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History / Historical Roots of Polarization: Democracy or Oligarchy?
« on: April 17, 2021, 05:03:24 AM »
In her 2020 book, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, Heather Cox Richardson provides a history of the two opposing ideas that are rooted in US history and may be the source of the political polarization seen today. She notes, “From its founding, American has stood at the nexus of democracy and oligarchy” (p. 22). The Civil War and the many legislative battles, increasing or decreasing oppression of minorities, in states and at the federal levels, were fueled by these competing ideologies.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, a vastly popular “liberal consensus” developed that focused on “creating economic security and equality of opportunity” through the protection of the vulnerable and regulation of the economy to avert vast inequality” (p. xiv). Although the federal government still favored white people in many of its policies, opportunities for increased well-being and wealth generation were opened to minorities. Even Superman, when he first appeared in 1938 admonished schoolchildren that if they heard anyone talk against another because of their race, religion, or national origin, “don’t wait” to “tell him that kind of talk is un-American” (p. xxv).

But another root of US culture is white elite male supremacy. The "founding fathers" were landed slave-holding gentry. “Without irony, Virginian James Madison crafted the Constitution to guarantee that wealthy slaveholders would control the new government” (p. 21). The Founders did not include the non-wealthy, non-male in their view that "all men are created equal."

In the Founders' worldview, women, African slaves, Native peoples, and the poor were all inferior and could not handle the power of participating in societal decision making. All those others were not capable or worthy enough for self-determination like the white wealthy male. And the wealthy males relied on the labor of their wives, slaves, and others to make and keep their wealth. “In the Founders’ minds, then, the principle of equality depended on inequality” (p. xv).

Nevertheless, over the course of history, US policies grew to enable poor white men to advance and be treated almost equally with elite white males. “While Europe was mired in oligarchy, Americans had faith that God had made them capable of managing their own affairs” (p. 25). The 20th century saw advances for minorities and women.

However, the countermovement to these progressive trends, Movement Conservatism, initiated in the 1950s, took up the alternative root of US culture: that the elite should have wealth trickle up to them from the non-elites, along with the power to make decisions "for the good of all."

“Like elite slaveholders before the Civil War, they believed in a world defined by hierarchies, where most people—dull, uneducated, black, female, weak, or poor—needed the guidance of their betters” (p. xiv). Their work at menial tasks would be accumulated in the hands of their betters, who knew how to use it to create progress.

Richardson documents how Movement Conservatives started in the 20th century to lay out the same arguments that the elite slave owners in the 19th century had. Both groups believed they alone knew how to run the country and so the non-loyal had to be prevented from accessing the tools of government. Both groups “suppressed voting, rigged the mechanics of government, silenced the opposition press, and dehumanized their opponents” and felt themselves above the law (p. xvii).

Because facts and reason don’t work to argue for inequality, people in both groups reject expertise and invent stories to support their view of the world—for example, that Southern white men were incapable of selfishness and servility, that those who are not loyal followers are lazy, non-Christian, or enemies. Both groups blame “East coast liberals” for the nation’s problems. Both groups have faith that “if the government simply turned rich men loose to work their magic, they would create ever-expanding prosperity and everyone would get richer” (p.180).

In his book, Evil Geniuses, Kurt Anderson describes in detail a shift in the US away from the liberal consensus of fairness for all with the superrich’s manipulation of laws and politics to tilt the playing field towards themselves, with the effect of hollowing out the middle class. Inequality has never been greater, burgeoning since the 1980s with what economists call the “Great Divergence” in wealth. The wealthy have more power than ever. In this way, the tendency toward oligarchy may have “won” over democracy—for now.

Geopolitics / Is NOW the time for a third party?
« on: April 16, 2021, 06:23:30 AM »
I have joined the People's Party and will sign the petition in Missouri to get the Party active in elections. It is aimed at grass roots individuals not corporations and big business. I will be joining a regional Zoom meeting on Sunday afternoon to develop strategies to expand the Partie's recognition and platform.

"The People’s Platform emerged from Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign platform. It was developed, voted on and adopted by our members in March of 2018. The final People’s Party platform will be developed and passed by members at the founding convention in 2021."

I was going to vote for Howard Dean and Bernie but the Democratic establishment knocked them both out of the running. I just read that AOC has basically denounced her Democratic Socialist agenda and has firmly embraced Biden's plans to "heal" America's multiple humongous inequalities. I don't understand how she could make such a ideological change all of a sudden. It basically leaves just a handful of real Democratic Socialist leaders in the Federal Government, and they will be powerless now to adopt the sweeping change from big money politics to a humane based politics.

