Saturday, April 22, 2017

19.2 - Re-introducing myself on our 6th anniversary

Re-introducing myself on our 6th anniversary

Okay, I’m going to spend the rest of the show on that more sort of personal note.

Knowing that only a very small number of you have seen the show from the beginning - in fact only a very small number could have seen the show from the beginning - I thought I’d take advantage of the anniversary to give myself a break from the worries of the world and spend the rest of the show introducing (or re-introducing) myself, so that what I say here can be put into a broader context of ethical, moral, and political convictions. Which, by the way, is something I think all political commentators should do at some point to give their viewers or readers a context into which what they say can be placed.

I have several times described What's Left as an example of what’s known as advocacy journalism, a type of journalism that respects the standards of accuracy and the separation of fact and interpretation of fact from opinion but nonetheless has a definite and clear point of view. It is journalism intended to inform and inspire and by putting facts into an ethical context to spur action. That is and always has been my goal here.

So to introduce myself, I'm going to start out by talking about a socio-psychological concept called "worldview." Your worldview is your way of mentally organizing the world around you so that it makes sense, your way of putting order to what you perceive.

We all have a worldview. And not just individuals, cultures have a worldview. In fact, one of the things that defines a culture is a shared worldview, a generally-shared (but often implicit) understanding of how reality functions. That worldview can be radically different from one culture to another and can vary within a culture over time. For example, the worldview we hold today in this culture is dramatically different from the worldview held by the first wave of European settlers of North America in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The point is, still, that no matter what the particular worldview is, every culture has one; without a shared worldview, a culture will fracture for lack of a bond to hold it together.*

The same holds true for individuals: You have a worldview, you need to have a worldview as it is difficult if not impossible to function otherwise. Without a worldview, everything appears as chaos. Even something as seemingly basic and obvious as cause and effect is part of your worldview, a concept of how reality works. Imagine trying to function without any notion of cause and effect. That will give you a sense of trying to function without a worldview.

More important to my immediate purpose is that within your worldview, there is a more limited version of it which applies to political/moral/ethical considerations. That worldview drives your sense of right and wrong, proper and improper; it informs your convictions about what should and shouldn't be.

For most people, forming that personal worldview is part of maturation. Again for most people, that worldview doesn't change much once it is formed. It can, but not usually and even then by very much. Even what appear to be such changes, for example in political beliefs, often enough are not changes in basic concepts that constitute a worldview but in the interpretation of events and experiences in light of that worldview. Your worldview, that is, is part of your basic psychological make-up - and that doesn't change easily once formed. That doesn’t mean it can’t change - but it is quite uncommon.

So having said that, what I want to do is lay out what I think are important elements of how I reached the final, you could say mature, form of my worldview.

Perhaps the most important thing to say is that I am, in many ways, "a child of the '60s," having come to political awareness during that brief (and, some would have it, mythical) interregnum marked at one end by the Sgt. Pepper summer, known to some as the Summer of Love, and at the other by Altamont - or, if you prefer a political description, by Flower Power and the Days of Rage.

For those of you who are less than about 55 and have no idea what those terms mean, you can look them up. For now, it's enough to know that we're talking about the period of say, 1967-1970.

Like most - at least male - members of my generation, it was Vietnam, the Vietnam War, that initially drew me beyond vague "concern" into concrete political involvement: Even for those of us "safe" with draft deferments - and again, that's something that folks now maybe can't relate to, the fact that there was a military draft, under which you could be required under pain of lengthy imprisonment to join the Army and go wherever they sent you, even into a war you thought criminal, and the fact that you can't relate to that is something about which I'm glad - but during the Vietnam era, even for those of us with deferments, who could feel confident that at least for now you couldn't be drafted, that war was always there. It swirled around us like a mist, a fog, it tugged at us like an undertow, it threaded in and out of our lives, our thoughts about our futures, our consciousnesses, and the only way you could ignore it was by making the focused effort to do so.

In fact, I think that those of what I'll call the "Vietnam generation" have a greater understanding of the impact that World War II had on our parents than those of what I'll call the "Iraq generation" have of the impact Vietnam had on us. Because no matter how you measure it, the Vietnam War - which is properly called the Indochina War because it involved Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - was a much bigger war than Iraq or Afghanistan ever were.

For example, peak US troop strength in Iraq was 168,000 and the peak year for Iraq and Afghanistan troop strength combined was fiscal 2008, at 188,000. Peak US troop strength in Vietnam was over 536,000, nearly three times as many - and by the way, South Vietnam, where the vast majority of those troops were, was about 40% the size of Iraq.

US troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, up to April 18 of this year, total just over 6,900. US troops killed in the Indochina War totaled over well over 58,000 - well over eight times as many. US wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan combined reached around 50,000; those wounded in Indochina were over 300,000, over six times as many.

So yes, a much bigger war. Significantly more troops, significantly more wounded, significantly more dead. And for those of us who questioned the war, who asked our government about the whens, wherefores, and, most importantly, whys of the war, it seemed that each of the "answers" we got just raised at least two new questions.

Politically, I had grown up in the mold of my parents, a mold that was at one time called a "(Hubert) Humphrey Democrat" and which I came to call a "right wing liberal," a type that is now commonly called a "liberal war hawk," that species of American political animal that's at least fairly liberal on domestic issues and clearly conservative on foreign policy, a type whose philosophy I later summed up as "hooray for justice, beauty, truth, and Kill Commies."

My personal breaking point over the war came when I heard the man who was then the commander of US forces in the war, I believe it was William Westmoreland, say "We're winning the war, just give us six more months" - and I recalled having heard exactly the same thing six months earlier. I still recall thinking "Okay, I'll give you your six months - but after that you've lost me."

And of course, the war didn't end in six months, it dragged on for years more amid repeated promises that it was, really, already over.

The sort of, the term was and is, increasing alienation that generated plus mounting evidence of what the governments we supported in South Vietnam were really like - brutal dictatorships - eventually prompted me to, very shyly, attend a meeting of a local peace group. That was, if memory serves, in the fall of 1968. I still remember walking into this room in a church basement and being greeted by a tall man with a beard and a not-inconsiderable resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he later added a mustache because he got tired of the Lincoln jokes. His name was Jack Caroli.

Okay, you can relax; it's over now. I've no intention of inflicting my entire autobiography on you.

But knowing the roots of my involvement in the movement may help to some degree to explain where I've wound up: I'm an aging hippie, an educator, and a political activist, the terms' order of presentation depending on circumstances and my mood of the moment. I'm also a democratic socialist-green with an anarchist bent and a civil liberties absolutist who has, by both logical conclusion and moral compulsion, a commitment to active nonviolence both as political tactic and way of life. The only isms I wholeheartedly endorse are skepticism and eclecticism.

I have also flippantly described myself at times as a socialist-anarchist-communalist-capitalist-eclecticist-iconoclast. After people's eyes stop glazing over, I explain:

I'm a capitalist in that I believe in the "Ma and Pa" store, the community-level enterprise, the small factory, the two- or three-store chain.

I'm a communalist in that I believe that cooperative ventures are better than competitive ones.

I'm a socialist in that I believe that beyond a certain size, profit-seeking enterprises cannot be trusted to be responsible to the communities in which they operate and at that point the community as a whole has the right and the responsibility to step in to exercise control and make decisions, up to and including assuming ownership.

I'm an anarchist in that I believe in doing that with as little government as necessary and with individual freedom and civil liberties being at the maximum possible consistent with social justice.

I'm an eclecticist in that I believe you can put this together into a reasonably coherent social philosophy.

And I'm an iconoclast in that - well, you may have heard that the I Ching, the Chinese "book of changes," is based on the notion that "the only thing that doesn't change is the fact that everything else changes." My version of this is that I believe "the only ultimate answer is that there is no other ultimate answer" and so if we ever did build a society along the lines I envision the first thing I'd do is to try to figure out what was wrong with that one and how it could be improved.

In doing this show, I'm guided by four editorial principles:

1) "To thine own self be true." Which, as I expect you know, is a quote from Shakespeare.

2) "The US isn't the worst - but it is the biggest." That's a quote from Joan Baez.

3) "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness." That's from a chess grandmaster named Aron Nimzovich.

4) "No one but no one, no matter their ideology, political perspective, or status as 'left' or 'right,' can be by that reason exempt from either criticism or praise." That's from me.

The bottom line point is that I have always believed that in any political movement, everyone has some skill they can use, some skill they can contribute to advance the cause. While my list of inadequacies on any compilation of useful skills is quite lengthy, I do have some skill with words. With writing. Talking. Giving speeches. And like that.

In front of a gray wall
So this, ultimately, is just another way I think I can be of use, another way to try to advance the idea of justice, another attempt to maintain the hope that is the only thing that keeps us going. It is, if you will, another light against the darkness, another, again if you will and if you remember the song, another candle in the rain.**

That’s enough about me. As for the show itself, there have been some changes in it over the time it's been on. At first, the show consisted of just me standing in front of a gray background, rambling on about whatever I was rambling on about that week.

