(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2011)
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” Malcolm X
One of my guilty pleasures is watching sports highlights on my computer, many of which are prefaced by thirty-second ads for shoes, cars, beer, and the Army. I have become adept at turning off the volume and relaxing for those thirty seconds before each highlight, but occasionally a new ad grabs me and I’ll watch and marvel at the senseless inventiveness of capitalism. The last Army recruitment ad I watched began with a video-game-animation of Caucasian American soldiers morphing into actual Caucasian American soldiers interdicting and arresting impoverished American black men, brutally and at gunpoint.
I haven’t the slightest doubt that twenty years ago such an ad would have caused a huge public outcry for its racist violence and for the implication that American armed forces are servants of a racist police state. But this ad, I have since been informed, has been running for several weeks through several mainstream media outlets, and no outcries are being reported (which, of course, doesn’t mean outcrying isn’t going on.)
“I think I’m an actor because I have a very strong imagination and empathy. I never studied acting, but those two qualities are exactly the qualities that make for an activist.” Susan Sarandon
As I was pondering this latest indication of the thorough conquest of our media by the corporate state, my brother sent me a link to an article about a large new study by the American Red Cross that reveals nearly sixty percent of American teenagers (both male and female) think brutal torture of suspected enemies is acceptable. And more than fifty percent of teenagers also approve of killing captured enemies on the spot in situations where the enemy is thought to have killed Americans. If that doesn’t creep you out, consider that forty-one percent of American teens thought it was fine for our enemies to torture Americans.
The study further reveals that a large majority of older Americans are opposed to torture under any circumstances. So what’s going on? We might simply blame television, but the parents of today’s teenagers watched as much television as their children, and they, the parents, do not largely approve of torture. So perhaps it is the nature of television and mass media today in contrast to how it was twenty years ago. Or we might blame the new generation of extremely realistic video games, most of which require the player to slaughter as many enemies as he or she can slaughter before they, the enemies, slaughter the player.
However, I think it is naïve to say that too much television and too many violent video games are the causes of our teenagers lacking empathy for others. For though television and video games certainly may influence our thinking and behavior, to a much larger degree television and video games reflect the larger social and political scenarios into which today’s teenagers were born. I think it is crucial to remember that virtually all of our individual prejudices and emotional inclinations are thoroughly hardwired by the end of the first four years of our lives, long before most kids make their first video kills.
What I and many others theorize is that the social fabrics woven of direct human connections and human interdependencies that have defined and supported people for millennia have been largely replaced by a technological fabric purporting to connect us, but that in reality keeps us terribly isolated and starving for emotional fulfillment. I view the cell phone/computer as close kin to the tracking devices affixed to convicted felons serving their sentences at home. Indeed, a growing number of people I know have become so neurotically attached to their mobile phones that their lives seem to be little more than extensions of that attachment.
“Touch has a memory.” John Keats
When I was a young man, an older man I knew and admired was convicted of statutory rape and sent to prison. I was so devastated by this wholly unexpected (by me) turn of events that I sought solace in reading everything I could get my hands on about rapists and criminals and prisons. And in almost every book and study I read, there were two points made again and again that struck me as most telling: that the vast majority of those who are sent to prison were deprived of loving touch as children, and rapists in particular were, for the most part, extremely unimaginative and had great difficulty satisfying themselves sexually through fantasy and autoeroticism.
Well, you probably see where I’m going with this. If instead of love and lots of physical and emotional interaction with us and other people, we give our children gadgets and videos that take the place of and inhibit the development of their imaginations, and we isolate them so they grow up socially and verbally inept, and we ourselves are hooked into our computers and phones, thus modeling for them what it is to be a human being, the scene is set for a collective criminality, if you will, criminality defined as a lack of empathy and compassion for others—a wholly self-serving mode of survival.
“How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.” Buckminster Fuller
This may seem like an unlikely segway, but have you noticed that the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan has suddenly vanished from the news? The same folks running recruitment ads using violent racism as bait for desperate teenagers without imaginations have decided that in-depth news about the multiple nuclear meltdowns might interfere with corporate profits both in the short and long term so…
But in Germany, as a result of the Fukushima disaster and ensuing public and electoral protests, the German government has announced they are going to phase out all their nuclear power plants as soon as possible and aim those billions of Euros instead at energy efficiency and the development of alternative energy sources. And I guarantee you that when their shift away from nuclear power proves to be wildly successful and surprisingly profitable, we won’t hear a word about that success on NPR or ABC, just as we don’t hear any words about the marvelous success of Single Payer healthcare in Canada and England and Europe.
Who are these people controlling what we get to hear and see? Weren’t they, too, sweet innocent babies in the beginning? How come they grew up so angry and disconnected and cruel?
“Either war is obsolete, or men are.” Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller suggests that there are two massive forces competing for supremacy on earth at this time in our human and planetary evolution. He called them the forces of Weaponry and Livingry. Bucky coined the word livingry, a word my computer’s dictionary does not recognize as legitimate, but what does it know? Only what it was told to know.
These forces of Weaponry and Livingry are fueled by the actions of people, and as events in Germany demonstrate, people can change a nation’s course in almost no time at all if they are permitted to express their collective will. This is the vision I am holding right now; that despite the sudden news blackout in America about what’s really going on in Japan regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plants and the irradiation of an entire nation (and to a lesser extent the entire world), the forces of Livingry have been given a great gift, and the forces of Weaponry are now more vulnerable than ever.
And the other vision I’m holding is that out of the ongoing economic devastation visited upon this country by the criminal overlords (criminal as in unloved sad lonely emotionally starved insatiably greedy) will come a revival of the ancient and natural way of living that requires no microwave cell towers, no nuclear power plants, and absolutely no torture. Bucky called this Livingry, but I’m confident we can come up with even more beautiful words for what he meant, along with dances and songs and ceremonies and celebrations.
Todd’s web site is Underthetablebooks.com