What We Owe the Mainstream Media

Tone matters. The tone of our politics lately has
been one of two parties in a verbal war. The language of this war is sometimes
hateful, sometimes short-sighted, sometimes revealing. Feelings have been aired
that have festered in the bowels of America. Some of these feelings are more
than a century old, some of these feelings are new and have to do with economic
and cultural change in America and around the globe. Some of these feelings
arise out of people’s quite irrational fears that there are vast global
conspiracies whose goal is to make America unrecognizable. Others arise out of
real change in the economic situation of some Americans. Some have to do with
something as basic as which skin color will prevail in America, as if our souls
resided in the color of our skin. So people have been passionate, and
aggressive, and intimidating, perhaps even letting their passions boil over at
times into borderline or actual violence.
But I have to give most of the media kudos for
keeping cool heads in situations that could easily tip over into chaos. The
media has threaded a careful way through the swollen emotions and the impassioned
rhetoric giving people a calmer platform from which to express their
ideological concerns, giving their ideas credence when they seem to push
humanitarian concerns forward, and perhaps a bit of mild ridicule when ideas
seem too reactionary to contribute to cultural progress.
Often the media reminds us of our nation’s rather
passionate political history. Our politics has often been verbally, and
occasionally physically, explosive. They remind us of the political shambles
our nation was in prior to the Civil War. The rhetorical passion was shouted
daily in our Congress, in our press, and in our streets. On that occasion
people’s passions, unabated by discussion, ended in an brutal war with so many casualties.
There have been other times of great passion in American politics such as in
the years before World War II when isolationists disagreed with those who
thought we would have to go to war against Hitler. It took Pearl Harbor to put
the kibosh on that disagreement and unite us against common enemies. The
sixties and seventies were certainly passionate times in our nation with the
sexual revolution and the cultural revolution and the Vietnam War making
America often appear to be two (or more) different nations. None of us who
lived through the Civil Rights’ Movement will ever forget the passion of those
days, one side with its desire to be treated as equal Americans, the other side
holding on to and expressing years of contempt and prejudice with guns shots
and hangings and the powerful streams of water from the ends of fire hoses, and
so many other hateful things.
Yes, we are a nation of passions and we often find
ourselves once again dividing into two segments of our America who are at
loggerheads with each other and who feel what they feel so strongly that they
would like to actually come to blows over it. But the press sort of operates as
the people who stand between the two opposing groups with their hands against
their chests to keep them physically separated, and it is the press who gives
us perspective on how each of our partisan groups arrived at this impasse.
The way the mainstream press treats extreme speech
as real politics and discusses it as it would more moderate politics keeps our
government from imploding or exploding. They refuse to give any credence to
voices on either side that see the fringes as more in control than the center
is. They have kept their heads, partly by treating it all like entertaining
theater, partly by helping us connect fringe dialogue to its historical roots
to remind us that this stuff did not suddenly crop up out of nowhere, and
partly by refusing to get too hot under the collar which could only help foment
hysteria.
Right now the press is calmly and as objectively as
possible (given that these are human beings who also feel passionate) helping
America hold a normal Presidential election in times that feel anything but
normal. They have a matrix in their brain, a matrix that tells them what
elections have always been like and they are using that historical memory to keep
this election, which could so easily go off the rails, on track. We get
impatient with them sometimes. They seem too moderate, too data bound, too
controlled, and perhaps, sometimes, too stodgy for our heated debates. And yet
this very ability to treat our current situation as normal, as just another
hotly contested moment in the history of our nation, keeps the process ticking
along. We do not really want to break apart our great nation and so, right now,
I am thankful that our media are such nerds, such political geeks that they are
keeping us all somewhat civil and on track to hold a traditional election
according to the rule of law in November of 2016. I think it is called
professionalism.
By Nancy Brisson

No Scientific Evidence Favors Social Darwinism

 
There is no scientific evidence that proves that social
Darwinism does anything to lift up the people at the bottom. The only evidence
I know of that suggests that a government social safety net robs the citizens
of a given society of initiative and keeps these citizen on the bottom comes
from a theory described in a fiction book read by sophomores, (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand) which is
being construed as proof and offered up as such by Paul Ryan and the Republican
party and by some wealthy Americans (who don’t even accept Darwin’s theories).
Although I like fiction and I do feel that it often explores philosophical themes
and points of view, fiction is not usually mistaken for science. I not sure
that there is even any evidence from the social sciences, which explore issues
with too many variables to be classified as pure science, to suggest that
offering supportive services to the poor keeps them from climbing the
socio-economic ladder.

We already know what the world was like when the poor had
no safety net beyond the kindness of strangers. The poor had little or nothing
to fall back on for centuries. Did it make them more innovative? Did it give
them incentive to become entrepreneurs?

In most accounts I have read poor people often turned to
crime to pay their way; petty theft, picking pockets, robbing homes or rich
people. Some starving people stole bread or food. People could be sent to
prison for stealing bread. There’s a whole classic novel about this social
trend too (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo). Is it possible that some people rose
above their abject beginnings and moved their families slowly up that
socio-economic ladder? Of course it happened, but not reliably.

Is it possible that people who know they can rely on their
government for money, income and/or food, etc. will hug the bottom of the
socio-economic ladder because they are basically lazy, or the assistance has
robbed them of their pride and their fighting spirit? I suppose it is, after
all, there are all kinds of people. I suspect, though, that even with
government assistance, life at the bottom is not all that appealing. Do we
think that most people will lose all ambition if they have enough free money to
survive, even though their survival level is way less comfortable than that of
others in the society? Do we think these are the same people who would rise to
the top if they weren’t given “free” money? Spending even more money and
putting it into a really effective educational system that meets the needs of
the poor would seem more effective than taking away money that is keeping
people from lives filled with hopelessness.

Isn’t it quite possible that rich folks are using this
theory taken from the pages of a fiction book because they feel burdened by
increasing numbers of poor folks at the bottom of our culture, even though it
this very culture which has skewed its financials to favor these rich folks for
so long that they are able to convince themselves that they earned all their
wealth with no help from the laws of our nation or from those same people who
used to work in their factories and who are now unemployed. The burden of the
poor has gotten heavier since the recession but the taxes on those who “have”
have only been raised once. The poverty at the bottom of America is dragging
the federal budget down into greater and greater debt because the wealthy
refuse to pay more and because they want the federal government to fail. They
still are trying to convince us that if we are kind to the people at the top of
the ladder they will shed crumbs that can be collected by those at the bottom
of the ladder and that these crumbs, wisely used, can bring those at the bottom
closer to the top (this is trickle down which has never worked – there have
always been poor people – this is also a theory that cannot be proven
scientifically).

I just don’t buy this self-serving, untested theory; this
theory which flies in the face of centuries of proof that the opposite is true.
In a system with no social safety net the poor stay poor and the effects on the
society as a whole are more negative than in societies with a social safety
net. We may reach a point where we actually have to pay people not to work in
the same way we pay people not to farm. There seem to be plenty of goods and
services around even given the number of adults who are not working. I just do
not see any evidence that getting rid of or drastically cutting back on the
social safety net will benefit either society or the poor.
 

Saying something over and over does not in any way
constitute proof that what is being said is true especially when this idea
comes from the pages of a book of fiction.

 

This is the view from the cheap seats.

This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com