Distraction by Design: Information as Political Distraction
This essay, though treating political subjects, is not meant as propaganda for any one political group or party or way of thinking. Fundamentally it is a tribute to the need for collaboration among those of various talents and starting points of view, to explore and begin to understand and resolve our portion of global tensions. This would mean to do so in ways that might be feasible only with an acceptance and appreciation of diverse talents, needs, abilities- given the element missing from most political debate: the willingness to cooperate and collaborate rather than defeat and destroy.
This essay addresses the purposeful distraction of all of us by a battering and shifting of headlines, by the seduction and advertisements of products, policies and politicians. They seem to thrive on the all too understandable and inevitable inabilities to sustain and even tolerate the intensity and upset that come from a constant flow of painful information. When we continue to see horrific occurrences, we are prone to feel helpless and disappointed in our leaders who seem to care more about preserving their reputation and/or engaging in a game of blame. It is almost as if we continuously watch political action and often spend hours, even at dinner parties, behaving as fans of either political party or particular leader. There is often little interest in considering the points of the other and the possibility of a shift in opinion based on new information. New information is a rare commodity and often is seen as more of a threat to our tightly held convictions. When some of us find what seems like meaningful facts, we often feel maddened when they are dismissed or forgotten at the expected limit of our attention and their apparent prediction of our “forgetting” as we resume being absorbed in our own lives.
It follows from this self-absorption, that issues of global urgency such as genocide and war far away or poverty and disease nearby and environmental destruction, are raised and then dropped or skipped over. All the while we dwell in the advertised fixation on our weight and appearance and on our need to win at everything we do, and we neglect to examine our own part, our action or inaction, or our feelings of helplessness. Welcome to a “political” part of ADancingmind.com which is by my own definition, truly connected to the personal: we are nothing without a context and our personal life choices will affect our capacity to make political differences or to begin by wanting to do so.
I want to keep this part of the site somewhat personal so I will share my own meanderings about poverty in our country, the US of A. I started out as a fervent social worker at a time when poverty seemed a pressing issue. A politician such as Robert Kennedy, for example, with flaws and weaknesses easy enough to see, was an avid communicator with so many poorer communities, and in his time working and speaking about domestic poverty as a worthy issue- could in those years inspire many voters. Jumping to the much more recent past, I was dumbstruck listening to the President talk of hearing voices from God (this “revelation” being a serious problem in its own right) telling him He “wants everyone to be free”. (In truth he didn’t speak of hearing voices; he merely formed his sentence with the words “God wants everyone to be free”, words which might well lead to the conclusion that the President was personally “in the know”.
This television address was meant to inspire patriotism and faith in our going to war in Iraq; for many it aided in a grand distraction from the fact there was as yet an undocumented set of reasons for going to war. The address also kept many from questions about hidden motives of power and money and control. I screamed at the television set that night. My words were, “Let me take you to the South Bronx!” My thoughts went to the urgency of poverty in places which seem so far away for many of us, even though they are not There was such an urgency based on our country’s safety, which could keep us distracted from domestic issues such as poverty. In fact when my husband and I were in Italy last year during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we found many Italians completely shocked that parts of America were so poor as to seem like a third world country. Not only have we supported dictatorships (think China) when politically convenient, we have also conveyed to other nations pictures of wealth and opportunity for everyone. There are lots of questions of image here and also about what captures the imagination of our own public in terms of what we define as urgent and that which we do not.
Keeping the issue of poverty in mind I have lately been wondering why so many people seem outraged by genocide in Darfur when there is also genocide amongst Iraqis, and there is so much poverty around our corners. I have been told that it is so dramatic in Darfur, and how could I find any dots even to connect. And in response I offer two aspects to consider in terms of distraction and even of a more widespread socio-political ADD- a gross misappropriation of attention and intense discomfort with the issues which become convenient for our own denial.
Firstly I believe that many of us- and I include liberal voters and thinkers- have an easier time in a kind of colonial position, where we can feel like the generous benefactors. That has for a long time been the American way. Our neighbors around our corners, many of whom are Black or Hispanic, are angry at our neglect and at our arrogance. There is violence and accusation in some of their music and actions, enough so that even calmer discussion with “them” might scare us. Yet in order to begin to resolve any social problems closer to home, we would have to confront the darker sides in ourselves, our personal and political “axis of evil”. We would have to lose some of our arrogance of the one who bestows and who is the benefactor, and become more of an equal, taking more responsibility for some of the causes and part of the solutions of problems.
We would have to listen, really listen to our domestic poor who are not always so exotic or grateful so as to evoke our sympathy.
