Friday, February 10, 2012

Feb. 10: How we "understand" the news....

Each day's news, going east from Moncton to Beijing, and west from Moncton to Beijing, is an unimaginably huge jigsaw puzzle with millions of pieces. And we need not only  the events of the day to understand to see the whole picture of that puzzle; we need the millions of pieces that make up the past, and the millions more that make up an understanding of  how humans behave. So how do we put the pieces together to see the picture that is the jigsaw puzzle?

We don't. In our own minds we look at the few pieces of the puzzle we get each day from the papers, from radio, from TV. Maybe each day we get five or ten pieces of the millions that make up the puzzle. Maybe, on the huge table we would need, we can get a couple of pieces that seem to fit together while other pieces lie in heaps. Then, with just those two or three pieces that seem to connect (or even without them) we use our prejudices and, often, our bigotry to invent the big picture we want to see.

Politicians, news people, opportunists know that; and they know how to use our prejudices and bigotry to create the big picture they want us to see. Harper gave an oustanding example of that less than a week ago with a public statement that the leaders of Iran are dangerous fanatics capable of dreadful acts of savagery. He sees Iran, he said, as the major threat to world peace if it should get even one nuclear bomb. Our news media and a great many of us accepted that as a perfectly reasonable statement.

China has nuclear bombs. It's leadership over the past half century has killed tens of millions of its own people. Russia, also nuclear-armed, has dreadful record of aggression and bloodshed over the same period.

The US killed millions of civilians in Vietnam and Cambodia and Iraq, and is now busy in Afghanistan. It has, so we are told, thousands of nuclear warheads.

And Iran, which might or might not be buiding a bomb, and which has not attacked anybody in over a century, is the major threat to world peace?

Well, they're not like us. They're religious fanatics.

And we in the West aren't?

The Nazi guards who herded Jews into death camps wore belt buckles with the words "God is with us" on them. Hitler declared himself a devout Christian. Most of the American pilots who dropped napalm and Agent Orange on Vietnamese civilians were Christians.

Follow the American Republican contenders. Read their speeches about how God wants the US to dominate the world as part of His great plan. God wants us to destroy Islam.

But we humans are like that. We see evil in people who are different from us, even when it isn't there. We don't see evil in people like us, even when it is there. Nor can we see beyond whatever ism it is we think we believe in.

We believe in capitalism or socialism or communism. Nonsense. There is no ism that works perfectly and forever. All isms are created by humans and, like everything else we create, all  work only some of the time. All of them have created benefits. All of them have created suffering. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all ism.

And, as with religion, we create a false picture of good and evil - with our ism good and others evil.

Far from having the jigsaw pieces to prove such a picture, we even invent pictures for which there are no pieces in the first place. In the US, Democrats and Republicans each picture the other side as evil when, in fact, the policies of Obama, including torture, protection of the rich, and overseas aggression have been exactly those of Bush.

And here in New Brunswick, a majority of voters actually think there are differences between Liberals and Conservatives. (If you think there are differences, show me the jigsaw pieces that make up that picture.)

To all of these prejudices and bigotries we all have (yes, me too), there is the problem of the very little news we do get and how biased it is.  Recently, the news has been full of stories and indignation about the bloodshed in Syria. The UN has to act! We must intervene! Now, think back just a dozen years ago.

How many pages of news in the Times and Tribune (or any other paper but the New York Times) did you see when Clinton admitted that the American government organized, supplied and led in the slaughter of a quarter million Mayans in Guatemala - men, women and children, whole villages in mass graves? The leading figure for much of the killing was George Bush Sr., when he was head of the CIA.

Did you read any denunciations of this by Canadian leaders? Any demands for UN intervention or a no-fly zone? And, quite seriously, do you (or I) really care?

When some 3000 innocent Americans were killed by the bombers of 9/11, we mourned with the US - and we supported its retaliatory invasion of Iraq (which had no connection with 9/11) which killed at least hundreds of thousands of innocent people; and we joined in the invasion of Afghanistan (which also had no connection with 9/11. Most of the terrorists were Saudis; and the planning was done in Europe).

For all our education and democracy in the West, for all our massive news coverage, we are easily manipulated - thanks to our own prejudices and biases. So how do we get past that?

Well, we probably never do get past it. But there are some things we can do to get closer to the truth.

1. We have to get rid of the idea that it is humanly possible to assemble all the jigsaw pieces. We have to be pretty humble about how much we really know.
2. We have to force ourselves to realize that people all over the earth behave as they do for the same reasons we behave as we do. We are not morally or religiously superior.We are not even really different.
3.We have to watch out for leaders who use our bigotry as a way to control us - as Harper did in his statement about Moslem fanatics.
4, We have to openly and seriously discuss these issues. New Brunswickers don't do that. I don't know whether they're scared or whether they just feel it's hopeless; but I have seen almost no public discussion of serious issues in this province.

That's odd because this is one province that has a lot of the puzzle pieces on the table. And it's not hard to get the picture that's on the cover of the box.  Most recently -

Moncton City Council, like all city councils, has a responsibility to plan for the future of the city It has a responsibility to make its citizens aware of the plan, and of the reasons for it. If a private company or the provincial government try to force changes in it, city council has a responsibility to represent the people who elected it. Yes, Fredericton has the power to put a school were it likes. But Moncton council has the responsibility to publicly fight, even against the provincial government, for the interests of the people of Moncton. (Of course, the lack of any coherent or public plan would make such a fight difficult.) Council did not do any part of its job.

Why is the provincial government so adamant about where the new high school must be built? Do you need three guesses?

The result is one that this province has seen through most of its history. There is no planning for the future. The is no planning for the people. All we see are decisions made favouring get-rich-quick schemes by promoters who want gifts from the tax-payers.

The big jigsaw puzzle is a toughie. But the New Brunswick one looks easier.

Oh, I know. We'll show them. We'll vote Liberal next time.

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