Friday, February 03, 2012

Cut To Ribbons

I'm going to once again defer to Mary Beth Williams for the full story of how the Susan G. Komen organization quickly backed away in shame from its lunkheaded decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. But I want to say one quick thing about the social media shit-storm that was largely responsible for forcing the Komen people to do the right thing: It scares me a little.

Look, I get that the masses spoke loudly and -- in social media circles, anyway -- almost unequivocally, and that the outrage was so incisive and so vast that in the end the Komen organization was really left with no choice if it wanted to save its brand (and if you know anything at all about Komen, that brand is the most important thing in the world to it). What we witnessed was a new manifestation of age-old democracy, the public effecting change in one of the purest forms possible. We witnessed it a couple of weeks ago with SOPA; we saw it help to change governments in the Middle East last spring; now we're seeing it again. The only problem with it is this: social media already has us thinking at a speed that isn't really thinking at all and spouting whatever the first thing that comes to mind happens to be, generally without contemplation or the consideration of context.

Now the natural byproduct of that has arrived: we act and react reflexively, also without really taking the time to think about what we're doing. Komen backed down quickly and unconditionally, bowing to the supposed will of the very loud masses and the media -- traditional and social -- which amplified their anger. In this case, it was not only right but warranted -- the outcry and backlash really was that ferocious and far-reaching. But today's media have the ability to amplify almost any message until it becomes its own echo chamber, one with the ability to fool us into thinking that the volume of an opinion directly correlates to how many people really have that opinion. Need a good example of this? Look no further than the Tea Party. Even a small army can make a hell of a lot of noise if it knows how, especially since the modern media abhor a vacuum of sound and fury.

This time the cause was noble and the outcome just.

What about the next time?

What happens when the person or organization forced to knee-jerk capitulate isn't someone who should?

Salon: How the Internet Changed Komen's Mind/2.3.12

"On Second Thought" (Originally Published 11.23.09)

There's a decent piece by David Sirota that's making the syndication rounds right now in which he takes aim at the dumbing-down of America as a nation; specifically, he ties it to what may eventually be remembered as the most inadvertently prescient not-very-good movie in history: Idiocracy. Sirota's contention is that while we've known for some time that unapologetic stupidity is steadily gaining an at one time undreamed-of respectability within our culture -- to the point where we're now besieged by it in politics, on cable TV and talk radio, and wherever Sarah Palin's new book is sold -- a couple of things happened recently to either pick up the pace, or at least significantly mark a sudden downward plunge, on the "de-evolution" of America as a society of people with brains at least slightly larger than a couple of Chicken McNuggets.

Last week, two of the Washington Post's top columnists -- White House press corps "dean" David Broder and the Post's foreign policy guru Jackson Diehl -- penned articles that slammed Barack Obama for not moving fast enough on making a decision whether or not to deploy more troops to the increasingly intractable war in Afghanistan. Broder's point was just plain fucking staggering:

"It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right."

Meanwhile, Diehl's point seemed to hinge on the belief -- proffered without evidence, merely speculation -- that even though NATO, the Pentagon and Congress are supposedly unanimous in the opinion that we need more troops in Afghanistan, Obama just can't bring himself to commit, and that should be cause for concern among the electorate.

Sirota's response:

"As leading opinionmakers, Broder and Diehl are paid to carefully ponder issues and then offer their considered thoughts. That's not part of what they're supposed to do -- it's what they are singularly employed to do. It's how they earn their living and credibility -- indeed, it's their entire raison d'etre. And yet, these leading lights of the intelligentsia are overtly preaching anti-intelligence, insisting the president must avoid taking time to think through his actions.

This isn't interpretation -- it's what these Beltway sages are literally saying. Broder is explicitly demanding Obama make a knee-jerk decision -- any decision -- even if it has catastrophic consequences. Likewise, Diehl is calling for Obama to immediately risk thousands of American lives simply because that's what Diehl believes the establishment wants.

Let's be clear -- these are just two of many similar examples. Today, screeds calling for leaders to prioritize lightning-fast decisions over measured deliberations are increasingly commonplace in the Washington intelligentsia, even after an Iraq debacle brought on by the same ideological know-nothingism...

