Public Relations and Propaganda

This post is somewhat of an addition to my post before this one: Mediating Your Own Reality.  Guerrilla media is becoming increasingly hijacked by advertising.  What inspired me to write my previous post was the Antwerp station dance video which was a publicity stunt to advertise for a show.

Advertisers aren’t contented to just control what you view on a screen or a billboard.  Public relations is big business which essentially equates to propaganda for hire.  It can be hard to detect the genuine from the fake.  For example, see astroturfing (Wikipedia):

The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach”, “awareness”, etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by an individual pushing a personal agenda or highly organized professional groups with financial backing from large corporations, non-profits, or activist organizations. Very often the efforts are conducted by political consultants who also specialize in opposition research.

[. . .]

In business, astroturfing is one form of stealth marketing, which can include the manipulation of viral marketing. Several examples are described as “undercover marketing” in the documentary The Corporation[9].

The term “astroturfing” is also used to describe public relations activities aimed at “falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support by means of an orchestrated and disguised public relations exercise….designed to give the impression of spontaneous support for an idea/product/company/service,”

Astroturfing often uses a front organization and typically serves the purpose of black propaganda.

Some websites such as sourcewatch.org try to help people to see past all of the spin.  Here are some videos for your further edification.

 

Mediating Your Own Reality

Saturday Night Live: High School Muical 4

Troy Bolton: “I’m here to talk about what happens after you leave East High.  Here’s the deal.  No one sings at college.  And from what I can tell this is America’s only singing high school.  I was as shocked as you are.  Let me tell you how my first day went.  I was nervous but excited.  So, I started singing a song called ‘nervous but excited’.  People just stared at me.  There was zero choreography.  Zero!”

 

That dance video is a publicity stunt (i.e, guerrilla communication used for marketing), but it’s become a viral video.  I think people like the idea that people in normal life could just start dancing together.  The next two videos are musical numbers that some people did which aren’t publicity stunts.  It’s just some people who wanted to dance and/or sing in front of an unsuspecting audience (the first video is by Improv Everywhere which is a very active group).

Here is an interview with Ryan Mackey about staging a guerilla musical.

All of this relates to flash mobs (and the more general smart mob; also related subjects – rave culture, subway party, mobile clubbingwifipicning and tempoary autonomous zones).  The basic idea originated before the internet with performance art and happenings, but new technology has brought such public activities to a new level.  Many flash mobs are just for fun.  Popular varieties of flash mobs include the flash mob bang, the pillow fight flash mob, the silent disco, and the time freeze.

But flash mobs do have practical application such as political demonstrations.  Even though political flash mobs have been used for a long time, technology has brought protesting to a new level.  The internet of course allows a flash mob to be publicized widely after the event, but more maybe importantly cellphones and twitter allows people to gather quickly and disperse again before authorities can interfere.  Also, it’s just an easy way to organize with minimal effort.  A flash mob could be organized well ahead of time, but it doesn’t need to be.  Just text or twitter some directions and those who aren’t busy can convene on the same location.  Here is an example of a political flash mob.

This reminds me of tactical frivolity and tactical media.  An example of the latter would be the Merry Pranksters who were the first culture jamming activists to gain mainstream media attention.  As for a contemporary example, the Yes Men have become well known for their media pranks.  It’s amazing how much the Yes Men can get away with.  I feel sorry for the audience/victims of their comedic activism.  The next video is one of their stunts and I find it quite impressive how straight-faced they can act while making an absurd presentation.  The video after that is an interview with one of the members of Yes Men.

Street art and art intervention comes in many forms and serves many purposes.  I like subvertizing, but I must say that yarn bombing and guerrilla gardening are quite amusing.

The space between media and everyday life has become very small.  On a more serious note, I once read an analysis of contemporary media where the author pointed out that the O.J. Simpson chase was one of the first national events in the U.S. where the public realized they were a part of a media event (the first live feed of a car chase was, according to this article,  in 1992).  People watched it live on tv and then went outside to watch it.  The people waved at the news helicopters (there were at least 7 of them) as it passed knowing they were being broadcast to the world.

This interactive aspect of media has become a normal part of reality.  News reporting often depends on the cellphone videos of people who happened to be on the scene and news agencies watch twitter closely to discover breaking news.  News is whatever is happening now and with the internet the news spreads very quickly (here is an article that discusses the tabloid nature of media sensationalism which ‘reports’ the news before it’s even been officially released).

