Ok, so we’re all cycling through a big mix of emotions in dealing with a pandemic and our social isolation. Concern, frustration, depression, enjoying time with family (alternating with feelings around too much time with the family), boredom, and more.
For me, one that has been frequently rising to the top over the past few weeks is anger. Angry because I’m more convinced than ever that this crisis didn’t need to play out the way it has. It didn’t have to be this bad, and getting worse.
The European Union is making a great effort to control what their citizens view on the web by, among other legalities, ordering search engines to “forget” selected pieces of data. But that is not at all the most absurd recent attempt at censorship.
The government of India wants to control geography.
Specifically, a proposed law in that country would “ban maps or satellite images of the country unless they are approved by government”.
The bill bans all types of geospatial information, maps, raw data or photographs, acquired by any means, including satellite photography.
Offenders could be fined up to 1bn rupees (Â£10.4m). [around $15m USD]
It also requires anyone who has already gathered such information to apply for a licence to keep it.
It was designed to regulate both the creation and distribution of geospatial information in India “which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty and integrity” of the country, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.
Google Maps already provides very different information for certain regions of the world, including the long disputed border between India and Pakistan. But the government judging the “truth” ofÂ photographs and raw data takes this particular overreach to a whole new level.
And it probably won’t be long before India follows France’s lead and directs Google and other providers of geospatial information to only showÂ their view of the world to everyone on the planet.
One excellent selection from the commencement address President Obama delivered at Rutgers University last Sunday.
Which brings me to my third point: Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science — these are good things. These are qualities you want in people making policy. These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens. That might seem obvious. That’s why we honor Bill Moyers or Dr. Burnell.
We traditionally have valued those things. But if you were listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from. So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about. And yet, we’ve become confused about this.
Reading the text is good but the listening to the president speak is even better (for those not part of the Fox “news” fan club). If you have 45 minutes, watch the whole address:
Speaking of the current “strain of anti-intellectualism” in American society, I also recommend reading an opinion piece, “A Cult of Ignorance”, written more than 35 years ago by the great Isaac Asimov.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
I’m hopeful Asimov’s essay and the president’s remarks will not still be valid in another 35 years. But I’m not optimistic about that.
We here in the US are heading into yet another “election year” in 2016. And it would be nice if everyone kept these thoughts from the brilliant Charlie Pierce in mind as we withstand the flood of fear mongering from the candidates who want to lead us.
If you want to see what losing the war on terror really looks like, don’t look to the Middle East. Instead, watch the television commercials approved by the various Republican presidential candidates. The three Democratic candidates are better, but not by much.
The fact is that you can’t win a “war” on terror any more than you can win a “war” on hate or a “war” on any other easily activated human emotion, if there are enough powerful institutions that can profit from its activation. It’s really up to the rest of us, as active citizens in a self-governing republic, to keep things in perspective about the genuine dangers and the fantastical ones by which other people profit. There are genuine threats to our safety–bridges near collapse, gas leaks that may ruin a whole town, the unfettered access to firearms and the readiness to use them. That should be inspiration enough for We, The People to fulfill our pledge to each other to provide for the common defense and to promote the general welfare. John Quincy Adams was only half-right; if America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, then it ought not to create them here at home, either.
I wish we had more of those “active citizens”, instead of media-created “average” Americans. People who passively accept the ominously-voiced crap dispensed in 30-second bursts of political advertising as fact. Along with the ratings-bait fair and balanced “debates” that substitute for civic dialog in this country.
A recent piece in Rolling Stone makes some great points about how what passes for TV news these days is not serving it’s audience. The writer claims Americans are Too Dumb for TV News, and that is the fault of the news producers themselves.
We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that’s basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.
The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.
When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they’re doing, informing themselves, and what they’re actually doing, shopping.
The big problem is that TV “news” these days is just too easy, both to produce and consume. But actually staying informed in an age of a constant flood of data is not easy.
You need to seek out sources you can trust to tell the truth (even if it’s not always what you want to hear). Then take the time to regularly read/watch/listen to them. And then you need to continually question the information they provide. It’s hard work.
So, is the American TV news audience dumb? Or lazy?