Thinking about personal histories and childhood bonding (a personal post)

Normally I’d prefer to use this blog to point to writings, films, and other sources of what I consider interesting information and ideas. When I started this project, it was my intention to remain relatively private with my personal business, seeing as how my face is now attached to my words online. And everything written on this Internet feasibly becomes permanently part of the public record.

But I was just struck with some thoughts again tonight that tie into the ongoing talk on “evil” and the sickness of our society. Not ashamed of who I am or most of what I’ve done, so I might as well share a little about who I am so as hopefully to make more clear my perspective.

Earlier a couple of commenters on my “Why I’m No Longer a Feminist” video comment section brought up Dr. Faye Snyder, someone I’d never heard of before. Searched for her on YT and listened to the first few minutes of a man reading her piece titled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Therapist.” Then my own thoughts crashed in, because while the RAD acronym is new to me, thoughts on this topic are not. How you are brought up and how well you bond with others is so supremely important. I do know this, to where it’s easy to take as granted that others, on some level, acknowledge this as a truth as well. People who are deeply traumatized as children grow into broken-spirited adults. We Americans live in a society that has grown socially toxic over time, and it’s because we the people are broken, coming from broken homes and broken communities. All that leads to broken dreams, broken spirits, broken hearts, and, in some cases, broken minds. This I do believe to be true.

“Reactive Detachment Disorder” — guess that’s one way to label the symptoms of broken lives. Where do we think all this depression is stemming from? All this anxiety and self-destructiveness? This cowardice? I get it. Personally refuse to speak in DSM lingo, but I do comprehend some of this heart-breaking problem we have today. It’s everywhere and we’re all observers and participants. So too do we all play the roles of victimizers and victims.

It deserves to be stated that social complexities are mind-blowing because unlike with physical and chemical sciences, there’s really no math to explain it or experiments that can control for all possible variables. And the social and psychological sphere is constantly in motion, never at rest, always moving on through time and Ages. We tend to think of the bulk of human history simply as “progressive” (but it depends on one’s definition there). When you add in ponderings on physics and imagine how that all might tie in, life becomes so big, so amazing, so wondrous and beyond comprehension that to me it justifies being referred to as “God.” It’s not merely chemical and physical and biological processes — life is bigger than that, especially for us humans in our ongoing struggle to make sense out of a life as beings separated from the jungle and tribal conditions that marked much of our evolutionary history. So many metaphors exist pointing to this space in time when humans became more than animals, which is to say more complex, more consciously aware, cast out of the animal kingdom to proactively determining our own destinies. Thinking in this way, the social realm becomes no trivial matter, nor can it be easily explained and put into neat language for others to digest on-the-go. But I’ll try my best at breaking things down as I see them, from my own perspective, as this blogging project unfolds.

Returning to the topic of Dr. Snyder and talk of the Sandy Hook massacre while reflecting on so many that came before. The Columbine massacre occurred when I was 17, and youths of my age group were caught up in the goth fetish and/or violent rap music and/or heavy metal (as was I, to an extent). Thinking back, we were an angry lot, teens of the ’90s. And I can’t speak for where others lived or who they hung around, but I bounced from state to state as a teen and wound up dropping out of high school to start working. The people I befriended included some very angry people, very pained and training in how to pay it forward. Tried to avoid those characters, but they’re out there.

One boy I dated when I was 15 and he was 17 had been sexually molested by his father, as had been his sister and he suspected his younger brothers were enduring it in his absence. He was one messed up individual. The abuse had required a surgery when he was very young, under 6, and left him wetting the bed from there on. This is just a boy I met and wound up dating for a few months who unraveled these details over time. We parted ways and 5 years later he called my stepdad, asking for him to give me his number. Talked to the boy two times on the phone, and in the second conversation he told me he was being accused in the courts of sexually molesting his very young daughter. I walked away and want to hear no more, because after briefly knowing him I’m sad to say that he maybe could’ve done such a thing. He was a broken individual on such a serious level that his life will forever be fucked up. That is such a sad truth, seeing how serious dysfunction breeds dysfunction for the young going forward and their young too, somehow, some way.

Met a lot of people over the years, most of whom I don’t keep in contact with. Met plenty at schools and at coffee shops and, later, at bars. All kinds of people. But the people who particularly interested me were those closest to me, members of my own family. I grew up watching my Papa (grandpa) suffer inside, knowing he’d suffered his whole life, abandoned and abused. I related to his pain and he to mine, much as our circumstances differed. He was a long-time alcoholic, and it hurt his kids. One of his kids was my mother. I do not know of my biological father, nor he of my existence. I was born out of wedlock to a 19-year-old single woman who lived with her parents in a trailer in a small town in Mississippi. My mother is not right in the head for reasons I’ve never been able to understand completely, but talk with my Grandma over time leads us to believe she may be this way because of head injuries sustained as a baby in a bad car accident.

Let me say right now that my Papa is one of the most important people in my life, and I love him and his memory forever. He was not what I would call a fully good or fully bad man. He was a complex man with pain in his heart and wounds that would not entirely heal, so he lived as an alcoholic until he was 50 (and I was 9). It’s been said that he could be physically abusive and I’m well-aware of how he could run his mouth. But he’s the closest to a father-figure in my life, and we shared a strong bond. He has certain qualities of character that I look up to and respect immensely. For example, through him I learned someone can be afraid, truly afraid, and still summon the strength and guile to stand up and confront people when needed. He had pride and a heart. He didn’t believe in kicking an underdog when they’re down, unlike lots of other people in our town. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to authority and tell it like he saw it.

But underneath all of that, I occasionally glimpsed that little boy in him that was injured by the people he was raised by. In whispered conversations in the kitchen in the early morning hours, my Grandma used to tell me stories about Papa’s past, about how his mother left him with his grandfather when he was 6, screaming “You can keep the little bastard!” I cry just thinking about that, about how it must feel carrying that around in one’s heart for 65 years (he died at age 71 in 2011 — may he be resting in peace now). She told me of how his father and stepmother yanked him from his loving grandfather and essentially made my Papa their slave, working him hard at physical labor, pulling him out of school after the 8th grade and regularly severely beating him until the age of 17 when he escaped by lying about his age to join the National Guard. He met my Grandma a year or so later and they immediately began creating a family of their own.

My Papa was an alcoholic throughout all three of his kids’ upbringings, and he was an angry man who saw injustice everywhere. In a number of ways my and his personalities are a lot alike.

