Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

When listening to gun advocates talk about their opposition to gun control many of them are occasionally candid enough to expose the real reason they want their guns. Behind the points about more guns reducing gun violence and whining about the Second Amendment (both of which have feeble or non-existent rational basis) there lies the real shadow driving their beliefs. Every once in a while the expose the fact that their real reason that they want their guns is to repel what they feel is an imminent attack coming to change their way of life. Sometimes it is Russian infiltration, sometimes the U.N., and currently it is Sharia Law, but more often than not it is their own Federal Government that they fear. Take, for example, the recent ridiculous fears about Jade Helm. The right to bear arms originated and still has a firm root in the fear that tyranny will creep into their lives.

Why do these people have a fear that there are those in government that are conspiring to oppress them? Why do they fear that the government will come and take away their guns and try to tell them what to do? I believe that it stems from two related sources.

The first is that on some level they truly understand that what they are doing is seen by the rest of the world as ridiculous, and as a result their beliefs are a defensive stance.

But secondly, and more importantly, the idea of oppression and telling other people how to live their lives seems to be a characteristic that this brand of right wing thinking seems to be very comfortable with. These are the same people who want to tell other people how to live their lives, who are intolerant of other cultures, who have an unjustified sense of exceptionalism and who are prepared to break laws in order satisfy what they believe are the dictates of their own personal values. They truly exhibit all of the worst characteristics that they are claiming to want to protect themselves from with their guns.

This is classic Shadow behaviour, and in this case seems to be operating on a cultural level. They are projecting their own negative characteristics onto whatever “bogeyman” is handy. Right now a lot of the projection is against the Federal Government, which, I think, has a lot to do with the victory of a black president for not one but two terms. The very things they seem to be afraid of are the very things that they prolifically exhibit themselves.

This, then, poses a problem as it reveals that this passion for guns (what some have cleverly labelled ammophilia) is actually a type of personality disorder. I’m not saying that just to provide a handy label for it, or to pigeon hole it, but to emphasize how difficult it is going to be to change. Changing these people’s attitudes towards gun control is going to be hampered by three problems:

  1. You’re not going to get meaningful change until you address and resolve the underlying Shadow elements. This happens very slowly as a result of social evolution.
  2. Any attempt to resolve the problem unilaterally will only result in the underlying Shadow becoming stronger and more determined.
  3. Any kind of rational discourse is going to have no effect. Looking at studies about gun control vs violence is of no value, as the root cause is an emotional and psychological one.

Understand that I am not making the case here that this analysis applies to all gun owners.  I am looking at those who have an emotional and irrational opposition to any kind of reasonable gun control.

I’m not sure where that leaves us as a society. I do think that in the Canadian political landscape you can see a bit of the same thing happening, though not nearly as extreme as you see in the U.S. One thing that we can learn from this way of looking at the problem is to be very vigilant that we, in Canadian society, don’t allow the development of these cultural Shadows to ferment, and that we take whatever steps are necessary to nip in the bud anything that might foster or bolster those Shadows.

Once they are in place, they’re very difficult to shake loose.

The Canadian federal election is just around the corner and the polls seem to be characterized by each of the three main parties having about one third of the popular vote. The balance shifts a few percentage points each week, and the seat tally shifts depending on how the vote is distributed, but in the final analysis it seems that Canadian voters are pretty well evenly strewn among the three parties. A minority government is almost certainly going to be the result and old questions about coalition governments are rearing once again.

The interesting thing about Canadian political parties is that the left is split between the Liberals and the NDP, while the right is in the hands of the Conservatives. That’s a little deceptive as examining recent history will show you that the current Conservatives are the result of a merger between the old Progressive Conservative party and the western based Heritage party. The current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, actually came from that Heritage party. (It is interesting that they solved the name issue by dropping the word “progressive”.) The Conservative party, which embodies the politics more right of centre, is therefore already a coalition that has simply been formalized with an actual merger. The Liberals and the NDP, who embody the politics more left of centre, are still maintaining their individual identities, even though they have far more in common with each other than either has with the Conservatives. Clearly, if the Liberals and the NDP were to merge (and maybe even include the Green Party), and create a two party system in Canada similar to what they have in the U.S., the Conservative Party, at least as it exists now, would never win another election. Two thirds of the voters are currently supporting parties that sit left of centre. (That’s not to say that the Conservative Party wouldn’t change its nature if the political landscape changed drastically.)

