Considering the News
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Considering the News • Posted: Jan 30, 2010 20:10:30Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

There are many reasons to believe democracy in the United States is in serious trouble. One of those reasons is the current condition of newspapers. They are dying. Sad to realize, but few Americans read anymore. Not because they can't. But because they choose not to. What they do instead is listen to radio while driving, watch TV while eating dinner or drifting off to sleep, or catch up on favorite blogs over coffee at breakfast, lunch, or just after work. There isn't any time left for reading a newspaper. So they don't. The result is that newspapers are dying off for lack of readership.

Many critics say "good riddance, the market place has spoken". But is the market place making a wise choice? Do radio, TV, and Internet blogs serve democracy equally well or perhaps even better? The data is not complete, but early indications are that they do not.

How many times in recent memory have you observed or listened to a "man on the street" interview over radio or TV where the interviewee was able to offer intelligible succinct insightful analysis relating to the interviewer's questions? I'd venture to guess: not many. Has our education system failed us? Or, have our brains turned to mush? The answer to both of those questions may be "yes". But there is another factor. And that other factor is the "coolness" of most media itself, "coolness" in the Marshall McLuhan sense, "coolness" in the sense that TV and most programs on radio require little from listeners. All the thinking, all the movement, all the expended effort is on the part of the producers of media content. Radio can require some imagination to follow, but so called talk radio, which has huge followings, does its best to squelch clear thinking on the part of its listeners by overwhelming them with voices that complement each other's point of view and that gloss over glaring holes and errors of fact and logic, instead appealing to emotion as if emotions were the unshakable basis for truth. In stark contrast, dispassionate deeply questioning journalism, which had been the hallmark of newspapers and some magazines, requires a great deal from its readers. It urges them to consider stark unemotionalized facts and insightfully explained competing points of view. It offers dispassionate analysis of likely consequence for alternative scenarios of response. And finally, it encourages readers to turn to their neighbors and discuss what has been presented. Today's cool media, on the other hand, urge listeners to stay turned for further instructions on what to buy, where to go, what to do, and what to think. No judicious decision making required. The unquestioning result: crusted mush for brains.

Democracy in the U.S. is in grave danger because its citizens have lost the ability to think and discuss issues without inflamed emotion fanned by cool media cheer leaders. Democracy requires participants to get together and creatively iron out differences in perception of fact and consequence for the purpose of collectively committing to a course of action. It requires trust in the ultimate wisdom of the process and its participants. Instead, today's participants currently take scripting from cool media's merchants of passion and what could be productive discussions have degenerated into mindless shouting matches where nothing of any wisdom is accomplished. Unless countered in some way, fear and distrust will eventually triumph over any and all willingness to participate and the only alternative left to us for maintaining social order in this country will be the abandonment of democracy altogether in favor of iron fisted fascism.

The world has seen that outcome before and is perhaps seeing it develop again. Do we really want that to be the shape of our future here in the U.S.?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009