“At the American Library Association’s annual conference, the nation’s librarians learned how to circumvent community objections to events like Drag Queen Story Hour and other taxpayer-purchased materials.”
The world’s largest library association’s annual conference this year featured more than 100 workshops with an “equity, diversity, and inclusion” theme, according to the American Library Association’s conference catalog. That included workshops with these titles (some shortened): “Creating Queer-Inclusive Elementary School Library Programming,” “Developing an Online Face for a Lesbian Pulp Fiction Collection,” and “Telling Stories, Expanding Boundaries: Drag Queen Storytimes in Libraries…”
Every day, journalists face serious consequences including physical violence, imprisonment and death. A few days ago, the Committee to Protect Journalists launched its annual Free The Press campaign to raise awareness about imprisoned journalists throughout the world. On May 3, UNESCO will once again mark World Press Freedom Day “to inform citizens of violations of press freedom — a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”
Meanwhile, the United States government, traditionally one of the bastions of press freedom, is about to compile a list of professional journalists and “top media influencers”, which would seem to include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor what they’re putting out to the public.
What could possibly go wrong? A lot.
DHS’ “Media Monitoring” Plan
As part of its “media monitoring”, the DHS seeks to track more than 290,000 global news sources as well as social media in over 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, for instant translation into English. The successful contracting company will have “24/7 access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.” in order to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.”
“Any and all media coverage”, as you might imagine, is quite broad and includes “online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”
The database will be browseable by “location, beat and type of influencer”, and for each influencer, the chosen contractor should “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”
One aspect of the media coverage to be gathered is its “sentiment.”
Why “Media Monitoring” and Why Now?
DHS says the “NPPD/OUS [National Protection and Programs Directorate/Office of the Under Secretary] has a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners.” Who knows what that means, but the document also states the NPPD’s mission is “to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyberinfrastructure.”
That line makes it sound as if the creation of this database could be a direct response to the rampant allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — though President Donald Trump, who has normalized the term “fake news”, can’t seem to decide whether that’s even an issue or not.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks it is. Earlier this week, he announced the social networking site would remove “more than 270 pages and accounts operated by a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency” in an effort “to protect the integrity of elections around the world”.
Within the context of increasing concerns over “fake news” and foreign interference in elections, an action such as the DHS’ database might seem, at first glance, to be a sensible approach.
Unfortunately, increasing government encroachment on the freedom of the press is the sinister backdrop to all of this. Freedom House, which has monitored the status of the press for nearly 40 years, recently concluded that global media freedom has reached its lowest level in the past 13 years. The independent watchdog organization blames “new threats to journalists and media outlets in major democracies” as well as “further crackdowns on independent media in authoritarian countries like Russia and China.” And then it goes one step further.
“But it is the far-reaching attacks on the news media and their place in a democratic society by Donald Trump, first as a candidate and now as president of the United States, that fuel predictions of further setbacks in the years to come”, the report said.
Could the DHS media database be such a setback?
Possibly, and it’s not even the first time potential regulation of journalists has drifted across the American political scene.
Last October, an Indiana lawmaker proposed that journalists be licensed. Representative Jim Lucas’ bill was mostly a publicity stunt, but could this DHS action be a way for the government to keep track of American and foreign journalists as well as “citizen journalists”, threatening not only the freedom of the press but also individual freedom of speech?
The real question, of course, is what the government plans to do with the information it compiles, and there’s been no comment on that beyond what is in the posting, which, by the way, has interest from at least seven companies. Will those on the DHS media database be questioned more harshly coming in and out of the country? Will they have trouble getting visas to go to certain countries for their own reporting or personal vacations? Worse?
Speaking of visas — and showing that social media activity is squarely on the radar of this Administration — earlier this week, the State Department placed two notices in the Federal Register seeking comments on its proposal to require that all visa applicants to the U.S. turn over their social media information for the previous five years.
Regarding the DHS media database, we are entering potentially dangerous territory with the government keeping track of the “sentiment” of citizens and foreign nationals. If not legal challenges from organizations that defend press freedom and freedom of speech interests, the government should expect, at the very least, backlash from the public.
And that means you. If you think the idea of the U.S. government’s compiling and monitoring a list of media professionals and “top media influencers” is a potential threat to democracy, now would be the perfect time to call your local and congressional representatives to let them know how much you value a free press and the freedom of speech, just in case they’ve forgotten.
Facebook’s much-publicized demotion of publishers’ content in users’ news feeds has negatively impacted conservative-leaning publishers significantly more than liberal-leaning outlets, an analysis by The Western Journal has revealed.
Liberal publishers have gained about 2 percent more web traffic from Facebook than they were getting prior to the algorithm changes implemented in early February.
