Saturday, April 16, 2022

Refecting on the courage to tell the truth...

 Writing on, April 15, 2022, Andrew Keen entitles his piece: ‘When Your Public Square is a Private Company, Any Sulky Billionaire Can Buy It’…in reference to the recent attempt by billionaire Elon Musk to purchase a huge chunk of Twitter for some $43 billion.

 Inside the piece, we read, ‘Whether or not Twitter is worthy the $43 billion that the Tesla CEO is supposedly willing to pay is neither here nor there. It’s a silly man paying a silly price for a silly product. What matters is that in our social media age, Twitter -- a place we go to try to emulate Elon Musk and make a lot of private noise-- has massive value. You see, we don’t just go to social media Twitter to make noise. We go there to make a very contemporary kind of noise---a moral noise…..(Having weaponized morality), We go there to make noise abuot how the world could and should be a ‘better place’. We go on Twitter to noisily call out strangers about their immorality—their racism, their sexism, their classism and their wokeism. We go there for an ethical jolt. To jump start and bolster our sense of moral righteousness. That’s ‘like church’ some of you might say. No. Twitter is church. That’s why I don’t go there….(Referencing writer Dan Brooks) (who) believes that contemporary morality has mostly been  hijacked by the marketing department of large companies like PepsiCo, Microsoft, and Nike  which now use social media to peddle their own, usually self-serving versions of goodness…But all they are really doing is trying to sell more shoes or carbonated drinks or suites of office software…”

Normalizing the weaponizing of morality by character assassinating those whose mistakes ring loud and clear in our tabloid vernacular, however, is not restricted to Twitter. It (weaponizing of morality) has long held a prominent place, indeed it may be the basis of the profit motive of those tabloids (think Rupert Murdoch and his empire). It has had an even longer and even more prominent place in church dialogue, in and through which specific verses of scripture have been deployed as bullets in arguments about a variety of public and social issues, over which those with a bent for the pistol in their debate prep seek complete control. Weaponizing morality, bible verses, and also political language, through the now common-place references to the Holocaust and its denial, have all contributed to an erosion or our consciousness of the ambiguous, the uncertain, the nuance and the truth.

So while Putin threatens both chemical and nuclear weapons in Ukraine if the U.S. continues to provide military equipment to Ukraine, on this side of the Atlantic, in the New Statesman April 13, 2022, in a piece by George Eaton, Noam Chomsky is quoted as saying, ‘we’re approaching the most dangerous point in human history….We are now facing the prospect of destruction of organized human life on Earth. (In another piece in the New Stateman by Megan Gibson, on March 30, 2022, Francis Fukuyama, American political theorist, is quoted as saying, ‘We could be facing the end of ‘the end of history’.

None of this is to say that the language we use on Twitter is exclusively, or even primarily the cause of what is happening in Ukraine. Nor is it to say that the massacre in Ukraine will be stopped by those opposed to Putin’s war taking to Twitter to scream bloody murder. Morality, ethics and human civilization, taken together, is not a monster to be tamed like a migraine headache, with another new chemical/linguistic potion. We have both the capacity to learn, nano second by nano second, information from every street corner on the planet, given that whatever happens turns up on some platform of social media, as if such documentation makes us all more ‘informed’ and thereby more ‘intelligent’…and also more ‘with-it’ because we ‘get-it’….Not so!

The public square has been filled for the last few years with the rantings of a narcissist occupant of the Oval Office, as if the ‘news’ comprised statements of the chief executive and reactions to them…as had been the case for decades, if not centuries. However, overdosing on narcissism, and the revenue it generated for the networks, is not a sustainable path to or for the development of social, domestic, foreign or environmental policy and leadership. Indeed, just as in the office politics of “personalizing’ every issue and thereby reducing it to the preferred resolution of eliminating the person causing the problem, so too, has the habit of personalizing the political landscape in all organizations reduced political debate to a kind of pre-adolescent gossip session among jealous, insecure and instant-gratification-dependent teens. Headlines of aberrant words that express extreme opinions, often based on rumour and/or lies, grab the attention of a public starved for that jolt that Keen was referring to in the piece above from The names and faces of those uttering radioactive words and seemingly lethal opinions (at least politically) have become standard fare on the menu of public discourse.