This demand for immediacy disallows analysis or even vetting of sources.  News reporters are constantly swamped by new information that they want to be the first to report and so this is why they are easily fooled by hoaxers (here is an example involving major networks).  Groups like the Yes Men are able to accomplish their pranks because of how the internet has levelled the playing field.  It’s hard to tell an official website from a hoax website because outwardly they may look exactly like and no one has the time to look at every website in detail, no one has the time to research every single claimed fact.  Truly convincing hoaxes are rare.  People tend to trust sources that appear legitimate and it’s easy to miss details such as a single letter being off in the url.

It all comes down to control.  Those in authority, of course, want to be in control.  However, new media technology offers much opportunity for the average person to regain some control.  We’re saturated with media, but people are no longer content with one-way passively received reporting and advertising.  If you want to have a flash mob in the middle of your downtown, there is no way anyone can stop you.  If you want to express yourself through song and have choreographed dances at college, more power to you.

Love of Stories: Modernism and Education

 
PLOTJon Krause
A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It’s what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it’s also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.

Well, that is a bit melodramatic.  Good storytelling is far from being limited to “crass commercialism and cheap thrills”.  People simply enjoy good storytelling whether or not it’s considered high art by academics.  But it’s no secret, dirty or otherwise.  I do understand the point he is making.  For any ‘intellectually respectable’ person, maybe good storytelling has been somewhat of a dirty secret… but I’ve never considered intellectuals who can’t think for themselves as ‘respectable’.

It’s not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it’s something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly?

Unfortunately, Mr. Grossman only manages a partial answer.  There are some truly great analyes about the relationship between high and low genres, but you’ll have to look elsewhere.  That said, I did appreciate this article.  His pointing out the enjoyment of plot does touch upon something quite significant.  And I agree Modernism represented a pivotal era.  Writers, especially in America, were seeking a distinctive voice.  They didn’t just want to write entertainments but to offer some semblance of reality.   However, what the modernists didn’t realize is that ‘realism’ is just another genre with rules.

I think that not only some of the most popular but some of the best fiction of the last 50 yrs has come out of the genres. Mr. Grossman is correct that many people turn to fiction written for the young (which often equates to genres) for the simple reason that genre writers know how to tell a good story.  At the same time, the most innovative writing has come from genre writers and mainstream writers experimenting with genre.

If you look at recent genre writing, it’s as much about breaking rules as following them. Genre writers are less confined than mainstream realism writers in both what they can write about and how they can write about it. Mr. Grossman points out that modernist writers invoked realism as their ideal, but what they forgot is that imagination is a part of human reality… or, to put it another way, subjectivity isn’t a mere extension of objectivity. Genre writers are more open to the mixing of realism and imagination which is why genre writers often come closer to the reality of genuine human experience.

I’ve found the fantasy genre inspires many authors with a basic love of storytelling.  Fantasy is rooted in the first stories we heard as children.  We read in order to have someone help us imagine something different than our normal experience.  Even so-called realistic fiction portrays people and event outside of our normal experience and helps us understand them.  There is no such thing as purely realstic fiction because imaginaton is always invoked when a story is told.

I think that the freedom allowed by genre fiction gives authors the opportunity to think outside of the box.  When not constrained by the rules of realism, authors can more easily capture the subtle and complex aspects of reality.

 – – -

David Walter Banks for The New York Times

Lorrie McNeill gives her middle school students a wide choice of reading in Jonesboro, Ga. More Photos >

But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.

If a kid learns to hate reading, then trying to teach them difficult texts is rather pointless.

Critics of the approach say that reading as a group generally leads to more meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep up with a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics — often difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves.

Many kids simply won’t read a book or will just read the cliff notes.  You have to first to encourage them to want to read because you can’t force anyone to anything.  I remember as a kid writing a book report about a book I never read and the teacher even gave me a good grade for it.  I did have some decent English teachers, but I must admit that I had to learn my love of reading on my own.  I’m just glad that no teacher taught me to hate reading. 

Ms. McNeill, an amateur poet whose favorite authors include Barbara Kingsolver and Nick Hornby, wondered if forcing some students through a book had dampened their interest in reading altogether.

Every child (and adult) natualy loves stories.  It takes great effort to destroy that love.  Many adults learned to not enjoy reading fiction and have only regained their enjoyment of reading through books such as the Harry Potter series.

Though research on the academic effects of choice has been limited, some studies have shown that giving students modest options can enhance educational results. In 11 studies conducted with third, fourth and fifth graders over the past 10 years, John T. Guthrie, now a retired professor of literacy at the University of Maryland, found that giving children limited choices from a classroom collection of books on a topic helped improve performance on standardized reading comprehension tests.