On the other hand, conservative publishers have lost an average of nearly 14 percent of their traffic from Facebook.
This algorithm change, intentional or not, has in effect censored conservative viewpoints on the largest social media platform in the world. This change has ramifications that, in the short-term, are causing conservative publishers to downsize or fold up completely, and in the long-term could swing elections in the United States and around the world toward liberal politicians and policies.
Example: New York Post vs. New York Daily News
Case in point: Two rival publishers in New York City, the New York Post and the New York Daily News, are similar in many ways, except for their editorial slants. The Post is well-known as a right-leaning outlet, whereas the Daily News has an established left-leaning slant. For example, the Daily News recently ran a headline after the Parkland shooting that read, “Brave Florida survivors plan day of action for gun sanity and to call out ‘blood on hands’ of NRA puppets.”
Headlines like that garnered the Daily News a 24.18 percent increase in traffic from Facebook, while the right-leaning Post’s traffic dropped 11.44 percent in the same time period.
These results are similar to the “surprisingly profound and partisan” findings of analysis conducted by The Outline. However, whereas The Outline analyzed user engagement on Facebook itself, The Western Journal looked at actual traffic driven to news websites by Facebook, which directly impacts revenue for these sites.
Why did Facebook make this change?
Campbell Brown, a former anchor on NBC and CNN who now leads Facebook’s news partnerships team, told attendees at a recent technology and publishing conference that Facebook would be censoring news publishers based on its own internal biases:
“This is not us stepping back from news. This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news. … We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step to try to to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.” (Emphasis added.)
Based on The Western Journal’s analysis — and an overwhelming amount of insider reports from new media publishers — it is clear that Facebook’s definition of “quality news” is news with a liberal slant.
To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal selected 50 publishers known to receive a significant amount of online traffic from Facebook. These publishers include traditional print or television outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News, as well as new media outlets like Salon, Vox and The Daily Caller. (The full list of publishers appears in the chart below.)
The Western Journal then assigned each publisher a number between 0 and 100 based on Media Bias / Fact Check News, a third party website that analyzes publishers for political bias and places them on a continuum between “extreme left” and “extreme right.”
Next, The Western Journal checked the monthly Facebook traffic for each of these sources using data from global digital market intelligence company SimilarWeb and compared January traffic to traffic from Feb. 4 through Mar. 3, adjusted for the slightly shorter time period. According to available internal data, Facebook began rolling out this major algorithm change on Feb. 6.
The results: Conservative publishers negatively impacted
The 25 on the liberal side of the scale averaged a 1.86 percent boost in traffic from Facebook, whereas the 25 news organizations on the conservative side averaged a 13.71 percent decrease in traffic.
Based on this analysis, it is clear that liberal news sites are being promoted in Facebook users’ news feeds more often than conservative sites.
After removing the 15 publishers with the least traffic from Facebook, the trend becomes even more clear.
Of the remaining 35 news sources, the 12 most liberal sites averaged a boost of 0.21 percent — in other words, they don’t appear to have been affected in any meaningful way.
The 11 sites in the middle — which ranged from “left-center” to “least biased” on the MBFC News scale — saw a significant increase in Facebook traffic of 12.81 percent.
The 12 most conservatives sites lost an average of 27.06 percent of their traffic from Facebook.
Of the 12 most liberal sites, six saw double-digit decreases in traffic, while four saw double-digit increases and two — The Washington Post and HuffPo — saw single-digit increases. CNN’s traffic increased 43.78 percent.
Of the 11 sites in the middle of the scale, nine saw traffic increase. Only two — CBS News and The Atlantic — saw a traffic decrease.
Among those 11, only two — USA Today and The Economist — can truly be considered centrist according to the MSFC News scale. Their traffic increased by 23.16 percent and 1.12 percent, respectively.
Of the 12 most conservative sites, only two benefited from increased Facebook traffic — the Daily Mail with 3.51 percent and Fox News with 31.67 percent.
The other 10 saw decreases ranging from 3.13 percent at Breitbart to a whopping 76.49 percent at Independent Journal Review. On Feb. 15, IJR announced significant layoffs to an “already skeletal staff,” The Daily Caller reported. Rare, a conservative leaning news media publication owned by Cox Media Group, experienced a 68.7 percent drop in traffic after the algorithm change. Rare will shut down entirely at the end of the month, Axios reported.
The average impact per news site with the most desktop sessions from Facebook also varied significantly depending on the political leaning of the site.
Fox News was the only conservative site that saw significant growth in this calculation. If Fox were removed from the group of 12 conservative sites shown above, the average drop would grow to 32.4 percent among the remaining 11.
