Mass Death, Critical Thinking, and Media Distortion

There is a digital sign, very close to where I live, that lets the passerby know that 457 people have been killed on Texas roads this year.  That is 457 people killed on the roads in the state of Texas only, in just over three months of one year.  There were 2,877 victims during 911.  So roughly one sixth of all of the people that were killed as the result of 911 have been killed through traffic accidents in the state of Texas this year from January 1st to March 24th.

Yet, no one is particularly troubled by this, unless of course they have been some how touched by one of these accidents in a personal way.  Meanwhile when 911 happened we lost our collective shit, resulting in the invasion of a country that in no way was related to 911.  That invasion led to far more death and destruction than 911 did.  I am not saying 911 was not a horrible event.  I am not saying that no response was necessary.  I am only saying that if you compare the results of 911 to the results of what happen all the time, it didn’t warrant the kind of response that it created.  We did not need to change every law in the land, drop bombs on other people, etc.  We should have gone after the people directly responsible, mourned the dead in the way that we should mourn all people that have fallen before their time, and gotten back to business as usual.

I would imagine that most people would agree with this now, especially in concern with our ill advised adventure into Iraq.  So why am I bringing this up?  (And I’m even bringing it up again as I have touched upon this idea before.  I am constantly reminded of this idea from the sign that I see every time I leave my house to go out into greater Austin.)  Today over at Huffington Post the headline is about a plane crash in the Alps where right now 150 are feared dead.  This number is less than a third of all the people that have been killed in Texas highways this year, and it is far away, so the chance of us knowing someone that died is even less.  Yet, this is the HEADLINE at Huffington Post.  I can only imagine what cable news is going to do with a story like this.  I assume, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am, that cable news is going to have a fucking field day with it!

We live in a democracy.  To have a democracy that functions efficiently, it is important that the citizens of the democracy can assess what’s going on and make educated choices concerning problems.  Yet here in America, a sort of tabloid lizard brain runs the show in determining what is important to focus on.  That is if you take the view that things aren’t being actively manipulated to keep us afraid and in the dark.

When horrible events occur, which with news cameras in almost every part of the globe, they are going on consistently in some form or fashion on a daily basis, we must try to maintain some kind of perspective on things.  As citizens of the United States and as citizens of the greater world, what actually concerns us?  What is a tragedy and what is a threat?  Given that we as humans only have so much time in a day to devote to understanding the world around us, what is really important for us to know and what is not?  When is something blown out of proportion to where it actually prevents us from making wise decisions?  This does not meant that we should be callous to suffering.  It only means that we should not let suffering blind us into creating other suffering in the world.

The way that our news media operates actually causes us to be less informed, as we are overloaded with the horrific and the sensational.  Anytime a news story comes on one should ask, “Does this affect me and my life in anyway?  Does this increase the likelihood that I am going to make better decisions about the world?  If it does not, can I acknowledge that I am watching this for mere entertainment or escapism?”

I would prefer that all Americans quit watching TV news.  If they can’t, I would at least prefer that they limited the amount of time they spent viewing it.  TV news, even though I mentioned Huffington Post up above, is the worst at pumping up false threats, while ignoring real events that we should be learning about.  However, if one is not going to stop watching TV news, I think people should at least take the right set of tools with them, as they try to sort through the insanity of the day.

Critical thinking is more important than ever.  In a world full of information, it is those that understand how to interpret information that are going to stand the best of thriving in this world.  Unfortunately our schools are moving more towards standardized testing, more towards rewarding the unthinking worker bee.  These are the exact opposite of the skills that are truly needed in the modern world.

Ghost Plane. WTF?!!!

Today’s morning Huffpo headline is Ghost Plane.  It is at least the second day in a row where their main headline has been in reference to the plane that disappeared near Vietnam.  My friends that have cable news have talked about how much this story is being covered.  It’s a story and most definitely not news.  I’m not saying it is not a tragedy for the people involved and their loved ones.  One can imagine what those poor people are going through, especially when it is being blasted on television all the time!  But it is not news that we need to contemplate for any length of time.  Knowing about it doesn’t increase our knowledge of the world and something like this actually distorts it.

Roughly about 155,000 people die every day.  That was a calculation I found for 2005.  The number is probably higher now.  In the US in 2011 roughly 89 people died every day in auto accidents.  So why is our news media going batshit over a couple hundred people dying on the other side of the globe?

Airplane crashes are rare.  They also have had trouble finding the wreckage which is rarer still.  It’s sensational.  However, I would argue that dying in and of itself is not news as people are leaving this world left and right on a daily basis.  Also, because it is rare it is actually less newsworthy.  It distorts our image of air travel.  You have a much higher risk of being killed in an auto accident.  However, when a plane crash is posted all over the news it breeds a sense of fear about air travel and makes it seem as if flying is more dangerous than it really is.

