Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Awful Truth About Television: TV Corrodes Community and Democracy

Americans are watching more TV and doing less in their communities

Americans watch TV 4.5 hours per day on average. TV takes up so much time that citizens are becoming less active socially and politically. They also trust the government and each other less and less. Researcher Dr. Robert Putnam in a study found that the more TV people watched, the less they were involved in public activities.

“TV viewing is strongly and negatively related to social trust and group membership,” the study found. Newspaper reading, on the other hand, had a strong positive relationship. Newspaper readers were involved in larger numbers of political organizations. The study controlled for education, income, age, race, place of residence, work status, and gender.

The study also found that “heavy TV watching is one important reason why less educated people are less engaged in the life of their communities.”

TV: How the few can control the many

Television, because of the expense involved in production and distribution, inherently favors large corporations. Usually, the only other social entity able to afford the expense of TV is government.

It is inherently a one-to-many technology. The networks transmit one message over the airwaves or through the cable network to thousands or millions or, in the case of events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, billions of minds. This is different from the internet where many people can interact and discuss as a group.

Furthermore, because of the tendency of the television set to shut down people’s ability to think critically, as discussed in the “TV’s hypnotic effect” article, the message that is blasted out over the airwaves enters viewers' minds unfiltered. Whether you agree with the message or not, that is simply too much power.

Five companies control the media

Looking at the amount of programming available, one might think that there is a wide variety of choice. There are literally hundreds of TV stations with options to choose from sports to news to cartoons to history to painting and more. The amount of options is staggering. However, only five major corporations control the majority of the media. Those companies get access to nearly every American for 4½ hours per day. The consequences to democracy are frightening. Millions of minds linked to five corporations for 4½ hours per day.

These five huge corporations—Disney, Time Warner, Bertelsmann of Germany, Murdoch's News Corporation, and Viacom (formerly CBS)—own not only most of the television stations, but most of the newspapers, magazines, books, and radio stations of the United States as well.

Politicians chase money for commercials

TV affects both the voters and the public servants they elect. In a recent speech, former Vice President Albert Gore noted that politicians spend so much time and money to purchase TV time for election ads that they do not have time to do the jobs voters elected them to do.

Politicians spent $515 million on television spots in the 2005 elections, the highest in a year with no Congressional or Presidential seats contested. This was up from the $300 million spent in the 2003 elections, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG. In New York alone, the mayoral candidates spent more than $44 million saturating the airwaves.

Imagine politics without TV

To understand the impact, try to imagine an election and politics without TV. Imagine no television attack ads. Imagine politicians no longer begging for money to cover the escalating costs of TV ads. Imagine reading about the debates, instead of watching the TV debate spectacle. Imagine engaged citizens, who instead of watching TV 4½ hours per day (1.33 billion hours per day for the US), spend a fraction of that time debating issues with their neighbors and participating actively in politics and the community. Nothing would be the same.

About 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series:

What happens when the average American spends 4 hours 32 minutes every day watching television? Trash Your TV's 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series explores the multifaceted problems with TV in eleven hard-hitting articles. Read the full series and you will never look at your television set the same way again.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Paddy Irish Man

What a load of Blarney. Guinness stamped with shamrocks, the Liffey flowing green and the usually elusive Leprechauns prancing down sun drenched O'Connell Street. Cities around Ireland, and indeed the developed world, come to a standstill to celebrate our Patron Saint. The sound of glass smashing, a fight spilling out of a packed bar and Gardai raising their truncheons. Echoes of "Ole, Ole, Ole" and "Danny Boy" litter the air. The green-spangled parade floats trundle past prompting happy cheers from the waiting crowd. Can you spot the odd one out? And no, it's not the fictional little person with the pot of gold.

March 17th has become inextricably entangled with visions of violence and public disorder. Last year alone on St. Patrick's' Day, 407 arrests were made on the streets of Dublin. Widespread condemnation of our actions inevitably follows the next day. Hospitals are consistently under pressure to treat alcohol poisoning and incidents related to the excessive consumption of alcohol. The streets of our capital are left littered with the debris associated with drunken behaviour. What is it about this day, about this man, about the Irish psyche that contributes to the madness?