After a time, in order to keep the camera crew from going insane trying to follow me around as I wandered around the stage as I talked, we went to having me sit on a stool and around that time we added graphics.

On a stool with graphics
But I was just more comfortable standing, so we set up a podium and there I was, standing with my right hand leaning on a podium, still in front of that same gray background. This made me happy because I was standing and made the camera crew happy because I was standing in one place.

Then it got fun because we were able to start using what's technically called chroma key but is more commonly known as green screen, where we can replace the background with whatever image we want to put up. As I do the show, all that is behind me is a blank green wall. But through the magic of computers, we can replace that with whatever we want. So we had me, my podium, and graphics. What more could I ask.

At the podium
Then I blew out my knee bad enough that I couldn't stand without crutches. So we started used the desk-style look while I recovered - which yes, I did some time back, thank you for asking - but after a few weeks, I decided I like it. So that's the look we have for now - but don't be shocked if you see me standing again at some point.

Over the course of doing the show, we developed two regular features: One is the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity, which was supposed to be an occasional feature but there has been more than enough stupidity to keep it going, and it has become, I think, our most popular feature. The other regular feature, of course, is the Outrage of the Week because what would I do if I couldn't be outraged about something.

We also have developed some occasional features, which pop up time to time, including the Hero Award, given to recognize someone who just did the right thing on a matter big or small; Everything You Need To Know, where a truth can be revealed in no more than a sentence or two; The Little Thing, where some passing reference in a news story points to something significant which isn't getting enough notice; And Another Thing, for fun science stuff; For the Record, where we address issues briefly just to make sure they don't get ignored; Updates on old stories; and of course the not-quite-regular but happily frequent feature, Good News.

I have been helped so much over these past six years by several people without who this simply would not have happened or even if it did would not have gone on nearly so long as it has and hopefully will. These folks have helped me and do help me. So I want to acknowledge them and say thank you.

First and foremost, my deepest thanks to Donna, just for being Donna. She is my strength, my source, my reason to get up each day.

Next there are the folks here at the station where I do this, leading off with Will McKinnon - cameraman and video editor extraordinaire of song and fable.

Then there is or there are Kris, Yvanna, and Dylan, who keep things moving around here with their youthful energy and can, amazingly, even make the old fart sometimes feel like one of the gang.

And there’s Rich Goulart, Executive Director and the all-around go-to guy here, who was willing to take a chance: When I first approached him about doing a weekly show of political commentary, one I flippantly described as a left-wing Glenn Beck minus the chalkboard and the paranoia, he - I could tell - wasn't too sure that it wouldn't peter out after a few weeks. But he took the chance to let me do it my way and I hope in the time since he's been given enough cause to be happy with his decision.

Finally, I want to thank not a person but a concept: public access television.

You're watching me on TV right now (unless you're watching on YouTube). Yes, it's TV - but it's special. It's public access TV - also called cable access television, community access television, and community television.

Whatever you call it, public access TV involves providing equipment, training, and airtime so members of the general public can produce their own programs and deliver them to the audience of that local cable TV system.

And potentially far beyond: This show is regularly seen, to my knowledge, on four cable systems covering more than a dozen communities with a combined subscriber base likely in excess of 250,000. So potentially, hypothetically, this show could be seen in 250,000 households. Just me, just an ordinary schlub - how did Eric Burden describe himself in that song? "An overfed, long-haired, leaping gnome." And there could potentially be thousands of people hearing what I have to say.

It's public access TV which makes that possible.

From its roots in the late '60s and despite initial intense opposition form the cable industry, public access TV has become firmly established. It's now estimated that over 1500 cities, town, and regions across the country have public access channels available and those 1500 areas are managing something like 5000 channels.

You're watching one of those channels now. This is public access TV. Public access TV. That means it's for you. It's for us. It's for all of us. Take advantage of it. It doesn't have to be political. It could be about a hobby, about an interest, whatever. It doesn't have to be a series, it could be a one-off: Maybe you  have a story you want to tell about some place or some person or some historical event. Take advantage of public access TV. Go to your local cable access station and talk to them - I bet they'll be glad to help.

Public access television. I took advantage of it. You should, too.

Let me finish up by thanking those of you who watch the show and those of you who have commented on it. Thank you for taking the time and I look forward to more comments and, I hope, to make a show worth watching. Let me know how I do.

*The possibility of social fracture from lack of a shared worldview is an issue that appears to be arising in the US. It may be that fault line has always been there but just has been successfully papered over until recently - which means it could be again - or it could mean that in terms of worldview, we really are becoming two different societies trying to share a common geography with all the risks of intensifying conflict that entails.


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