“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
Nothing shocks us anymore. The line between social truth and social fiction has been erased (from the Warren Commission to Watergate we have been asked to disbelieve our eyes and ears), and we are in [a] curious no-man’s-land. . . . The eternal flame atop Kennedy’s tomb sputters like an old Zippo lighter. Assassinations, race riots, peasant huts burned to the ground — the litany is familiar, terrible, and boring. We are beyond shock, and thus in peril, because our acceptance of whatever comes next is . . . painful and resigned. We cannot forget what we are: a noble experiment gone awry. . . . We called it the New World, and believed it. What can we believe now?
“An American Dream,” Sy Safransky, March 1978
There are large numbers of people who believe arguments that a high-school student with one course in logic could disprove. It’s fine to believe something on faith in religion, but it’s bad in a democracy. The Founders, as flawed as they were, figured out that in the public arena you must have facts in order to engage in some kind of dialogue. Thomas Jefferson said we needed an “informed citizenry.” It’s the basis of our democracy, but we don’t have it today. We’ve probably never had it in an ideal sense, but in the last ten or twenty years it’s gotten worse. We live in a propaganda society. It’s not possible to have a reasoned debate on immigration with someone who believes that Obama is a native of Kenya or is part of some secret cabal led by the Jews, or the Muslims, or the Rockefeller family, or whomever. The Tea Partiers honestly believe they are not merely arguing with fellow citizens but defending America from alien people and ideas.
The situation is getting worse as journalism loses the money or the incentive to fact-check and send reporters out into the field to gather information. Investigative journalism has been eroded by a focus on the bottom line. After the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s there was a burst of funding for investigative reporting, but at the same time the print-media industry was collapsing — and the pace of its collapse has only quickened. It’s now easy to build a viable movement on false information, propaganda, and malicious demagoguery, which is how you create totalitarianism. This is what George Orwell wrote about in his novel 1984. Any totalitarian movement, on the Left or Right, must create a controlled, biased information system that convinces people to act in certain ways, either because they perceive it to be in their best interest or because they believe they will be punished if they do otherwise.
“Brewing Up Trouble,” Chip Berlet, interviewed by David Barsamian, November 2010
The Internet, paradoxically, empowers both the individual and the state. On the one hand, it allows people who had no way to express themselves before, whether for political or economic reasons, an outlet to do so. The Net also makes it much easier to find out what people in other countries are thinking. On the other hand, it gives governments a better view into their citizens’ activities. There’s a danger that some people might mistake the apparent anonymity of the Net for true anonymity. It’s pretty easy for a government to get into the records of Internet providers and track who’s saying what. An anonymous person in China sent an e-mail containing what the Chinese government considered sensitive information, and the government demanded that Yahoo! disclose the identity of that person. Yahoo! agreed, and the man was put in jail. This is another indication that governmental control does not go away when people begin using the Internet. In fact, the Web gives governments a new tool for monitoring speech.
In most places the Net is still, on balance, more of a liberating force than a controlling one, but there’s no guarantee that this will continue. A utopian view of the Net needs to be tempered by the realization that it provides a remarkable infrastructure for totalitarianism. We can only hope it never gets used that way.
“Computing the Cost,” Nicholas Carr, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, March 2009
The Internet . . . is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. In between, my smartphone ensures that I am never very far from my next Google-Facebook-YouTube-Craigslist-Amazon fix. I have been in rooms full of people, each glued to a handheld device and completely oblivious to the others.
What began for me as a thing of wonder is now merely my drug of choice. I miss my friends — the very ones whose hourly Facebook posts keep me up-to-date on their every move. I miss sitting on the front porch of my row house on a warm summer evening and talking to the neighbors who walk by. My nervous system spent the past two hundred thousand years evolving in an environment of human interaction, and now that’s disappeared almost overnight.
