The River

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

News Article

Here’s the news: Until it leads the national newscasts on TV, it hasn’t made a dent in the public mind.

We, the progressive types on the Net, can point to the odd negative article here and there, but if it’s not part of the official story, i.e. part of the major stories on TV newscasts, it isn’t making much of a difference in public opinion.

Not one of the all-important mainstream media organs is interested in disabusing the public of the notion that the US invaded Iraq to help them, to bring freedom to an oppressed and backward people, and to fight terrorism. Hard to believe, but this typical American in a typical job in a typical city can look around and see that most other typical Americans, working their typical jobs and raising their typical families, would run screaming from the cognitive dissonance of reading on our blogs and progressive sites the truth about Iraq.

What else do I see? I see magnetic flags on cars. I see “Power of Pride” bumper stickers. I see people too busy to do anything more to keep informed than read their lousy newspaper and watch TV. Too busy because they think they must compete in the “who has the most and best toys” game. Undereducated because they’ve been led to believe, through relentless advertising and marketing, to favor materialism over learning, quick and easy over difficult-but-right. Frozen dinners and fast food over cooking. Disposable containers over crockery. Mine over ours.

This is the dispiriting truth. This is the news. The media is part of the problem. The media, in a sense, IS the problem. The media sets the tone, reinforces the underlying assumption. The media is the master. The people follow. It takes effort and awareness to even realize it, as it would take a thunderbolt-like epiphany for a fish to realize it’s wet.

Do I blame people? Nah. I blame the media. Painting Al Gore as a liar. Helping Bush steal the presidency. Beating the drums for war. Downplaying the worldwide anti-war movement. People don’t realize it’s biased toward the corporate rule of which it is a part. People don’t realize they’re being soaked.

And as William Greider famously asked, “who will tell the people?”

…and here again is the beauty of the Internet. No sooner do I think of Mr. Greider than I discover that he has a Web site, where he engages these issues as “an ex-Luddite” who has “learned to appreciate the democratic possibilities of the Internet.” And this great American journalist continues to write books. In reference to his new book, The Soul of Capitalism, he writes, “…I am pleased to know that I have relieved some people of the anxiety attached to knowing things that are never frankly acknowledged elsewhere by the dominant culture.”

That quote is from his Web journal entry about his book tour, “Selling Hope in Hard Cover.” Here’s another choice bit:

This time feels different, I realize. I am invested more deeply in the outcome, perhaps because I am invested more personally in the content. This book is “more from the heart,” a friend observed, and my own hopes for the ideas are upfront and fully exposed. I am anxious for this book to find its true audience – the people who are able to recognize its value, who may be optimistic enough to take up some of the ideas and pursue them beyond the present. Above all, I do not want this book to disappear beneath the waves and leave no trace. So I talk too long.

Bottomline: I am already feeling wonderfully confirmed by the people I have encountered. This book was always going to be a tough sell, both because capitalism is such an intimidating subject and because it requires people to look up from present troubles (the war, the economy, the shock politics of GW Bush) and squint hopefully at the larger future. I can report that lots of folks are willing to do that, perhaps hungry for the opportunity.

In the sales pitch, I sort of introduce myself as Dr. Sunshine, come to inject a little light and hope amid troubling events – even take them to the mountaintop and envision the possibility that American capitalism can be reformed in substantial ways in order to serve society more faithfully and equitably, rather than overwhelm and damage it. These are not the worst of times, I remind audiences. But if we are so wealthy as a nation (and we are), why does it not feel like the best of times? If we are the richest, greatest, freest, most powerful nation on earth (as we regularly tell others), why then do Americans feel so confined and trampled, sometimes desperate, amid the vast abundance? Or maybe because of it.

Talking like this naturally invites ridicule in established circles and the Wall Street Journal grabbed the opportunity. Its reviewer described me as plain spacey -- possibly drugged? -- like Jerry Garcia pulling on a bong. But, likewise, a liberal reviewer in the Washington Post dismissed my views as trivial sentiment alongside the present-day emergencies. I incorporate their complaints in my talks and it always get a big laugh. If orthodox left and right both think I am hallucinating, I playfully suggest, maybe this book has opened up new ground. The point is, nobody in the audience disputes the cramped reality of our prosperity or the scandalous injuries to lives and community that flow from the economic system. A few do wonder if these wounds can be healed by reforming capitalism (as opposed to blowing it up).

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