This is so obviously true.  Even without the research, it just commonsense that giving kids some choice engages them in the learning process.  Once the kids are engaged, the teacher can then guide that learning process.

Most experts say that teachers do not have to choose between one approach or the other and that they can incorporate the best of both methods: reading some novels as a group while also giving students opportunities to select their own books.

Duh!  This isn’t a new concept.  You have to meet kids where they’re at and go from there.  Also, kids are different… have different past education, have different levels of reading comprehension, have different learning styles.  The goal is to get kids to learn and a teacher should do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal.  Some kids learn best when given more freedom to explore for themselves and some kids learn best when told what to do.  Some kids only need the merest enocouargement and some kids need direct guidance.  Whatever method is necessary, the primary goal is to teach a love of learning and kids are born with a desire to learn.  If a teacher can establish a love of learning (i.e., not destroy the child’s natural curiosity), a kid will carry that with them for the rest of their life.

U.S. Democracy: Defined and Discussed

Democracy.  I’m not sure I understand what it is entirely, and I’m not sure anyone does.  I sometimes even doubt that the US government is a Democracy.  In the US, Democracy has become identified with the concept of the Free Market and in the last century the Federal Government has become indistinguishable from the Military-Industrial Complex.

When Fascism was the top enemy, the prevailing mood in the US had a Socialist bent.  When Communism was the top enemy, the prevailing mood in the US switched to a faith in Capitalism.  Democracy is always trying to find the balance between Fascism and Communism, big business and big government.  In modern US Democracy, the main choice isn’t between centralized power vs localized power.  Both Republicans and Democrats are for centralized power.  The choice is whether a Federal Government has power over Mega-Corporations or else that Mega-Corporations manipulate the Federal Government to their own ends.  In reality, it’s probably both at the same time because the same people are working in both sectors.

Originally, the main choice the Founding Fathers faced was between centralized government vs localized power.  The Republicans used to be Libertarians, but Libertarianism was also mired in an agrarian capitalism based on slavery.  Many of the Founding Fathers believed that slavery needed to end.  They chose not to end it themselves because they thought the inefficiency of the system would lead the Free Market to end it with no intervention.  They were partly true (with the help of other governments illegalizing the slave trade), but there refusal to stand up for civil rights in the face of what was big business of the times meant that a couple centuries of African-Americans suffered as second-class citizens.  Despite its failings in the past, Libertarianism does seem to be needed to offer balance in US Democracy.  With the increased ability of citizens to organize locally because of technology, maybe there will be an increase in Libertarianism… but it will take a major shift before the public can loosen the grip of the Federal Government and Mega-Corporations (to simplify, they can be referred to in their singular form as the Military-Industrial Complex).

Part of my point is that Democracy isn’t limited to any one thing.  Or rather Democracy is a little bit of everything.  I suppose it fits in with the Melting Pot ideal.  The original immigrants came from many different countries and cultures, and so they had very different views about government.  By voting, supposedly the best ideas and people would rise to the top.

The reason it doesn’t actually work this way in reality is because the Founding Fathers were ultimately creating a Plutocracy rather than a Meritocracy.  American Plutocracy is essentially a limited Meritocracy that serves the wealthy and powerful.  It relates to the ideal of the Disinterested Aristocracy.  These men were supposedly the best of the best and so deserved their power.  And the corresponding idea was that the poor and powerless were obviously less worthy.

How this works is that power remains in the hands of a specific elite class by being handed down the generations within the same set of families (list of United States political families).  This is why many presidents were either of royal lineage or married to someone of royal lineage (list of United States Presidents by genealogical relationship).  This is also why Obama (the proclaimed underdog representing Afrcan-Americans) has 6 US presidents as cousins including his seeming ideological opposite Bush jr.  I’ve even heard someone recently make an argument (a very old argument I should add) that Social Darwinism is based on Genetic Darwinism.  Basically, the rich and powerful theoretically have better genetics.  The argument is that centuries of a self-imposed breeding program of inter-family alliances has breed a class of superior humans.  I know this sounds silly or even scary, but it wouldn’t surprise me if many people (in power) believe in some variation of this.  It should be kept in mind that before the US became involved in WWII, many Americans were proponents of the Nazi ideal of eugenics.  Eugenics had even been practiced in the US on a small scale for a time (through forced sterilizations).