“The Internet” (Readers Write), Rick Silberman, August 2012
You were asking how despair turns to action. Filmmaker-activist Michael Moore has a great quote about this: “If you want to know where the Michigan Militia came from, they’re the unemployed arm of the United Auto Workers.” And that’s true. If you begin to listen to militia members, you’ll find that what moves them to action is depression from losing their farm, their house, their job, their wife and children. The problems are never just economic. The question is: How do you respond to not just the loss of your home and family, but the loss of your whole way of life, and of control over your life?
The answer depends a lot on your culture. If you’re a farmer, the next step may be to put a gun to your head. Ranchers are a slightly different breed. They’re more likely to turn their violent feelings outward. . . . Once long-term, chronic depression has set in, only three things can happen: One, you can get help through counseling or the like. But because most people caught in an economic crisis don’t have insurance, and because the government has been slashing budgets for rural counseling at the same time that it’s been driving farmers off the land, that option doesn’t exist for the vast majority. The next option is that you turn the anger inward, which means maybe you kill yourself or drive your family away (recognizing that violence against one’s family is in some way internally directed). Or maybe you drink yourself to death, or do drugs, or otherwise escape. The last option is that you turn your anger outward, into some form of action. That can mean driving through the front window of a bank and shooting the guy who wouldn’t give you a loan extension. But for most it has meant turning to militant action. Quite often I’ve found rural people’s racism and hatred for the government to be symptoms of economic stress rather than a simple ideological difference.
“Armed and Dangerous,” Joel Dyer, interviewed by Derrick Jensen, December 1999
Social media . . . has helped carry the messages of ordinary people around the world in a matter of minutes, shedding light on both problems and solutions. But, like any tool, it can also become a part of the problem if we are not careful. Social media cannot replace face-to-face meetings and working together. The communities that are the healthiest, safest, and happiest are ones where people are out interacting with each other in person. So, yes, social media can be great for sharing important messages and mobilizing people, but then we need to go out into our communities and engage, or we just become even more disconnected.
“The Butterfly Effect,” Julia Butterfly Hill, interviewed by Leslee Goodman, April 2012
The creators of the original Internet . . . were all starry-eyed idealists with a very American sensibility, and they conceived of the Internet as something with no central authority. Had their original code been even slightly different, the World Wide Web as we know it — a place where vast numbers of people have equal ability to consume or create — might never have happened.
The Internet is an example of good ideas being embedded in technology. But we’re not always so lucky. Sometimes the people who design software are too optimistic about human nature. For example, e-mail was invented by people who didn’t have sufficient paranoia about the dark side of human nature. Thus we have spam, fake addresses of origin, and so on. . . .
I don’t want to promote the idea that technology’s the problem and we have to retreat from it or use only the bare minimum amount of technology. The alternative to technology is the cruelty of the past. Anyone who’s willing to read history honestly will have to conclude that this project of civilization and technology has resulted in less cruelty. It has enabled new types of cruelty as well, but, on balance, there is less. Look at the technology of printing books: good books are some of the best things that have ever happened, and bad ones are some of the worst, but, on balance, books have certainly been good for humanity.
This doesn’t mean we should put all our support behind technology. That’s the wrong attitude too. What I’m saying is that technology is of such vital importance that scientists have a profound moral duty to get it right and not simply trust that some algorithm will make it all OK.
“Voodoo Electronics,” Jaron Lanier, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, May 2005
Those of us working for social change tend to view our adversaries as unreliable, suspect, and generally of lower moral character. Saul Alinsky, a brilliant community organizer, explained the rationale for such polarization this way:
One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils are on the other. A leader may struggle toward a decision and weigh the merits and demerits of a situation which is 52 percent positive and 48 percent negative, but once the decision is reached he must assume that his cause is 100 percent positive and the opposition 100 percent negative.
But demonizing one’s adversaries has great costs. It tacitly accepts and helps perpetuate our dangerous enemy mentality.
Instead of focusing on the 52 percent “devil” in my adversary, I choose to look at the other 48 percent, to start from the premise that, within each adversary, I have an ally.
“Us and Them,” Fran Peavey, November 1994