Most of us have not spent our lives steeped in history of foreign policy, especially the foreign policy that is now reverberating in the streets of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and elsewhere in Ukraine. Promises made and promises broken, seems to be a pattern that both the Russian and the American sides have adhered to, whether or not this is the moment for reminding us of that shared reality. When asked not about Putin’s fear of encirclement by NATO, but the spread of liberal democracy in Ukraine, (in the New Stateman piece cited above) Chomsky responds:

“Putin is concerned with democracy as we are. If it’s possible to break out of the propaganda bubble for a few minutes, the US has a long record of undermining and destroying democracy. Do I have to run through it? Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, on and on…But we are supposed to now honour and admire Washington’s enormous commitment to sovereignty and democracy. What happened in history doesn’t matter. That’s for other people. What about Nato expansion? There was an explicit unambiguous promise by (US Secretary of State) James Baker and president George HW Bush to Gorbachev that if he agreed to allow a unified Germany to rejoin Nato, the US would ensure that there would be no move one inch to the east. There’s a good deal of lying about this now…It’s certainly right to have moral outrage about Putin’s actions in Ukraine…but it would be even more progress to have moral outrage about other horrible atrocities…"

Consistently shining a laser on the full landscape of the language that is and has been used to design, describe and to deploy policy, commitments, and the normalizing of the open and often deliberate fracture and decimation of those same promises, by people and governments everywhere, for all time, has been Chomsky’s life’s work. Curmudgeoned and bludgeoned as he has been by the establishment, Chomsky’s voice, like that of some of his emulators (think Chris Hedges in has shown the same courage that prompted his first article confronting the perils of foreign aggression. ‘The first article I wrote (as a ten-year-old) for the elementary school newspaper was on the fall of Barcelona in 1939). It charted the advance of the ‘grim cloud of fascism’ across the world. I haven’t changed my opinion since, it’s just gotten worse.’ INew Statesman, cited above)

Multiple epithets attempt to draw pencil lines on a public discourse canvas to draw attention to the human, (political, diplomatic, administrative, even theological) penchant to short-term fixes, while avoiding anything like longer-term reconciliations….fingers in the dyke, temporary policies to address a crisis, (only to fail to apply the inherent sunset clause later), protection for Ukraine (Budapest agreement), preserving jobs over production of and profit from cancerous cigarettes.... We all consciously and/or unconsciously engage in the ‘flow’ of how the street talk nudges, pushes, shoves or even punches us along. We all want to fit in, to be liked, to be integrated and to be respected….and the price of that obsession is, both in private and in public life, the sacrifice of what we all know is the truth.

Subjected to the barrage of advertising/marketing bumph, all of it containing a grain of fact, sugar-coated with a candy of aspiration, hope and more promise of fitting in, we are all fearful of alienation, abandonment, and ostracising…just as we all were in middle and elementary school. Only as adults we have different chores to take our attention away from what we are really doing, including what, when and how we are promising more than we can or will deliver.

Promising our future brides a life-time of the best time of their life is only a cliché example of what I am trying to say. Starry-eyed, hope-drunk, and herculean-empowered, we say what we know we cannot and will not ever deliver. It makes good “sweet-talk’ at the moment. It does not foreshadow decades of bliss, nor can it. A pattern of similar ‘sweet-talk’ and reinforcement, of that original promise, all the while knowing that we are bluffing our way through, gives us another sugar-fix, just like the sugar-fix the corporates are dishing out in their marketing campaigns.

Books written about the marketing of the Coke-bottle presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, while distressing, expressed a cornerstone of the American business application to the presidential campaign of 1960. And while Putin’s detaining and fining and imprisoning and poisoning political opponents are all detestable, and less honourable than our fair and free elections, there are ‘holes’ in the wall of superiority in our system that we are loath to confront.

There is a real danger that the proverb of the frog in boiling water, innocent and unaware of the danger the frog faces, as the temperature of the water rises, until at last he dies when the water boils, is an analogy for the human condition, especially as we witness the confluence of existential threats to our survival. It may be depressing and heavy and awkward and socially impolitic, and even impolite to adopt and to underscore the perceptions, attitude and insight of Chomsky. It is also depressing and heavy to hear, digest, integrate and accept the words of a medical practitioner who indicates serious life-threatening symptoms if intervention is precluded; and yet, we all know that such courage at that moment is really the only option.

If it is true that courage is the value with the highest ranking, because it is the value that enables all other values, then the courage to know and to tell the truth, and to expect and to nourish that courage is to inculcate it in our encounters. And perhaps through our critical commitment to seek and to find the kind of courage we have previously left unused or undiscovered we might individually, and then collectively, contribute to and generate a different river of consciousness…one that bodes well for our survival, and for that of our grandchildren.


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