I want to shift the focus here.  Many argue that Democracy is a bad system that just so happens to be better than all of the other possibilities.  That is a cynical response that actually resonates with me.  Maybe Democracy is good enough despite its failings.  The problem with Democracy is that any form of government can appear like a Democracy and yet only be a facade.  A Democracy could even originally have been genuine and be taken over by un-Democratic forces and few people would likely notice.  Some would argue (myself included) that this might’ve already happened here in the US.

A major criticism of Democracy is that it’s inefficient and only shows positive results (if at all) over long periods of time.  It’s hard to know if a Democracy is actually working at any given moment because all of the disagreement makes it hard for anything to get implemented.  If and when things do get implemented, they no longer even look like the original proposal and nobody is happy with it.  Socialism and Fascism are much quicker methods of creating change.  Centralized power has the benefit of getting things done often with very positive results (in the short run at least).  The trains arrive on time and whole economies can be lifted out of slumps by a single decision.  Democracy forsakes quick fixes for a long-term vision of social improvement.  The theory is that it’s better to protect the Democratic principles than to sacrifice them every time a problem arises.  Unfortunately, politicians want results because their popularity depends on results (or appearance results).  Everyone wants results… especially when people feel under pressure or under threat.  There is nothing like collective fear to inspire people to throw Democracy out the window and to give politicians leeway to take actions they would never dare to do in other situations.

Many examples can be given.  Much of the US politics in the 20th century was a constant undermining and endangering of Democracy.  It was the century when the alphabet agencies gained immense power.  The issue with these agencies (and the same for the military) is that they’re non-Democratic entities (in that they’re not a part of the voting system).  Also, it’s hard for the Democratic parts of the government (such as Congress) to provide appropriate oversight of agencies that operate through secrecy.  Often the Federal Government has their own personal reasons to ensure the alphabet agencies’ secrecy.  For example, Obama didn’t want (and didn’t want his name involved with having) certain information shared with the public because it would create a negative mood (towards his popularity and towards his political agendas).  The question is whether the CIA, military, or private contractors broke the law (national or international), but this can only be answered if there is an investigation (which Obama doesn’t want).

The problem is that Democratic civil rights and state secrecy are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum… one functions to the degree that the other doesn’t. It’s true that state secrecy is a practical necessity, but I would add that it’s also a very dangerous slippery slope and for that reason should be used sparingly.  A Democracy in order to survive has to protect itself from non-Democratic influences and sadly this means it must at times use non-Democratic methods.  For example, to fight terrorists we have to be willing to fight dirty when there is no other alternative.  However, we should never forget what we’re fighting for.  If we sacrifice our ideals and standards, then the enemy has won by causing us to become like them.

Furthermore, we have to be patient because I pointed out Democracy works best when the longterm vision is kept in mind.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get pulled into just reacting to the momentary situation.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss the torture issue which is specifically what motivated me to write this post.  Yes, we face dangers from terrorists, but it’s important to keep in mind that torture hasn’t saved us from any imminent threats.  By torturing, we are sacrificing our ideals and standards, and also just plain going against national and international law (or at best walking on the knife edge of legality).  Plus, as the most powerful nation in the world, our example holds great weight.  What we do gives moral justification for others to do the same.  This of course includes what others will do to US soldiers when they’re captured.  By torturing foreigners, we endanger our own soldiers (and also citizens travelling or living abroad).  If we are making such massive sacrifices, we better be sure we’re gaining some massive benefits.  So, exactly what are the benefits?  Maybe we’ve gained some intel, but it isn’t clear that we’ve gained much that is usable in and of itself.  Without traditional intelligence gathering (such as spies and informants), information gained by torture is useless because it can’t be verified.  The problem is that the US has supposedly been reducing in recent decades traditional inelligence gathering techniques.  The advantage of these latter techniques is that they don’t require us to sacrifice our ideals and standards nor do they require us to break laws nor do they require us to endanger the lives of our soldiers.

Also, if we had emphasized traditional intellgence gathering techniques in recent decades, we’d have been more prepared and might’ve even prevented the 9/11 attack in the first place.  Torturing, at best, was our agencies trying to play quick catch-up which is a very bad way of going about things.  On top of that, there was the problem of information not being shared between agencies.  That is the problem of secrecy.  Even these secretive agencies end up keeping secrets from eachother because holding secrets means holding onto power.

There are very good reasons that we have these ideals, standards and laws… other than basic morality and civil rights.  The world learned the hard way why torture is a bad thing.  During WWII, there occurred some of the most gruesome fighting, terrorism and torture the world has ever seen.  Governments realized that there needed to be rules of war because when given free reign people do very horrible things to each other.  The history of WWII makes serial killers look like child’s play.  Trust me, we don’t want to see a repeat of WWII.  International laws against torture were created for very very very good reasons.  I can’t emphasize that too much.  Enough said.