When asked about St. Patrick, most people will offer us the clich├ęd information that St. Patrick was the guy who miraculously ran (or slithered) all the snakes out of Ireland. While conscious that I should refrain from deriding our Patron Saint, it has long been a mystery to me how he managed to gather up enough snakes to get rid of when considering the fact that post-glacial Ireland actually had no snakes. But apart from this well-known minor miracle or optical illusion, what is it about this man that drives us to excessive alcohol consumption and general bad behaviour on his day of celebration? Maybe a brief profile of the man himself will answer some questions.

St. Patrick, our very own Patron Saint and symbol of all that is Irish, was actually born in Britain in the fifth century. Widely believed to have been christened Maewyn Succat, he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of sixteen. After working a six-year term as a shepherd in Ireland consequent to being sold as a slave, Succat escaped to France where he became a priest. Pope Celestine entrusted St. Patrick (a name he adopted after becoming a priest), now at the tender age of sixty, to spread Christian teachings in Ireland. St Patrick's' most famous expression was his use of the Shamrock to explain the Trinity (i.e. the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as one).

Uninspiring is the word that most readily comes to mind. Irish people, people with Irish connections, people who wish they were Irish, anybody who ever watched GAA or drank Guinness, and people who are simply looking for a party celebrate Paddy's Day on March 17th, the date widely believed to be the death of our Patron Saint. What is it that we are celebrating? The notion that we are celebrating the memory of the man is becoming tiresome.

Apart from hiding a couple of snakes up his sleeve, the profile of the man and his work offer no hint as to why he should be so well celebrated. There must be another angle. Could it be that we are celebrating being Irish? "Yeah, that's it!!!!!!" I hear the guy in the green hat and pointy boots mumble, one hand carefully propping him against the wall, the other more affectionately clutching a pint of the black stuff. Explain to me then why we consistently get drunk, break the law and generally show ourselves up as a nation of alcohol fuelled, pseudo-intellectuals, hell-bent on being outrageous and unpredictable. Would St. Patrick have approved of such anti-Christian displays on his day of celebration? Allow me to go out on a limb here and suggest that we are just looking for an excuse for a party?

Any excuse. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversaries, a new year, a sporting event, winning a sporting event, losing a sporting event, finishing a weeks work, a bank holiday, a sunny day, a promotion, a demotion, boring television, or the fact that it is just another day. But St. Patrick's' Day is the Everest. It is the day when all our previous practice comes to fruition, it is when we let it all go, it is the climax. The bottom line is that Irish people do not celebrate the memory of St. Patrick, they do not celebrate being Irish, they celebrate the fact that it is a day of celebration. Any excuse. The pub is not a destination, it is the destination. God created alcohol so that the Irish wouldn't rule the world.

Us Irish have always been a bit backwards about going forwards. Is it not time we grew up a little? This year, in the lead up to St. Patrick's' Day, there have been widespread calls for off-licences to close there doors until mid-afternoon, four o'clock has been muted, in an effort to curb the violence associated with the day. Now, after considering this for a moment, I have come to the conclusion that yes, we might be a rowdy, drunk bunch, but we can be quite cunning. Does closing the pubs and off-licences on Good Friday and Christmas Day stop us from consuming alcohol on these days? No, it does not. We Irish have come up with the devious idea of buying our alcohol the day before the off-licences and pubs close. This genius and well thought out idea, surely up there on a par with the Trojan Horse, seems to have evaded the attention of the authorities when they suggested we open the off-licences late on Paddy's Day. So what do I suggest we should do?

After much deliberation, I have decided to fall slightly short of lining O'Connell Street with sharpshooters and adopting a shoot-to-kill policy. Instead I have come up with the radical idea of throwing a few more of our brave Gardai onto the streets and calling for a demonstration of responsibility from both the public and the publicans. Extreme, you might say. Presence is a powerful tool. Pro-action rather than reaction is what is called for in this situation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Preemptive Threat

Jesus told his disciples the world would know they were his if they loved one another. Regardless of faith or core beliefs, this is the social contract that allows us to live closely with others and provide mutual security - the reason we don't all spread out and live miles from neighbors. That is, the golden rule is the glue of societies everywhere.

In the spirit of the golden rule we make and support additional rules that help us define how we best express brotherly love or transgress it. We define the unloving behaviors that are unacceptable within the social contract.

