(Originally published by the late lamented Earthblog.net, Dec. 17, 2005)
I don’t know if I’m the person you want for Earthblog. Believe it, I vastly appreciate the opportunity to do something that pays, but this may not be it.
I think the basic problem is, I don’t want to become a news junkie. Which is what I would need to be, in order to help fulfill the Earthblog purpose. Nothing is older than news. As I often can be heard saying, it’s the same old wine in a new bottle, day after day. Basically, the world sucks. Politicians are greedy, corporations are inhuman, technology proceeds rapidly without a backward glance at the broken lives it leaves in its wake. When it comes to the people who make the laws, their stupidity level is off the charts. Learning the specific details of today’s current examples of greed, stupidity, etc. isn’t what I want to spend time on, not even for the worthy purpose of writing for such a cool site.
I read the Earthblog mission statement and reacted in typical contrary fashion. I’m looking at this sentence that says “The importance of being better and more fully informed cannot be overstated.” Well, my philosophical position is that it can be, and often is, overstated. I don’t remember who said this – and in all likelihood, many people have said it in various ways: While the amount of information keeps growing, the amount of wisdom has pretty much stayed the same since the first proto-human stood upright. Let’s see if I can convey this thought without sounding like a complete idiot. These days I feel that I’ve already been supplied with sufficient information to last as long as I’m likely to last. What I hope to do with the limited time left to me is (if possible, and that’s a big if) to figure out how to convert some of the information we’re all drowning in, into wisdom.
Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a worthy and noble undertaking, to point people to news sources that have a different take on things. One of my problems is, I have a sneaky suspicion that anybody who cares about hearing a different point of view, is already aware of information sources that provide truth and objectivity, at least insofar as their particular issues are concerned. And I have another sneaky suspicion that people who are satisfied with a nightly dose of TV network news are happy to stick with it, and aren’t particularly interested in having other points of view shown to them, because that would spoil everything. Americans who follow and believe what the big news outfits tell them, are glad to do so, because it confirms and reinforces their already deep-seated and simple-minded worldview.
I had a conversation with someone recently that was pretty much a replica of other conversations with other acquaintances since 9/11. As always, I pointed out that, much as we hate to acknowledge it, other countries around the world have good, excellent, valid and unarguable historical reasons for hating the USA. I didn’t arrive at this opinion by keeping up with every news story that comes over the wire, but from one book I read twenty years ago, Endless Enemies by Jonathan Kwitny. I got it. Things haven’t changed since, except to become exponentially worse. The War on Drugs has been the greatest boon to American foreign policy that the twisted megalomaniacs in Washington could have hoped for. What a swell excuse to meddle and send in troops and strong-arm and blackmail other governments into doing things Uncle Sam’s way. Who gave the Taliban more than 40 million bucks, supposedly to fight the opium trade? How much of that ended up helping Osama and his buddies? And if it isn’t drugs, it’s oil. If somebody hadn’t wanted to run an oil pipeline through Afghanistan, how much of subsequent history might have been different?
Well, let’s not get off on that tangent. What I’m aiming to express here is, no matter how many facts you present the ordinary American with, the reply is likely to be…..”But those cowardly dogs killed women and children! Innocent office workers! All those brave firefighters died!” and so on. You can’t get them to consider the idea that, no matter how dreadful the World Trade Center tragedy was, it’s just possible that our wonderful country was due for some justifiable payback. Or the idea that maybe what really needs to be looked at, is the overweening self-importance, the hubris, that makes the USA think it’s justified in running the whole goddam world. (Like we used to say in sixth grade, “Who died and made you God?”) But, except for friends who already know the score, no one I’ve ever talked to has been willing to look into Endless Enemies, and I doubt if they would even if I gave them a free copy or came over at bedtime to fix hot cocoa and read them a few pages out loud.
People who tune into mainstream news want to believe the simplistic formulas. Cops = good, drugs = bad. America = right, Iraq, Iran, all those towel-head infested desert infernos = wrong. They want to believe the Kuwait thing was about rescuing women from abusive situations as household slave whores. They want to believe that our government didn’t already have all those Patriot Act ducks in a row, waiting for something to come along and justify their implementation. They want to believe that a national ID card will prevent future acts of terrorism. And the major news sources provide their daily fix of the opiate of belief.
Going back to the very eloquent Earthblog piece, it says “What could have been more important than having a truly informed American electorate vote in the recent presidential elections?” Well, my jaundiced view is, it doesn’t matter how freakin’ informed the public is about the candidates’ platforms, beliefs and ideas, if the whole freakin’ process is rigged, as seems increasingly to be the case. I’m grateful to the alternative news sources that have been so diligent about bringing to light the chicanery surrounding recent elections. But, armed with this information, what can I do except give up? It doesn’t matter how well-informed I am about the candidates, if the mechanism for making sure one of them wins, is already in place. How this can be stopped from happening is the real question here, and I don’t know the answer.
“Most Americans don’t even know the names of the candidates who were on the ballot and running for President in 2004 let alone what they would do if elected,” says Earthblog. Again, this may be my pessimism talking, but one of the eternal debates that went on when I used to go to libertarian gatherings was: Sure, you can go ahead and make a statement, send a message by voting for our candidate, but it’s just throwing your vote away because he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. A vote for Marrou or Paul or Badnarik is just a charming quixotic gesture, you know it and I know it. If your vote in a presidential election is to have any significance, you’re down to picking the lesser of two evils. In last year’s election I voted for the first time in twenty years, solely for the purpose of electing Not Bush. I didn’t know a damn thing about Kerry and it wouldn’t have mattered if, instead, his party had taken a leaf from the Yippies’ book and nominated a pig for the office. I would have voted for any oinkster that possessed the extremely valuable characteristic of being Not Bush, even if that was the only plank in its platform.
The trouble with the candidates fielded by the two big parties, between whom there is generally as little difference as between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, is that by the time they get far enough in the political life to be eligible for the presidency, they’re irredeemably compromised and corrupted already. Anyone who has earned the approbation of the backroom boys who run either major party, has already kissed so much ass and sold such large portions of his soul that he’s pretty much indistinguishable from his opponent. And despite the presence of a marvelous diversity of other parties, none of them has the aforementioned snowball’s odds of winning. So where does that leave the informed, conscientious voter? Not much of anywhere.
What echoes in my mind is a parable I heard years ago about a bunch of people on a train going in a bad direction. For a while they gather in the right side of the car, then they try gathering in the left side of the car, and strangely enough the train just keeps barreling along. The moral being: what’s needed is for people to get out of that car and lay down some new track.
How to get them to want to do that? Beats the hell out of me. Most Americans have a huge emotional, financial, intellectual and every other kind of investment in that shabby old train car. I don’t have answers. All I have is an intuitive feeling that laying down new track is incompatible with keeping up with the minutiae of what’s going on with the old track and the dilapidated, derelict train car that we seem to be clinging to with such desperate futility.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.