Chris Hedges thinks that forming a grass roots party is needed RIGHT NOW if we are to have a chance to survive the collapse of our world. The Democratic Establishment is stuck in BAU, and will not change enough to tackle the inequities.

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Biden is already making massive compromises that are not what he promised in his campaign.

"Joe Biden has now been president for a full month. Recently, he held a town hall at CNN where he, as Joe Biden is wont to do, stuck his foot in his mouth several times. Two instances stand out immediately: Joe Biden’s claim that the nation “didn’t have” the coronavirus vaccine when he came into office and his claim that people in the Black and Hispanic communities don’t know how to use the internet to find out where to get vaccinated.

Not only are both of these claims extraordinarily false, but they are equally laughable. Biden not only received his vaccine a month before taking office, but it was covered on national news. His statement regarding Black and Hispanic Americans is not only extraordinarily patronizing, suggesting we need an education campaign because these communities can’t use the internet, but it’s also extraordinarily racist.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem with the first month of Joe Biden’s presidency. Biden is lying and misrepresenting his agenda as president."

What do you think about the timing of going all in to form a People's Party? Is it a pipe dream? Will it be a spoiler for the Democratic party if it emerges?

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Alan Watts talks about the art of meditation and why it is important to practice it, especially in the civilized world. Too much mental chatter can trap you in a world of illusion.

Watts : "I’m not saying that thinking is bad. Like everything else, it’s useful in moderation. A good servant, but a bad master.

    All so called civilized peoples have increasingly become crazy and self-destructive, because through excessive thinking, they have lost touch with reality. That’s to say we confuse signs, words, numbers, symbols and ideas with the real world.

    Most of us would rather have money than tangible wealth and a great occasion is somehow spoiled for us unless it is photographed. And, to read about it the next day in the newspaper is oddly more fun for us than the original event. This is a disaster"

Nature endowed humanity with both revenge and forgiveness as tools of conflict resolution. But why does one seem so much harder than the other?

If you’re like most people, the very thought of forgiving an enemy probably makes you feel uneasy. This doesn’t make you a bad person—it just makes you human.

Forgiveness is emotionally difficult because evolution has endowed us with the psychological motivation to avoid being exploited by others, and the easiest way to prevent exploitation is to hit back or simply avoid the exploiter. Therefore, our discussion of forgiveness must begin by understanding that the urge to retaliate is very deeply rooted in evolutionary history.

In fact, direct retaliatory violence is perhaps nature’s most reliable conflict resolution mechanism. It evens the score by reversing any gains that might be had by the aggressor. But not all forms of retaliation are the same. Although revenge is often informally used to describe any form of retaliation, it is in fact one extreme form of it.

Nature has provided us with an alternative to revenge that researchers call negative reciprocity—and that is what opens the door to forgiveness.

Why do we hate?

Revenge is meant to cause suffering for its own sake, and it tends to be out of proportion with the initial wrongdoing.

According to Aaron Sell, this form of retaliation is uniquely motivated by hatred and the idea “that another’s existence and well-being will cause harm.” There is a perception that the very existence of some individual or group is an imminent threat to your life.

The role of hate is important here and is meant as an explicit contrast with anger. As Eran Halperin and colleagues explain, hate is triggered in part by a belief that an out-group is actually unable to change their villainous ways. Revenge is driven by the perception (real or not) of the implacable foe: the maniacal menace whose mind cannot be turned, and whose behavior cannot be stopped.

At the group level, revenge has been the stubbornly pernicious engine of social and political violence from the Hatfields and McCoys to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Anthropologists widely recognize that raids and “blood revenge” are the most common form of and motivation for warfare across the world.

Part of the reason that revenge is so easily triggered between groups is because in many ways the evolutionary cards are quite simply stacked in that direction. As a consequence of our long ancestry in small nomadic groups, we possess evolved biases and intuitions that lead us to prefer in-group associations to out-group associations, we are reflexively suspicious of strangers from other groups, and we are easily “rallied ‘round the flag.”

These biases operate to make revenge appear easy and obvious, while making reconciliation and compromise appear misguided and dangerous. Political appeasements that have led to reconciliation and peace are often forgotten, while those that have led to further exploitation are dramatically and indefinitely ingrained in the social narrative. That’s why calls for compromise in international conflict are often met with the familiar caution against repeating the mistake of appeasing Hitler at Munich. We tend to forget countless examples where clever give and take worked in keeping the peace between nations.

The challenge of forgiveness

Yet, disproportional acts of hateful violence are not always one’s immediate reaction to perceived injustice. We are often angry, yet not hateful. We often seek punishment short of the complete eradication of a rival.

