and this is what you get.
19) Another Girl, Another Planet - The Only Ones. Quirky pop. Strong Robyn Hitchcock influence, and a good guitar solo - the only one I've really noticed on this collection.
20) Mr. November - The National. Rock. Not much to say, really. It was there.
21) Endcap, similar to track 1. Yeah, the bitch is happy.
Thank you, Swiss Toni, for organizing this and being patient as only a European can. Hats off!
Lying with Dogs: How the Internet Spreads Untruth.
Like almost everyone with a
computer, I have an aunt who e-mails me cute inanities regularly. I usually
ignore them – those that aren’t just plain unfunny are usually quite old- but
she recently sent one titled “Bill Cosby Does It Again!” that caught my notice
as a longtime Cosby fan. It seemed familiar instantly. It began with Cosby’s
stated intent to be a write-in Presidential candidate, and outlined a platform:
English as our official language, isolationist economics, closed borders,
adoption of “Turkish-style” corporal and capital punishments, and elimination
of foreign aid were among the planks. It took me less than five minutes of
Googling to debunk it for it was, as I suspected, quite old, and has been
attributed to George Carlin, Robin Williams, and Andy Rooney as well as Cosby. Snopes.com
and several others quoted Cosby: “The platform attributed to me [and others]
does not represent my views and in many respects is abhorrent to me.” Bad
information is nothing new, of course, but this e-mail – one of millions sent
across the world every day – exemplifies how the Internet, a fountain of
information that forms history’s most powerful research tool, is instead just
as likely to enable and simplify the spreading of untruths.
comes in several distinct forms. Information as discussed here in broad
terms is data set in a context for relevance – it tells us something that we
can use to take action or make decisions. Propaganda is distinguished by
purpose; whether true or false, the information is presented in such a way as
to provoke a specific action or attitude, and is thus subjective at best (Kirk
1). Misinformation, unlike propaganda, is always untrue but innocently
so; it isn’t a lie, it’s just wrong (2). Many people who spread misinformation
are repeating something they assume is true, while others simply mishear or
misread something and repeat what they mistakenly absorbed (“The Misinformation
Highway?” 6). Anyone who has seen a rumor get passed around or played the old
game of “telephone,” where a story is passed from person to person, knows how
this works, and one would have to be a lifelong hermit to be completely
innocent. (This was the case with my aunt. When I told her that the e-mail was
bogus, she simply said that it sounded to her like something Cosby would say.
Since Cosby himself used the word “abhorrent” to describe some items on the
list, it obviously isn’t something he would say. It did, however, give her use
of Cosby’s image and reputation to back up things that she would say.) Disinformation
is the most insidious; it is intentionally disseminated falsehood. Often,
misinformation begins as disinformation, though it can be difficult to prove (Kirk
information is nothing new, why should Internet misinformation concern us?
Because bad information may cause bad decisions, it affects us adversely
anywhere. False information on a pseudo-scientific website, for instance, might
wrongly sway someone to let a symptom go unchecked, or panic a healthy person.
A widely spread falsehood caused a 60% drop in Emulex Corporation stock;
although the company bounced back mostly, there were still losses suffered
(Weinstein 1). On a larger scale, dis- or misinformation can have extreme
consequences, such as helping to create demand for a war. Far more regularly it
is used to influence elections; while you can’t fool all of the people all
of the time, it may be sufficient to fool enough people by Election Day
(“The Misinformation Highway?” 5).
The Subjective Mind
exploring the Internet’s role, it helps to understand how people absorb
information and form opinions. We like to tell each other and ourselves that we
base our opinions factually, but studies have repeatedly suggested otherwise.
Even when we have reasonably balanced and factual sources of information, we
tend to remember items that support our already established opinions and
discount news that contradicts them (Wang and Aamodt 1). When Yale political
scientist John Bullock showed a group an advertisement that accused John G.
Roberts Jr., then a Supreme Court nominee, of "supporting violent fringe
groups and a convicted clinic bomber," Democratic disapproval in the group
leapt from 56% to 80%. After a refutation was shown, it lowered to 72%;
obviously, the refutation – which was true - was less convincing to Democrats
than the lie. On the other hand, the refutation completely eliminated the
disapproval increase among the group’s Republicans. Shankar Vedantam, writing
about this study in the Washington Post, concluded ” The damaging
charge, in other words, continued to have an effect even after it was debunked
among precisely those people predisposed to buy the bad information in the
first place (1).”
refutations have is even more fascinating when dealing with conservative
opinions. We saw how Republicans, who were predisposed to approve of Roberts,
accepted the refutation over the damaging claim. In another study, two groups
were given the Bush administration’s pre-Iraq War statements about that
nation’s weapons programs, which, as Republicans (these groups were not mixed),
they viewed sympathetically. Only one group was shown the 2004 Duelfer report
stating that the WMDs did not exist prior to U.S. invasion. Among the group
that heard only the initial information, 34% thought that Iraq had hidden or
destroyed its weapons. In the group that saw both information and refutation
that number jumped to 64%. Refutation did not strongly convince Democrats;
Republicans shown a refutation actually believed the misinformation in greater
numbers. Some postulate that this may result from Republicans having “more
rigid views” than liberals; they may argue back against refutations that they
don’t want to believe, thereby strengthening belief in the misinformation
(Vedantam 2). Either way, these studies show what we tend to notice ourselves
anyway: that people, on the whole, will believe what they want to believe.
