Change the World!

Perception Matters!

Pundit Noise

In the United States, we have just lived through a historic election. Some of you voted on the right, others on the left and others not at all. But one thing is certain, everyone is exhausted. We lived through a campaign that was historic in terms of outcome, in terms of unexpected results, there were allegations of foreign meddling, and there was endless news coverage, wall to wall coverage that basically lasted for two years. That’s right, the US presidential election seems to last forever. One is over and the next one begins.

Truth be told, this election was covered as no other before it. The coverage was heavy on bombast and light on substance. A candidate’s insults were more newsworthy than an opponent’s policy on healthcare, employment or the tax code. It was reality TV type coverage that was perfectly suited for a reality TV star.

This election cycle also saw the maturing of one of television’s most unpleasant components: punditry and talking points.

There have always been pundits, so-called experts who have something to say about everything, even those things they know nothing about. Television news seems to have developed an addiction to these pundits. They fill time and do so cost-effectively. Instead of putting reporters on the ground and funding their investigative reporting, they put a couple of talking heads in a studio. Cheaper, easier, less controversial.

And then there are talking points. These are the responses that robotic pundits give over and over again.

“What day is it? Blue. What do you mean blue? I asked you about the day and you answer a color? Yes, blue!”

This fictitious exchange may seem exaggerated, but it’s not. There were multiple pundits, I would like to believe the majority, on either side of the political aisle, who would be instructed to push their talking point, that day’s talking point. So no matter what the question, their job was to deliver an answer that was nothing more than a prepared snippet pushing the daily narrative.

“What day is it? Knowing what day it is matters, of course, but more importantly, understanding the value of using the right color for that day is equally as important: blue!” Ask for the day, get the color. That was television coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Rumor has it that some of the networks came out of the 2016 election cycle feeling used. They somehow got the message that they had unwillingly contributed to the rise of baseless claims. I’m not talking about fake news. That’s an entirely different animal. I’m talking about unsubstantiated claims, the kind that always begin with “Americans believe” or “Americans tell us.” How do you know what all Americans are thinking? It did not take a genius fact checker to expose the fact that pundits were continuously delivering skewed, if not outright false, statements, data and presumed evidence. To hear some of their responses, you would have thought that Hillary Clinton was a Salem Witch and Donald Trump was a Russian Spy. We’ll see, maybe one of those will turn out to be true. But you see, I shouldn’t be saying that. Until the evidence is delivered, I and all others who write and speak in the public domain should have respect for findings. Speak from evidence and if you hear falsehood, correct it with evidence.

My personal hope is that we will now revert to serious news gathering. The news media’s job is to be the Fourth Estate. We should not be putting as many talking heads forward unless said talking heads have evidence or rise to the level of expertise that justifies their presence. Hearing some wannabee supporter spew pre-established talking points is not expertise. Being the ex-Director of the CIA and being asked a question about national security is expertise.

Enough with the paid, politically partisan, under or misinformed pundits. All they deliver is background noise. Get back to the news.

Troubling Divides

I live in a country that is, broadly speaking, split in half. I, however, believe that as with a couple’s quarrel, by day two, neither side really knows why it’s angry or in disagreement. In the USA, for example, many of the disaffected white Republican voters are actually beneficiaries of the very social programs they wish away. Many of the billionaire Democrats ally themselves with a party and an ideology that would see their billions somewhat reduced.

Protest for the closure of Guantanamo in front of the White House

I don’t mind differences of opinion, they are what fuel creativity and progress. What I do fear is when these divides become so pronounced, so emotional and, to a large degree, irrational. This is what is happening both in the United States of America and around the world. We seem to live in a time of missed opportunity. Whereas technology gives us the opportunity to collaborate, our political ideologies are fueling discord and dissent at every street corner. South and North Korea are at odds. Taiwan and mainland China are enemies. Heck, in my own family there is disagreement over basic human rights.

Where does this leave us? It, and this should scare us all, leaves us on the brink of global face-offs. They may happen locally, nationally, regionally or, the worst scenario, worldwide, once again. My gut tells me that this is as close as we have been to some form of Armageddon since the Cuban missile crisis of my youth. Shia and Sunni are at each others’ throats. Palestinians and Israelis are still far from a resolution. Basques still want their independence and now, unimaginably, Great Britain is on its way out of the European Union.

