This post is about some related thoughts: bias in media, the relationship of society and nature, and the issue of democracy in terms of our present capitalism.
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Based on my experience and research, I think it’s fair to state that NPR isn’t liberally biased… or, at least, not in any clear sense… but such assessments, of course, depend on how one defines/perceives ‘liberalism’. I’d argue NPR is as mainstream as can be found in that they mostly present a status quo view of the world. I suspect if you were to ask most people seen in the mainstream media (reporters, pundits, politicians, talking heads, etc) and they gave you an honest answer, most of them probably would agree with the types of views that are regularly presented on NPR.
(This ‘mainstream’, however, isn’t the same as the everyday experience and values of the average person. If you want to find something closer to a liberal bias, look at the stated opinions of the majority of Americans.)
Here is an example from NPR. The other day, there was a panel discussion. It was about business use of and government management of public land. As I recall, there were three guests, all mainstream types including someone defending the interests of big business and criticizing too much regulation. They had the typical disagreements one often hears in the mainstream, but they were all basically on the same page about the terms and focus of discussion. For certain, it wasn’t a liberal panel. It was just the old school journalism where two sides of an issue are ‘neutrally’ presented by the host, although done in the non-antagonistic ‘let’s all get along’ style typical of NPR.
Most interesting is what was lacking, specifically in terms of those who claim a liberal bias. Among the guests, there was no left-winger of any variety nor anyone who might agree with left-wing positions; no communists, socialists, Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-primitivists, left-libertarians, hippy environmentalists, deep ecologists, Goddess-loving pagans, social justice Christians, indigenous people, community activists, etc. Among the guests invited, there was no discussion of the poor and minorities most impacted by pollution and environmental destruction, no discussion about the alternatives to our present capitalist system, no discussion about how our society is turning into inverted totalitarianism. The officials/experts who were invited as guests framed the discussion narrowly. It was mostly framed as government regulation vs private profit. there was also some slight secondary framing of local people vs non-local corporations. Framings that were mostly or entirely ignored included: communities vs globalism, public good vs individual good, living ecosystems vs natural resources, humans as part of nature vs humans as separate from nature, etc.
The basic discussion was about how to maximize resource procurement while minimizing environmental destruction. And the basic assumption was of opposition and conflict, of win/lose scenarios where those who lose the most are ignored or rationalized away. There was neither an environmentalist conception of the human species living sustainably balanced within the earth’s biosphere nor a religious belief of humanty as caretaker of God’s Creation. The focus of the discussion was ‘management’ and so the implication was how do we best control and manipulate nature toward our desired ends. What was missing was the possibility of humans not creating problems in the first place that need to be managed.
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I was thinking about how this opposition attitude is common in American society right now. There is the idea that for one person or group to win that others must lose. And there is is the idea that society can only be run well through hierarchies with the only disagreement being which system the hierarchy is organized according to. All of this depresses me.
My friend and I went to see the new X-Men: First Class movie. We were discussing the view portrayed of human evolution and change. It was mostly a view of Social Darwinism (by the way, I’ve always thought it odd how many right-wingers will dismiss Darwinian evolution while promoting Social Darwinism). I mentioned to my friend the thoughts I wrote about above. As a liberal, he of course agreed with me about NPR being a mainstream establishment voice. And we had a discussion on our walk home about the relationship of society and nature.
I told him about some thoughts I’ve had while working at the city parking ramp. In particular, I brought up my wonderings about what kind of vision of the world is implied by the building of large concrete structures in which to store large hunks of mobile metal.
I noticed a pigeon nesting in the ramp and I knew its days were numbered. Management seeks to block all possible nesting sites within the ramp and some of the maintenance workers find great pleasure in ‘hunting’ the pigeons who do manage to find a roost. This mentality is repugnant to me. I understand that animals and humans don’t always cohabitate well, but this situation isn’t ‘natural’ or inevitable. Parking ramps are designed to be ecosystem deserts, to be utterly opposed to all that is natural. But there is no reason to do this other than an ideological paradigm, a worldview that disallows people to envision any other possibility.
