When I edited a news site, I made it as two-way, as interactive, as technologically possible. Only back and forth, give and take, is true communication. A one-way street—all pronouncements in alarmed tone of voice without any listening—that’s no more than a bombardment, not communication at all.
Humans have to be heard, have to be taken seriously, if they are to maintain mental health, and function as capable and responsible human beings. This current media bombardment—as true of all past and future media bombardments—dehumanizes us. It makes us feel less capable and more vulnerable than we actually are.
Knowing this, and tired of the “news” (not so much “news” as new wrinkles on old, even ancient, patterns), I quit giving the media serious credence long ago. Despite that choice, it’s been impossible to ignore them during this pandemic, thanks to good friends who follow the media’s latest pronouncements. (I hope they suffer no lasting damage.)
Experts in the mainstream and of the eddies argue how to avoid catching Covid-19, avoid spreading it, recover from it, not overburden hospitals and their personnel, spew their stats as gospel, etc. But we’ve not heard every five minutes all day long, 24/7, what’s near and dear to the soul of every sports fan—context. Why is our POV ignored? Having been stopped recently by the police for doing something that would never draw their attention in normal times—being in public—I offer a news editor’s perspective.
Me and my fellow sports fans breathe statistics. We check the standings every day to see how our favorite compares to the others. Yet when we hear the media, we hear no context, no league standings, no way to know if this current pandemic is in first place, last place, or in the middle of the pack. Why? With experts and newscasters firing off a barrage of statistics, why no ranking? It mystifies us statistics-obsessed sports fans.
How do you put a positive spin on it? Either the experts and journalists don’t know and never thought of finding out, which speaks poorly of their intellect. Or they know and keep mum because they can’t be bothered to satisfy the curiosity of sports fans and others, which speaks poorly of their manners. Or, there is only one view to present, that which the few owners of the media and the few sources of research funds approve of. Such influence is common enough in practice.
There being only one acceptable view puts pressure on all of us. During the first decades of this millennium, everybody had to agree about Weapons of Mass Destruction, about low-collateral borrowers tanking the financial system of the Western World, and now this. Each crisis led to enriching insiders with multi-trillions. Following the money does not necessarily lead to a conspiracy by those now cashing in. It may simply be a matter of never waste a good crisis.
Whatever the “womb” of this latest virus, no matter where or how it broke out, it’s here. The only responses we hear about are top down. No socializing. No alternative to granting banks—not even medical research labs—trillions of dollars. Nothing to do but wait for Big Pharma to develop a vaccine. This reinforces our role as helpless taxpayer. It’s too risky to rely on diet to strengthen one’s immune system, or on affection, despite both proven to be effective. Why the bias? Top-down follows from the best science? Or because official responses enrich the already uber rich? Or is it the cultural bias of any White, Western, Northern, middle-class, low-touch society?
Wondering these why’s annoys some. Yet asking questions is doing science. So is positing different hypotheses. Having disagreements and arguing them out forces each side to make a better case. That’s not taking place; instead, name-calling. That response makes “experts” seem less scientist, more gatekeeper, like those doctors who said smoking was good for you.
Do you remember the research that looked into the origin of urban myths? Turned out they sprang forth from academic journals. It seems half the articles were completely off base or needed some degree of correction. Even though correction did follow, nobody paid it any attention; all they remembered was the original and incorrect thesis. (Of course if half are wrong, in which half did that study fall?)
Experts are not infallible but fallible and hate hearing that. Some are loving this crisis, the way some generals love war, some cops love crime, some medical personnel love pandemics. Being human, they love strutting out all the initials after their names, being in the limelight, hearing themselves called experts, called heroes. Who wouldn’t?
Most people want experts, want a black and white reality, can not conceive of any behavior other than conformist and obey without question. My brain just does not work that way. I actually prefer hearing all POVs. The only upside of that for me is not money nor fame but rather discovering reality in all its wonderful complexity. And for any readers here, it’s an opportunity to be heard and function as a self-realized adult.
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JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to Progress.org. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at Progress.org.