It is, of course, possible that the benefit to liberals sites and the harm to conservatives is unintentional, a side effect of Facebook’s well-known “move fast, break things” attitude. Given Facebook’s history of manually suppressing conservative news, and given recent Facebook comments acknowledging that Facebook will have a point of view, it would not be surprising if this move was an intentional break with the formerly stated goal to be a neutral platform.
“How this manifests in the coming months is not totally clear to us right now,” Campbell admitted at the Recode event. “These are conversations we’ve just started having with a lot of publishers. But in terms of us taking a big step in that direction, I think, yes, I think this is, I think this is us having a very clear point of view.”
Facebook has not responded to a request for comment submitted by The Western Journal last week.
Evidence suggests that no one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference.
By Leah Libresco, a statistician and former newswriter at FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site. She is the author of “Arriving at Amen.”
Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.
Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence. The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns.
After a shooting in Las Vegas left at least 59 people dead and injured hundreds, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Oct. 2 said Congress’s failure to pass gun-control legislation amounts to an “unintentional endorsement” of mass shootings. (U.S. Senate)
I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.
The story must be told.
When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.
As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.
As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them. I couldn’t even answer my most desperate question: If I had a friend who had guns in his home and a history of suicide attempts, was there anything I could do that would help?
However, the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.
By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.
Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.
Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help. Women endangered by specific men need to be prioritized by police, who can enforce restraining orders prohibiting these men from buying and owning guns. Younger men at risk of violence need to be identified before they take a life or lose theirs and to be connected to mentors who can help them de-escalate conflicts.
Even the most data-driven practices, such as New Orleans’ plan to identify gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures, wind up more personal than most policies floated. The young men at risk can be identified by an algorithm, but they have to be disarmed one by one, personally — not en masse as though they were all interchangeable. A reduction in gun deaths is most likely to come from finding smaller chances for victories and expanding those solutions as much as possible. We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves.
It can distract us from rational thought and meaningful compassion.
Jimmy Kimmel (Reuters photo: Kevork Djansezian)
Just over 14 years ago, my daughter almost died minutes before entering the world. My wife had to have an emergency C-section. The whole thing was harrowing. Someday I’ll tell the whole story. But because of that experience, and simply because I am a father, I could empathize with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s story about his son’s birth. His story is almost surely more harrowing than my story, but that doesn’t matter. Empathy is the [imagined] ability to feel what someone else is feeling.
Empathy is different than sympathy or compassion. Sympathy is when you feel [bad] for someone. Compassion is when you do something about it.
But empathy is something else. Researchers studying the brain can actually see how the various centers controlling certain feelings light up when we observe [and/]or imagine the experiences of others. “If you feel bad for someone who is bored, that’s sympathy,” writes Yale psychologist Paul Bloom in his brave and brilliant new book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, “but if you feel bored, that’s empathy.”
Bloom, a liberal transplant from Canada, distrusts empathy because empathy is like a drug. It distorts our perspective, causing us to get all worked up about an individual or group. He compares it to a spotlight that illuminates a specific person or group, plunging everything and everyone else into darkness.
“When some people think about empathy, they think about kindness. I think about war,” Bloom writes. He’s got a point. Look at the Middle East today. Sunni nations empathize with the plight of suffering Sunnis, and that empathy causes them to further hate and demonize Shiites. Many people around the world empathize with the Palestinians, blinding them to the legitimate concerns of Israelis. And vice versa.
Adolf Hitler was a master of empathy — for ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland, Austria, and elsewhere. The cause of nationalist empathy for the German tribe triggered profound moral blindness for the plight, and even the humanity, of Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs.
Again, Bloom is a squishy liberal by his own account, but he’s also a leading scholar of how the mind actually works, not how we wish it would work.
Human beings are naturally inclined to sympathize and empathize with people like them. There has never been a society where people didn’t give priority to helping family and friends over strangers. This tends to blind us “to the suffering of those we do not or cannot empathize with,” writes Bloom. “Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism.”
Look at the intractable debate over the phrase “black lives matter.” The slogan itself is a kind of spotlight, argue supporters, highlighting the legitimate complaints of African Americans. But it also blinds them to why others respond to the term by saying “all lives matter.”
I don’t go as far as Bloom in detesting empathy. It seems to me not only natural but also defensible to give priority to figuratively kindred people. England is a lot more like America than, say, Singapore. That similarity has forged a long and important bond, both formally (e.g., treaties and shared institutions) and informally in terms of an emotional and cultural bond. If England were attacked, our empathy for its plight would inform our response in ways that I think are important and useful.