This leads us into negative reciprocity. The label itself conveys that an exchange of cost takes place: you harm me, and I respond with an equivalent and proportional harm. Unlike revenge, negative reciprocity is a relatively proportional response meant to change the mind of the target, not obliterate it.

Thus, negative reciprocity holds the promise of restoring or building a cooperative relationship. It is an evolved strategy meant to achieve a delicate balancing act: it seeks to end unjust or apparently inequitable behavior, while repairing a cooperative relationship with the one who has wronged you. We are social organisms. That means we are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, but it also means that we depend heavily on others for valuable cooperative opportunities.

There are two parts to the success of negative reciprocity as a conflict resolution strategy: proportionality and forgiveness.

Although punishment is most likely an adaptation designed to prevent exploitation, the chosen punishment must be measured if the relationship is to be restored. A weak response sends the signal that you can be exploited, but an excessive response sends the signal that you intend to escalate the conflict. This challenge helps us to understand the surprising success of the simple computer strategy “tit-for-tat”: cooperate first, then copy your opponent’s previous move.

When pitted against alternative strategies in prisoner’s dilemma computer tournaments, this strategy has been remarkably successful and resilient, in part for one simple reason: it is quick to punish, but it is also quick to forgive. This helps us to recognize that the goal of negative reciprocity is to punish or get “angry enough” so that your message is understood, but not go so far as to risk unnecessary escalation and counter retaliation.

The second component of negative reciprocity is forgiveness. Jeni Burnette and colleagues have demonstrated that forgiveness is likely produced by a set of adaptations designed to repair damaged relationships. According to Burnette’s team, forgiveness is almost never unconditional, but rather tends to occur under particular circumstances.

Specifically, forgiveness is contingent upon two types of information: the relationship value of the wrongdoer, and the probability that the wrongdoer will harm us again in the future. The combination of these two elements goes a long way to determine whether individuals and groups are likely to forgive transgressions, and this can also help to explain why apologies on their own can so inconsistently lead to forgiveness from others.

To illustrate, consider two examples from international politics. In one study, Philpot and Hornsey found that political apologies for mistreatment of Australian prisoners of war during World War II had no effect on the willingness of Australians to forgive the perpetrators. In contrast, a study by Brown and his colleagues demonstrated that a political apology was sufficient to cause Canadians to forgive an incident in which their soldiers were killed by “friendly fire” by American soldiers.

Rather than revealing the weak and inconsistent nature of political apologies, these examples help to demonstrate two important points about political forgiveness.

First, as Burnette’s team demonstrates, forgiveness is triggered when relationship value is high and exploitation risk is low. These conditions were arguably much more present in the case of the friendly fire incident than in the prisoners of war case.

Second, forgiveness tends to follow, rather than create, the conditions for reconciliation. Indeed, the political and economic relationship between the U.S. and Canada is one of, if not the most, peaceful and prosperous in the world. Apology and forgiveness may indeed be less frequent internationally, but its success is neither random nor impossible.

Seen from this perspective, our retaliatory tendencies and capacity for forgiveness actually represent a broad toolkit of motivational systems in humans fashioned by natural selection to help us avoid exploitation, resolve conflicts of interest, and restore valued relationships.

We have a diverse motivational toolkit because the problems humans faced in ancestral environments were themselves diverse. For example, resolving a conflict with a close friend or someone within your own group involves risks and opportunities that are quite different than those faced when seeking to resolve a conflict with an enemy or with a stranger from an out-group.

The next time you feel someone has wronged you, it might be worthwhile to reflect upon the evolutionary roots of our complex desires for retaliation and forgiveness. Neither retaliation nor forgiveness is an unalloyed good; both involve significant risks and benefits.

But we owe it to ourselves to at least consider the reasons why forgiveness might be difficult, and to challenge ourselves to forgive, even knowing the risks. Although forgiveness often follows rather than creates the conditions that facilitate reconciliation, the conditions for peace are never created on their own.

Diner TV / Charles Manson: Reporters Recall Brutal Killings
« on: March 01, 2021, 11:35:20 AM »
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Dan Harris from ABC News contacted me out-of-the-blue a few years ago to discuss the power of mindfulness and meditation. His book, 10% Happier, which has since become a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, does a terrific job of demystifying meditation and illustrating why taking a few minutes every day to “think about your thinking" can dramatically improve your life.

In a recent interview on NPR Harris said, “If you had told me 10 years ago that I was going to be a public evangelist for meditation, I would have coughed my beer up through my nose. I mean, this is just the last thing I ever saw coming.”

