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June 2004

May 2004

Progressive Solutions

It is one thing to talk about all of today's overwhelming problems and injustices, it's another thing to fight the powers who are causing these problems, but what is really needed are viable alternatives. One of the most common criticisms of the Progressive Movement in the US is that we are really good at pointing out all of the problems, but don't have many solutions. This criticism may be accurate to some extent.

To be fair, all we are really calling for are ideas like real democracy (as opposed to Black Box Voting), corporate accountability (as opposed to looting and polluting), legal rights (as opposed to the "just trust us" policy of the Bush Administration), and healthcare for all. But to achieve these ends, we call for the oppressors themselves to somehow change. It is time to take control of the wheel instead of just shouting directions from the backseat.

One success story is the independent media. Progressives have always known that commercial, mainstream media distorts news. Commercial media is accountable not to the audience, but to the real customers...corporations who buy ads. The problem has only seemed to grow worse as our media has been consolidated and is owned by just a handful of multinationals.

But then along came the Internet. We could have used this new medium simply to write letters to the editor asking the corporate media to change, but we took things even further by actually creating our own alternative media that is accountable only to the audience. Today, many thinking Americans get their news and information from weblogs, independent on-line news sites and radio, and discussion forums. Underground news travels so fast that the mainstream media is often forced to react to us in order to maintain a shred of credibility. Of course they still attempt to spin stories in a pro-corporate way...but we are forcing them to at least respond. We have taken matters into our own hands.

Now let us consider the other problems we rail against. Executive compensation is going through the roof while jobs are being eliminated. Is there a way we can we use technology to create jobs for ourselves? Ebay is one success story. Many people earn a living selling stuff on Ebay. How can we create an Ebay to get paid fairly for all of our skills…not just our crafts? The right technologies already exist and most of them are free (open source), we just need to organize and tie everything together. Imagine a platform that allows everyone to connect with all the right people and rewards us fairly for working together or serving one another. Rather than complaining about the economy, let’s create a new economy…one that promotes Green values rather destruction…one that promotes helping one another and not just competing with one another…one that allows us to grow rather than stagnate…one in which we are paid fairly and not exploited.

We want more people to join our movement. Yet we tell them everything they are doing wrong and fail to provide a clear alternative. Its time we rise to the challenge we set forth.

The Decalogue Depression

Kieslowski's “Decalogue”, a set of 10 one-hour films made in Poland in 1987, is unlike any other film experience. It’s not so much a "movie" as a "mini life phase." I've been watching one of the films per night for the past few days. I've never seen a more compelling portrayal of human misery, hopelessness, and desperation. I say the series is a "mini life phase" because of the extent to which it has influenced my mood over the past several days. I guess you could say I've been a little depressed.

It would be easy to say that characters in the Decalogue suffer from clinical depression, but that, of course, misses the point badly. I suspect that to isolate depression as a condition absent the individual's external environment is to oversimplify and fail to understand it. Kieslowski shows us a society in which depression is the which the characters are unable to escape their shared mood and circumstance.

Incidentally, the rise in depression we've seen in the US certainly has a lot to do with our external environment as well. America has a war on everything…even a war on unhappiness. And what is often overlooked is the genuine and subtle beauty that can be found in the absence of cheeriness and perkiness. I'll continue watching the last 5 in the series because, despite what pop culture teaches us, misery can be embraced by the emotionally and intellectually honest. I don't want to accept the idea that depression is an illness. In fact, I’d rather start a war on cheeriness and perkiness instead.

Eliminating Distractions

Communities are strong to the extent that distractions are eliminated.  Thinking about Eastern Europe during Communism, not only did people depend upon each other for day-to-day survival, but they lacked the luxury of so many distractions like cell phones and computers.  More of their time was spent interacting in a way that was fundamentally human.  Tribal communities provide an even more extreme example...where only chores interrupted the interaction between family and community.

It occurs to me that, while I place great hope in innovative, new communication technologies to connect people, too often they distract us from the real communities we are already a part of.  We sit in cubes at work, emailing or IM'ing colleagues who sit right next to us while browsing a discussion forum at the same time.  We walk to dinner with friends while they check voicemail messages.  And communication technologies are just the tip of the iceberg.  The non communication-related distractions in our day-to-day lives remove us from the larger community altogether.

Ultimately, we must each make a decision to consciously prioritize face-to-face human interaction ahead of distractions.  There is nothing more fundamentally gratifying and fulfilling than human relationships.

Social Toxicity

Americans are becoming so emotionally charged that we are losing our ability to interact in a way that is functional.  No subject can be discussed in a thoughtful way without reducing divergent perspectives down to ideological or political bias. 

Should it be so unthinkable to openly discuss a war our country is engaged in right now?  Yet how long can one talk in an even moderately diverse group without someone having a strong emotional reaction to doing so?  Even taste in music is reduced down to politics.  More trivial yet, in some parts of this country, the neighborhoods we live in are reduced to a political statement. So what are we to talk about?

We are a divided people, and I’m not so sure it is a divide between the Left and Right as they would have us believe.  From my view, this divide is between those whose primary who are more influenced by Corporate Media (the Corportist?), and those who are more independent-minded.  By "Corporate Media", I mean any entertainment or information source that is primarily funded and supported by large corporate interests.

The Corporatist is bothered by ideas and tastes that fall outside of what can be seen on television.  The more independent-minded individual is annoyed with ideas and tastes that mimic television.  The extent to which we cling to these pre-conceived mindsets is the extent to which we shut out critical thought and we contribute to social toxicity and disfunction.

Of course, this very topic falls outside of the realm of acceptable Corporatist thinking and would therefore, itself, be a source of social toxicity if brought up at a dinner part.  So let’s continue on with our incoherent babble instead:)