Solutions?

I harp back to the thesis of my book The Critical Century. Though written a few years back, it seems eerily relavant in an era of ‘fake’ news. My belief has always been that propaganda works. Unfortunately, it has always been used by the darker forces of society. Instead, this is a time to use it to spread the word of truth, and by ‘truth’ I mean data, facts and other evidence-based findings, not ones own vision of said truth. The problem is that those among us that are most credible, academia, are most silent. Climate change is a possible exception. Indeed, scientists finally came out in the late 90s. They banded together and collectively sounded the alarm bells. But when it comes to economies, waste, governance, the consequences of guns and drugs, the cost of healthcare… where are the facts? The facts are buried deep beneath a crust of dogmatic, ideological falsehoods that serve dark masters. Our political systems have failed us. Rather than fight for truth, they fight for constituent interests no matter how counter these interests are to the common good.

You see, in my travels, I have seen the ‘other’ side. I have seen how the disaffected rebel against reason and I know why they do. They do so out of justified despair fueled by the lack of valid information. They are preyed upon by those seeking to exploit their vulnerability. Case in point, ISIS (aka ISIL) who throughout the past several years have radicalized many who would otherwise have never contemplated a path of hate. ISIS clearly took advantage of an information void compounded by genuine disaffection. Can we blame them? Should we blame them? It is easy to do so. Our politicians have evidently made it their mantra. Deep down, however, we know the truth. The truth is that they are the victims just as a baby’s teeth is the victim of easy sugar. That sugar satisfies. It fills a void. It creates a mild high at a time of regular lows. If we – the greater collective – is to win this battle, it cannot be won through exclusion and fear. It can only be won by making us whole again. WE the human race needs to realize that we are one. Our enemies should be hurricanes, lightning, cholera, AIDS, sinkholes, asteroids, extreme temperatures and all the other things that mother nature and serendipity throw at us. Amongst ourselves, we should be united in our common cause to preserve, not destroy, our common habitat. Our social compact should be about building, not separating or conquering.

I want to live in a world where my neighbor is not afraid of me. I want to imagine that some day the human race will no longer need locked doors and penitentiaries but instead will help those with mental illness, birth defects or violated rights. I know it’s a dream. I am sufficiently lucid to know better. But admit it, at least to yourself, wouldn’t it be better to be whole and united than divided and presumably right?

Saving The World

What a big word: ‘World’. For us tiny humans, it seems so daunting, endless and eternal. We now know it is not. But truth be told, none of us seems to be able to divorce ourselves from wanting more. It is animal. Our ancestors did not have enough so they were programmed to always seek. Now that we have more than we need, we cannot seem to deprogram ourselves. I know what I’m talking about, I’m one of those humans. I have more than I need, I know I do. I have more ‘stuff’ than my neighbor, so to speak. I have a great place to live, an awesome family, and yet I want more. I don’t necessarily want excess, I definitely do not want to be a gazillionaire, but there’s always that little extra we all want. It might be something as simple as paying one’s bills at the end of each month. Regardless, it’s more.

The problem is that countries and companies, being extensions of our human vision, act the same way. The richest countries, the biggest corporations want more. Not only that, they are pushed to want more. Apple is already huge, they are successful beyond belief, and yet a micro dip in sales or earnings and the stock market goes into a frenzy.

So how do we change this? The pessimist in me says that we cannot. The optimist in me is alarming in that I think I know what will happen (shameless plug for my book The Critical Century). What will happen is a catastrophe that will bring us all together. It might be a pandemic, it might be through climate change or it might be some demented lunatic pressing a red button. Regardless, it seems that 9/11, WWII, or Spanish Flu type moments are the ones that bring us together.

In the meantime, as we all struggle to be better people, let me leave you with one thought: imagine if at every McDonald’s in the world, just one person would throw away one less napkin. That would be over 20,000 napkins less, per day, manufactured just to be thrown away. If you go through 5 napkins a day at home per person, that’s enough napkins to last you 14 years! We’re definitely not great at saving the planet; sorry, the World!

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