Early signs are that 2023 will be quite a year. With not one but four shoot-downs of flying, potentially foreign objects so far, it's also getting expensive. Not only the cost of reconnaissance flights, firing-off missiles, protracted discussions among lots of decision-makers, and closures of commercial airspace, but fixing that "domain awareness gap" sounds expensive too. Of course, late-night comics, morning talk-shows, and George Orwell could easily find alignment about that bit of verbiage.
Perhaps you'd think all these recent events could offer a diversion, even if a bit chilling, from the usual media coverage of political antics descending into a wide variety of rabbit burrows. But early in the unfolding news of the first flying object were screams from self-promoting, political sharpshooters to drop the sucker from the sky. And follow-up assurance from one wannabe sharpshooter was that no one lives in Montana for the payload of the balloon to drop on. Not a widely held view, of course, even beyond the good people of the State of Montana. Still, apparently enough rationale for random shooting. And the quick action to shoot down objects when safe to do so just stimulated more politically-based, second-guessing commentaries.
Later the media added a touch of their own urgency to have video of the objects to show the world–which is kind of difficult when the downed objects are under however much water or snow! But the media's vigilant re-re-tracking of so little detail throughout was remarkable. If only political performance was tracked as diligently against promises!
A potentially important initiative like constructive journalism, which seeks to do just this, clearly faces a challenge to keep our attention as an audience. Constructive journalists are taking on the task of overcoming our many years of titillation with political balloons of one sort or other.
More than a decade ago, a book titled Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy was published as another plea for different public discourse, in hopes of a better politics. The author wasn't the first to leave public life for this reason. And now the flow of capable people exiting public life has grown substantially, likely with each hoping for some dampening of continuous threats to safety and sanity for themselves and their families. And how can we help?
1. We could call out this sideshow politics that much of the media amplifies. As background, you might find it helpful to (re-)read Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny, mentioned in my blogpost last month. Especially apt are his suggestions to "Defend institutions | Beware the one-party state | Be kind to our language | Believe in truth | Contribute to good causes | Listen for dangerous words | Be a patriot."
2. We could identify good people who are thinking of leaving public life at any level, and reach out to them–to encourage and support their efforts.
3. We could seek out more good people to join in strengthening schools, libraries, political parties, other community support groups, and local media.
4. Wherever possible, we could push back against disinformation, misinformation, or other propaganda. Standing up for truth and independent thought, both within and beyond our immediate family or circle of friends, is a good start.
5. Individually, we could keep learning more about recognizing and dismantling the repetition and re-runs of nonsense talk or other distortions.
Repetition and re-runs keep changing us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It's commonly understood that frequent repetitions of words shape our understanding or beliefs. What might now be a benign, small example of this is illustrated by one of movie history's most-loved films that actually had a strong propaganda purpose. The oft-misquoted phrase Play it again, Sam never occurs in the 1942 movie Casablanca, but popular memory still attributes it to the main character, Rick (Humphrey Bogart). Both Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick do come close to saying the line. Respectively, Ilsa says "Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake..." and later Rick says to Sam, "If she can stand it, I can. Play it." Perhaps some fogging of popular memory is also due to Woody Allen's play (1969) and film (1972), Play It Again, Sam.