I spent half of my upbringing with my Grandparents, and my infancy was probably redeemed thanks to them and their care and support for me, particularly up to age 4 (which is when I was moved away with my mother and stepfather). I bonded with my Grandma especially as a baby because she was the one who tended to me the most, and she’s very loving toward babies which is a blessing. Papa too, at least by the time I came around — he just lit up and we bonded. Some of my favorite memories are of riding around in the little pickup truck right beside my Papa, him prompting me to chat on the CB radio to his trucker friends, feeling like such a big girl going with Papa to do his day’s business. He’d show me off to his friends like I was really something. I would’ve followed that man anywhere. To some he might’ve looked like a worn-out man in a cap, spitting chew and talking shit (lol), but he was the biggest man in my universe. None have yet to compare with his originality.

But unfortunately the pain and suffering he endured isn’t some anomaly. So many people running around deeply hurt by their pasts; plenty hurt bad enough that they got problems, emotional, psychological, social. One could argue that in today’s society we’re all touched by the pain, somehow, some way, directly or indirectly through our media and our shared culture. We’re touched by one another, figuratively speaking (or literally, as is sometimes the case). I see as I look out on people I love and also on strangers that early childhood trauma, abandonment, and abuse leaves a hole in people’s hearts. It can’t be helped and it may never be completely restored. I don’t know and won’t make definitive claims, but this is how I see it. And that pain tends to pay itself forward, somehow, some way.

This is another reason why I decided many years ago to not birth children of my own. I wish for the cycle to discontinue so far as I’m concerned. People can tell you all the self-help info they’d like, but there comes a point when the risk isn’t worth it, that it’s better to acknowledge that more nurturing and attentive people are better suited for parenthood. And that’s fine by me. There’s plenty else to do besides breed — one of the great joys of living as a woman in this moment in history when I have the option to make this choice thanks to technology and cultural transformation.

I’ve tired of typing about this right now, so let’s just leave it there. Part of me cringes revealing such personal information about myself and my family, but it represents part of who I am as one individual out here, one drop in the collective bucket.

Navigating in the New Economy — an excerpt from the book “Dark Ages America”

Today I’m looking at the book Dark Ages America by Morris Berman (2006). Let’s begin on page 15:

Liquid Modernity is the title of a book by the Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who defines it as the condition of a society that lacks a clear sense of orientation, or the kind of stability that derives from a long-standing tradition or set of norms. In Will Hutton’s version of it, it is a situation in which all of life is lived in “a permanent state of contingency.” It is the social and cultural face of globalization, the ideational and emotional counterpart of the New Economy. America has been the cutting edge of this way of life, a society characterized by speed, fluidity, and transience—obsessive change, in short. Being modern in this context means having an identity that is always shifting, always “under construction.” In effect, says Bauman, it is like living a life of musical chairs. The problem is this fluidity is not a choice we are free to make. Despite the unifying patriotic rhetoric that permeates the United States, on some level Americans are not really fooled: at bottom, each person knows he or she must continually “reinvent themselves,” which is to say, go it alone. America is the ultimate anticommunity.

Of course, we didn’t get to this peculiar state of affairs overnight. The notion that each person is free to choose his or her own destiny was the ideal of a New World that was rejecting the social chains of the old one. As the British writer Ian Buruma puts it, “the promise of freedom in America is precisely to be liberated from the past.” Not for Americans the suffocating restrictions of class, history, religion, and tradition, but rather the absolute weightlessness of choice. This remains the lure of America for many traditional cultures, or at least for many individuals in those cultures: the world of limitless possibilities. The irony for Americans, however, is that in the fullness of time, the limitless possibilities and the absolute weightlessness of choice became as suffocating as the social restrictions of the Old World. American citizens cannot choose not to participate in the utterly fluid, high-pressure society that the United States has become. Liquid modernity, is, in short, quite rigid: a world of compulsive self-determination. But since it is norms that make life possible, when normlessness becomes the norm, the social order turns into a hall of mirrors. The way of life, says Bauman, may prove to be the greatest discontinuity in human history.

Work

The consequences of liquid modernity show up in many areas of American life, including, notably, the realm of work. It is, after all, the arena in which most of us spend most of our waking hours, and the impact of globalization here is going to be especially telling. What do we find? Within a single generation, almost everything has changed. A young American with moderate education, says Bauman, can expect to change jobs at least eleven times during his or her lifetime. The modern place of employment, he adds, typically feels like a “camping site.” Fleeting forms of association are more useful than long-term connections. The main source of profits are ideas, not material objects, and so everything seems ephemeral. Workers know they are disposable, so see no point in developing any commitment to jobs, workmates, or even to the tasks they perform. Everything seems to be ever new, endlessly produced, consumed, and discarded. Globalization means greater competition, intercommunal (and, often, intracommunal) enmity. The most functional work attitude in such a context is one of cynicism. 

[…] Similar descriptions (sans sociological analysis, for the most part) can be found, among other places, in the Wall Street Journal. Thus reporter Clare Ansberry describes the “just in time” labor force that has to make it “in an ever-more-fluid economy.” In Cleveland, for example, the Lincoln Electric Company shifted salaried workers to hourly clerical jobs. A & R Welding of Atlanta maintains a cluster of welders to work out of state, when needed. In South Carolina, the Nestle Corporation has created an in-house roster of part-time workers “who stick by the telephone to hear if they should report on a given day to assemble frozen chicken dinners.” Flexibility, writes Ansberry, can be a euphemism for less pay (and fewer benefits) and largely random work arrangements, but workers really have no choice: it’s that or nothing. The New Economy takes no prisoners.

A dramatic case study of the new work ethic is provided by computer programmer Ellen Ullman in her memoir, Close to the Machine. This new ethic, she says, is one in which all of life is about “positioning.” Projects and human connections bubble up and collapse with dizzying speed; everyone is running his or her own little virtual company in which skills aren’t cumulative and everyone is disposable. There is constant talk of “teamwork,” but it is a phony courtesy, part of the workplace “process.” In reality, says Ullman, we are all “creatures swimming alone in the puddles of time.” Her description of the people she met along the way is that of nonpersons, people who say and do all the right things but who seem to be completely empty. And all of this, she concludes, is very likely everyone’s future:

We wander from job to job, and now it’s hard for anyone to stay put anymore. Our job commitments are contractual, contingent, impermanent, and this model of insecure life is spreading outward from us. . . . We programmers are the world’s canaries. We spend our time in front of monitors; now look up at any office building, look into living-room windows at night: so many people sitting alone in front of monitors. We lead machine-centered lives; now everyone’s life is full of automated tellers, portable phones, pagers, keyboards, mice. We live in a contest of the fittest, where the most knowledgeable and skilled win and the rest are discarded; and this is the working life that waits for everybody. . . . Where we go the world is following.

