Thursday, January 7, 2010

On Media and Safety

Another excellent bit via Ed Brayton over at Dispatches From the Culture Wars. The original (much longer) article is by Glenn Greenwald at He, in turn, is commenting on an editorial in the NYT by David Brooks. I can't say I'm onboard with everything Greenwald has to say, but the thrust of his article is spot-on.

The citizenry has been trained to expect that our Powerful Daddies and Mommies in government will -- in that most cringe-inducing, child-like formulation -- Keep Us Safe. Whenever the Government fails to do so, the reaction -- just as we saw this week -- is an ugly combination of petulant, adolescent rage and increasingly unhinged cries that More Be Done to ensure that nothing bad in the world ever happens. Demands that genuinely inept government officials be held accountable are necessary and wise, but demands that political leaders ensure that we can live in womb-like Absolute Safety are delusional and destructive. Yet this is what the citizenry screams out every time something threatening happens: please, take more of our privacy away; monitor more of our communications; ban more of us from flying; engage in rituals to create the illusion of Strength; imprison more people without charges; take more and more control and power so you can Keep Us Safe.

This is what inevitably happens to a citizenry that is fed a steady diet of fear and terror for years [emphasis mine]. It regresses into pure childhood. The 5-year-old laying awake in bed, frightened by monsters in the closet, who then crawls into his parents' bed to feel Protected and Safe, is the same as a citizenry planted in front of the television, petrified by endless imagery of scary Muslim monsters, who then collectively crawl to Government and demand that they take more power and control in order to keep them Protected and Safe. A citizenry drowning in fear and fixated on Safety to the exclusion of other competing values can only be degraded and depraved...

For a variety of reasons, nobody aids this process more than our establishment media, motivated by their own interests in ratcheting up fear and Terrorism melodrama as high as possible. The result is a citizenry far more terrorized by our own institutions than foreign Terrorists could ever dream of achieving on their own. For that reason, a risk that is completely dwarfed by numerous others -- the risk of death from Islamic Terrorism -- dominates our discourse, paralyzes us with fear, leads us to destroy our economic security and eradicate countless lives in more and more foreign wars, and causes us to beg and plead and demand that our political leaders invade more of our privacy, seize more of our freedom, and radically alter the system of government we were supposed to have...

Faux News has made billions cultivating and playing to the fear and loathing of the white man--indeed, their heavy hitters do virtually nothing else--but five minutes on any 24-hour TV news channel will serve to demonstrate Greenwald's point; it's been all about spectacle and titillation for decades, and it's becoming increasingly about fear and dread. Well, a crisis is also an opportunity: we should enact a society-wide challenge that people spend a month without ANY TV whatsoever and see if we're not happier and more peaceful--and much better informed!--for it.

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