Sunday, July 26, 2020

Time to Chill

"Big Brother," in Donetsk, Ukraine
photo credit: Author - Борис У on Wikimedia CCA-SA3.0 Unported

It's time... Being hooked is bad. The media are hooked on themselves, so why not us too?

Look around you - it won't take long to see someone chained to catching the latest meaningless but dangerous inanity.

Media analysts for years have noted the media's preoccupation with the big 5 = Disaster, Celebrity, Crime, Sex, and Violence.

Anytime media can capture all 5 categories in one story, especially in politics, wow, what a story! And, there you have all wrapped into one what people living in New York City saw long ago. But ground-hog day is no longer just a movie.

This is the bigger story of why it's time to ignore the nonsense. Time to tackle what matters now.

Better to take actions I've suggested in earlier blogs. Do get right your words to push back (save energy to push back on the big lies), turn off the media for most of the day, talk to your friends, build personal networks, and... chill.

The serious observers of propaganda knew this long ago. Of course, right now the technology is already in many TV's for the 2-way scary big brother screen that George Orwell warned about (not a conspiracy theory, just fact). But unlike Orwell's "Utopia=Nowhere Land," we can turn the screen off, for now.

Not new. As your quick google search will confirm: "Julius Caesar's influence provided Augustus with manipulative techniques he would need, such as literature, statues, monuments, and coins in order to gain preeminence in Rome."

In other words, what Jacques Ellul has warned about as a most dangerous propaganda: social-propaganda. That is, what our preoccupations build into the social fabric, of media, conversation, education, arts, statuary, etc of society. Sound familiar?

It's time. The future is in our hands.


Sunday, July 12, 2020

We or Me?


Social media faces
photo credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So, we continue...

Our "snow-bird" neighbors have finally just returned from Florida. After months of their worrying about the hazard of air travel, they're here - after betting their lives on the blind hope that the risks of getting here might be less than staying on any longer in that State. 

From another recent flight out of Florida, three passengers who tested positive for COVID-19, when arriving locally, set off alarms for tracing, testing and, where needed, treatment of anyone associated with the flight. 

Alarming increases in notified new cases of COVID-19 are occurring daily in two-thirds of U.S. states, including Florida. Patients, health care workers and a host of "front-line" people providing services to the community face the prospect of no let up, and likely worse to come. 

When life, liberty, happiness, and peace of mind are breached all at once, the simple question is: "Which leaders are doing what to protect the people?"

Especially in these times, it's a question of what elected representatives are doing for "we," rather than themselves.

It's a question not of what any one of them is saying, but what each does.

Clearing up who are the "we" people and who are the "me" people changes a lot. Not that we didn't notice this sometimes. But taking a closer look is like putting on 3D-glasses in a movie!

There, in sharp relief, is the politician convicted of felonies who gets elected anyway – clearly, he (yes, every one of them is male) and his supporters never heard from my Irish grandfather, who’d quip that there are no degrees of honesty!

Or the political operative who seems to think it's still ok to manipulate voting, or the garbage collector who leaves your garbage bin full on your front driveway because he couldn't work his truck's lift mechanism properly, or the neighbor's air conditioning contractor who puts his advertising sign on our front lawn instead of the neighbor's, so his company name gets a better view from the street (clearly, I need to get out more...) 

Could continue endlessly of course on who thinks of “we” or “me” – say, "road rage" individuals, the open carry and AR-15 crowds, etc. Anyway, for the big and small, the "we" or "me" filter sure clarifies.

Then, since at least 1998, there's the political party that has gathered research data from electrodes on voters, in focus groups that they euphemistically call "dial sessions." They look for bio-reactions to political comments, to determine the "right words" to use uniformly in talking points across the party. What bucket of deceptive self-interest do you put that in?  

But, wait, what about #MeToo? Easy... this is a collective "we," who seek redress from the hormone driven "Me" crowd. Or, Black Lives Matter or similar movements? Again, when these are a collective "we," who seek remedy from the driven "Me" crowd, you can feel good with it. 