When the supposed guardians of political cognition and empiricism begin publicly flaying leaders for taking time to fully evaluate potential decisions — it's a sign our country is becoming the ignorance-deifying Idiocracy we should all fear."

While I agree with Sirota that calling for a president to make a decision to potentially risk the lives of American soldiers without first really thinking it through is reprehensible and the definition of anti-intellectualism -- unfortunately, I think the problem is even worse than he describes. The reality is that this course we're on -- this downward spiral -- is likely irreversible. The reason is that the ever-increasing speed with which we communicate these days has made introspective analysis not only seem antiquated but downright intolerable. We just don't have time for things like stopping and thinking anymore.

Through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter -- and, yes, even through texting, e-mail and blogging -- we've removed the need for context and contemplation as a prerequisite to opening our big mouths and can now spout an opinion to each other or to the world, occasionally with dire but all-too-avoidable consequences, without giving it, literally, a second thought. We've fractured and fragmented our communication skills to fit the new model of speaking -- one that only requires 140 characters, with as few vowels as possible. Our brains haven't evolved as quickly as our ability to express ourselves. We're officially a nation of knee-jerks.

And by the way, I'm the first one to admit that I've both fallen victim to this trap and have sung the praises of the Brave New, Hyper-Connected World that created it in the first place.

Admittedly, there is such a thing as overthinking -- becoming paralyzed by your own ability to analyze the potential effect of every choice to the point where you become perpetually lost in minutiae and unable to act. Barack Obama is certainly wonky enough to get hamstrung by his own intellect, but have we really regressed to the point where we can't tolerate a few weeks worth of careful consideration before our president makes a choice with such potentially devastating ramifications? Have we already forgotten the last time a U.S. presidential administration, filled with hubris and certitude, barreled headlong into committing American lives to a war before trying to discern any clue what they hell they were doing?

Just a decade ago -- maybe even less -- the notion of taking a little while to think things over before rendering a decision still seemed like the wisest course of action, an action in and of itself. Now? Take even a day or so to measure your options and it's considered glacial -- because 24 hours, one full news cycle revolution on cable and in talk radio and the span in which 850-gazillion tweets were fired back and forth on Twitter, is like an eternity to us. While you were sitting there analyzing, Mr. Smarty Pants, everyone else was actually doing.

But in the end, really, who's doing the right thing?


Mary Beth said...

Very good points as usual, sir.

FWIW I think (hope) there's a difference between passionate, genuine response and the often kneejerk, my-publicist-wrote-this-apology crap. Komen vastly underestimated the vigor of humanity in a story like this, and the way they handled it smacked of disconnection.

Capitulation shouldn't be forced, but bullshit should always be called.

Anonymouse said...

"What happens when the person or organization forced to knee-jerk capitulate isn't someone who should?"

Are you serious? This has already happened numerous times. David Howard lost his job for using the term "niggardly" correctly in a sentence. Acorn was gutted and scuttled because...well I still don't get how Americans can't see through lazy film editing. The "Controversy" on climate change and evolution...are you paying attention?

Next do a write up on Facebook being popular.

Chez said...

No shit, Anonymouse. Yes it's happened, but it'll happen again the results will be worse. I'm pressed for time today and exhausted and really not in the mood to either ensure that I live up to your high expectations or have a lengthy debate. I swear, dude -- you earn serious brownie points with me at times, then at other times make me just want to tell you, as sincerely as possible, to just go fuck yourself. I'm not in the mood for your petty shit.

Anonymouse said...

Next time you do a road trip, visit Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. I think it will give you some perspective on things in America.

Chez said...

I've been across the United States and up and down the coasts several times, through just about every facet of this country, so knock off the sanctimony please. I really do like you on occasion, but stop being a cunt.

Matt Osborne said...

If anyone can be charged with deliberating too long, it's a democracy. Remember one year ago when the Libyan revolt began? The response on social media was "Do something! But not too much! In fact, don't do anything! But DO SOMETHING -- right now!" Then the president made decisions, and everyone fell on one or the other side of that decision almost immediately. No one had a workable alternative, but everyone had a critique.