Anyways, torture is as anti-Democratic as one can get.  Leave torture to the bad guys and let’s try to retain our moral highground (whatever is left of it).  Some might ask why we should care if our enemies are tortued.  I would respond that history shows us how easily and how quickly a citizen can become an enemy of the state.  If you think it can’t happen to you, you are sadly naive.  Go study some history.

There is always an uneasy truce between violence and Democracy.  Freedom when threatened has to be defended by force.  That is how the US became a Democracy.  But that very same force can easily be turned back against Democracy.  The Founding Fathers  and Americans in general were wary of having a standing army.  After victory, the Continental Army was quickly disbanded except for two remaining regiments to guard the Western frontier and West Point’s arsenal.  What protection was needed was given by state militias.

This would’ve been fine if the country had remained small instead of expanding, but conflicts with Native Americans required re-establishing a standing army.  The standing army served the purpose of Manifest Destiny.  Our country had a vision and everyone better get out of our way.  The standing army was mostly used to establish and defend the ever expanding frontier.  But it was only a few decades after defeating our external enemies that the standing army was turned against internal enemies.  The Civil War gave the Federal government power like never before.  The Libertarian country established by the Founding Fathers was officially ended.  In it’s place, the US government started toying with the idea of international power and in a few decades the US was becoming a player in the game of international war.  We were no longer just defending our freedom but were now extending our power.  Afterall, you can’t just let your standing army sit idle.  When you have power, there is strong allure to find justification for using it.  What good is power if you don’t use it?  The Founding Fathers offered some intelligent answers to that question (here are some of Jefferson’s opinions on the subject of democratic freedom and military power).

The Founding Fathers preferred not to have standing army at all during times of peace, but they were especially against a standing army being entirely under the control of the President.  Because of this, Congress was given the sole power to declare war.  However, you may have noticed that Presidents such as Bush jr have bypassed Congressional oversight by starting wars without having them declared.  Pretty sneaky.  The purpose of Congress is to enforce oversight so this doesn’t happen, and yet Congress willingly bowed down to this usurpation of power.  This is how collective fear combined with powermongering slowly erodes away Democracy.  It’s interesting that Bush jr superficially played the traditional role of the Disinterested Aristocrat who rules by serving the greater good (idealized by the Founding Fathers) all the while gathering power to the presidency and undermining Democratic values.  The ideal of Disinterested Aristocracy (which I wrote about previously) sounds lovely and maybe worked in early America when the Federal government had very little power, but in contemporary politics it has great potential for abuse.

Democracy.  So, what exactly is it?  That is still uncertain to me.  There is a more important question to ask.  What is our Democracy becoming?  What are we collectively becoming?

Generation/Cusp: Net, MTV, Cold Y

jolie3.jpg

Angelina Jolie

Net Generation (Joshua Glen)

I’ve borrowed the term Net Generation from books like “Wikinomics,” which defines Americans born from the mid-1970s on as “the first generation to be socialized in a world of digital communications.” Also called the iGeneration, or Generation M (for Multitasking), or the Google Generation, it almost goes without saying that Netters take listservs, email and instant messaging, Google and Wikipedia, MySpace and Facebook, YouTube and Flickr for granted. Netters also don’t remember life before fast computers and Internet service; they are a wired generation, sometimes accused of addiction to instant gratification. They don’t read print newspapers, buy CDs, or rent DVDs, and their collective grasp of the concepts of copyright and intellectual property is shaky, at best.

But not to worry! In his 1996 book “Playing the Future,” Douglas Rushkoff predicted that “digital kids” weaned on Macs and MTV weren’t screwed, as some pundits feared; instead, they were evolving into a generation uniquely capable of succeeding in a chaotic, highly networked 21st century. In his 2005 book “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,” Steven Johnson updates the argument, arguing that complex videogames and multi-plot TV shows have made American youth smarter and more prepared for the complexities and multitasking of contemporary life than Atari and “Eight is Enough” did for PCers.

ch920318.jpgCalvin — 6 years old in 1985 — is a Netter

minibikes-jackass_2.jpg The hard-working “Jackass” crew

MTV Generation (Wikipedia)

