I spent the weekend with some folks who don't wallow as deeply in the shithole of current events the way most of us blog people choose to; that's not to say they're uninformed, they're just not as obsessed as we are. (Given the current state of affairs, I think obsession is called for, but that's a topic for another post. Plus, I'm a bit of a freak who can't do anything halfway.) The topic of the student being tasered at the Kerry speech came up, and a friend of mine related a bit from The Colbert Report during which Colbert sarcastically congratulated the students at the event for going their separate ways afterwards and protesting the event on their blogs and MySpace pages rather than doing something silly and ineffectual like holding a mass protest. I hate that "bloggers don't do anything" routine, so I asked everyone in the room if they had seen the YouTube video of the event. Nearly everyone there had - in other words, the very students Colbert mocked were the ones who got the story going and kept it alive.
Since we were comparing blogging vs. marching, I asked everyone if they knew that nearly 100,000 people showed up in Washington, D.C. on the 15th and marched against the war.
No one did. Not a single person in the room.
Remember, as I said before these were not uninformed people, and pretty much everyone there was against the war to one degree for another. But their main source of information is the mainstream media and the mainstream media absolutely fucking buried their coverage of the march on Washington. This makes me wonder: what is the role of mass rallies and protest marches in today's media climate?
I'm not questioning the intrinsic value of marching; I've marched against this war more than once and I marched against the first, "good" war in Iraq. That was some lonely marching, I can assure you. Dumping tens of thousands of people on the Capitol steps is always useful, too - it's good to remind them what a multitude of pissed off voters looks like. Also, I salute ANSWER for pulling off the march despite the hurdles the DC police made them jump over. But if the mass of men doesn't even hear about your march, can we still consider marching as a viable way to inject an idea into the nation's consciousness? If we had had today's media covering the civil rights protests of the early 1960s I doubt any of us would ever have heard Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Are the disconnected, unorganized actions of bloggers and YouTubers having more impact than thousands of people gathering in common cause? I can't say. But it's something to consider as we move forward and try to put a stop to this insanity.
Can I just say that I am greatly disturbed by how this Peru thing is playing out? First, the metorite hits. Then, people get sick. Shortly thereafter very rational scientists and government officials show up and say there's nothing to be concerned about, it's just a case of "mass hysteria." Damn it, this is playing out just like every B monster movie I have ever seen.
The blog's been quiet lately because I've been busting my ass on this project; click on the link for "Latest Media" to see the video I've been working on. These are good people, by the way - you might want to make a donation to the cause while you're at the site.
(Hey, I just want you people to know I haven't been sitting around watching Falcon Crest reruns instead of posting.)
Look, I'm not the biggest guy in the world. I get that. But that doesn't mean you will fit between me and whoever is sitting next to me on the subway, OK? Trust me, you don't. You do not fit in the nine inches or so of open bench space between me and the next passenger. Do not try. If you've got a bum leg or some disability that isn't immediately apparent, just let me know. You can have my seat. I'm cool like that.
And if you do feel compelled to wedge yourself into a space that a Barbie doll with an eating disorder couldn't squeeze into, please remember you are not some "seat vigilante" striking a blow against the rudeness of New York City subway riders. You're just a pain in the ass.
I'm glad we had a chance to have this little talk. Thanks.
A few weeks ago I was in a local park with my older daughter; we were talking about dinosaurs and whether it would have been cooler to be a hunter like T-Rex or Allosaurus rather than a big herbivore like apatosaurus. This is the type of conversation you have with a six year old.
The topic was a good springboard to a larger conversation about predators and prey in general, food chains, nature and all that rot. I wanted to demonstrate to her that predators get all the good press but it's actually the herbivores that shape and transform the landscape, so I asked her how many pigeons and squirrels we had in the park (hundreds) versus how many hawks (two, as near as we can tell). Looking at the food chain that way, really thinking about the predator/prey relationship in order to help her understand it better made me realize something: we've got it all wrong.
Of course, I don't mean that some animals aren't stronger and more deadly than others; that's obviously true. But we've all been taught that the food chain is a linear, heirarchal arrangement, with predatory animals at its apex, hunting skills representing the height of evolutionary achievement. However, when you step back and look at the animals in the food chain and their relationship with the world around them, you realize that predators aren't that important. To cite just one example: uneaten acorns buried by squirrels grow into forests of oak. No predator has that kind of impact on its environment. The function predators do serve - and it is a vital one - is to keep the prey animal populations from growing to an unsustainable level. Ecosystems face collapse when you take the big predators out of them. But that doesn't make predators sound like the kings of beasts to me; they sound more like a a circuit breaker, designed to keep the system from overheating and going haywire. Circuit breakers are important, but which do you care more about: your fuse box or your plasma screen?
I'm reluctant to read too much arbitrary meaning into the natural world; it is a chaotic system that our rules and theories only somewhat explain at best - and a cougar hauling the occasional mountain biker off the trail isn't providing any meaningful check on the human population. (I credit that to the scientific principle known as "shit happens.") Those of us interested in peace, though, might benefit from looking at the food chain, in particular the predator/prey relationship in this way, especially since it's not uncommon to hear war supporters (either of this war or war in general) justify their aggressive positions by claiming that they're only following the natural order, ie, "It's a dog eat dog world."
They're wrong. They've bought into the notion that hunting and killing is the height of the natural order, rather than just one part of it. In fact, they don't even realize that the natural order has no height - it's a web of interconnected systems. Where is the height of the Internet? The summit of mathematics?
It's important to understand this, since I think many of us often feel like we're the outsiders, the ones who have an unrealistic view of humanity, who wonder if a better way isn't possible. We're not. We're the ones who have it right. In fact, I'll go a step further and state that I don't even think human beings are particularly warlike. Oh, sure, we're brutish, crude, selfish and generally dickheaded but that's a pretty far cry from being bloodthirsty warmongers. History is full of examples of such, though, but it's worthwhile to remember that human populations that have embraced war had to be perverted into that state:
All high honors of the state were reserved for the military service and achievements in war. Even the nobles of royal blood must be graded anew on the basis of military service. Nobles without military distinction were degraded to commoners. The objective is to create "a people that looks to warfare as a hungry wolf looks at a piece of meat."
That's the historian Hu Shih writing about the Ch'in dynasty circa 360 BCE. He could have been writing about Sparta, though, or Rome, or Viking Scandanavia, or America during the run-up to the gory clusterfuck in Iraq. War has to be sold to the people. It always has, it always will. They will parade images of predatory strength before us, of wolves and eagles and lions, but they don't even understand the nature of those beasts much less that of human beings.
Are there violent humans, who fight and kill for no reason? Sure. But nearly all of them have some defect of the brain or some incident in their past that warped them into that state. And nearly all humans can be pushed to violence if the circumstances are dire enough or if they're scared enough; animals, even docile ones, will also fight when cornered.
And that's my ultimate point: we're animals. But we're not monsters.