Admittedly we have a lot of independent voters that see themselves as centrist in their political views. They often bounce back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives. They have a dilemma to deal with in the current election seeing as the Liberals and the NDP have sort of swapped places, with the NDP trying to take the more central role and the Liberals being forced more to the left. It makes the centre and left territory a little more fuzzy.

So, it is no wonder that the Conservatives are strongly opposed to the idea of a coalition government and the other two parties are more open to it (in spite of the overt Liberal policy). Each party has its own interpretation of the Westminster system of Parliament, on which our elections are based. The Conservatives insist that our electoral system says that the party with the most seats should form the government. The other parties have a differing view.

The reality is that the Westminster system gives the incumbent party first shot at forming a government. It seems to me that this, itself, is a vindication of the idea of coalition governments. If a sitting government were to lose an election, only by forming a coalition would they be able to retain power. I’ve only heard of one situation where this was even considered in Canadian federal politics, but it is not that unusual in European countries. The second shot usually does go to the party with the most seats, but there is a harsh reality there. If that is a minority government, it could last as long as the first vote of confidence. If they were to lose that important vote, it could potentially trigger another election immediately. So, it is the case that if a coalition of parties approaches the Governor General after the results of an election are in, they could be given the right to form a coalition in Parliament, even though the parties separately haven’t gotten the most votes. The idea of a confidence vote in our system creates a situation where it is the elected Parliament which determines the Prime Minister and the ruling party. Whether you feel that is right or not, that, in fact, is the way our system works. Protests from the Conservative party that coalitions are “unfair” are not based in fact.

Our “first past the post” system of elections has come under a lot of scrutiny lately, with many vying for alternative electoral systems. In my opinion this seems like a good idea and worth examining. A system where 10% of the people can vote for the Green Party, only resulting in 1 seat, or where 40% of the voters cast their ballots for the Conservative Party and they end up with a majority government, is just not representative government. In a country where between 60% and 70% of the voters are making a statement that they want change, re-electing a Conservative government, even if it is a minority, seems unfair. Those wanting to change the electoral system are looking at some more whole scale changes to the system, which I’m not going into here, but a coalition government formed to provide a clearly desired change does not seem to be a bad idea at all, -except for the party that can’t manage to retain power even though they don’t represent anywhere near a majority of Canadians.

Canada is not like the United States, where there are only two parties. If you look at world governments where there are more than two major political parties, coalition governments are not uncommon. In fact, if the Green Party were to build support and garner more seats, coalition governments might become an absolute necessity.

I’ve said this before, but I’m ready to repeat myself because I just think it is a really effective idea.

Indiana’s new “Religious Freedom” law actually allows private businesses to post signs saying that they will discriminate in their service on the basis of sexual orientation.  It is being widely criticized as a blatantly bigoted law, which of course it is.  This article in The Atlantic does a good job of pointing out exactly how bad this law is.  Much to the chagrin of many people with religious beliefs, it is fueled and rationalized by right wing Christian extremist views and beliefs.  So, how should someone who doesn’t fit into that category, whether religious or not, respond?

One way is to launch a campaign of signs in businesses that say something to the effect of “ALL ARE WELCOME TO DO BUSINESS HERE, REGARDLESS OF RACE, COLOR, RELIGION OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION!” Make some kind of a catchy symbol to go with it.  Make them available to stores who abide by that policy, and then put forward an awareness campaign encouraging like minded people to only shop in stores displaying and living up to that sign.  Those willing to support the campaign have a chance to show their love of freedom and human dignity.  It could be civil rights organizations, large businesses and, yes, even some churches.

Even in the most redneck parts of the U.S., there are large proportions of rational people, often approaching or surpassing 50%.  It is often a vocal minority that pushes this kind of ignorance, -or at least one can hope it is.  Regardless, those who do not post the sign, or who post a contrary sign, would be making their beliefs clear and the discriminating public would be free to exercise their right of choice and withhold their business.

These signs would not be meant for those being discriminated against, although it would have an added benefit of showing them not only in which stores they are welcome, but also how many stores would actually support them.  They are, moreover, meant for the rest of the public, many of which would actually prefer not to financially support a store that so strongly differs from their own ethical views.  I know that I would avoid a store that had a policy that I found repulsive.