The MTV Generation is a term sometimes used to refer to English-speaking and European people born between roughly 1975-1986 (although 1988 has been suggested as an end date), a generation whose adolescence and coming of age is perceived to have been heavily influenced by 1990s era popular culture in general and mass media in particular. Their early psychosocial exposure to these factors is thought to have been unprecedented and, along with peer pressure, resulted in a peculiar, homogenous youth culture defined by a deep appreciation of the fashion trends, perspective, attitude and music popularized by MTV and similar media (Viva, Triple J etc.) that rose to prominence in the late 1980s. Also note that “[w]ith the proliferation of technology, the internet, beepers and cell phones have become social lifelines for this generation. They are technology savvy, independent and resourceful.”[1]

According to the Generations theory of William Strauss and Neil Howe, it can be seen as a cusp between Generation X (1961-1981) and the Millennial Generation (1982-2001).[2] They were born during the upsweep in birth numbers of the baby bust between the babybooms of 1946-64 (the Census Bureau classification of the baby boomers) and 1987-94.[3]

Gen (X + Y) + WTC = ?Coming of age in a time of cataclysm (Camille Dodero)

photo

By some flimsy measuring tool, I’m more Gen X than Gen Y, more Nirvana than ’N Sync. But I don’t really fit into either category. People 10 years older than I am, after all, remember life when nuclear meltdown loomed darkly over each day. Sure, I have vague memories of hearing about the horrors of The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about post-nuclear holocaust. But such doomsday scenarios never had much effect on my world-view, mostly because at the age of seven, I could still disentangle myself emotionally from things I couldn’t comprehend.

That same youthful detachment shades much of my generation’s experience with American national tragedy, and I think that this separates today’s twentysomethings from today’s thirtysomethings. My experience with national sorrow began when the Challenger exploded, when I was in fourth grade. When my elementary-school teacher got word of the accident, she collapsed into a chair and sank her head into her arms. No one in my class could figure out what was going on, but we obviously sensed that it was something grave.

Cold Y (Wikipedia)

Cold Y Generation refers to those earliest Gen Yers who are old enough to have memories of the Cold War era that ended in 1991 with the fall of communism in eastern Europe. The exact dates of when the generation begins are subject to the same disagreements as those regarding Generation Y as a whole, but are generally stated as between 1976 and 1981. [1] The end date is easier to be placed, being defined by the youngest age at which someone could remember the end of the Cold War. This places the cut-off date at around 1985.

Newspapers in the Information Age (Robyn Holukoff)

Each item we find newsworthy is cross-referenced with other sources, making the newspaper a starting point, if it is used at all. There are other reasons to forgo the subscription – the slants, the distrust of newspapers, and many mentioned the ‘obscene waste’ of paper. Since most, or all of the information is online, getting a newspaper at the worst is absurd, and at the least redundant.

My generation; termed the Cold Y generation, was the first to have computers in the home. In general, we find the technology easy; easier than sitting still and being told what’s newsworthy. We also have learned to take everything with a grain of salt; one point of view isn’t authoritative, but a consensus is. The statement, “I know what’s going on; I read the paper,” is nearly nonsensical – I imagine the response from my peers would be “And…?”

Criticisms of Spiral Dynamics

I’m actually a major fan of Spiral Dynamics, but I’m more of a fan in terms of serious intellectual interest which still allows for plenty of room for doubt.  I’m a curious guy and Spiral Dynamics is just one theory, one possibility.  I love models that bring order or demonstrate a pattern to some realm of human experience.  I do intuitively sense that there is some truth to Spiral Dynamics.  However, I’m always a bit wary of broad generalizations.  And so…

Criticisms of Spiral Dynamics (from the Wikipedia article on Spiral Dynamics)

Critics point out that the model’s implications are political as well as developmental and that while the terminology of the theory is self-consciously inclusive, the practical implications of the model can be seen as socially elitist and authoritarian.[4] In his work on the subject, Beck emphasizes that one of the characteristics of “tier two” individuals, also called “Spiral Wizards”, is their ability to make superior decisions for all parties concerned and to manufacture consent for their approaches at lower levels using resonant terms and ideas. In addition to outlining an underlying developmental theory, Spiral Dynamics gives explicit suggestions to these “Wizards” for both consensual and non-consensual management of “lower-tier” individuals. One critic of Spiral Dynamics, Michel Bauwens, has argued that some conceptions of what it means to be “second tier” have come to resemble Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch.[5] Co author Cowan has publicly dissociated himself from the ideas that are currently being promoted by his ex-partner Beck.