But where I agree with Bloom is that empathy alone is dangerous and can distract us from rational thought and meaningful compassion.
Which brings me back to Jimmy Kimmel. His story about his son aroused a riot of empathy across the nation. And he used that response to make an argument about health-care policy that was largely devoid of any consideration of the facts, trade-offs, or costs of what is the best way to deal with people, including babies, who have pre-existing medical conditions. He was largely wrong on the facts: Babies with dire medical conditions are covered by their parents’ insurance, and when their parents are uninsured, doctors don’t just let the baby die on the table. That doesn’t mean there aren’t inequities in the system or that the current health-care regime is anywhere close to perfect.
But it is very difficult to have a rational discussion about the trade-offs inherent to any health-care system — including socialized medicine — when all anyone can think about is the ordeal of a newborn baby and his loving parents.
“FOR ALMOST FOUR years, a cottage industry of media conspiracists has devoted itself to accusing Edward Snowden of being a spy for either Russia and/or China at the time he took and then leaked documents from the National Security Agency. There has never been any evidence presented to substantiate this accusation…
…Newly obtained documents conclusively prove that the central tale invented by these Snowden-accusing commentators is a wholesale fabrication. These documents negate the edifice on which this entire fiction has been based from the start…”
Glenn Greenwald: “This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies…
…The most ironic—and overlooked—aspect of this whole volatile spectacle is how much Democrats have to repudiate and demonize one of Obama’s core foreign policy legacies while pretending that they’re not doing that.”
During a lively discussion centered on fears that President Trump is “trying to undermine the media”, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski let slip the awesome unspoken truth that the media’s “job” is to “actually control exactly what people think”.
SCARBOROUGH: ‘Exactly. That is exactly what I hear. What Yamiche said is what I hear from all the Trump supporters that I talk to who were Trump voters and are still Trump supporters. They go, “Yeah you guys are going crazy. He’s doing—what are you so surprised about? He is doing exactly what he said he is going to do”.’
BRZEZINSKI: ‘Well, I think that the dangerous, you know, edges here are that he is trying to undermine the media and trying to make up his own facts. And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that, that is our job.’
As grabien points out, the comment failed to raise any eyebrows from her co-panelists. Instead, her co-host, Joe Scarborough, said that Trump’s media antagonism puts him on par with Mussolini and Lenin…
A woman who was born in Nazi Germany says that what reminds her of Hitler more than anything else isn’t Donald Trump, but the rioting leftists who are attempting to shut down free speech on college campuses.
A woman who was born in Nazi Germany says that what reminds her of Hitler more than anything else isn’t Donald Trump, but the rioting leftists who are attempting to shut down free speech on college campuses.
Inga Andrews lived in Dusseldorf, Germany during the Second World War and spent time hiding in air raid shelters and helping to clean up rubble from destroyed buildings.
If anyone is in a position to have an opinion on the left’s hysterical comparison of Donald Trump and Hitler, it’s Inga. Here’s what she told the Independent Review Journal;
“What is going on in this country is giving me chills. Trump is not like Hitler. Just because a leader wants order doesn’t mean they’re like a dictator.
What reminds me more of Hitler than anything else isn’t Trump, it’s the destruction of freedom of speech on the college campuses — the agendas fueled by the professors.
That’s how Hitler started, he pulled in the youth to miseducate them, to brainwash them, it’s happening today.”
America needs to grow up. The young people who are rioting and destroying property, who have no respect for elders and freedom of speech, I was so proud to become a citizen of this country.
Professors shouldn’t be telling their students to go after freedom of speech. They should be telling them that this is the greatest country in the world.
The demonstrators can’t tell you why they’re demonstrating. I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I just want the country to be at peace.
I see what is happening here reflecting some of the things we saw in Germany, and it’s terrifying. It’s sad. But it’s not because of Trump. It’s because of poor education.
Trump is not like Hitler. The theory that he is is propaganda. Yes, I lived through some of Nazi Germany, but all you have to do is read some books about that period to see how wrong that theory is.”
She went further, slamming the self-entitlement of today’s millennials compared to what her generation had to endure.
“It saddens me that we are teaching garbage in the schools and in the college. We don’t teach history anymore. History repeats itself over and over.
The kids out there today haven’t ever lived through a war like I did. I remember sitting in a rock pile, cleaning rocks, to rebuild Germany. I remember eating maple leaves and grass to survive.”
Andrews survived the war before making it to the United States after her mother married an American, but not before undergoing extreme vetting at a number of different U.S. military camps.
“So we had a vetting process like what we are going through now because you have to have this to make the country safe,” said Andrews.