An equally disturbing portrait is provided by the American sociologist Richard Sennett in The Corrosion of Character. What is now absent from our lives, he writes, is a sense of narrative coherence. The way we have to live in order to survive in the New Economy has set our inner lives adrift. One can no longer deploy a single set of skills through the course of a working life; in fact, the fastest-growing sector of the American labor force is that of temporary job agencies. The domination of consumer demand has now created a “strategy of permanent innovation.” Skill, craftsmanship, and commitment are dysfunctional in a world in which, according to Bill Gates, one should “position oneself in a network of possibilities.” Such a world, however, might well be regarded as a form of dementia.

[Emphasis his.]

Let’s leave off there on page 17.

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

This is one of my favorite documentaries to share with others, titled “Blue Gold: World Water Wars”:

Anyone know what time it is?  Better start wondering.

And all for what?  For power. Simple as that. For power, greed, money-lust…a desire to achieve ‘god-like’ status among humans.  For what?  You’d have to ask them. Probably because they have a vision of it working out in their favor, perhaps believing their ideologies (if they indeed embrace any) are the cure to what ails humanity. Or perhaps it grows out of contempt for fellow humans. I don’t know. But it is real and serves to teach us the deeper meaning of that which we term “evil.” From what I can tell, it appears evil is frequently born of sheltered, willful ignorance and a sense of special, selective entitlement.

This documentary is also available for viewing on Netflix. To learn more about this documentary, check out the official site here. Quoting from that site:

In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.

Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.

We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?

Why I’m No Longer a Feminist

Now, let me back up to the month of November 2012 when I posted a video titled “Why I’m No Longer a Feminist”:

Probably would help if I added a bit of background information on who I am and what my experience with feminism involved. I originally became aware of feminism’s existence during teenagehood, though I had no direct exposure to it back then aside from television programs and talk in glossy magazines marketed to girls (like Cosmo and Glamour). During my freshman year in college (1999-2000), I purchased my first computer and discovered feminism in greater detail online. Now, I was attending school at Mississippi State University and wasn’t all that sociable with others, so at that time delving into feminism was pretty much strictly limited to the internet, though my husband (now ex) considered himself a feminist and we did discuss topics pertaining to that movement. We both come up with and embraced a libertarian spirit (as products of the same small county), which then dovetailed into supporting women’s rights to do with their own bodies as they see fit.

I remember becoming aware of NARAL and NOW online back when they were offering free kits to anyone who asked that included pro-choice literature and posters to put up around campus, but like I said we lived in Mississippi and my husband staunchly put his foot down on this due to the likelihood of this leading me to be targeted and given hell. This was at a time when there were no abortion clinics in the state, though I am told there now is one.

So I contented myself with learning and reading online, which is when I first came up against a band of feminists who really threw their weight around and ridiculed me and let it be clearly understood that I was naive and ignorant and should sit back and listen and read rather than speak up and interfere. That would’ve been when I was 19. So for a while that’s what I did. I read and listened and a couple years went by.

I moved up to the Midwest once again when I was 21 after my husband and I decided to split. As a young woman single once again, the world appeared to be my oyster, and I went about earning a living and picking back up on continuing my education. Continued reading and listening and then jumped back into the feminist arguments, again mostly online despite living in a much larger, more open-minded city. The reason for that probably has a lot to do with me not knowing a lot of women in person, and those I do know and get along with don’t consider themselves feminists necessarily and aren’t too interested in discussing those sorts of topics. The feminists I did run up against in academia or out in society didn’t seem to have much patience with me or my questions, so not much in-person dialogue took place that I can remember. Wasn’t involved in any local groups and didn’t attend any rallies. Most of my friends tend to be male, and we did and still do discuss feminism from time to time, but the breadth of their understanding of it was that it pertained to women’s reproductive rights, which they all pretty much support. Mostly I tell them what I’ve learned and they take it in. When I’ve asked how feminism has affected their lives, most stated that they don’t see really how it has, aside from being reared to be respectful toward women (as was the norm long before feminism came into existence). So, not much drama occurred there. Had a few verbal bar feuds, as to be expected when we drunks get to running our mouths.

But when I went back online and decided to really get into what all was being said and to speak my piece, I found out just how unpopular my beliefs were. One major source of contention between myself and many feminists I interacted with online revolved around the question of sexual agency. While on one hand they argued that we women have so much power, on the other and at the same time they spoke a great deal about us being victims to violence men can and do inflict upon us, particularly rape. Now, I don’t feel like going into much detail here on my experiences in dealing with men or what life has taught me, but I will say that I’ve always been a strong advocate for women arming themselves and becoming well-acquainted with their weapon of choice so as to be properly able and willing to use it if needed. Seems to me that cuts down significantly on worrying about being victimized when you are in possession of an equalizer. Doesn’t even have to be a gun; tasers and stun guns work too, as do knives and brass knuckles and whatever else happens to be handy. Well, you wouldn’t believe how unpopular of a position that apparently is in some feminist circles. Holy cow.

Now, combine that with my hesitation in accepting the notion that women should walk around scantily clad and expect no repercussions at all (that’s not to say we deserve to be attacked, not at all, but cat-calling is predictable) and you might imagine where those fights led. I still struggle to see their logic, because to me, if I’m out walking around in public half-naked I’d expect back then to have to deal with men’s come-ons. And because I’m no fool when it comes to understanding how some men will treat you when you appear young, dumb, and defenseless, I did make an effort to protect myself. Hell, even a canned air horn is something to consider to draw attention from others if you’re afraid and being confronted by a strange person. My point was that there are options, though I also certainly know that walking around scantily clad isn’t the only way to wind up receiving unwanted male attention. But the issue made over the right to self-defense really stuck in my craw when dealing with a lot of feminists because they were arguing in favor of gun control, which to me seems completely antithetical to their professed goal of remaining safe and secure. If a woman wants to remain safe, why not take power into your hands and do what you can to ensure it? That was my primary argument there. But many of them had jumped on the liberal bandwagon and the Democratic Party pushes for gun control, so they then followed in suit, and I don’t feel very many critically considered what they were advocating there. Because basically that’s arguing in favor of a situation where you have to rely on police protection, and one thing I do know is cops can’t be everywhere all at once. Depending on what neighborhood you live in, they might not even show up after being called. Besides, police are part of a retributive justice system, which is to say they seek out people who have already committed a crime. And my experience dealing with police has shown me that their response can be a mixed bag. Sometimes they care. Sometimes they don’t. Depends on which officer is on duty that day, I suppose. And they surely don’t want to receive a call every time someone feels creeped out by someone else who has not yet perpetrated a crime.