I’ve said before that this seems to be a very positive way of solving the problem in a manner that supports tolerance rather than condemning bigotry, -not that that doesn’t have its place as well.  In time, singled out by omission, the stores who chose to retain their redneck ways would more than likely suffer financially, that being one basic way to force them to recognize that it may not be to their benefit to try to shove their outdated religious beliefs down the throats of others.

There is a big question in the media currently about how it is possible that young people (and older ones as well) can be radicalized in the western world. How is it that middle class teens or twenty-somethings view Internet sites and then are recruited by ISIS or other radical organizations? Why are the conversion/recruitments more successful with ISIS than with Al-Qaida? Some are Arab Muslims, some are recent converts. Some come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some do not. The question is similar to but not identical to the question of why a middle class student might walk into a school and shoot other students.

In my opinion, one way to better understand what is happening here is to use a cognitive model I first encountered in a book titled Virus Of The Mind, by Richard Brodie (1996). Actually, the book itself was less than spectacular. I found it difficult to read and rather blurry in both its concepts and its writing style. However, the central idea was a very interesting one. One of the problems with the book and with many other renditions of memetic viruses is that they take to literally the foundation established by Richard Dawkins in his original article, “Viruses of the mind”. Because of Dawkins’ strong ties to biological evolution, he applied the same ideas to the evolution of memes. Because of the highly rationalistic world view of many evolution supporters, the ideas ended up being translated to memes quite literally. The other thing that Dawkins seems determined to do in his original article is to relate the whole thing to religion and the transmission of religious ideas (to which he has a rather knee-jerk antipathy), which ends up hobbling the idea al little.

While I believe that there might be some transfer, I think that it is very dangerous to be too literal in applying biological concepts to mental ones. It seems to be too rigid an application of materialism. The model, however, can adopt parts of the biological model. The important thing is the degree to which the model fits, works and predicts. “The map is not the landscape” clearly warns about taking any model or analogy too literally. In fact the analogy of a computer virus may be more appropriate than a biological one.

Keeping that in mind, “meme as virus” is a useful map in order to try to understand the current situation with regards to radical extremism. Let me clarify the way in which I am using certain terms in order to provide perspective.

A meme is a unit of meaning usually summed up in a catch-phrase like “the end justifies the means” or “things go better with Coke”. It is the cultural equivalent of what in science is often called a Holon, which is important because Holons can evolve dialectically and so can memes.

Several memes can combine to create a larger meme, called a super meme, which is far more powerful because it relies on several mutually supportive memes for its inner validation, producing a sense of intrinsic consistency and rationalization.

A meme virus is a meme that is either deliberately crafted or the product of a selective evolution of ideas, and which strongly self replicates, especially in a particular medium of mind, like a seed engineered to thrive in particular kind of soils and environmental conditions. This may be a deliberate configuration of the meme, a product of a selective evolution of a meme (explained below), or a combination of both through the opportunistic utilization of an emergent meme.

In essence, all memes are viruses, defined by their ability to engage and be absorbed by the mind, however some act in a more virus like, efficient manner, defying normal safeguards against them. Take for example a religious meme vs “things go better with Coke”. While the ad meme is weaker and more likely to be mediated by intelligent thinking, the religious meme is far more powerful and can take on more virus like qualities.

The meme in the case of “radical violent extremism”, which for the sake of simplicity we will henceforth refer to as “Jihad”, is in fact a super meme which can be reduced to its supportive sub memes. However, the idea of “radical violent extremism” is not restricted to Muslim extremism or even religious extremism. For example, there are forms of environmental extremism which have exactly the same meme foundation. Comparing religious and environmental extremism yields some interesting insights into the nature of this virus, which I will examine at a later point.

The sub memes which constitute Jihad can be reduced to the following:

  1. The end justifies the means.
    2. Some ends are valued to justify any cost, including martyrdom. They are ends that demand justice. They are ends that have moral or ethical priority over all else. That end can be easily rationalized or may not even require evidence at all.
    3. Using extreme means to fight for these ends is noble and self righteous.
    4. People who don’t agree with the value of this end are working against it and therefore against the ultimate good that is associated with it. If they’re not with you, they’re against you. Their well being or even their lives are therefore a lesser priority.

We can see many of these operate individually with only slight or moderate consequences. When you put them all together, you end up with a radical mind set.