Constant repetition, such as we have online, via e-mail, or on 24-hour news
channels, simply reinforces that situation.
the source of the information influence belief? It does, but not entirely as
expected. In a 1951 Yale University study, two groups were given identical
information( Hovland and Weiss, 636). One group was told that the information
came from sources generally considered reliable, while the other group was told
the information came from less reliable sources. The groups were quizzed on
their knowledge and opinions before, immediately after, and four weeks after
being given the information. Prior opinion’s effect on belief was again noted,
but the second quiz made plain that the “reliable source” influenced belief
more than the “unreliable source.” There was absolutely no difference learned
information between the two sources – the only thing that differed was belief
(641-2). This is not surprising; however, the results of the third quiz,
administered a month later, were.
weeks, the third quiz revealed that belief in the information gained from the
“reliable” source had lowered, while belief in the information gained from the
“unreliable source” had increased. This “sleeper effect” was attributed to
people gradually forgetting the source (645). Where one source’s perceived reliability
created confidence in the information, the opposite perception about the other
source created a barrier to belief, with prior bias mitigating both effects.
After four weeks, the sources – and the perceptions about them – were retained
in fewer individuals. What remained was the information – the absorption and
retention of which was still unchanged between the two sources – and the
personal bias that influenced belief in that information (650).
phenomenon has since been proven and named “source amnesia.”The information we gather is initially
stored in a brain section called the hippocampus. Stored with it is contextual
information: where we learned it, from who we learned it, our opinions of that
source, etc. Recalling the information reprocesses it, but not necessarily with
all the contextual information. Eventually, the information is stored in the
cerebral cortex without the contextual information (Wang and Aamodt 1). This is
why we are able to do things like drive cars without having to recall the
initial process of learning to drive. It also explains how we can cling to
beliefs that are not true – even after being told they are not true, as in the
case of those who still believe that Iraq had nuclear weapons.
The Internet’s Role
considering the Internet’s role in spreading untruths, it is pertinent to
remember that the Internet was originally called the Information Superhighway.
This is a much more descriptive name; the Internet certainly is, if nothing
else, an informational Autobahn. With its speed and near-ubiquity, it is by far
the best vehicle for moving, storing, and retrieving data ever conceived.
Therein lies the problem, however; as far as movement, storage, and retrieval
goes, false information is no different than true information, and a system
that spreads one is equally suited to spreading the other.
the Internet is widespread not only for users, but equally so for content
originators. One needn’t even go to personal expense, as Internet connections
are available to everyone via schools, libraries, work, or friends and
relatives. Anyone who can see Internet content can also create it in many ways,
such as thread comments, e-mails, blogging, website creation, or sites such as Wikipedia
that encourage audience interaction. Because of this, people can always find
what they want – they aren’t limited to what the news media chooses to tell
them or what publishers see as marketable. The modern Internet is truly a
marketplace for ideas. That means that no matter what preconceived notions a
person might have, information that supports and feeds those notions is only a
search engine away. If someone is inclined to believe, for instance, that
President Obama was not born in the United States, that person will find ample
support for that belief, despite the fact that it was disproved long ago. That
support strengthens the belief since the fact that someone else believes the
same thing provides a sense of community, and the false belief is then easy to
spread further via comments, blog posts, or mass e-mails.
Aggravating this is, of course, the
fact that the Internet has few content controls. Some serious sites have
editors that verify content’s veracity; far more have editors that simply
filter content to reflect their beliefs. Comments on threads, where they are
monitored, are usually just monitored for profanity, not accuracy. Therefore a
person who believes that President Obama’s birth certificate is fake can spread
that untruth pretty much anywhere, as long as he doesn’t swear while he does
it. The ease with which it is done increases its likelihood and frequency.
Before the Internet, my aunt may have heard a false story about Bill Cosby’s
political views, and she may have passed it on to my other aunts and assorted
relatives during one of many “henhouse”
gab sessions, but she would not have written it out and mailed it via the
postal service to 30 people. With the Internet, however, she can simply read it
in her mailbox and with a few clicks, send it to 30 people in less than a
minute. In her mind, the fact that she didn’t take the time to research it is a
waiver, not a problem – after all, she didn’t write it in the first
place, did she? All she did was pass it on. While I may consider that being
part of the problem, many others see it as an exoneration. It is apparent that
while misinformation today may not be worse than it has been through more
traditional media, it is certainly easier to spread (“The Misinformation
Highway?” 1). This means that the spreading of bunk is not only more
widespread, but also more tenacious. The birth certificate story, for instance,
disappeared from the newspapers after it was disproved, but not from the
Internet where it can still be found well after the election. If people are
inclined to believe things that they already agree with, and they can easily
find sites that present information that fits that criteria, then literally
anything that anyone wants to believe can be absorbed as a truth that is then
spread with the words “I read somewhere that….”