From there we went on to argue about prostitution and pornography and women’s agency in regard to being involved in those forms of employment. There’s lots of disagreement within feminism in relation to the sex industry, though many feminists appeared to take the position that women cannot freely engage in such work because they are being exploited, and even to desire to do such work is a sign of past psychological damage within the woman in question. So, if she wants to earn money engaging in sexual acts, she’s sick or seriously misguided and therefore lacks the agency to decide that for herself, but if she wants to “ho around” for free, that’s perfectly acceptable and nobody better talk bad about it. Okay. That makes no sense whatsoever.

The minority of feminists in support of sex work, those today referred to as “sex positive” feminists (which is a weird label, IMO), argued from the position that sex work somehow leveled the playing field between men and women, as if that were the preferable arrangement for any two people interested in seeking out sex. Some bolstered this with economic arguments, stating that the money is good so therefore that makes it worthwhile to pursue — basically benjamins speak and they listen. And let me say that plenty of the so-called “sex positive” feminists strike me as a bit kooky in their defense of sluttiness. And I don’t mean that to be mean necessarily, just an honest observation, because I see there as being more sides to the argument than feminists were bringing up. Either they’re victims in a male-dominated society or they’re empowered, money-making freak hos doing nothing of greater consequence than businessmen — no in between, no third or fourth possibilities, no deeper thought given to the intricacies of how using one’s body in so intimate a way affects the participants involved in such a transaction. And that’s about where I’d had enough and began backing toward the door. That would’ve been about 2007.

But there were many discussions throughout those years, such as women’s roles in the military, women’s advancement in businesses (with lots of griping and complaining that there aren’t more female CEOs), discussions among ethnic women about how mainstream feminism caters primarily to middle-class white women’s interests (which I do believe was true originally, though ethnic middle-class, college-educated women are being actively brought into the fold nowadays), socioeconomic class divisions with lots of talk on how to allot resources to the poor, the perceived imbalance of educational choices, and, of course, the ongoing debate about whether a stay-at-home mom supported by her husband’s income can even consider herself to be a feminist. I read a lot of people’s opinions, followed countless links and tried to make sense of an untold number of academic journal articles written by self-described feminists. The jargon employed within their movement got to where it turned me off, because patriarchy is a central tenet that you can’t get past, can’t deny, and can’t resolve to virtually anyone’s satisfaction.

What is patriarchy? I’ve come to see it as the old way, meaning the several-thousand-year period marked by societies and cultures being shaped, in part, by special attention paid to patrilineal lineage. That era only recently began to dissolve (100+ years back), something commonly attributed to the first wave of feminists in their securing for women the right to vote, though I tend to believe it was waning prior to that. Why? I don’t know. Probably because religions were already beginning to slowly die out, Abrahamic religions having provided the great narrative for patriarchal societies. With the lessening of that stronghold, cultures become more flexible and paradigms begin to shift. But with change comes chaos, so the trade-off brings with it growing pains.

What we’re left with today is a weird hodge-podge constructed in a past that no longer seems as relevant, updated and retooled again and again since the 1940s by men and women with new objectives, and no one seems to know where to steer this ship. Generally speaking, feminists place what I consider an unwarranted amount of faith in the State and centralized power to realize their dreams and to provide for their protection. Many men seem unsure of what their role is supposed to be anymore, and I can sympathize with their confusion and feelings of being left out of a meaningful position in the new narrative others are busily constructing for the future of society. I feel left out too, but in a different way. I feel like once all the talk about rights settles down, we’ll be left to realize we dropped the ball on our responsibilities to one another, especially a lot of women who believed the horrible Disney-fied lie that they could have it all (a committed partner, children, a demanding career, a healthy sex life, an active social life, exotic vacations, a fulfilling existence and time to enjoy it). They’re being run ragged by their own selves, and it shows. More than that, it affects everyone around them. When locked up in an echo chamber one comes to believe they’re on the right path, but what is it a path to? A fantasy is all it is. And not even that great of one when you really stop and think about it.

When I first took up interest in feminism, it was because I believed in my right to do with my own body as I see fit, and I still feel that way as much, if not more, today. What I discovered I didn’t want to sign up for or take part in was this great lie, this massive experiment in social distortion supposedly in favor of women but in the end appearing to not be truly in favor of hardly anyone. Men are not automatically our enemies, though specific individuals may prove to be, and the same holds true vice versa. Most men are no more guilty of upholding “patriarchy” than are most women, even self-professed feminists. The problem isn’t in men universally, it’s in people, all of us. History swings back and forth over time, favoring some more than others in any given period, but we were all simply born into it and none of us are responsible for having created the past. All we can do now is move forward, and I think that’s a discussion that needs to be brought out to include everyone, not just this sex or that one. This group or movement or that one doesn’t get to decide the fate of all going forward. No. That’s ludicrous. That, in itself, is bigoted, because it pretends that members belonging to one affiliation or another are necessarily more “enlightened” and therefore in the best position to decide for everyone. But plenty of us are deeply unhappy with the options being handed to us and we reject this queer “utopia” others seem intent on striving toward and dragging everyone else along in tow.

There’s plenty more I can say on the topic of feminism, but it will have to wait until another night.

MRM vs. Feminism & Additional Thoughts

In a video I created in January 2013 with the same title, I attempted to argue for why I see the MRM behaving not unlike the feminist movement. It wasn’t a great or well-planned video, but I went ahead and posted it up on YT because the sentiments expressed are true to how I feel. Some further details unfortunately were left out and were added in a follow-up video, which I’ll also post below.

Okay, so to spell out the comparison being made in the first video.

Feminism

  1. Has encouraged a spike in the divorce rate, in part by convincing women that they don’t need men and by helping elevate the status of the single mother in the eyes of society.
  2. Is instrumental in creating a situation where women increasingly depend on the State to meet their financial needs. Examples include economic assistance for single-mother-headed households and affirmative action legislation creating incentives for the hiring of women in choice positions. Women also depend on the State to provide for their defense, as in the case of domestic violence situations (because feminism asserts a non-violence stance that excludes the right to self-defense via the utilization of firearms or other weaponry).
  3. Women’s studies courses have abounded on university campuses over the last few decades.
  4. Granted women the right to abandon children (up to a certain age, depending on state laws) at hospitals or “safe havens” without requiring any further involvement, financial or otherwise, in their children’s lives and upbringing.

