A Journal of America's Political Soul Heaven & Earth: Where Politics and Spirituality Meet
April 1, 2023  
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Issue No. 9 - Heaven & Earth
F E A T U R E S :

New » From Darkness, Awakening

New » On Morality

New » On Courage

Spirit Matters:
G&G Interviews Michael Lerner

We Still Need a Religious Left

9/11 and the American Empire:
How Should Religious People Respond?

Saving Fundamentalists From the Religious Right

The Dark Jesus: Spiritual Imagery Inspires Change and Heals Racism

Will We Choose To Survive?

A Sneak-Peak Interview with the Messiah

G&G Arts - Essay
Whose Good? Who's Evil?

The Media Can't Fool Us, They Can Only Spread Apathy

For several years now, I've confronted an attitude about the media that is unjustified and self-defeating. I know a lot about the tremendous power of this attitude, because I used to share it. The attitude is: Everyone else is fooled by the media.

Consider the following statement:

"Everybody thinks [fill in an opinion on an issue here]. They're wrong and misinformed! They don't really know what's going on, they're just fooled by the media."

I can't count the number of times I've heard statements like this; what they reveal is not erroneous sentiment but the source of a huge, hidden power of the media.

While the media does fool a lot of people, there's an extremely substantial portion of the popultation who see right through their lies. How the media fools those who know they are lying is to fool them about what others think. That is to say, the media doesn't fool us about the issues, but about what others think about the issues. Thus they fool us about what can possibly be done � about what any one person can do. When we see the corporate media say or omit something in a blatantly biased way we know they are lying, but we are demoralized and demobilized by the impression that others are buying into it.

Political parties are organizations that label members as having certain values and viewpoints. Unfortunately this has been successfully manipulated in recent years by corporate media who portray Democrats and Republicans as having extremely divergent viewpoints. Perpetuating a "good cop, bad cop" myth gives some the impression of real choice which makes citizens demoralized and cynical when no politician from either side of what appears to be a wide spectrum seems to be honest, while others think that their values aren't winning out because the "other side" is sabotaging them. For liberals the media focuses on a few token actions taken by Democrats on behalf of the environment while politically attacking Bush for dropping out of the Kyoto protocols. This despite that fact that Clinton continually sabotaged and attempted to water down the protocols, and received relatively little flack for it from the mainstream media. Or blaming Bush and the Republicans for the post-911 crackdown on civil liberties while Joseph Lieberman, the most recent Democratic candidate for Vice President, first came up with the idea for the Homeland Security Act. For the more rightward thinking media watcher, this means pointing out Clinton's personal moral shortcomings while ignoring the same behavior in Republican lawmakers. Both give the impression of a substantial difference though there is little.

Over time we become so demoralized, and feel so powerless, that only 40% of eligible voters bother to vote - even for the Presidential election.

Our decision not to participate is justified by claiming that because politics is "dirty," "corrupt," or "rigged," those who participate are contributing to that corruption, or at the very least, not making any difference. In reality, those who don't feel that the government is representing them decide to retract from the process, thereby insuring that the government will not represent their interests. This leads to even more people getting fed up and refusing to participate which allows the government to pursue their corrupt and imperialist agenda even more vigorously.

In short, the media's power lies in getting informed people to feel isolated and powerless. In the face of a huge blind populace, what can anyone do? This was never a pre-planned propaganda ploy, but it has developed and served the ruling establishment very well. As Milton Friedman wrote many decades ago, in a democracy that works, the surest way for the rich and powerful to win elections and stay in power is to create a depoliticized, apathetic populace. The media has helped prodigiously in this effort.

One might think that the extremely close outcome of the 2000 election would have made people reconsider the power of their single vote. Instead I've found increased apathy in speaking with people -- people seem even less willing to vote. This seems to be because instead of speaking with people, who for the most part do see the serious issues which were raised by the election, everyone continues to communicate with the media. And thus the corporate mass media, which despite being obviously empty of real content, influences people's opinions -- not by convincing them about establishment policies, but by making them feel powerless to disagree.

We can also see this trend working in reverse, in the context of the protests in Seattle that inspired so many to reenter politics. Were people inspired because Seattle was extremely effective in accomplishing it's stated goals? It didn't really stop unfair and destructive trade policies, at least not yet. What it did was wake people up to the fact that others care and are informed, and this inspired people to believe in change and finally to engage in politics again.

The Seattle event revealed deep nation-wide sentiments. Progressive-minded people realized they aren't alone, that in fact there are millions of people that do know what's going on. It may not be the majority, but it's a huge number, a critical mass, a part of the population vast enough to accomplish the real progressive goals and solutions that are needed. These are the people who voted for Ralph Nader. These are the new activists. And there are enough -- enough talented and intelligent people -- that if all our energies were put to work together, the necessary changes could be implemented easily. The major movements in history have always involved a small but active minority of the population.

So consider getting active, and reconsider your own and others' apathy. My suggestions about how to fight the media-inspired apathy and the attitudes of powerlessness:

  1. Be aware of the power of these attitudes in yourself. Also inform others about them and their false roots as much as possible.
  2. Move away from the mass media as your primary source of information. Seek out alternative media on the internet and in traditional media (www.indymedia.org is a good place to start).
  3. When developing attitudes and discussing politics, look towards cultivating dialogue with real people as much as possible -- both for finding out what they're thinking and waking them up to the fact that others are thinking too. Real one-on-one discussion is the foundation of democracy. Cut media out of the loop.
  4. When you speak with others who do know what's going on, don't use the mass media as the context and background for discussing politics. We already know and take for granted that what they're saying is not only slanted and false, but absurdly and obviously so. Discuss truth and solutions rather than repeatedly repudiating what is obviously false with those who already know.
  5. When attempting to make change, use all available means, but focus on electoral politics. The media is increasingly consolidated. To attempt to win issues by mounting public pressure on politicians who are by their nature averse to your interests, is a one-step forward, two-steps back process. The media will back off on the issue once you become successful in using the media to get your message across. This was clear in the anti-globalization protests, where the events after Seattle got much less coverage, and when they did, only coverage very heavily slanted against protesters that portrayed them as violent. Protest politics were most effective in the 1960s when the media was willing to broadcast demonstrations; by the 1970s they wised up, and without that outlet to broadcast the message, protest becomes less effective. Get your own people in office and you'll win on every issue, not just one.
  6. Inspire your friends and acquaintances by your own actions. Make sure they understand that boycotting the vote does not improve things and only makes them worse. Voting is not like ice cream -- you can't decide you don't like it and opt out. Whether you vote or not, the decisions that are being made are yours and will affect you.
  7. Hardcore activists are probably not the ones most afflicted by these problems, so you might want to communicate with people who are sympathetic but not yet very active.

Rob Arnow is Media Working Committee Chair at the San Francisco Green Party.

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