The medieval English anchoress Julian of Norwich bequeathed us a radically optimistic theology. She had no problem admitting that human beings have a tendency to go astray. We rupture relationships, dishonor the Divine, make unfortunate choices, and try to hide our faults. And yet, Julian insists, “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”
She squarely faces the inevitability that we will miss the mark [what Julian calls “sin”] and that there is wickedness in this world. Even so, she is convinced that the nature of the Divine is loving-kindness, and she wants us to absorb this into every fiber of our being. -Fr. Richard Rohr
‘I urge you to avoid those who cause dissension and offenses contrary to what you have learned. Avoid them.’
I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watch it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among men who judgment I respect, that commercial television is degraded, meretricious, and absurd. Certainly, it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inter subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously.
-New Seeds of Contemplation, 1949
His thoughts on the Internet, we can only imagine, would be the same. -dayle
This is a new form of propaganda tailored to the digital age and it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t possible. And it’s all the more difficult because even the most scrupulous, well-intentioned coverage can easily fall into the trap of flooding the zone.
The press, admittedly, has a difficult job to do, especially in this information landscape. But that’s the thing: The landscape has changed. The digital media ecosystem overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is true, some of it is false, and much of it is deliberately diversionary. Trying to cover every crazy story, every batshit claim, is a fool’s errand. The end result of so much noise is what I’ve called “manufactured nihilism,” a situation in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of truth that they give up the search.
The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.
Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment.
So now we find ourselves engaged in an endless game of whack-a-mole, debunking and explaining one false claim after another. And false claims, if they’re repeated enough, become more plausible the more often they’re shared, something psychologists have called the “illusory truth” effect.
The prevailing norms of journalism and the political economy of media are driving these dynamics.
But what about the moral imagination?
Visualizing what’s possible. Deciding to do something about it. Wondering (to ourselves and then to the world, “how can I make this better?”)
Not because it’s our job or because we’ll win a prize. Simply because we can.
We can start where we are and we can make things better.
Justice Felix Frankfurter congratulates Chief Justice Earl Warren on Brown v. Board of Education, today 1954: “This is a day that will live in glory.”
-Michael Beschloss, historian
Restaurant Chains Took Loans Meant for Small Businesses. Will Radio Conglomerates Do the Same?
Watchdog groups fear that language in a new stimulus bill could allow individual stations owned by large companies to “masquerade” as small businesses — and take all the money
The National Association of Broadcasters, a lobbying group that represents modest radio groups as well as the massive chains — including iHeartMedia (around 850 stations), Townsquare Media (around 320 stations), and Entercom (more than 235 stations) — cheered the Heroes Act. “Hometown broadcasters and community newspapers are providing vital news and information during these unprecedented times to keep families and communities safe, while struggling with record advertising revenue losses,” the NAB wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “Broadcasters look forward to working with all Members of Congress to ensure that such legislative language is swiftly enacted.”
But other organizations said the bill’s language undercuts its original intent: to help small businesses. On Tuesday, Craig Aaron, Co-CEO of the media advocacy group Free Press Action, expressed fear that, “as written, this legislation would benefit the biggest chains at the expense of their smaller competitors and other struggling businesses.”
The American Association of Independent Music, which counts more than 700 independent labels as members, also came out against the bill’s current language on Thursday. “It would be a travesty if these large radio conglomerates were able to get money out of the next tranche of PPP forgivable loans,” says Richard James Burgess, the head of A2IM. The big radio companies “are masquerading as small businesses, but they’re gigantic conglomerates.”
Radio conglomerates claim they need these loans to maintain a local presence. But others argue that these conglomerates have never been less interested in being local than they are now. “These are companies that have gone and gutted their payrolls, dumped local talent, and replaced them with robot DJs,” Aaron says. “We’ve gotten so far from local owners that radio is almost unrecognizable now,” Karen Slade, vice president and general manager of the independently owned KJLH in Los Angeles, told Rolling Stone last year.
To recap: The NAB is asking Congress to give radio conglomerates money, supposedly to support their local programming. At the same time, it’s pushing the FCC to jettison ownership rules, which, many worry, will cement radio’s decades-long turn away from local programming.
That’s why small radio chains should absolutely benefit from the latest edition of the PPP. But they — and other mom-and-pop businesses — may be unable to benefit at all if conglomerates end up with all the money.
When the market crashed in 2008, it became clear that neoliberalism was not the way forward. But at the time, neither the protesters of Occupy Wall Street nor politicians had realistic alternatives.
Now, over a decade later during the biggest crisis since the Second World War, it’s different.
Economists, philosophers and politicians have been fighting the cynical dogma that most people are selfish for years. They’ve been working on real alternatives.
Now we know: humankind is actually not selfish, but has evolved due to its unparalleled willingness to cooperate. If, going forward, we took that fact seriously, everything could change. Governments could be based on trust. Tax systems could be rooted in solidarity. Social security could be reformed.
We don’t know where this crisis will lead us, writes Rutger Bregman, but this time the groundwork has been laid for a radically different world.
The neoliberal era is ending. What comes next?
On 4 April 2020, the British-based Financial Times published an editorial likely to be quoted by historians for years to come.
The Financial Times is the world’s leading business daily and, let’s be honest, not exactly a progressive publication. It’s read by the richest and most powerful players in global politics and finance. Every month, it puts out a magazine supplement unabashedly titled “How to Spend It” about yachts and mansions and watches and cars.
But on this memorable Saturday morning in April, that paper published this:
“Radical reforms – reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades – will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.”
What’s going on here? How could the tribune of capitalism suddenly be advocating for more redistribution, bigger government, and even a basic income?
For decades, this institution stood firmly behind the capitalist model of small government, low taxes, limited social security – or at most with the sharpest edges rounded off. “Throughout the years I’ve worked there,” responded a journalist who has written for the paper since 1986, “the Financial Times has advocated free market capitalism with a human face. This from the editorial board sends us in a bold new direction.”
Crises played a central role in economist Milton Friedman’s thinking. In the preface to his book Capitalism and Freedom (1982), he wrote the famous words:
“Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”
DISSOLVE THE PATRIARCHY. ENOUGH.
US president-elect Ronald Reagan in Los Angeles in November 1980. Reagan consulting with his economic advisers about his new economic policy. From left to right: Walter Wriston, Milton Friedman, Daryl Trent, George Shultz, Ronald Reagan, Paul McCracken. Photo: Bettmann / Getty
In recent weeks, lists have been published all over the world of what we’ve started calling “essential workers”. And surprise: jobs like “hedge fund manager” and “multinational tax consultant” appear nowhere on those lists. All of a sudden, it has become crystal clear who’s doing the truly important work in care and in education, in public transit and in grocery stores.
In 2018, two Dutch economists did a study leading them to conclude that a quarter of the working population suspect their job is pointless. Even more interesting is that there are four times more “socially pointless jobs” in the business world than in the public sphere. The largest number of these people with self-professed “bullshit jobs” are employed in sectors like finance and marketing.
In recent years, the Overton Window has undeniably shifted. What once was marginal is now mainstream. A French economist’s obscure graph became the slogan of Occupy Wall Street (“We are the 99%”); Occupy Wall Street paved the way for a revolutionary presidential candidate, and Bernie Sanders pulled other politicians like Biden in his direction.
These days, more young US Americans have a favourable view of socialism than of capitalism – something that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. (In the early 1980s, young voters were the neoliberal Reagan’s biggest support base.)
One thing is certain. There comes a point when pushing on the edges of the Overton Window is no longer enough. There comes a point when it’s time to march through the institutions and bring the ideas that were once so radical to the centres of power.
I think that time is now.