A parking ramp could be designed that gave pigeons nesting areas that would keep their poop away from cars and walkways. It could even be designed so that the pigeon poop could be collected and used as it traditionally was used (and still is used in many places) as fertilizer. This pigeon fertilizer could be used as free fertilizer for city gardens or it could be sold in order to make additional profit. That would be a win-win solution. To take this a step further, ramps (or any other structures for that matter) could be designed with habitation for all kinds of animals. Downtowns could be as beautiful to look at as parks filled with trees. And the habitat could help ease some of the environmental destruction that are causing many species to become endangered and go extinct.
What is the advantage of seeing nature as the enemy? There is no practical advantage. It actually goes against the practical benefit of the continued survival of the human species. Yes, we’re talented at ‘managing’ nature, but too often this just means destroying nature. My friend pointed out the conservative position that it shouldn’t be the role of government to spend taxpayers’ money on the liberal agenda of saving nature. My response was that neither should it be the role of government to ensure the private profit agenda of destroying of nature.
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This problem extends beyond just nature. If we perceive nature as lesser than us, then our treatment of nature demonstrates how we wish to treat humans that are considered as lesser than other humans (poor, minorities, indigenous, etc) and how we wish to treat communities that are considered lesser (in terms of legal rights and political influence) than big business. To treat nature fairly is akin to the democratic ideal of treating all people fairly.
The reason I was thinking about democracy was because of an article on The Nation. Here is the article:
Reimagining Capitalism: Bold Ideas for a New Economy
And following it is my response:
Our societal problems are caused and contributed to by a lack of democracy. A functioning democracy isn’t just about votes but about participation. In all aspects of society (politics, media, business, etc), power and wealth have become concentrated while wealth disparity and political disenfranchisement grows. Early great thinkers warned against such concentration, but in recent history many wrongly thought such warnings no longer mattered.
A political democracy is meaningless without social democracy (i.e., democratic values such as in the constitution). I don’t know if capitalism’s problems can be solved or if capitalism must be replaced. If there is any hope for capitalism in a democratic society, it will be by capitalism becoming a part of democracy rather than in opposition.
The founders and other early Americans were careful about regulating capitalism. They created protectionism to defend the local economy against transnationals, subsidized presses ensuring a functioning free press available to all citizens, and defined corporations narrowly. The last may be most important. Corporations:
– were only allowed to serve a single project or product, large conglomerate corporations having been illegal.
– could only exist as temporary entities so as to not outlive the people who are responsible for creating them.
– weren’t allowed to participate in politics.
Free market is just another way of saying democratic market. A system, political or economic, can only be free to the extent people involved in the system are free. As some early Americans (Paine, Jefferson, Thoreau, etc) realized, freedom can’t exist without equality (of power and wealth, and of opportunities to fairly earn power and wealth).
Democracy only functions well on the local level where people know the people they are impacting by their decisions and actions. A market can’t be considered free when it impacts people who can’t influence or protect themselves against those (e.g., transnationals) who seek to profit at their expense (including local communities and environments). The more localized democracy becomes the more it becomes direct democracy. Elites mistrust the people, but we the majority need to stop being subservient to the elites in politics and business. The problem is that the system we have now is designed by and for the upper class.
We need a government and an economy that is literally by and for the people:
1) a modernized version of Jefferson’s agrarian democracy (meaning an economy run mostly by small businesses and a society where most people are small business owners);
2) something like what Chomsky describes with anarcho-syndicalism (where businesses are owned, controlled and/or otherwise greatly influenced by the workers and by the members of the community in which the business is located); or
3) a system closer to Germany’s model with strong unions, a publicly trained workforce, high levels of civic participation, well-funded social safety net, community banks, and protected manufacturing.
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Obviously, we live in a messed up society with messed up priorities. We are still operating society according to some very old ideas about human nature, but we are facing very new problems.