Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Standing in line once too often

Don't you wish real life was like this?

Stumbled across another interminable comments discussion at RD about the responsibility of "Christians" for whatever political ills the complainers want to complain about.  And I stumbled across this, from 13 years ago, where I made the observation that:

The Rev. Debra Haffner (a Unitarian Universalist minister who directs a national interfaith group, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, and quoted by Mr. Rich) "detects an overall "understanding" in the media that religion "is one voice — fundamentalist." And, says Frank Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice: "There is the belief that the conservative view won, and the media are more interested in winners."

So this is a silly thing, but a silly thing with momentum. Demonize your opponent, turn anything they say into blasphemy (anti-Christian, anti-American; it's all one), reduce the issue to "us v. them," and get people to vote on their fears. It's perhaps the oldest political strategy of all; and the most effective. We have always been at war with Eurasia. 

And in light of this report from NPR this week, I wonder (not for the first time):  do we really need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows?  The discussion was of this op-ed:  "Facebook wins, democracy loses," but all I could think listening to the report was:  replace "Facebook" with "internet" and you get the same results.    Here, you try it:

VAIDHYANATHAN: Yeah, and that's happening. It's just not happening as effectively or efficiently. Basically what we are facing here is that Facebook is a communicative medium that is really well-designed for motivation. Whether that motivation is to occupy a park in Lower Manhattan to protest Wall Street or to generate essentially genocide against the Rohingya, motivation is something that works really well on Facebook. What doesn't work really well is deliberation because Facebook itself - the algorithms amplify strong emotional content. Those are the things most likely to be shared. And if they're most likely to be shared, then exponentially they get shared because Facebook's algorithms pick up those signals. It becomes really hard for messages that are deliberative and careful to spread on Facebook. Those things drop like a rock.

GREENE: And do you feel that Facebook is coming to this recognition because Mark Zuckerberg made a number of concessions? I mean, September he laid out this nine-step plan to be more transparent, saying he's working with government agencies and election commissions to make sure that he monitors and patrols this problem. Is that encouraging to you?

VAIDHYANATHAN: It's encouraging that there seems to be a recognition of some of the problems, but the problem with Facebook is Facebook. It's not any particular attribute along the margins that can be fixed and reformed. Any time that you can imagine a social media platform that connects 2.2 billion people and has a remarkably powerful and precise ad platform, you're going to have trouble.And I don't even have a communications degree!

I Just saved you the trouble of getting a "media studies" degree, and I don't even have Marshall McLuhan to pull from behind a movie poster!  Yeah, yeah, cheap shot, but is it really the fault of Facebook or Google or any of the "Five Names" that the internet is an international outrage machine? That it's only purpose is to amplify the sound of back-fence gossip to the roar of a stadium crowd?  Before Facebook it was blogs and comments and "Somebody on the internet is wrong!"  Now it's websites thinking they are boldly publishing "the truth!" getting played like fiddles by trolls, and we are all Donald Trump and believe in some sort of conspiracy theory.  How far removed are we, really, from blogs that used to trash "the media" because of their coverage of Clinton or Shrub or Obama?  Is Facebook really the cause of our troubles, or is it this brave new world of "more speech!" in which everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned?  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."  But that's not a vision of apocalypse, it's simply the way things have always been; it's only the megaphone that's gotten bigger.

And honestly what has changed except that we've elected Newt Gingrich for President?  Maybe this is the change we needed.  Even CNN anchors are arguing with interviewees, and even if the media still thinks all religious persons in America are either radical Muslims or fundamentalist Christians, the latter isn't quite getting the free pass it once did.  Fundamentalist Christians are on the verge of looking like losers, and that's deadly in the eyes of the media.  Blood in the water time.  Maybe the Beast's hour had to come round at last, so we'd finally start taking things involving the commons a bit more seriously.

Maybe.  I'm still more comfortable with plus ce change, plus ce la meme chose.  The old political strategies are still the most effective, and the most effective of all is to organize and vote and work within a party structure.  I was bemused by media anointed DACA leaders who warned the Democrats not to take their votes for granted; if DACA wasn't reformed, they would take their votes and go home, they said.  Which made me wonder who they were leading, and why.  If Dreamers want 7 more years of Trump, that's the threat to make.  Otherwise, quit throwing temper tantrums and insisting on getting your way just because you have the media spotlight:  work, vote, especially in primaries, get your candidates elected.

Nobody is going to do it for you.  After all, we've always been at war with Eurasia.  The only way to stop it is to replace the propagandists.  We've never had a clearer view of who they are, that's for sure.

Or we could just wish real life was like the movies, where all we had to do was watch.


  1. Makes you wonder how abolition or women's' suffrage would have turned out if they'd used those tactics. But that's the game of "leadership" that gets anointed by the media, they've got to pretend they're powerful enough to demand things that can't be had on the time table of instant gratification.

    I'm never surprised when the American media, be it FOX or ABC or NPR or MSNBC pushes counter-productive and self-defeating strategies on people in minorities or on the left, and I'm even less surprised, now, when it's Democracy Now or Eschaton or Alternet or The Nation. Especially The Nation.

  2. Ezra Klein at Vox quotes Doug Jones' campaign manager, who notes they were behind by 1 point the day before the WaPo story, ahead by 2 points on election day, and won by 1.8 points.

    Media had little to do with it. But, of course, media tells a different story.

  3. I was reading your Christmas service, and Luke 1:71 caught my attention. "71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;". All I could think of was Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us". We keep looking for someone or something to save us from ourselves. It won't be the internet, or Facebook, or TECHNOLOGY!, or Bernie, or Trump, or... The hard, incomplete and imperfect process will have to come from ourselves (and for my own case, I am just damn tired from trying to keep up with all the regular life stuff of family, job, responsibilities and all to really want to take on more). I do think however that stopping looking for something to saves us is at least a start.

    Off topic for the post, but not the blog is something a recently read What is church for which has been a regular topic here. The True Story by an active Episcopal priest is a good read and among other things talks about Christianity as a community practice. "Though communicating the Gospel—the “good news”—is always part of our mission, the church doesn’t merely communicate information; it also creates the conditions for personal and communal formation. In this sense, the church is a community of character formed by a Nazarene rabbi whose teachings and practices shape our imaginations and our way of life." I was particularly caught by "Church is not a place where we go to profess our virtue, but one where we go to confess our lack of it. This is a fairly radical idea in our broader culture where, as theologian Martin Marty puts it, “everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven.” For Christians, our very creeds claim that we fail to live up to that which we proclaim. Every week we kneel together in confession, abandoning any hope that we are the righteous ones, the ones on the “right side of history.” The church, says ethicist Gilbert Meilaender, is “first and foremost, a community of forgiven sinners gathered under the cross. Not a community that embodies the practices of perfection or that is simply separate from the world, but a body of believers who still live ‘in the flesh,’ who are still part of the world, suffering the transformations effected by God’s grace on its pilgrim way.” For me, I need that community that both declares our lack of virtue, our imperfections, and yet still strives however badly to have that virtue. I can't do it alone. Others of the articles require a subscription in order to see the entire text. With multiple children in college resulting in ever deteriorating finances, a subscription is out but even the one article is both thoughtfully written and thought provoking.

  4. "If DACA wasn't reformed, they would take their votes and go home, they said. Which made me wonder who they were leading, and why."

    From the wisdom of Grandmère Mimi (who at times exhibits slight paranoia): They're all Russian bots, and they're all out to get us.

  5. " theologian Martin Marty puts it, 'everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven.' ”

    I could write about that for weeks!

    "They're all Russian bots, and they're all out to get us."

    I think you're on to something there.