In the case of religious extremism, the morals and dogmas associated with the religion are the end. In Muslim extremism, for example, the values of the religion are so sacred that to defy them is considered a blasphemy. The “end”, whether it be moral righteousness or the promise of an afterlife in paradise, can take on a fanatical and extremist nature. In the case of environmental extremism, the survival of the environment at all costs is the end along with a condemnation of those that defile it. (I’m not equating these on an ethical level, just on a structural one.)

The soil in which this particular super meme of Jihad is likely to take hold most effectively has a relation to the nature of the sub memes. These sub memes have a foundation based on injustice and sense of purpose. Those people who are particularly vulnerable in those areas will be the ones most susceptible to a meme virus directed at conversion and recruitment to such a cause. This may include:

  1. People who have been the victims of injustice and prejudice in their own lives, or who identify and empathise with the injustice done to others.
    2. People who do not have a sense of purpose and feel that there is a void of meaning in their lives.
    3. People who have a fundamentalist conceptual mind set, seeing the world in terms of black and white or good and bad.
    4. People who have not developed a strong or consistent sense of empathy.
    5. People who have other forms of mental illness or personality disorders that lead to hardship in their interpersonal relationships and which encourage them to see the world in extreme terms.
    6. People who have little to lose, which is both the result of and a reinforcer for all of the above.

Combine the above memes with the above mental states in various combinations and permutations, and you have the perfect catalytic situation for the development of the Jihadist super meme. Expose kind of person described above to a Muslim extremist narrative of violence, and that virus will take hold and self replicate. Expose them to a different one, say a political or environmental ideology, and they will be susceptible to that as well. Put it in a racial equality context, especially one in which violence enters the meme through the actions of the “oppressors” and the meme will thrive in the form of violent demonstrations and organizations. One difference is that politics and environmentalism are more difficult to fully comprehend, and so intelligence plays a part as well. Religious ideologies are tailored to not require intelligence. This is not meant to be an insult to religion. They are meant to be highly accessible by nature.

Right now, one of the strongest extremist super memes in the world is Jihadist Muslim extremism. Its strength comes from several sources. There is a legitimate sense of injustice against Muslim people and the Arab world. Even highly rational and politically sceptical people will admit to a certain moral ambiguity in the way that the West has treated the Arabs of the Middle East. We’ve seen it in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or in the way Iraq was invaded under the pretense of Weapons Of Mass Destruction. It’s a complex issue, but nobody can deny that it is a huge compost pile for feelings of injustice. Combined with that is the feeling in the western countries post 9-11 which engender a sense of persecution or suspicion of Muslim people. As I said, these are all highly complex issues, the justification for each side being debatable, but the sense of injustice is easily understood and easily made a factor that can influence and promote the meme.

Also as a religion with a strong fundamentalist side to it, Islam can easily be reduced by an evolving meme into extremist views. While the vast majority of Muslims would never resort to extremist violence to express their outrage, most would agree that the depiction or insult of their prophet is a blasphemy and is highly offensive to their religion. That’s not that different from fundamentalist Christians who would be outraged if someone posted a video of a person blowing their nose with pages from the New Testament or perhaps peeing on it. There would be outrage, especially from the fundamentalist corners of the religion who tend to take things more literally. There might even be a violent reaction, although that would be far less likely that it would be in the Muslim case. Why? For two reasons. First, Christian Jihad isn’t a prominent meme. If it were being reported every day that Christians were rising up in protest and violently reacting to certain things, that meme would quickly grow. Second, among fundamentalist Christians, the soil in which such a meme could develop is less likely to exist. Principally, they would have too much to lose. The person susceptible to Islamic Jihad characteristically has little to lose (and often much to gain, at least in their own minds).

ISIS, in particular, has figured out that it strengthens their meme to depict themselves as a source of brotherhood and adventure. To the bored young person who feels alienated from their social environment, or who feels rudderless, this becomes extremely enticing, the way that joining the Army is often depicted as adventurous to young recruits. (In fact, American military recruiters tend to use exactly the same meme and tactics, just replacing religious fervour with patriotic fervour.)

All this may be further complicated by personal issues that involve unresolved issues and Shadows, especially those that might result in a violent temperament. In fact, when the meme lands in the soil of the prospective mind, its very nature will dredge up Shadows, sometimes the worst and most unstable parts of ourselves, and celebrate them. That is part of the virus, to zero in on mental weaknesses and exploit them.