If I deprive you of property, liberty or life, I have voided our social contract. I have created a state of war, under natural law, which is jungle law or survival of the fittest. I am not only in a state of war with you, all social laws suspended, I am at war with all those with whom you remain in social contract - typically family, friends and neighbors. All of you are fair game for my subsequent attacks, be it theft, confinement or murder.

But what if I only threaten your life, liberty or property in some clear and unmistakable way? Then I have created the same war condition and removed us both from the social contract. We are at war, hot or cold. That is, whether or not I act on my threat I have attacked you preemptively.

When I threaten you, I have declared my refusal to live by the social contract. I am not treating you as I wish to be treated because I believe I am stronger or smarter than you and your friends and can do with you whatever I am able. My threat is a warning to you and society.

Our modern law likes to put degrees of difference between the nature of attack. One for theft, one for armed theft, one for kidnapping, one for assault, one for armed assault and another for homicide or murder. Threats are generally treated as a lesser offense and not likely to be acted upon but the fact remains, an open threat is a preemptive attack on another's liberty.

When I threaten your peace and happiness, I declare I do not love or care about you or your friends and family. You must drop what you are doing and assess my threat. Based on your assessment, you might dismiss my threat, prepare some defense against it, such as warning friends and family, or counter attack at a time and place of your choosing because we are now in a state of war and jungle law, regardless of the attitudes and rules of the social community.

One might think a threat or theft cannot be considered such a serious matter as to create this state of war. One would be wrong and could end up dead wrong. When I deprive you of property or peace of mind, I neither respect your natural rights, nor the social contract under which we had both been living. At this point, you must assume that I would as readily deprive you of life or liberty whenever it is in my physical power and desire to do so. Because I have expressed my contempt for your welfare and the rules we live by, you have the moral authority to dispatch my threat by taking my life, not by a preemptive attack but by a counter attack against my preemptive attack on you. Just as in childhood, I started it. You now have every moral, if not legal right to finish it in any manner of your choosing. Of course, you also have some obligation to forgive my attack and dismiss it, which is the course most people choose, most of the time.

My point is that a threat creates a state of war the threatener or the victim seldom considers when such threats are made. Society owes no moral obligation to the threatener and the threat itself is a serious crime which is too seldom properly punished by the society at large. It is my belief that if any threatener was counseled on the seriousness of threat and the possible consequences of ostracism, fines, public service, etc., there would be much less of it in the world.

What is true of individuals is equally true of nation states. When the people of Palestine vote for the destruction of Israel and its people, they have created this state of war. Israel has a moral right to destroy all the Palestinians who represent this threat. It also now has this right with Iran. Like the playground bullies we all grew up with, we know what it is to live with this constant threat from a war declared but not fully engaged. We know it can become violent at any time because the bully has declared his intention and the one involuntarily placed in the state of war can and should choose the time, place and manner to dispense with the threat. Because threateners are only dimly aware they have created this state of war and the threatened has the moral authority to deal with it in any manner, the threatener has no idea of his own vulnerability to counter attack. Hence, threateners are generally ignorant fools who do not understand their behavior has effectively put their own existence at risk. This is obviously the state of affairs both in Palestine and Iran. Since Israel is within the social community with Europe and the United States, Palestinians and Iranians can have no illusions that should either attempt to destroy Israel, so shall they be destroyed. Their mistake is in thinking Israel or any ally does not dare to eliminate these threats at a time of their choosing. The three actors are in an ongoing state of war and now it is cold but anything can trigger a hot war.and Israel has the moral right to strike next and conclude these wars. So do the other members in Israel's social community. Social gang wars as it were.

It is no different with Sudan and many other nations who have stepped outside the social contract and created an unloving, uncaring state of war, declared or not, hot or cold, on the rest of global society. It is a matter for those who wish to end war and restore the social contract to resolve each war by any means possible or convenient, including violent conclusion. Threatening bullies cannot be tolerated by global societies and it is way past time to make that clear to those considering the creation of war and survival conditions, wherever they may be found. The loving thing is to end every state of war with the least violence to the perpetrators and their victims. Back during the 04 Presidential campaign, candidate Dennis Kucinich had introduced a bill to create a Department of Peace in the Capitol. That is the kind of thing most needed for global peace. I wonder what ever happened to the bill and the idea. This would tell us a great deal about the nature of U.S. leadership. The fact we have no such department two years later may say it all. Why would war mongers spend a dollar on peace? You can't fight or win a war you haven't created or agreed to.