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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Institutional Narcissism

A reporter at NPR yesterday reported about the atmosphere around the home of Martin Richard, the boy who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing. The reporter, Jeff Brady, had this to say:
"At the Martin family house in the Dorchester section of Boston, there is a bouquet of flowers and a candle out front. No one answered the front door. In a statement, the family asked for privacy."

A young boy is killed in a bombing, and the next day National Public radio sees fit to pester his family. It is likely that no one was home, so no harm, no foul, but not for lack of trying. I wonder if the intrepid reporter read the statement before or after seeking answer at the door. I responded to the NPR report with the following:

...the reporter said that no one answered the door at the Richard home. The only way he would have known this is if he rang the bell himself. A family has just lost its son, and an NPR reporter comes a-knocking. Or ringing.

To coin a phrase, have you no decency? Of course not. It's the story that matters, not the people. Or, more accurately, the story FOR the reporter and NPR, not the people involved or even the listening audience. It's the nature of the beast.

I can just see the frenzy and clawing at each other for air time. I don't expect anything to ever change. I'm just bearing witness.
Media tastelessness and cravenness started almost immediately after the bombing. I heard the news on the radio, and turned the TV on to CBS. They played a video of the bombing repeatedly, without a break, over and over again, about fifty times or more.

Today the plot thickened. CNN created a frenzy of activity in the news-o-sphere, claiming that a suspect in the bombing has been arrested. Fox and the Associated Press followed suit, repeating the claim. They may have been "scooped," but almost scoop is apparently good enough. The report was completely false. No one has been arrested.

The Boston Marathon coverage is another example of a hologram, the part revealing the whole. We are institutionally frozen in self-dealing. We are in the advanced stage of bureaucratic mass society - individuals within an organized, structured and stratified civilization. Advanced, that is, in time and complexity. We all are in the same predicament of existing as one among many, fending for ourselves as best we can. It has devolved into something of a free-for-all, "Lord of the Flies" on a bureaucratic mountain.

Today I was listening to another NPR program, Talk of the Nation. The topic of the hour was "Public Safety: The Measures Taken To Keep Crowds Safe." It was a pretty unenlightening conversation. I let them know:
There is a certain silliness in in this conversation. We live in a mass system with built-in vulnerabilities because of this massness. We wring our hands every time something like this happens, largely to assuage our feelings of helplessness, anxiety and fear. Eventually some bureaucratic measure will be enacted, because this is the way mass societies attempt to solve problems. Even the discussion of these bureaucratic measures is bureaucratic, such as on the bureaucratic radio network National Public Radio.

In other words, what do we - the masses of "Americans" - do collectively to prevent, in a bureaucratic manner, wild card or idiosyncratic attacks that are exogenous to the bureaucratic system? Or, to put it still another way, what's the best dumb way to look at this problem and solve it?

Wild card events cannot be prevented. They CAN be minimized. The sad thing for people addicted to the bureaucratic model of looking at the world is that the answer lies outside the system. Though outside, it can be implemented within the system.

The number one solution to idiosyncratic attacks is to follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This applies in our actions toward the rest of the world equally to our actions within our borders, and in our daily lives. Don't go around the planet willy-nilly invading people. If the president tries to lie you into war, impeach him and put him in prison for the rest of his life. His helpers too. If the president authorizes torture, impeach him and put him in prison for the rest of his life. His helpers too. If the president is bombing innocent people and/or starving them through "sanctions," impeach him and put him in prison for the rest of his life. His helpers too.

If prosecutors and police frame people for crimes, put them in prison for the sentences they gave to those they framed. If police wantonly shoot and kill innocent people, remove them from the force and prosecute them, depending on the situation. If people in bureaucratic situations of authority, such as teachers, health care workers, jail and prison guards, and even various clerks and other bureaucratic staff behave in abusive ways, deal with it.

Of course, this is asking for a lot. The Task Force on Detainee Treatment released its report yesterday, implicating the Bush Administration in authorizing and implementing a torture regime. Will there be prosecutions? Absolutely not. Presidents and their helpers have institutional impunity.