Perhaps we can feel sorry for those dominated by others in ways easier to digest than our history of slavery and its effects today, as well as the domination and cruelty which America has perpetrated on Native Americans. In any case, it does seem the more far away and the more exotic, and the less responsibility we have in causation, the easier it is to command our sympathy without complication. Whatever the reasons, the same people here don’t hesitate to be critical of people awash in crippled families where family members have seen death and drugs and lost hope of any viable exit alive in our American culture.
Just today (June 14, 2007) there was an editorial in the Herald Tribune, published by the New York Times in Europe: the headline was, “Still dying in Congo” The first line went as follows: “Darfur is not the only place where people are dying in staggering numbers” and the editorial went on to talk of the 3 million persons killed in the Congo’s civil war, and the thousands raped by government officials. Most Americans, it seems, are so much less aware of the Congo, and often enough it seems to be one place at a time that captures both imagination and sympathy.
So I shift in position as I reflect on the poor of spirit even as they might be rich in funds. I think about our suburbs, and while the American way is to applaud our accomplishments and “help developing nations” we need to consider developments in our own middle and upper class suburbs. In those communities, the incidents of teenage suicide, eating disorders, self-mutilation, substance abuse, are startling as they continue to become more commonplace everyday- disturbingly almost less and less shocking to teachers, families and even to mental health professionals. At the same time, even though studies suggest that young people learn differently and that the arts which include music and art and dance are vital to all of us and form the essence of hope and learning styles for many of our young people, we are allowing those programs to be cut everywhere.
In essence our young people are often neglected and ignored; their talents are not developed and their questions, suggestions, and even physical capacities to help us rebuild our neighborhoods, are squandered and left to evaporate.
As the dancing mind flies around I see these issues again and again and I think: we, we Americans are allowing our country to be at war, our social problems to remain unsolved, our elitist method of college education to continue, our school programs to be cut. And I speak for myself: Often I too close the newspapers for days at a time because the “news” hurts; and then as in the saying “Just because a person is paranoid doesn’t mean he’s always wrong” I wonder if even our newspapers are designed to shock us into the purchase and distract us so we purchase the products advertised.
This is an essay with no answers and yet was initially meant as more of a wake up call than a simple rant. However just in time – and so it often goes when the mind is ready- a strong insight came my way, one which might be thought provoking in a helpful way. It “came” to me in a swoop of awareness, and I assume with my pores fairly open. It went something like this: We are so bombarded by huge quantities of serious information also BECAUSE THERE IS NO REAL AND CAREFUL AND MANAGEABLE ORGANIZATION OF INFORMATION, FACTS AND POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS.
Think about it if you would: There is usually not a section, even in our best newspapers, which is uninterrupted, by diamond ads. There are for the most part no sections devoted primarily to one subject where there is the study of history of the subject, an organization of facts and opinions, along with suggestions from potentially involved young people and others for possible solutions and group proposals. Usually information is spread out chaotically so it becomes predictably depressing and we lose sight of the facts because we recede into our disappointment in the “politics” of it all. We leave our “activism” for dinner parties and we delete our emails from the groups to which we have donated: they too seem too bombarding and too involved in politics as a team sport. And take note of how little focus there has been for years on domestic poverty. We have gotten used to convenience, those of us who can afford it: dining with the stars and political talk can allay the pangs of injustice in which participate as we buy our next big car or motor boat.
So the wake up call includes a reminder of why history might be one of the most important subjects of our time- if we study different points of view, not only of one culture but of several. In addition, I offer that we need to study the history, the sociology and psychology of our larger society’s delusions of grandeur, of our thinking ourselves better than other countries, of our lack of humility. If one can’t question, one can’t learn……….are we together on this?
Today I had an idea about making places for a publicized set of accounts: supporting the popularity of writing and reading about all the countries in the world where genocide is occurring right now; where it has occurred in the last hundred years, how it began and how it was forgotten. I have the idea right this minute that Freud and company have given the world the amazing knowledge that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. In emotional terms if we don’t mourn the mistakes of the past, and experience our own pain, we are doomed to inflict the same on the next generations.
If there is hope of finding company to join us in waking up from the numbness of fear and habit, we need to seek people who could make choices and information more comprehensible. The rest of us- who are less organized in linear fashion but still creative problem solvers and contributors, might begin to see other and better ways of getting information. And the information need not be so titillating as to fascinate us only or so frightening as to scare us to death or so boring as to put us to sleep. I do not claim to be on any mountain top or to be a receiver of divine intervention. I am simply having a vision, in the sense of a positive fantasy of what at this moment seems possible: a vision of people investigating and questioning and collaborating to use all the talents of all the different kinds of people to figure out ways of understanding both past and present and planning for the future. It is a vision of minds and hearts opening with fewer traumas in the process, and with greater reason for hope and energy.
>> back to top