Men’s Rights Movement

  1. Discourages men from marrying, citing that the law benefits women at the expense of men and claiming that prenuptials don’t provide enough enough certainty when it comes to protecting one’s assets.
  2. Men are turning to the State in an effort to have laws drafted in their favor or to have existing laws enforced against female offenders proportionately. This seems fine and reasonable on the surface, but underneath we see the same drive toward creating a legal contest of one-upmanship. I argue that more laws on the books doesn’t ensure “equality,” whatever that terms stands to mean anymore.
  3. Men are dissuaded from acting without legal backing for fear of the law being used in turn against them and their interests.
  4. Men’s studies courses are now being proposed on a few college campuses.
  5. Given rise to men proclaiming the right to abandon children created without their express verbal consent (nevermind their sexual consent), leaving the mothers solely responsible for the children’s care and upbringing, which would lead more mothers toward greater dependence on the State in the absence of fathers.

I went on to say that both “camps” appear to share the goal to relinquish women and children to become financially dependent on the State. In such a scenario, the powers of the State are expanded to meet these expectations, which is a major concern for those of us who are libertarian-minded and strongly believe the government is already encroaching too much into our lives and families.

Feminism and the MRM sow seeds of distrust between the sexes and encourage battling it out through introducing legislation and in the courts. Both use children as a means of punishing and/or extorting partners. Both promote agendas that assuredly will expand the role and scope of government interference in our personal lives. Both proclaim to be about promoting “equality under the law,” even when taken to absurd extremes that are proving undesirable to most of us, male or female.

Leaving aside the notes I had written up for that video, I went on to talk about the grave and obvious difference between terminating a pregnancy and abandoning children already brought into full existence. And of course my views proved controversial and unacceptable to some who accused me of “using” the plight of children to defend women maintaining the upper hand in this ordeal, as is a popular feminist tactic (so I was told). So let me attempt to break it down like this. Here is my position in a nutshell:

  • As much as male and female adults and their rights do matter, those rights do not automatically trump concerns for any offspring they may bring into existence.
  • Children ARE NOT items or objects to be compared with a boat or house or any other non-living thing. Children are human beings in their own right and have needs that differ from those of adults that if not tended to may very likely result in children growing up into resentful, poorly adapted, emotionally stunted adults whom we all must live with. Poor quality upbringing affects the child in question, first and foremost, but over time it comes to affect those he or she comes into contact with and wider society as well. That’s no small matter.
  • There is much more to caring for children than providing for them financially. If this is not deeply grasped by prospective parents, I urge you (man or woman) to not breed. Love asks of us to 1.) genuinely care about, 2.) be responsible for, 3.) gain knowledge of, and 4.) respect the individuality of the person we claim love for. Simply providing child support payments does not qualify as love any more than simply coming home to someone every night. Love is a much deeper experience, and I find it is rarely if ever even mentioned in discussions of this sort, despite it being an integral component in the development of any person’s well-being.
  • If we can’t resolve these matters among ourselves, interpersonally and as communities, we will invite more government involvement in our lives and especially in the lives of our young. This is unacceptable for a great many reasons and most assuredly will not improve the situation for anyone, save for the selfish few of child-rearing age at this point in time who care more about doing what they want than tending to their responsibilities to persons they help generate.
  • Rights DO entail responsibilities, and the two concepts cannot be divorced from one another. To attempt to do so is to make both rights and responsibilities hollow ideas that no longer hold water.

Rights are protected by us — that entails us making responsible choices in defense of our rights. Take for example the right to vote. You can claim to have it all day long, but how do you ensure your vote is counted? If you cannot do this, the notion of having a right to vote means little. Take as a second example the right to bear arms. If one doesn’t bear arms or defend others’ right to do so, it becomes a moot point. Another example is the right to free speech. If we tolerate some speech being labeled as “hate speech” and thence outlawed, how free can speech really be? So circling back, we have the right to protect ourselves to the best of our ability from unwanted pregnancies. But so too do children have the need to be raised up with people who want and care about them, because otherwise what quality is there in an unwanted, unhappy existence? If you realize you do not have any interest in caring for a child, it is your responsibility to do everything in your power to ensure that unwanted pregnancy doesn’t become the outcome. Men do possess options here, as many if not more than women possessed prior to the legalization of abortion and the availability of modern contraceptive options. On that end, it is a practical consideration, much as I understand some people think it to be unfair and lacking. But the alternative to seeing it this way is to shirk responsibility and to allow the bulk of consequences to fall onto the only innocent party in the equation: the child created. That is truly unfair and unnecessary.

People speak of the importance of agency, and yet when it comes to sex it’s as if everyone puts their blinders on. Women currently have more options at their disposal to protect against unwanted pregnancies and should do better with putting them to use, but knowing that does not absolve men from their own responsibility in protecting themselves and children they don’t wish to co-create.

We each work with what we can. Nobody promised us a rose garden. Life isn’t perfect, nor will it ever be, nor can it be made 50/50 between the sexes at all times and on all levels. That’s not a world I’d even wish to see, because that would require a form of extremism that undoubtedly would drive us all up the wall. My goal wasn’t to be mean to any of you out there on the internet, but I have to take a stand and argue on behalf of the silent party in this battle between the sexes, because children lack a voice and can’t make an appeal to you until after being brought into existence.

My final argument on this subject is that this is no world to bring people into who will have no one to rely on, no one to protect them and their interests, no one to place their needs as a top priority. To simply assume that one parent or the other will suffice, that your involvement is not necessary, is a lie people are telling themselves to be absolved of guilt. If you’re not there, how will you know if the child you helped create is being raised right? How will you know if your child’s needs are being met or if Momma is off with her boyfriends, leaving baby at home neglected? It is a horrible lie to pretend that you, as co-creator, have no stake in that and no responsibility for allowing that reality to go on unexamined. I can completely understand people’s desire to not father children unless it is expressly intended, and this is why I urge you to do what is in your power to safeguard your decision and to prevent a new life from coming into being and potentially winding up damaged and full of despair. Because that’s no life for anyone to have to live. Not anyone. We, adults of today, have the power to do better than that.