The emphasis Spiral Dynamics places on exercising power derived from greater developmental attainments has also been characterized as derivative of a number of other past political theories emphasizing decision-making by a select elite, including Plato‘s idealization of the philosopher king.[citation needed] It should also be noted that, within this paradigm, Spiral Dynamics is itself characterized as a “second tier” concept, implicitly flattering those who support the theory and potentially inviting confirmation biases.[citation needed]

Further, some criticisms of Spiral Dynamics have been dismissed as expressions of lower-level memes, particularly the “mean green meme.” This internal refutation of external critiques was one of philosopher Karl Popper‘s criteria for establishing that a system of belief is non-falsifiable and for distinguishing non-science from genuine scientific theory.[6]

Some critics dispute the universality of the linear or emergent transitions proposed in Spiral Dynamics, due to the high degree of variation they see among human cultures over time. The claim that humans have changed systemically on psycho-social dimensions, such as self concept or the human propensity and reasons for self sacrifice, over the time period proposed in Spiral Dynamics, is not supported by mainstream anthropology, the social sciences, or evolutionary biology.[7]

Democracy: Disinterested Aristocracy vs Educated Public

I have a theory.  It may or may not be true.

If people are informed, they are more likely to make rational decisions that will lead to moral behaviors.  If given the chance, people are able to think for themselves.  In a democracy, public education and a free press theoretically serve the purpose of not only giving people valid information (rather than propaganda/misinformation) but also teaching analytical thinking skills (which would help individuals see past propaganda/misinformation).  It would seem that a democracy can’t function (except as a superficial facade) unless the education system and media effectvely serves this purpose.  To the extent they fail, people aren’t capable of making rational decisions that lead to moral behaviors.

This failure leads to ideological justification by those in power not to inform the public and to actively misinform the public.  Many in power believe it’s outright dangerous to share too much information with the public.  Also, it’s simply in the personal interest of those in power to not encourage the general public towards independent thinking.

So, this is why democracy makes a wonderful ideal but tends not to live up to it’s own idealism.  Despite what some claim, democracy isn’t based on the ideal of enlightened selfishness for in reality what is in the personal interest of those in power is too often not in the best interest of the average person.  Democracy, in reality, can only work if people are willing to sacrifice their personal interest for the greater good.  But this has to be willing because if forced it’s just something like communism (although an authentic democracy could be socialist and I would argue that any authentic democracy inherently has aspects of socialism).  So, what would actually cause politicians to act for the greater good?

The Founding Fathers believed in a disinterested aristocracy (but it should be mentioned that this doesn’t conflict the populist strain within American society; public education existed early in US history and Benjamin Franklin helped start one of the earliest public libaries).  The idea of disinterested aristorcracy was that, by being above the troubles and responsibilities of the common person and by being above the capitalist entanglements of the businessman, the professional politician could be objective about what is truly good for all.  The idea is that being a politician is a social role one plays and not a personal career move.  This attitude of the Founding Fathers was genuine and became established when George Washington refused to become a life-long ruler as many expected (and as some hoped).  George Washington stepping down of his own freewill from the reigns of power was simply unheard of in the world at that time.  Maybe this worked in early America because the Federal government was so small and people had great freedom to make their own decisions.  The aristocracy could remain disinterested because they lacked extensive power.  It’s been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The problem with America is that it couldn’t remain a small agrarian culture forever.

There was one other attribute of Founding Fathers as disinterested aristorcracy. The Founding Fathers were the intellectual elite of American culture. They may have made their money in various professions, but what they’re remembered for is being great thinkers. They were well educated and they saw part of their role as helping educate the public (for example, they started public libraries and published newspapers). Along with being intellectuals, they were also inventors and scientists. Benjamin Franklin became famous and helped America’s cause through his inventions and scientific discoveries. Some of the Founding Fathers embodied the ideal of the Rennaisance man who knows a little bit about everything. This is very different from today. Politicians no longer are considered the intellectual elite of our culture. Most present politicians didn’t start their careers as professors and intellectuals. And science, for sure, doesn’t seem to be of great interest or concern to the majority of politicians these days (except as it applies to military technology).

Modern America still has a disinterested aristocracy but it just no longer is the politician who plays this role.  In their place, scientists and media reporters became the new class from which we expected objective insight and guidance.  During much of the 20th century, Americans idolized scientists and reporters.  These authority figures were fully trusted.

However, now even this has changed because all of society has changed.  In particular, technology has changed.  With the internet, information is now widely and easily accessible by the common person.  We no longer need a disinterested aristocracy to mediate information for us.  In fact, anyone who tries to mediate our information is looked upon with wariness.  At the same time, propaganda and advertising has become increasingly advanced.  Those in power are becoming more subtle in their ability to manipulate people, in their ability to manipulate public opinion.  The government is learning from it’s mistakes, but it’s surprising how little changes in many ways.  Human psychology is the same now as it was a hundred years ago.  The government keeps repeating the same propaganda techniques even as it refines them.