From an Integral point of view, those people who are at a Red/Amber (Pre-Rational / Pre-Modern) state of personal evolution are more susceptible to this process. Mediation by more reasonable forces is less present and the mind is already operating in a more fundamentalist, black & white mode. Feeling empathy for a victimized people and then joining a movement to kill or injure innocents and to make everybody think the same way, is not really empathy at all. It is, I think, related to the pre-trans fallacy that Ken Wilber talks about, where Pre-Modern values are confused with Post-Modern ones. Empathy becomes confused with a kind of murky, dark relativism. The person thinks they are being empathic and working for a higher morality, but really it is all rooted in Red egocentrism and groupcentrism.

By framing the idea of radical Muslim extremism in the model of a meme virus, I hope to illuminate several things. First, it is not the Muslim religion that is at fault here, but the way that it is being crafted to better suit a Jihadi meme. Similarly, the mal-contents that find it attractive are responding to a set of mental pre-conditions that would have likely responded to some other form of violent meme. Perhaps they would have become gang members or criminals. The central cause is the merging of a crafted, violent meme with a fertile mind, -and right now the prevalent violent meme is Muslim radicalism.

Secondly, I hope that this sheds some light on how to spot and avoid this from happening. The media needs to reframe the meme. How to do that would take another long entry to explain. Also, the personal issues that make an individual fertile ground can be addressed. In communities where Arab Muslims feel alienated and where they don’t feel that they have anything to give up or lose, you’re much more likely to find a fertile field for the meme to pursue conversion and recruitment. People in general who feel an absence of purpose or who have been bullied and feel victimized will clearly be more susceptible.

As a model this perspective is far from perfect or absolute. However I feel that it does illuminate and even answer some of the questions which are being asked about the current situation concerning domestic terrorism.

Let’s start with some facts. Something which some news media outlets don’t consider important.