I have to add one important caveat, though: idiocracy has always been with us. Read Thucydides, and you'll find that Athenians had the same problems 2,400 years before the invention of the internet. The "netroots" are just an electronic demos -- and the firebaggery of 2010-2011 resonates with the way Athens treated Alcibiades.

TheReaperD said...

Stressed much Chez?

Mart said...

You do not have to be an idiot to be easily manipulated. I remember when I was against ACORN before I realized it was bullshit entrapment and despicable video editing.

But the idiots never change their mind in the face of facts. Lila Rose was shot down pretty quick, but I have no doubt the videos continue to play into the hatred of Planned Parenthood.

The most surreal story I read (if true)this morning, Ari Fleischer was the secret final decision maker for the hire of Komen's SVP of Communication; who has done a heckuva job the last few days. Sometimes you get what you ask for.

Anonymouse said...

What exactly is your theory here? That something worse than forcing the Susan G. Komen out of its plan to stop funding planned parenthood could happen? Because clearly this has already happened with today's technology. Twitter and the internet has already been used to give new life to misinformation (like the Elders of Zion or Alex Jones). Nor is twitter any different than any other mass communication technology. The telegraph has been used, both in the West and globally, as a propaganda tool. Same with film, tv, phones and anything else. None of this is new with the exception that previous forces, such as small community voices have access to a much bigger audience, meaning that there is no longer a domination of communication technology by governmental forces or big industries.

So what are you actually proposing? That we attempt to go back to the day when there was more controls on communication? That we have an entity controlling all communication to ensure that the "proper" message gets out?

No offense Chez, but you sound like an old dude sitting on his porch complaining about kids skateboarding on the sidewalk. You sound like you are actually advocating silencing people with a message you disagree with. I don't think you honestly think this but your point makes no sense to me otherwise.

Capt Clowns said...

Hey Anonymouse, thanks for the tip on how to get some perspective on things in America... And for the perspective on your raging inferiority complex. Avoid therapy, you wouldn't enjoy it.

Ref said...

Anonymouse, I'm not seeing your point. I've never heard of Mr. Howard, so it can't have been a nation-wide issue. ACORN's downfall was a political power play from day one, not the subject of a grassroots outpouring.

I do see your point, Chez, but I don't know how to cure the problem. Perhaps we just need to be smart enough to see the difference between "grassroots" and "astroturf."

Itstrikes me that a big part of the Komen backlash was fueled by the revelations as to how the program is being run and who's running it.

They have not, by the way, unequivocally backed down from anything but this latest, ham-handed decision. They have not promised continuing funding of Planned Parenthood. They've only deigned to follow through on what was already promised, while making it pretty clear they'll deny the grant application next time. I think that the bad publicity that has come out about the real nature of their operation is going to severely harm them.

Anonymouse said...

Sorry Ref, east coast bias. David Howard was a white, homosexual aid to the mayor of DC. He basically used the term in discussing a budget issue, correctly mind you, and the political storm that resulted cause him his job.

My whole point is that mass communication has already been used for horrific things. In Rwanda, I know.. who cares, Hutu militants used radio broadcasts to motivate the populace to brutally butcher the Tutsi minority. Arguably the greatest propaganda film (in terms of artistry) is "Triumph of the Will". We can rationally separate the crazy from the rest of those mediums without posing that we stop and think before we use them.

As an engineer, I take a dim view of blaming technology for human failures. I don't this was Chez's point yet this is what I walked away with reading his post. Its akin to saying that if we didn't have gunpowder, we wouldn't have war.

It is a monument to Chez and the strength of his positions that he allows me to post, when drunk, my views, that may not reflect his views. And I thank him for off his leg...

CNNfan said...

Computers have around at least since time of Jesus Christ. The ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM, a 2000 year old analog computer discovered in 1900 in a shipwreck near the Greek Islands of Antikythera was likely used to predict eclipses, etc, before the Christian Era.

This ancient analog computer apparently used event driven fundamentals found in modern day graphical user interfaces, thousands of years later. Analog is a phenomenal science... Will today's digital computers last thousands of years too?

Citation: Guinness world records 2012 book. Page 162. Sci-Tech & Engineering: Fact File COMPUTING FIRSTS.