Yet while information is easily
found on the Internet, the accuracy of it is harder than ever to judge. As the
amount of sources available increases, the criteria by which a source’s
trustworthiness may be judged wanes. In the mainstream media’s heyday, which
many say is now long over, a newspaper or network could establish a strong
ethos, or reputation, for accuracy or integrity by making sure of their facts
and having consequences for those that did not. When Walter Cronkite said
“That’s the way it is,” people trusted that it was that way after his and his
employer’s reputations were cemented. If the editor of the New York Sun says
there’s a Santa Claus, well, that’s good enough for Virginia.
Internet, however, so many sources are available that it can be hard to tell
the good ones from the bad. Ownership of most sites is very unclear, and not
easy to find should someone be curious. Internet writers often use a nom de
plume or “Internet identity (in fact, I
know a guy like that),” or simply write anonymously. There are no standards or
guidelines as in journalism, and no governing bodies as far as veracity is
concerned. This makes it easy not only to avoid building a clear ethos, but
also to create a false one. A false identity, title, education, or level of
experience is easily created “behind the curtain,” so to speak. A real ethos
may also be “borrowed,” as the e-mail attributed to Cosby, Williams, and Rooney
the audience helps writers circumvent ethos development in many ways. People
may be so impressed with a site’s layout or features that they assume that the
information presented can be believed. In cases like this, the medium truly is
the message, as it is the presentation more than anything else that is
convincing. The reader may not be expert enough to judge if the information is
accurate or even likely to be. Someone with no medical training, for instance,
may be fooled by information that a medical doctor would laugh at. Cannier
readers than that can still be fooled by foreign sources, simply because of
their unfamiliarity. Most people can judge the worth of a paper from Oxford
University, but how does one judge an Icelandic university that one has never
heard of? Second-hand information from known, reliable sources may be difficult
to find in such a situation (Vedder 5).
such questions of ethos are largely academic because of source amnesia. What
does ethos mean in the long run, when the source itself is likely to be
forgotten in a month and the information believed or disbelieved on the basis
of personal preference more than the source’s integrity? The fact that people
can find whatever information they want and find as many repetitions as it
takes to convince them that it is true is all that truly matters in the
Internet’s spreading of misinformation. Lack of clear ethos at the onset merely
makes the process go even faster.
Is there a solution?
What may be
done to improve this situation? So far, there is no concrete answer to that
question – in fact, the problem itself, while universally acknowledged as
existing, is not universally acknowledged as being important. Certainly, those
whose business it is to influence opinion are fine with the status quo. Those
who are not see two broad approaches. One is to control Internet content more
strictly; the other is a user-based approach.
solution is a sticky wicket. Does it involve more government control? More
corporate control? Most Americans see too much control as no better for
veracity than too little. Certainly, Hitler’s propaganda machine and the Soviet
Union’s Pravda were both tightly controlled disinformation spreaders.
Many equate limiting anonymity with limiting freedom of speech (Vedder 7). The
need to balance necessary freedoms with the control needed to limit
disinformation makes this an unlikely solution, as Americans are inherently distrustful
of those who would act as censors or filters of information for the public
good. A third-party authority with which to establish a site’s ethical criteria
could help, but who would establish such an authority, and how? What authority
would be acceptable across cultural and political lines?
solutions are educationally based, and involve developing a more critical
attitude in the general populace (Vedder 5). This would, ironically, have to
begin in early education where learning by rote is often more valued than
critical thinking (which can often get you sent to the principal’s office).
This critical attitude would be akin to the “don’t believe everything you read
in the paper” credo of old. While we are all familiar with this old saw, it
does not always translate to the Internet – possibly because, as stated, what
we want to read is always out there and easily found, reinforcing what we
wanted to believe in the first place. It is one thing to acknowledge that there
are “dogs” on the Internet and that they lie, but it’s another to associate
that definition with those we agree, or “lie,” with. How readily can people be
educated to resist the lure of easy, palatable answers, especially when so many
people endeavor to pass their pre-conceived notions to their children
regardless of what the educational system says about those notions? Still, if
more people can be taught to use the same tools that spread disinformation to
debunk the same by researching issues instead of simply looking for what they
want to see, perhaps the spread of misinformation can at least be slowed over
time, and outlets with established ethos and integrity- like newspapers and
networks of the past – built up as well. Then, the Internet can be what it
could and should be – a way of empowering individuals with accurate, usable
information – rather than a simple marketplace of good and bad information
alike, where truth must be dug for but attractive lies are always at the ready.
“Misinformation Through the Internet: Espistemology and Ethics.” In: Anton
Vedder (ed.), Ethics and the Internet. Antwerpen, Groningen, Oxford:
Intersentia, 2001, p.125-132. http://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=4795. (Prints
with page numbers 1-8)