Harris' self-depracating sense of humor and secular approach make him an unexpected, but perfect, messenger for the powers of mindfulness and meditation. He's also very good at explaining—in very clear, simple, and accesible terms—"how-to" meditate and practice daily mindfulness.

Even with the mind-body awareness revolution of the 1970s led by trailblazers like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Herbert Benson, “meditation” and “mindfulness” have continued to suffer somewhat of a PR problem. Making meditation seem easy to practice, relatable and desirable to a large general audience has traditionally been hard to communicate and a tough sell.

Harris has done us a huge public service by becoming a self-proclaimed "evangelist for meditation." Harris combines healthy cynicism with a sense of humor and has a straightforward approach that avoids any new-age clichés or self-help gobbledygook. His findings are science based and his how-to advice is simplified without ever dumbing anything down. 

Meditation 101: Focus Your Attention on Your Breath Coming In and Going Out

Meditation can seem like something that is reserved for Buddhist monks or someone who lives in an ashram. The idea of becoming a practitioner of meditation can connote a lifetime of dedication that requires you to spend hours sitting in a lotus position while burning incense and chanting “om.” This is not the case.

Harris makes daily meditation as easy as 1-2-3. As Dan explains, "all you need to do is sit upright in a chair for about 5-minutes and focus your full attention on the feeling of your breath coming in and out. If your mind wanders, simply guide your attention back to your breath."
Three Steps to Meditation by Harris

1. Sit comfortably, with your back upright.

2. Focus your full attention on the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.

3. Bring your attention back to your breath. You don’t have to clear your mind; getting lost and coming back is the whole game.

Like many people, I’ve often felt like I'm not very "good" at meditation because when I meditate, my mind tends to wander and the idea of “emptying my mind” and achieving a zen-like state seems frustratingly out of reach. I had a huge “aha” moment when I heard Harris explain that not clearing your mind but returning your attention back to your breath is, in fact, “the whole game.”

Harris’ interpretation of meditation dissolves any potential judgments or feelings of “failure." He makes it clear that the cognitive process of bringing your attention back to your breath is actually what flexes the mental muscles that can literally rewire your brain and shift how you “think about your thinking” at a neurobiological level.

Mindfulness 101: Think About Your Thinking

Mindfulness is generally described as, “1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” 

Harris has a simple and relatable definition for mindfulness as, “The skill of knowing what’s happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it.”

Harris makes an analogy of the thoughts in your mind being like a waterfall filled mostly with thoughts of “me, me, me.” In this metaphor, mindfulness allows you to step away from the current of the gushing waterfall and observe the contents of your thoughts in the waterfall non-judgmentally from a distance.   

Meditation and mindfulness probably won't deliver you to a permanent state of Nirvana. However, 10% Happier convincingly illustrates how and why meditation and mindfulness are a dynamic duo that can help you transcend the belief that external factors ultimately drive your happiness.

Mindfulness gives you the ability to see the glass as half-full or half-empty in a wide range of circumstances. Not that you want to use mindfulness or meditation to become a non-reactive blob or a Pollyanna ... but pragmatic optimism, and using mindfulness to decide how you are going to respond to the “monkey in your mind” is in the locus of your control.

Conclusion: We Are Homo Sapiens Sapiens Who “Think and Know We Think”

Harris points out that human beings as a species are technically classified as “Homo Sapiens Sapiens,” which means “the man or woman who can think and knows he thinks.” Unfortunately, the second "sapiens" has been dropped from our name over time. That said, the ability to step outside of ourselves and “think about our thinking” calmly and non-judgmentally is something that will always make humans unique.

Flexing your ability to think about your thinking and practicing brief bouts of daily meditation is good for your health and has an endless list of psychological and physical benefits for your well-being. Harris is a timely zealot for the power of mindfulness and believes that meditation is the next big public health revolution. I agree.

Mindfulness can be practiced anytime, anywhere. Meditation only takes five minutes a day. If you aren’t currently practicing either mindfulness or meditation, why not start doing so today? As 10% Happier makes very clear, it’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Diner TV / The Trap (TV series)
« on: February 23, 2021, 06:24:01 AM »
The series consists of three 60-minute programmes which explore the modern concept and definition of freedom, specifically, "how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom."

The Trap, Episode 1 - F*** You, Buddy!