Disputing legal reproductive rights

Okay. Think I’m finally ready to start broaching the topic of gender/sex on here. It’s not what I consider my primary focus, but gender relations are a significant concern today, me speaking as an American. Can’t deny it, can’t get around it, so might as well confront and dissect it and see what sense can be made.

To start with, I offer up a video from JohntheOther titled “Reproductive Rights” where he advocates on behalf of men saying that they deserve the right to decide whether or not to be parents, and if men choose not to they ought to have the right to refuse parental involvement and child support expectations. An argument he puts forth is that abandoning live offspring financially and legally is the male equivalent of a woman opting for an abortion, claiming the two situations are “parallel.”

I actually can understand, to a degree, where JohntheOther is coming from in terms of men gaining legal reproductive rights. He’s right that women have an option to terminate or prevent pregnancies, though I argue that men do also have power to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies occurring. Because men currently lack as many options as women does not negate that truth.  Pregnancy can be and often is imposed on both parents without that result intentionally being sought. Women have more options for avoiding pregnancy, but men do have options and that should not be ignored or trivialized.  Because women are now granted self-determination in terms of legal reproductive rights does not imply men have no such legal self-determination themselves. Abstinence is a choice too, as is undergoing a vasectomy, as is the decision to engage in sex with women who for whatever reasons are unable to become pregnant.  Those are choices men do possess, and let’s not reduce that down as if it ceases to matter. Unequal rights under the law, yes, but still both sexes do confront choices and options that can determine their fate.

In a society where women have to take abortion into serious consideration as an option when men are no longer held legally or financially responsible for providing for an unwanted child’s care, I imagine that will lead to women retreating back to past standards of conduct when abortion wasn’t an option. Meaning this legal shift will likely result in women becoming much more selective when it comes to partners they engage in sex with, assuming that many women continue to have moral qualms with undergoing abortions. Otherwise abortions will become the norm, and both sexes will have to cope with that (which I don’t think people will be able to without more resentment and disrespect coming between us). Perhaps a shift in attitudes where more caution returns to women when it comes to our sexual choices wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Feminists and others have declared for decades that women’s right to choose should be respected, and now that choice has come home to roost it appears. If women do have a choice, shouldn’t prospective fathers also be provided a choice?

My primary concern here is with children’s need to be cared for and loved and not wind up warded to the state by parents who bring them into this world and then abandon them. That is my moral qualm, which has been touched on in a video I posted on YT and will be expanded on here in a future post.

But let’s focus here on the dialogue going on back and forth between JohntheOther and Friendough. Friendough’s original video is viewable here.

JohntheOther’s analogy involving a gay couple where one opts to buy a boat compared with a man and woman determining care for a child are so completely separate and different that it strikes me as insulting. A child is not a piece of property, not an inanimate object. A child requires significant care provided to him or her that extends far beyond financial concerns. This is a question of how to manage bringing new human beings into the world and determining who ought to be held responsible for their upbringing — caring for our young being an extremely serious matter that extends also beyond legal concerns. It’s the creation of a new generation of people, and the quality of their upbringing has a significant impact on who they become as they grow up. Neglect and abuse them and you may psychologically destroy those individuals. Leave them warded to the State and let them be transitioned from foster home to foster home, where the chances of being sexually violated is 30% higher than in regular society, and I assure you that many will come to resent us all.

We are not simply determining legal responsibility here; we are actively deciding how to  fashion the future. We are determining what sort of existence future generations may face, and that is a heavy burden to consider. We must step outside of our own wants and desires long enough to take in the hefty implications of what is being proposed by both feminists and MRAs in agreement with JohntheOther. They are proving alike in their pushing for each respective sex to have the right to terminate care and/or walk away and leave living beings to be cared for by others or possibly institutions. I am arguing for a third way, perhaps viewed as more traditional in some aspects, though one of my major arguments is that it would be seriously useful at this point if more people paused and deeply considered how little reason there is to bring so many new beings into existence at this point in history. An argument to be expanded on as time rolls on.

And here’s Friendough’s response to JohntheOther:

The consequences of pregnancy do indeed occur whether or not we want this. We can do what we’re able to prevent it, but sometimes it does happen anyway. That is a fact of life.

But that does flip us back to women’s options to terminate pregnancies or abandon newborns. Personally, I take serious issue with women being granted the legal right to “surrender” their children (within a certain amount of time and depending on state laws) to so-called “safe havens.” That’s a bad law, IMO, and it complicates this entire situation by neglecting the interests of the child. I am aware of why these laws came into being, but because some women choose to criminally commit infanticide is not a good enough reason to make it legal for women to abandon their babies in a society where abortions are pretty much freely available during the first and at least part of the second trimester of pregnancy.

Life comes with all kinds of consequences and responsibilities, chosen or not, and that applies to both women and men.

There is a TREMENDOUS difference between abortion and abandonment, that I do completely agree with. Abortion terminates a life, whereas abandonment involves a human brought into full existence. I see abortion as clearly preferable to abandonment in nearly all conceivable cases.

I get the notion that women reserve the right to terminate pregnancies, whereas men lose control once conception occurs, and this leads me back to what I said up above about perhaps this leaving us little option but for women to return to being more discriminating with sexual partners and to become dedicated in their use of available birth control options if they wish to avoid undergoing abortions, or else get used to undergoing abortions if casual, unprotected sex is to persist. Apparently this is where we stand today.

That we devote this much time and energy debating the legality of these matters is what I’ve come to see as folly. Where is the moral consideration in people’s arguments? Has that dimension ceased to be important to some people, perhaps because we live within such a diverse social climate that morality seems too subjective to bring up in public debate?

Ethics After Certainty

I have just finished rereading the paper titled “Alone Again: Ethics After Certainty” written by philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.

Very, very good piece. On pages 40-41, he goes into the option to either engage or disengage, and while I understand the point he was making, I will argue that disengagement on a higher level can become the best option once voicing critical concerns and exhausting legal channels have proven insufficient for rectifying our problems. And this form of disengagement I’m referring to is for communities, provinces, willfully-determined groups of citizens, clans and tribes that choose to no longer partake in being subjected to the corruption of this government, thereby making the determination to go sovereign. It is a right citizens do possess, and most certainly not a trivial one at that. I won’t pretend to know how communities might secede in this fashion, though I would suspect having several do so simultaneously will prove too difficult for the government to effectively thwart.