  1. There is very little specific information about the content of the new curriculum available to the general public. That is not surprising as it has been made clear that it is still in the formative stage, with parent input still being sought and utilized. With such a politically and socially charged topic, parading it too early in the media would only lead to a circus which would hinder any kind of intelligent discussion. It eventually must be presented to a wider audience, before implementation and as a final formative stage, but at this point in time it would be counterproductive. Take the Sun Media pouncing on the “Anal 101” graphic behind one of the posters, with absolutely no context or explanation involved. Sex education is an easy target for sensationalism. Case in point, the Charles McVety attacks back in 2010, supported and advanced by the Ontario PC part, subsequently condemned by the Canadian Boadcasting Standards Council as shamelessly bigoted. Currently we see the same kind of shamelessness. It is interesting that a thorough Google shows that only SUN News and the various blogs that have simply cut and pasted their article, have any mention of the “Anal 101” issue. I find this unusual in that SUN is not the only conservative media outlet in Ontario, …just, I guess, the only tawdry one.
    The fact seems to be that parents are still being invited to provide feedback and input regarding this curriculum. If there are suspicions that this might not be a fair vetting, then address that and ask for a better representation of parents in that process. One parent from each school seems to be a good deal, although I can see how some religious groups might fear being left out of the process. There is a Catholic School system in Ontario, though, so they should easily be able to manage adequate representation. The truth of the matter is, though, that many of these religious groups would not be satisfied with anything less than abstinence based education and little more. Their cries of “secrecy” at this stage are not valid, and weren’t with the 2010 document where, clearly, enough was revealed about it to result in protests leading to its cancellation.
    However, I admit that after proper vetting, the provincial government does have a responsibility to release the final document to the public for more general scrutiny. There’s no scenario where that will go well. We live in a social structure with too many divergent values and world views. However, if the majority agrees (-not a majority of parents, but a majority of our society-) then moving ahead with it is the nature of social progress.
  2. This is an old story. As part of Wynne’s campaign when becoming leader of the provincial Liberal Party, she made it clear that she’d supported the scrapped 2010 curriculum document and that it was her intention to reintroduce it in some form. There are news articles to that effect prior to the last provincial election, and yet the Liberals won a majority. There are no transparency issues here. One can’t help but wonder to what degree Wynne’s own sexual orientation may be playing a role in the views of some more conservative critics.
  3. Most educators agree that the 15 year old Sex Ed. curriculum is woefully outdated for the changes that have taken place in that time. A little statistical research (not to mention anecdotal) shows how much of a shift there has been in the level of access to sexual material as a result of social media. Sexting and cameras on everything from home computers to laptops to tablets to phones are a game changer. Attitudes towards sexual engagement have changed and become more open, with the very definition of sexual activity having changed with terms like “wheeling” and “friends with benefits” becoming common place for lunch room banter. Access to pornography has become progressively easier and more commonly sought out than ever before, with most parents powerless to block it short of simply denying kids access to any form of technology. (And then they still have to contend with access that friends may have, -or as I’ve often hear, kids finding it on their parents computers, not realizing that kids are more tech savvy and better able to investigate search histories and hidden files than are the parent.) Having been a teacher (now retired) and a leader of several youth groups, I can say with a degree of authority that I’ve noticed a dramatic and significant shift in this whole area specifically over the past ten years.
  4. When creating and vetting a curriculum guideline, while parents certainly have the right to provide input, so should education experts and teachers. The indication is that most education experts feel that the new curriculum is largely a good thing. Now, I can hear the protest out there, the old adage of “What do experts know, anyway.” Well, I’m sorry but I’m reluctant to bow to the right wing, anti-intellectual movement that seems to be so prevalent in the U.S., and give experts the respect that they are due. It is too easy to disagree by simply dismissing the words of those who have made it their life’s work to study and understand education. What do you replace it with; folk lore and religious dogma?? I can assure you that while such people might be busy asserting such “values”, it will make no difference to the sexual activities of their children. The states in the U.S. with the most dogmatic and repressive attitudes towards sexuality and sex education are also those with the highest incidence of teen/unwanted pregnancy. In Canada it’s Quebec, which, coincidentally, has a largely Catholic school system.
    It is a sad fact that many parents, and especially the parents of kids that are in the highest risk category for early sexual activity, pregnancy and STDs, do not adequately exercise their responsibility of providing information and guidance in sexual matters. At the same time, they are often, though not always, the same people who object to sex education in schools. In many cases this is because they feel that exposing children to information about sex will encourage them to become more promiscuous. As stated above, the statistics are clear the ignorance about sex is directly related to unwanted pregnancy and STDs. By contrast to more conservative areas in the United States and Canada, in The Netherlands, where attitudes about teen sexuality are very open and liberal, teens are 15% more likely to use protection when having sex and the teen pregnancy rate is one sixth what it is in the States. There is one third the STD rate and The Netherlands has less than 1% the incidence of Gonorrhea. Ignorance does nobody any good.

I some ways it can be said that the need for the schools and the sex curriculum to step in is necessary for the very reason that many parents are ill equipped or often unwilling to do it themselves. If they were, the school curriculum would be less essential in properly equipping students to cope with the social media world. It needs to be done tactfully and with a measure of consensus and sensitivity, but it needs to be done.

This morning there was an extensive discussion about the fact that it is far more hazardous for journalists covering conflict stories now than it ever has been before. In previous wars and conflicts, reporters and photographers were identified by wearing something that clearly stated “PRESS” or in vehicles identified the same way. There was a mutual respect offered journalists that reflected the perception that they were not part of the conflict, which not only protected them from attack, but also often allowed them to cross enemy lines and interview the adversary. This was beneficial to our understanding and the transparency of the conflict.

No more. Now, media teams are often in the line of fire, are targeted, are arrested, are kidnapped, and as in the case of James Foley, are executed. Why?

Part of it is clearly that the media takes more risks and are willing to insert themselves into more dangerous situations because the payoff is greater. Dedicated news channels on cable TV battle each other for ratings just as regular TV shows and movies do. Part of it may be that the adversary is more extremist in their beliefs, although I’m not sure that really holds up under comparison with extremist foes in past conflicts.

Personally I feel that the main reason is that the media has become part of the battle, and as such are now viewed as legitimate targets or hostages. There are two ways this has happened.