Although she encountered difficulties learning English, Andrews said she would always try to speak English rather than German when in public, “Because we believed we needed to honor the country that opened its doors for us. It was rude to do otherwise.”
Andrews concluded by warning that “we will repeat history” if Americans sacrifice the ability to think freely and unquestionably swallow media propaganda about Trump.
Has popular culture is more vulgar, vapid, self-absorbed, hedonistic and dehumanizing than at any other time in living memory?
Paul Joseph Watson explores the topic in the video below:
How Popular Music’s Lyrics Perpetuate American Idiocy
By Claire Bernish
“Pop music in America right now is so superficial… there’s no substance at all. It’s devoid of any meaning. And I’m not just saying that as a 45-year old rock musician, I’m saying that as a human being. If the Number One song is about your butt, that’s a problem.” ~ Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters
A recent study served to confirm the patently obvious: song lyrics for the most popular genres of music are ridiculously obtuse — and getting worse over time. Though this might not be a revelation, the figures are distressing indicators of both an intellectually vapid societal and cultural future.
If you’ve already moved away from Billboard music, congratulations, you refuse to be insulted. But if you haven’t, or if you’re concerned about pop culture trends acting as portents of systemic dysfunction, you should probably pay attention.
Andrew Powell-Morse of SeatSmart studied the “Lyric Intelligence” of 225 Billboard songs in the Pop, Country, Hip-hop, and Rock genres that spent three or more weeks parked at the top of the charts, to analyze any changes over the course of ten years. And change there was…
Ten years ago, the most popular songs read between a third and fourth grade level, but the inanity only increased with time. After a five-year downward tumble ending in 2014 (the last year of the study), chart-topping hits had a reading level equivalent to second or third grade. Broken into genres, the levels measured just 2.6 for Hip-hop/R&B, a tie of 2.9 for Rock and Pop, and faring best was Country at 3.3 — though declaring a winner in this insipid race to the bottom seems somewhat defeatist. Even further to that point, the most intellectually stimulating song, Blake Shelton’s Country hit “All About Tonight”, measured just 5.8, while wading deeply into the ludicrous was Three Days Grace’s “The Good Life”, at a level equivalent to 0.8 — begging the question, did they have to try to craft lyrics a kindergartener could easily read?
So how did this happen and why is it getting even worse? For the sake of brevity, this is a systemic issue being reinforced across the board by pandemic anti-intellectualism. Some have argued there is no harm in a bit of mindless distraction, but this is incontrovertibly false. When just six corporations control 90% of the media, and 80% of radio stations have identical playlists, mindless content isn’t a choice — it’s a virtual mandate. In this self-propelled cycle of banality, the conglomerates dictate content to be promoted by radio, which in turn pushes it endlessly, creating a false perception that what is being played is due to listener demand. But this insidious marketing ploy is more akin to kidnapping and is every bit as dangerous.
It is scientifically proven that flexing the intellect can slow cognitive decline, but there has been a cultural shift away from stimulating thought in favor of homogenization and living for the moment, and empty radio content is both symptom and reinforcement of that trend. Society is focused on entertainment, materialism, and self-promotion, and when coupled with a need for instant gratification, it’s really no wonder we’re in such a sorry state. Occasional forays into mindless distraction would be understandable and harmless if they were just forays, but the foundation is faulty due to a sharp decline in quality education at every level.
Education has become the highest form of indoctrination with teachers forced into regurgitating information so their students can pass tests rather than become innovators and original thinkers. And who could blame them? Currently, they’re held to the ridiculous system where their performance is ranked, and salary determined by how those students perform on standardized tests that are, themselves, flawed. As Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, put it, “This country has spent billions on accountability, not on the improvement of teaching and learning at the classroom level.”
An education system based almost solely on taking tests is not only intellectually dimming, it’s stressful — in fact, instructors doling out the tests are given a set of instructions for what to do when students vomit on their test booklets. All of this is designed to send students to college where the situation is perpetuated. According to Catherine Liu, a film and media studies professor at the University of California, “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs.”
From a political standpoint, all this ‘dumbing down’ makes sense: indoctrination creates obedience. If music and culture focus on mindless diversion, and education lacks, well, education, then people lack the acuity necessary to question the absurdity of the system. Those who manage to liberate themselves from this mold and have the gumption to question official authority will find a cozy spot on the government’s watch list. So while we bemoan our country’s lack of intellectual prowess, it isn’t by a failure of design.
The author of aptly titled Idiot America, journalist Charles Pierce thoroughly summed up the issue this way:
“The rise of idiot America today represents – for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power – the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good [thing].” [source: Idiot America — How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.]
Unfortunately, if the lyrics study is a prognostic omen, the epidemic of idiocy will only get worse.