That is indeed an extreme measure. I’d personally rather we thoroughly seek redress through our political channels, demanding that our representatives cater to the people over their major financial contributors, backed by our willingness to impeach and replace them if they refuse to comply. But who do we replace with? It is my opinion that average people would do a better job than these so-called “Washington insiders” and “professionals,” but then that all depends on the integrity we expect and the values we choose to embrace and uphold.

In a society with a toxic culture, we’ve all been fed lies and fantasies, dangerous ones at that. How does one come to see and think outside of the common indoctrinated lens? It’s a struggle and it requires time alone, away from television, with quality books full of ideas, remaining open yet critical, allowing deep introspection while examining the world outside of our own selves.

Thoughts will be expanded on as time rolls on. Time to finish dinner. Partner is sick with a cold, so I whipped up spaghetti bake with sides of whole green beans and Texas toast.  Happy

Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

A speech by: Neil Postman

Good morning your Eminences and Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen.

The theme of this conference, “The New Technologies and the Human Person: Communicating the Faith in the New Millennium,” suggests, of course, that you are concerned about what might happen to faith in the new millennium, as well you should be. In addition to our computers, which are close to having a nervous breakdown in anticipation of the year 2000, there is a great deal of frantic talk about the 21st century and how it will pose for us unique problems of which we know very little but for which, nonetheless, we are supposed to carefully prepare. Everyone seems to worry about this–business people, politicians, educators, as well as theologians.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, may I try to put everyone’s mind at ease? I doubt that the 21st century will pose for us problems that are more stunning, disorienting or complex than those we faced in this century, or the 19th, 18th, 17th, or for that matter, many of the centuries before that. But for those who are excessively nervous about the new millennium, I can provide, right at the start, some good advice about how to confront it. The advice comes from people whom we can trust, and whose thoughtfulness, it’s safe to say, exceeds that of President Clinton, Newt Gingrich, or even Bill Gates. Here is what Henry David Thoreau told us: “All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Here is what Goethe told us: “One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words.” Socrates told us: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Rabbi Hillel told us: “What is hateful to thee, do not do to another.” And here is the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” And I could say, if we had the time, (although you know it well enough) what Jesus, Isaiah, Mohammad, Spinoza, and Shakespeare told us. It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and it is a delusion to believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the sages.

Nonetheless, having said this, I know perfectly well that because we do live in a technological age, we have some special problems that Jesus, Hillel, Socrates, and Micah did not and could not speak of. I do not have the wisdom to say what we ought to do about such problems, and so my contribution must confine itself to some things we need to know in order to address the problems. I call my talk Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change. I base these ideas on my thirty years of studying the history of technological change but I do not think these are academic or esoteric ideas. They are to the sort of things everyone who is concerned with cultural stability and balance should know and I offer them to you in the hope that you will find them useful in thinking about the effects of technology on religious faith.

First Idea

The first idea is that all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost. Now, this may seem to be a rather obvious idea, but you would be surprised at how many people believe that new technologies are unmixed blessings. You need only think of the enthusiasms with which most people approach their understanding of computers. Ask anyone who knows something about computers to talk about them, and you will find that they will, unabashedly and relentlessly, extol the wonders of computers. You will also find that in most cases they will completely neglect to mention any of the liabilities of computers. This is a dangerous imbalance, since the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.

Think of the automobile, which for all of its obvious advantages, has poisoned our air, choked our cities, and degraded the beauty of our natural landscape. Or you might reflect on the paradox of medical technology which brings wondrous cures but is, at the same time, a demonstrable cause of certain diseases and disabilities, and has played a significant role in reducing the diagnostic skills of physicians. It is also well to recall that for all of the intellectual and social benefits provided by the printing press, its costs were equally monumental. The printing press gave the Western world prose, but it made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of communication. It gave us inductive science, but it reduced religious sensibility to a form of fanciful superstition. Printing gave us the modern conception of nationhood, but in so doing turned patriotism into a sordid if not lethal emotion. We might even say that the printing of the Bible in vernacular languages introduced the impression that God was an Englishman or a German or a Frenchman–that is to say, printing reduced God to the dimensions of a local potentate.

Perhaps the best way I can express this idea is to say that the question, “What will a new technology do?” is no more important than the question, “What will a new technology undo?” Indeed, the latter question is more important, precisely because it is asked so infrequently. One might say, then, that a sophisticated perspective on technological change includes one’s being skeptical of Utopian and Messianic visions drawn by those who have no sense of history or of the precarious balances on which culture depends. In fact, if it were up to me, I would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet, the mechanical clock, the printing press, and telegraphy. In other words, knows something about the costs of great technologies.

Idea Number One, then, is that culture always pays a price for technology.

Second Idea

This leads to the second idea, which is that the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others. There are even some who are not affected at all. Consider again the case of the printing press in the 16th century, of which Martin Luther said it was “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the gospel is driven forward.” By placing the word of God on every Christian’s kitchen table, the mass-produced book undermined the authority of the church hierarchy, and hastened the breakup of the Holy Roman See. The Protestants of that time cheered this development. The Catholics were enraged and distraught. Since I am a Jew, had I lived at that time, I probably wouldn’t have given a damn one way or another, since it would make no difference whether a pogrom was inspired by Martin Luther or Pope Leo X. Some gain, some lose, a few remain as they were.

Let us take as another example, television, although here I should add at once that in the case of television there are very few indeed who are not affected in one way or another. In America, where television has taken hold more deeply than anywhere else, there are many people who find it a blessing, not least those who have achieved high-paying, gratifying careers in television as executives, technicians, directors, newscasters and entertainers. On the other hand, and in the long run, television may bring an end to the careers of school teachers since school was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word will have in the future. There is no chance, of course, that television will go away but school teachers who are enthusiastic about its presence always call to my mind an image of some turn-of-the-century blacksmith who not only is singing the praises of the automobile but who also believes that his business will be enhanced by it. We know now that his business was not enhanced by it; it was rendered obsolete by it, as perhaps an intelligent blacksmith would have known.

The questions, then, that are never far from the mind of a person who is knowledgeable about technological change are these: Who specifically benefits from the development of a new technology? Which groups, what type of person, what kind of industry will be favored? And, of course, which groups of people will thereby be harmed?

