The debate about fake news, alternative facts, the evidence of leaks of classified information (presumably by disgruntled government employers) and Trump’s war on the major news outlets as the sources of lies and fake news has finally got down to the question of individual human literacy.
Among other things, literacy now includes the capacity…
· to read,
· to discern literal empirical information from figurative language,
· to draw inferences from tonal quality, physical body language, images of power and
· to deduce some relevant assessment of the world in which we live.
Bombarded with words and images, we are all, today, subject to a drowning cataract of what most sources call “information”….more of it now of the “infomercial” variety attempting to sell some product, some view of the world, some ideology and, as the dark side of the previous goals, the venality of the opponents. In the United States, the Second Amendment promises the freedom of expression, including the impunity even immunity from prosecution for what the rest of the world calls “hate” speech. Many pundits and observers consider the existence and healthy functioning of a free news media as a sine qua non of democracy: simply, the government of, for and by the people depends on the free flow of public information, dispensed with professional discipline, rigour and integrity (not to mention verified clarity) from a variety of sources reflecting a diversity of political ideologies, independent of the current political office holders.
A number of strong and fundamental forces are competing and converging on the political stage(s) in many countries. They include:
· The emergence of social media, by which everyone has the opportunity to “report” on whatever happens in their individual life, and to comment on whatever happens in the range of their individual and collective conscious,
· the dislocation among former industrial workers who have watched their jobs slide to countries in which neither labour nor environmental standards exert the level of costs on corporations (a race to the bottom, in human workplace economic, political and sociological terms)
· the rise of Russian nationalism, including military aggression and the seizure of Crimea
· the wave of migrant refugees that threatens the political order in several European countries, and foreshadows and sustains the rise of nationalistic populism, racism, the far-right political parties that seek power, or have achieve it in Poland, Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States
· the devolution of the language in public discourse of dignity, respect and honesty into character assassination, slander, libel and “alternative facts” with impunity
· the serious erosion of the financial statements and thereby the reporting corps in small and medium-sized daily newspapers
· the spike in cyber-intelligence and cyber-invasions that have and continue to undermine the integrity of democratic elections, to wit the presidential election in the United States
· the erosion of public confidence in historic institutions and the people who serve in those institutions including government, corporations, and the many agencies of government
· the rise of specialized academic research among the corporate and university communities that competes with what had been established “sibboleths” of personal life practice and process, rendering the ordinary citizen fearful of being able/capable of digesting and assimilating and making sense of the import of much of this research
· the spike in video-game culture that supports and sustains a violent competitive world view of winner and loser, already deeply ingrained in the movie and television entertainment industry
· the shrinking of the world’s space and time, making travel for leisure, business and learning much more accessible today than ever in history
· the video-audio recording of moments from both public and private lives/conflicts/debates/investigations/reports much of it competing/conflicting with information from similar competing sources
· the history of unresolved racial divisions taking shape and form uniquely in various places, with various minorities whose integration into the mainstream awaits their succeeding generations
· the implications of globalization and global warming and climate change, two of the macro-issues still thirsting for resolution
These are just a few of the forces shoving individuals, organizations, governments, families and nations in several directions simultaneously, leaving everyone and most organizations confused, unfocused, nervous and in some cases dysfunctional.
The media, as a public face on our collective consciousness, struggles with its identity, as do the political parties that have depended on traditional roles, positions, and public credence, the leaders of the organizations, not only at the top, but in the many departments who, naturally, when facing fear and uncertainty, revert to self-protective behaviours that may prove to be short-sighted and self-sabotaging both to them and to their organization, also struggle to find an identity in this vortex of the confluence of new and potentially dangerous torrents for which none of us has prepared.
Identity politics, in a primarily transactional business-dominated (win-lose) culture, pits my ability to dominate against your’s in every office, boardroom, operating room, union hall and classroom. It is as if the poverty of the adage “do it to them before they do it to you” has found universal resonance. This poverty of perspective, robbed as it is of “the other’s needs, hopes, aspirations and dreams” has stripped the consciousness and the demands of the “public good” from conversations about shared issues, shared resources, shared goals and shared hopes and optimism.
- When we accept the poverty of this monumental scarcity, in the face of such threatening and impending and seemingly intractable issues, we fulfil the self-fulfilling aspect of our own prophecy.
- When we place our individual needs above those of the “public good,” we not only abandon our responsibility for serving the needs of the public good; we also absolve future generations from having to take those responsibilities seriously.
- When our world view, in the face of such a plethora of storms bearing down upon us, reverts to isolationism, nationalism, walls, guns and deportations, as the primary way of dealing with perceived (and demonstrably unreal) threats, we have already joined a large public army/consciousness/conventionality/normalcy that is a lie to the human spirit.
This current political threat from the far-right denies our basic, demonstrable and verifiable human reality: that we are hopeful, compassionate, social, egalitarian, spiritual and integrous at our core. If and when we, individually and collectively, submit to the denial of these better (even best) angels, and join the parade to feed our darker instincts to personal power under the threat of one or more of many fears, we reduce our capacity to defeat these dark forces, and thereby throw away our opportunity to nudge the world to a higher and more sustainable and much more honourable level of civilization….a goal that regardless of our political, economic, academic, religious or national background, we all share.
Let’s start demonstrating that basic truth.