How clarifying our language is. What visiting Martian would believe a couple of pronouns could clarify so much - just by looking afresh through the filter of "we" or "me"?

That's the only choice really in any election.

Who cares to do for we the people?


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Accountability

photo credit: The Constitution of the United States: Wikimedia-Public Domain


"The most important thing to hear in communication is what isn't said." 
                                                                                                 - Peter Drucker

Some time ago, with the aim of getting attention in a lunchtime talk to a group of public relations folks, I began by sharing a comment of one of their clients when he learned of my scheduled talk. "P.R." he said, "is hokum and deception. It's the preserve of charlatans and magicians!!"

After I delivered this "gem" to the PR practitioners, amid the unexpected cheers and applause that they responded with, I quickly modified how to talk with them about communication.

We are in an era when "P.R." doesn't represent Public Responsibility, if it ever did.

Among the serious challenges facing citizens in representative democracies are the 24/7 news cycle and huge paid propaganda. For even the most responsible elected representatives, "PR" (the public relations version) is a greater magnet than ever before - especially at election time. On the television talk shows, we occasionally see this in an overly appreciative glance, and sometimes over-effusive thanks, given by an elected representative to a television host.

The PR of Congressional Hearings and investigations and follow-up interviews do get tiresome when there's no result. All that endless handwringing, the "dodges" and refinements might provide media moments for some elected representatives. Too often, these confuse the essential matter, namely securing remedy of a crooked action.

Electors should expect accountability for corruption and malfeasance - including punishment, intervention and removal where appropriate. Now, not later.

It's time to recognize that sticking solely with the strategies of trading words and pursuing legal messes does not serve representative democracy. It's important to recognize that fighting bad actors on these terms, where they're smart, will rarely work. It's time to turn off funds and resources to bad actors - not just talk about it on TV.  

What democracy needs more than ever is not PR talk, but genuine callings to account. The Westminster system long ago formalized the role of the Opposition. Each government minister (cabinet member) has a well-briefed competent counterpart as a "Shadow" cabinet member in the opposition party. The role includes keeping the cabinet member as honest as possible on specifics, as well as being up-to-speed when the government changes. Doesn't always work as desired, but it helps.

In the "Washington system," it looks like the checks and balances that were designed thoughtfully by the Founders for different times only work, like most rules and norms, in some circumstances.

Today, it's plain to a near-sighted bandicoot, that we're not in such a circumstance. Substantial changes to laws and norms are needed.

In the meantime, with so much awry, as the ever-continuing revelations and memes show, the challenge is what to do and when.

Anytime confusion rules, it's best to go back to basic principles. A basic principle of democracy is "A public who listens and speaks out." When you're fed up with the level of preoccupation with PR, here are some thoughts to help set your action plan, to let it be known that there is a public who cares:

1. Do get personal (nicely) with your elected representatives - NOW is the time; none better than during election campaigns. Send a letter and make a phone call (not an email or tweet!) to question what your representative is doing about what you care about. In the lead up to an election, once a week on different issues might keep attention, if you're comfortable with this (this person does work for you). Ask for a specific answer each time!

 2. If you're a joiner, join an action group that actually puts pressure and expects results from elected representatives. United States citizens are still in the top levels of volunteer participation (however you measure it). The 2018 Volunteering in America report found that 77.34 million adults (30.3 percent) volunteered through an organization that year.

3. Make the effort to become familiar with and use Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation to learn what government is really doing on the matters you care about.

Here's a quick list of some countries with FOI legislation and when it was enacted:
United States, France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands (all by 1967)
Australia, New Zealand (in 1982)
Canada (in 1983)
United Kingdom (2000 to 2001)
Scotland (2005)

Elected representatives might eventually recognize that "the people" know more and expect better. 

Perhaps the norm of public handwringing will shift to getting results