These questions should certainly be on our minds when we think about computer technology. There is no doubt that the computer has been and will continue to be advantageous to large-scale organizations like the military or airline companies or banks or tax collecting institutions. And it is equally clear that the computer is now indispensable to high-level researchers in physics and other natural sciences. But to what extent has computer technology been an advantage to the masses of people? To steel workers, vegetable store owners, automobile mechanics, musicians, bakers, bricklayers, dentists, yes, theologians, and most of the rest into whose lives the computer now intrudes? These people have had their private matters made more accessible to powerful institutions. They are more easily tracked and controlled; they are subjected to more examinations, and are increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them. They are more than ever reduced to mere numerical objects. They are being buried by junk mail. They are easy targets for advertising agencies and political institutions.

In a word, these people are losers in the great computer revolution. The winners, which include among others computer companies, multi-national corporations and the nation state, will, of course, encourage the losers to be enthusiastic about computer technology. That is the way of winners, and so in the beginning they told the losers that with personal computers the average person can balance a checkbook more neatly, keep better track of recipes, and make more logical shopping lists. Then they told them that computers will make it possible to vote at home, shop at home, get all the entertainment they wish at home, and thus make community life unnecessary. And now, of course, the winners speak constantly of the Age of Information, always implying that the more information we have, the better we will be in solving significant problems–not only personal ones but large-scale social problems, as well. But how true is this? If there are children starving in the world–and there are–it is not because of insufficient information. We have known for a long time how to produce enough food to feed every child on the planet. How is it that we let so many of them starve? If there is violence on our streets, it is not because we have insufficient information. If women are abused, if divorce and pornography and mental illness are increasing, none of it has anything to do with insufficient information. I dare say it is because something else is missing, and I don’t think I have to tell this audience what it is. Who knows? This age of information may turn out to be a curse if we are blinded by it so that we cannot see truly where our problems lie. That is why it is always necessary for us to ask of those who speak enthusiastically of computer technology, why do you do this? What interests do you represent? To whom are you hoping to give power? From whom will you be withholding power?

I do not mean to attribute unsavory, let alone sinister motives to anyone. I say only that since technology favors some people and harms others, these are questions that must always be asked. And so, that there are always winners and losers in technological change is the second idea.

Third Idea

Here is the third. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism: To a person with a pencil, everything looks like a sentence. To a person with a TV camera, everything looks like an image. To a person with a computer, everything looks like data. I do not think we need to take these aphorisms literally. But what they call to our attention is that every technology has a prejudice. Like language itself, it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments. In a culture without writing, human memory is of the greatest importance, as are the proverbs, sayings and songs which contain the accumulated oral wisdom of centuries. That is why Solomon was thought to be the wisest of men. In Kings I we are told he knew 3,000 proverbs. But in a culture with writing, such feats of memory are considered a waste of time, and proverbs are merely irrelevant fancies. The writing person favors logical organization and systematic analysis, not proverbs. The telegraphic person values speed, not introspection. The television person values immediacy, not history. And computer people, what shall we say of them? Perhaps we can say that the computer person values information, not knowledge, certainly not wisdom. Indeed, in the computer age, the concept of wisdom may vanish altogether.

The third idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet, Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence, “The medium is the message.”

Fourth Idea

Here is the fourth idea: Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.

That is why we must be cautious about technological innovation. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible. That is also why we must be suspicious of capitalists. Capitalists are by definition not only personal risk takers but, more to the point, cultural risk takers. The most creative and daring of them hope to exploit new technologies to the fullest, and do not much care what traditions are overthrown in the process or whether or not a culture is prepared to function without such traditions. Capitalists are, in a word, radicals. In America, our most significant radicals have always been capitalists–men like Bell, Edison, Ford, Carnegie, Sarnoff, Goldwyn. These men obliterated the 19th century, and created the 20th, which is why it is a mystery to me that capitalists are thought to be conservative. Perhaps it is because they are inclined to wear dark suits and grey ties.

I trust you understand that in saying all this, I am making no argument for socialism. I say only that capitalists need to be carefully watched and disciplined. To be sure, they talk of family, marriage, piety, and honor but if allowed to exploit new technology to its fullest economic potential, they may undo the institutions that make such ideas possible. And here I might just give two examples of this point, taken from the American encounter with technology. The first concerns education. Who, we may ask, has had the greatest impact on American education in this century? If you are thinking of John Dewey or any other education philosopher, I must say you are quite wrong. The greatest impact has been made by quiet men in grey suits in a suburb of New York City called Princeton, New Jersey. There, they developed and promoted the technology known as the standardized test, such as IQ tests, the SATs and the GREs. Their tests redefined what we mean by learning, and have resulted in our reorganizing the curriculum to accommodate the tests.

A second example concerns our politics. It is clear by now that the people who have had the most radical effect on American politics in our time are not political ideologues or student protesters with long hair and copies of Karl Marx under their arms. The radicals who have changed the nature of politics in America are entrepreneurs in dark suits and grey ties who manage the large television industry in America. They did not mean to turn political discourse into a form of entertainment. They did not mean to make it impossible for an overweight person to run for high political office. They did not mean to reduce political campaigning to a 30-second TV commercial. All they were trying to do is to make television into a vast and unsleeping money machine. That they destroyed substantive political discourse in the process does not concern them.

Fifth Idea

I come now to the fifth and final idea, which is that media tend to become mythic. I use this word in the sense in which it was used by the French literary critic, Roland Barthes. He used the word “myth” to refer to a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things. I have on occasion asked my students if they know when the alphabet was invented. The question astonishes them. It is as if I asked them when clouds and trees were invented. The alphabet, they believe, was not something that was invented. It just is. It is this way with many products of human culture but with none more consistently than technology. Cars, planes, TV, movies, newspapers–they have achieved mythic status because they are perceived as gifts of nature, not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context.

When a technology become mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and is therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control. If you should propose to the average American that television broadcasting should not begin until 5 PM and should cease at 11 PM, or propose that there should be no television commercials, he will think the idea ridiculous. But not because he disagrees with your cultural agenda. He will think it ridiculous because he assumes you are proposing that something in nature be changed; as if you are suggesting that the sun should rise at 10 AM instead of at 6.

Whenever I think about the capacity of technology to become mythic, I call to mind the remark made by Pope John Paul II. He said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”

What I am saying is that our enthusiasm for technology can turn into a form of idolatry and our belief in its beneficence can be a false absolute. The best way to view technology is as a strange intruder, to remember that technology is not part of God’s plan but a product of human creativity and hubris, and that its capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us.

Conclusion

And so, these are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us.

If we had more time, I could supply some additional important things about technological change but I will stand by these for the moment, and will close with this thought. In the past, we experienced technological change in the manner of sleep-walkers. Our unspoken slogan has been “technology über alles,” and we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.

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