There are so many issues that confront us in this country on a daily basis, from large to small.  The news should help us make decisions about large things like who we are going to vote for and what global issues we as citizens should be concerned about.  It should also help us with small day to day choices concerning what we are going to do with our day such as what is going on in our community and how is the weather going to be.  Celebrity stories and strange tragedies from the other side of the world don’t inform us in any way.  If anything these kinds of stories actually make us dumber.  You can imagine some hooplehead deciding that they are going to now drive instead of fly, which is again far more dangerous.  If you turn on a news station and they are blanket covering something like this just turn it off.  Hell, better to watch some kind of ridiculous fantasy show or something.  It will at least make you happier and you won’t learn any less.

Hot Girl in Bathing Suit Insults Someone

Awhile back I read a book called The Man Who Owns the News. It was about Rupert Murdoch.  (Know thy enemy!)  One of the things that is interesting in the book is how Rupert Murdoch and his people new how to draw you in with headlines.  Once most people read a catchy headline they are hooked and have to read at least part of an article.  I feel like Huffington Post is great at this.  I have the Huffington Post app on my phone.  I pull it up in a moment of boredom and the next thing I have know I have read a dozen or so articles without intending to.  Meanwhile the book that I was intending to read with my morning coffee sits there unopened.  Devolution is going down and I am part of it!

I am highly contemplating deleting my Huffpo app.  It’s a good place for getting a brief idea of what is going on in the world.  It’s probably the best one stop shop just for getting dialed in to what is happening that day without having to invest too much time.  The problem is when you go there for the political and world event articles, the next thing you know you are ten articles deep looking at hot girls or reading about some weird murder or celebrity story.  “You Won’t Believe What Insult So and So Said.”  Don’t do it!  Don’t click on that!  Fuck, I did it!  “Look at Whatever Hot Actress Looks Like in a Bathing Suit.”  Nope, not this time.  I’m not going to look.  Goddamn it I gave in!

Our brains are clearly still wired with some kind of primordial information.  Tribal gossip and baser instincts will take over if we’re not careful.  The people that make the news know this, and they are using it against us.  Remember this when you watch the TV news and they spend an hour talking about a celebrity, but only give you five minutes of information that actually clues you into the world at large.  They are giving you what part of your subconscious wants, but not what is actually good for you.

Gorilla in the Mist

The more I watch this House of Cards show, despite thinking it is an extremely well done drama, the more depressing I find it.  It combines everything I hate into one show.  A show full of conniving dirt bags.  Watching everyone jockey on this show to control the 24 hour news cycle is reminding me why I don’t watch TV news.  Maybe the only thing more depressing then the sleazy politicians and journalists is the world of upscale fundraising as it is presented here.  People wearing tuxedos to raise money for people that can’t even eat in Africa.  The realist in me knows that all of these worlds need to be dealt with, that they are all complex and full of both good and bad, that it’s too easy and naïve to think you can just ignore such things if you actually care about the outcome of this world.  But Jesus Christ I’d like to some days.  I realize what Hunter Thompson meant when he talked about the pain of being a man.  Sometimes I want to forget about the political world and its machinations.  Tonight I’d like to cast off the burdens of this world and run out into the woods, just another gorilla in the mist.

Waving a Flag is Easy

I thought about commenting on the Syria situation, but I generally feel like I should stay out of issues that I don’t feel that I completely understand.  I just read a good article at by Peter Bergen.  I don’t know what his politics are, but it seemed that he grasped the complexities of the situation regardless.  If you are looking to understand the issue it’s a good article to read.  It’s called For U.S., Syria is Truly a Problem From Hell.

I intend to keep reading different sources over the next few days to see what’s going on, although I probably won’t blog further on this unless I have a clear grasp of the facts.  After our recent history, post 911, I tend to think we should stay the hell out of the Middle East as a general rule, but I could be wrong in this thinking.

I am curious to know several things as I search around the internet.  What is the potential for blowback if we either do or do not act?  Is it moral or not to intervene in a sovereign nation during a civil war?  How does that morality change if there are chemical weapons being used or genocide going on?  What multinational corporations stand to benefit from U.S. military interventionism and are these companies pushing our hand?  Basically what is at stake and why?

It was pretty clear to me and a lot of people on the left that Iraq was a giant mistake.  I remember clearly the sick feeling I had watching the first bombs fall in Baghdad.  My parents went to a protest before that war started.  I would have been truly happy now if we had been wrong, if Iraq had turned into some immaculate beacon of freedom in the Middle East, but that is obviously not the case.

Sometimes it is wise to distance yourself from the news.  There is so much on TV that has nothing to do with our everyday lives.  It’s easy to watch the news and feel that the world is a place full of fear and evil, when in reality our lives may be filled with a great amount of love and beauty.  The TV news can twist your mind up if you aren’t careful.

However, just remember that every time we drop bombs on another country we have helped to pay for those bombs.  We may have even signed a petition, gone to a protest, or voted for a candidate that was antiwar, but there is still a small amount of blood on our hands.  War is one thing that we should never emotionally disengage from.  Waving a flag is easy.  War never is.