  1. So much of the battle has become fought in the media, where groups know they have the potential of swaying the beliefs of large numbers of people. This has an influence on potential funding (as in Israeli/Gaza), recruitment (as in ISIS) or even the outcome in legal situations (as in Ferguson). Putin’s control of the media in Russia, for example, allows him to act with impunity and still maintain the support and adulation of the majority of the Russian people. Western media interference with that is a serious threat to him. In Ferguson, much of the media debate became about itself, addressing the question of reporting potentially placing either race relations or police incompetence in one light or another, each having dire consequences both on the unrest in the town and on the climate within U.S. national, political debate. Nowhere has there been more consideration of media influence than in the Israel/Gaza conflict, where a very ambiguous and emotionally charged situation led to all kinds of accusations of unfair bias in reporting one side or the other. In this way, the reporting of journalists and photographers have achieved a higher level of interaction and connection with the conflict itself, potentially being used as a tool (or allowing themselves to be used as a tool).
  2. This is compounded by the political partisan polarization that can be seen within the media itself. It is not uncommon for particular news outlets to have well known biases, whether it be FOX News or MSNBC in the U.S., or SUN News here in Canada. Objective news reporting is hard to find, -and often when it does exist, it comes under attack from the tainted news sources as being bias, thereby kicking up dust to mask their own lack of objectivity. It becomes very confusing. (So, for example, pure, objective scientific reporting becomes “Liberalized” because it is contrary to the Conservative view, as seen with things such as Climate Change, Creationism, Environmental Research, etc. Objective Science is painted as being bias simply because it is not bias.)

In these two ways, journalism has regrettably become extremely politicized and, as such, have placed themselves in a position of global perception where they are no longer viewed as impartial but, rather, as part of the conflict. It most certainly is not true of all reporters and of all news services, but the overall perceptual framework exists and extends to all members. That’s what has changed the discernment and made their job more hazardous. They are now viewed as legitimate targets, part of the conflict, part of the attack or defense.

The news media have done this to themselves. Good, investigative journalism has gone the way of “talking heads” presenting opinions and counter opinions, often without any legitimate claim to being knowledgeable about their topic. Time has to be filled with idle banter which is often sheer speculation.

There was a time where the sharing of opinions was an important, but discreetly separate, clearly identified part of the News Networks. On “60 Minutes”, the attempt was to provide hard core, informative reporting, with any editorializing being saved for a few moments at the end of a segment or for Andy Rooney’s rant at the end. In the presentation of news, it was actually considered very improper for journalists to imbed opinion in their reporting. That’s what the editorial pages were for.

Now it seems that facts are secondary, and the indirect result of that is the erosion of the privileged position that was enjoyed by journalists as those who pursued the truth, -a position that gave them a certain degree of protection in situations of conflict. When your adversary sees a journalist as just another soldier promoting a particular ideological stance, it should not be surprising when their job becomes more hazardous.

Courtroom dramas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but from Boston Legal to Law and Order to Alli McBeal, they still seem to get respectable ratings, and they always make a comeback.  Also, the broadcasting of real trials always seems to draw an audience, the most notable being the O.J. Simpson trial, but there being several others just in the past year.  Even Judge Judy has a core of devoted watchers.  If done right, people like to watch trials.  That’s because it can be very good drama, with suspense and emerging characters, all done with continuous explanation.  The narrative is clearly presented.  The audience is encouraged to make judgements themselves, and I think that a majority of people would secretly love to be part of a jury.

So why hasn’t there been a courtroom based reality TV show?  One where politicians and corporations are put on mock trial.  For example, you could put Brandon Smith on trial for fraud or conflict of interest.  It would be wishful thinking, but you could put Monsanto on trial for … whatever.  I’m not idealistic enough to think that that might every happen as I’m sure they would squash it somehow.  But you get the idea.

The trials could be real, even if not legal.  You could use a real retired judge, and I’m certain that real lawyers would love to take part as it could offer them some great exposure.  You could even use a real jury.  Mock trials, but of course with no commitment to consequences.  If somebody or some corporation doesn’t want to participate, the court appoints a credible lawyer to represent them and they are tried in absentia.  This would provide a stage for the dissemination and argument of important facts and issues in our society.  Information, on both sides, could be dealt out in an entertaining way.  It could be similar to a debate, but presented in an entertaining, dramatic manner.  Some effort could be made to keep it entertaining, but it would still require a serious approach.  Rather than just one trial droning on, it could incorporate two or three, just to be sure that the subject matter was appealing to a variety of people.

The idea is pretty rough around the edges, but I really think that it would not only be successful, but would be potentially informative and socially positive.