Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Howard Zinn on The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism (with a segue on media)

Watch Howard Zinn's recent lecture on the importance of History given in Madison, WI here. A great speech by a great scholar of our times. We should learn the lessons of history.

"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." - Karl Marx

Where does that put us?

Professor Zinn reminds us of the importance of the past and how it informs both thought and action in the present. We should also note that other than educational institutions, Media play a crucial role in shaping much of the American public mind. An overwhelming majority of Americans get their information about the world from television media (which is dominated by advertisers and corporate interests). So...what kind of information is it?

Soon, there will be a few entries on media here in preparation for teaching History of U.S. Media at Berkeley City College next semester. As an historian, it is important to realize the significance of media and information control in democratic societies. Media, and mass media in particular, don't just shape the present, they interpret the past and forge the future. Media, therefore, often construct the first draft of history. We should pay attention to what media institutions say say about key issues of the day; what media reporters omit, distort, deny; and where that path leads. George Orwell once wrote, "Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past." That Who is our Wizard of Media Oz. Pull back the curtains! What do we find?

Why when we hear things on the "news" do many of us say, "no, that couldn't be...our government would never do that?" We are conditioned to trust the experts. But remember, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." Telling the truth today about 9/11, the Iraq War, or the spiraling debt crisis and a shrinking middle class is often met with admonition and calls of unAmericansim. Such denial is not healthy. That's why we need a protected free press, now more than ever. We need to let loose the sycophantic lapdogs of corporate media and reclaim the reigns of democracy at the hands of the people with a people's journalism, a public media, and let the truth ring. Even some of our elitist founders and famous politicos agreed...as Zinn would note--

"No people can be both ignorant and free."
--Thomas Jefferson

"A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
--James Madison

"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood
in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
-- John F. Kennedy

Zinn's favorite I.F. Stone quote is a good reminder as well: all government's lie. And often, the media help.

Better yet, riffing on that point more personally...as philospher Bertrand Russell once said, "Never lie to yourself." That's the root of it all. When we accept this, lying becomes intolerable in all forms, especially institutionally and societally.

But, Rabindranath Tagore put it best..."Truth comes as conqueror only to those who have lost the art of receiving it as friend." Arthur Schopenhauer once put it this way, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." Or, as Peter Phillips of Project Censored likes to say, "First they ignore you, then they attack you, then you win." Media moguls beware! Citizen democracy is on the ascent. Media literacy and knowledge of the past are the path to action. See more links to the right with ACME, FAIR, Media Matters, Project Censored, Retropoll, and...

More to come...more ponder. The revolution will not be televised.

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