Is the disinterested aristorcracy a dead ideal?  Or will a new group of people take up this role?  In the information age, who will the coming generations trust?

Interestingly, the Millennial Generation seems to trust their own peer group more than adult authority figures… which I suppose is a phenomenon that started with the latchkey kids of Generation X who perfected the attitude of mistrusting authority.  Millennials trust what they hear repeatedly from their friends and from internet buzz.  They’re less likely to trust a single source.  It’s been a long time since the whole nation sat rapt in front of their televisions all listening to Walter Cronkite say “And that’s the way it is.”  Can you imagine people trusting the opinion of a single person so blindly?  Uncle Cronkite said it and so it must be true.

Nowadays, we’re overloaded with viewpoints.  Gen Xers especially learned to always check for opposing views and to look at the data to decide for ourselves… maybe because we’re such a small and under-represented group.  I’m not sure about the generations growing up now, but the very idea of a disinterested aristocracy goes against the whole mood of Generation X.  Rightly or wrongly, we post-Boomers tend to believe we can think for ourselves.  Why should we expect politicians, scientists and reporters to do our thinking for us?  Why shouldn’t authority be questioned?  Even the Founding Fathers understood that freedom requires eternal vigilance.

I have one last thought.  I have noticed that some people still idealize the concept of the disinterested aristocracy.  Mostly, I’ve noticed this with the Boomer Generation but I’m not sure it will die out with them.  The biggest proponent of this is the Boomer Ken Wilber who is a proponent of Integral Theory which borrows heavily from Spiral Dynamics.  A major idea in this Wilber’s worldview is that there are different levels of development and the higher the development the more clear one can see previous stages.  According to the theory, this is a particular distinction between what is called 1st tier and 2nd tier.  Once someone has developed to 2nd tier they can see the whole structure of 1st tier and will thus make the ideal leader.  They can speak to people on all different levels because they’re not attached to any of them.  Essentially, the 2nd tier person is the ultimate disinterested aristocracy.  Only a small percentage of people have developed 2nd tier enough that they can take up this role.  So, it’s up to them to guide the lesser developed general public.

I have no particular opinion about whether this theory is true or false, but I do wonder about it’s implementation.  Even though a 2nd tier person may think they’re perfect material for the disinterested aristocracy, they still have to convince the self-interested lower classes.  Some might find it of interest that a few well known politicians are fans of Wilber’s work.  A notable example is Bill Clinton… yet another Boomer.

I suppose there will always be people who will justify their power as disinterested aristocracy.  That is of little interest to me.  What fascinates me is the view from the crowd.  All political power is based on a social contract whether overt or implied.  What causes people to believe or disbelieve that those in power actually have their best interest in mind and are capable of acting on it?  Do people even care?  Or is there just something in human nature that wants to believe in some wise and good authority figure, be it God or a politician?  Is the only thing that matters is that someone, anyone fills the role? And, if the role is filled even marginally, will people always follow obediently?

Has technology actually changed the game or not?  Even in this age of information, do people actually want the whole truth whatever that might mean?  We’ve all grown up being lied to by so many authority figures that it seems normal.  Even the liar has to convince himself in order to tell a convincing lie.  Deception seems to be normal human behavior.  Would we even recognize the truth if it were offered to us?  What would a society look like that was based on an open sharing of unbiased knowledge?  Is such a thing even imaginable?

Some believe that people have to be saved from themselves.  Some people believe that democracy is in danger of being destroyed by the crowd.  Are these beliefs true?

 * As a note, I’d guess that the idea of disinterested aristocracy originated with Plato’s Philosopher King.  The general idea probably became popular in many cultures during the Axial Age.  As for democracy, it’s interesting how two models influenced Western thought.  Athenian democracy was always romanticized with it’s participatory citizenry and it’s engaged public debate.  This represents the ideal of democracy, but the reality of modern democracy tended to take a different direction.  Western governments have often been more drawn to Spartan democracy with it’s elite governing class who rules by military force but which protects itself from being taken over by a dictator through the division of power.  US democracy, for certain, is closer to Spartan democracy… but maybe the Founding Fathers were originally trying to establish the Athenian model.  However, the pull between the two types of democracy is ever present.  If we become too cynical about the ideal of disinterested democracy, do we risk going too far in the direction of militant democracy?

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