The president and his helpers may have impunity, but the rest of us don't. AT this point we don't know who planted the bombs at the Boston Marathon. It could be anyone with a grievance, or just someone who takes pleasure in killing people. But in an atmosphere of institutional disrespect for human life, to expect to prevent "blowback" from this disrespect with institutional preventive measures is delusional. The institutional response will be intrinsically disrespectful. I expect tomorrow you will have a similar discussion, being capable of only looking at problems and solutions bureaucratically. That's the way to keep your job and get a pay raise in a bureaucracy. I may or may not listen, depending on my own bureaucratic predicament.
If there weren't so much pain, suffering and death involved this whole mess would be comical. It could be argued that the "Tea Party" and other "right wing" manifestations are hysterical and pretend attempts to live as raging individuals within a mass bureaucratic system. "Liberalism," the supposed opposite, can be seen as the being nice alternative, but still within the mass bureaucratic overstructure.

With no advance planning, I may have come up with an alternative approach, in lieu of the Golden Rule example above. On still another media venue, I watched the Public Broadcst System (PBS) documentary last night that told the story of the boys who were wrongfully convicted of the 1989 vicious rape and beating of a woman in New York City's Central Park. Titled The Central Park Five, the program covered in stark detail how the youths were coerced into signing confessions, then convicted and sent to jail, while the real culprit continued to rape and kill other women. Another example of self-dealing, in this case by police and prosecutors, in the mass bureaucratic society.

As maddening as this case is, the broadcast was even more maddening. Wisconsin Public Television, the local outlet for PBS programs, placed its logo prominently on the screen, creating a distraction and an annoyance. I gave them some feedback:
I'm watching the Central Park Five, and it's a great story, except for one thing: Wisconsin Public Television. I have written about this before, to no avail and no response. The bureaucrat manager who makes decisions at WPT has insisted on placing the WPT logo in a place that interferes with the program, creating a distraction and making text, such as interviewees names, unreadable.

The intelligent and respectful of the audience thing to do would of course be to not have the logo there at all, but I realize this would be asking too much. The semi-intelligent and respectful thing to do would be to move the logo farther down and to the right, where it would not interfere with the broadcast.

In the past WPT has seen fit to interfere with the current program with blurbs for the next show. I sent a complaint about this practice, and though I don't remember receiving a response, the practice seems to either have been discontinued or reduced.

When a service like a public television station does things like this, it can only be for bureaucratic reasons: self-promoting managerial decisions by bureaucratic managers. Teams get involved, and bureaucratic groupthink will tend to silence dissent. Inevitably the bureaucracy will implement such a practice not for the viewers, but for itself. The bottom line is that WPT is about itself, not the audience.

Being about itself, it would seem that WPT's justification for this obnoxiety is for copyright protection, to make recording programs traceable. One might ask how prevalent this practice actually is, given the annoyance it generates. People are going to record programs for private use no matter what you do, so the real question is the likelihood that people are going to sell WPT programs, and to whom. I wonder if the notion of next to no one has occurred to anyone at WPT. I suspect it is next to no one.

Is there a way out of this practice? Yes. Undercut and subvert the bureaucrat manager who came up with the idea, should he (almost certainly) still be there. Embarrass him with whispering and laughter. Ridicule the silliness of defacing a valuable program. Bureaucracies exist by dictate, and cohere by support of dictate. If the dictate is the butt of jokes and ridicule, the dictator will tend to redictate, generating out of his genius the idea of moving the logo lower and to the right, where it wouldn't interfere with the broadcast.

Have fun.
This may be a less friendly approach, but bureaucracy is a force of unfriendliness as its default mode. I know from a lifetime of subverting bureaucracy that undercutting it and finessing it can be a lifesaving method. I wouldn't have gotten through the Army if I hadn't learned how to maneuever in and around bureaucracy. In lieu of the extremely unlikely prospect of reforming the behemoth of the mass system, outsmarting may be our only hope.
______________________________________

Mr. Rogers had the best advice for dealing with traumatic events. This too.

Kids in "Iraq" are old hands at dealing with bombings, thanks entirely to us. They offered their help.

This song came to mind. This too.

Can't forget the Dropkick Murphys.

This band was big for a while.

I almost forgot this song.

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