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The Trap, Episode 2 - The Lonely Robot

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The Trap, Episode 3 - We Will Force You to Be Free

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When we aren’t into our personal mischief, life is a seamless whole in which we are so embedded that there is no problem. But we don’t always feel embedded because – while life is just life – when it seems to threaten our personal viewpoint we become upset, and withdraw from it. […] There are a million things that can upset human beings. They are based on the fact that suddenly life isn’t just life (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, thinking) anymore; we have separated ourselves and broken the seamless whole because we feel threatened. Now life is over there, and I am over here thinking about it. I am not embedded in it anymore. […]

How do we bring our separated life together? To walk the razor’s edge is to do that; we have once again to be what we basically are, which is seeing, touching, hearing, smelling; we have to experience whatever our life is, right this second. If we’re upset we have to experience being upset. If we’re frightened, we have to experience being frightened. If we’re jealous we have to experience being jealous. And such experiencing is physical; it has nothing to do with the thoughts going on about the upset.

When we are experiencing nonverbally we are walking the razor’s edge – we are the present moment. When we walk the edge the agonizing states of separateness are pulled together, and we experience perhaps not happiness but joy. […]

If I feel that I’ve been hurt by you, I want to stay with my thoughts about the hurt. I want to experience my separation; it feels good to be consumed by those fiery, self-righteous thoughts. By thinking, I try to avoid feeling the pain. The more sophisticated my practice becomes, the more quickly I see this trap and return to experiencing the pain, the razor’s edge. And where I might once have stayed upset for two years, the upset shrinks to two months, two weeks, two minutes. Eventually I can experience an upset as it happens and stay right on the razor’s edge.

In fact the enlightened life is simply being able to walk that edge all the time. And while I don’t know of anyone who can always do this, certainly after years of practice, we can do it much of the time. It is a joy to walk that edge.

--Charlotte Joko Beck, From "Everyday Zen"

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Science, Inventions & Techology / A Brief History of Mass Media and Culture
« on: February 21, 2021, 04:41:47 PM »
Until Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th-century invention of the movable type printing press, books were painstakingly handwritten, and no two copies were exactly the same. The printing press made the mass production of print media possible. Not only was it much cheaper to produce written material, but new transportation technologies also made it easier for texts to reach a wide audience. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Gutenberg’s invention, which helped usher in massive cultural movements like the European Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. In 1810, another German printer, Friedrich Koenig, pushed media production even further when he essentially hooked the steam engine up to a printing press, enabling the industrialization of printed media. In 1800, a hand-operated printing press could produce about 480 pages per hour; Koenig’s machine more than doubled this rate. (By the 1930s, many printing presses had an output of 3000 pages an hour.) This increased efficiency helped lead to the rise of the daily newspaper.

As the first Europeans settled the land that would come to be called the United States of America, the newspaper was an essential medium. At first, newspapers helped the Europeans stay connected with events back home. But as the people developed their own way of life—their own culture—newspapers helped give expression to that culture. Political scientist Benedict Anderson has argued that newspapers also helped forge a sense of national identity by treating readers across the country as part of one unified group with common goals and values. Newspapers, he said, helped create an “imagined community.”

The United States continued to develop, and the newspaper was the perfect medium for the increasingly urbanized Americans of the 19th century, who could no longer get their local news merely through gossip and word of mouth. These Americans were living in an unfamiliar world, and newspapers and other publications helped them negotiate the rapidly changing world. The Industrial Revolution meant that people had more leisure time and more money, and media helped them figure out how to spend both.

In the 1830s, the major daily newspapers faced a new threat with the rise of the penny press—newspapers that were low-priced broadsheets. These papers served as a cheaper, more sensational daily news source and privileged news of murder and adventure over the dry political news of the day. While earlier newspapers catered to a wealthier, more educated audience, the penny press attempted to reach a wide swath of readers through cheap prices and entertaining (often scandalous) stories. The penny press can be seen as the forerunner to today’s gossip-hungry tabloids.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the first major non-print forms of mass media—film and radio—exploded in popularity. Radios, which were less expensive than telephones and widely available by the 1920s, especially had the unprecedented ability of allowing huge numbers of people to listen to the same event at the same time. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge’s preelection speech reached more than 20 million people. Radio was a boon for advertisers, who now had access to a large and captive audience. An early advertising consultant claimed that the early days of radio were “a glorious opportunity for the advertising man to spread his sales propaganda” thanks to “a countless audience, sympathetic, pleasure seeking, enthusiastic, curious, interested, approachable in the privacy of their homes.”Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005).

The reach of radio also further helped forge an American culture. The medium was able to downplay regional differences and encourage a unified sense of the American lifestyle—a lifestyle that was increasingly driven and defined by consumer purchases. “Americans in the 1920s were the first to wear ready-made, exact-size clothing…to play electric phonographs, to use electric vacuum cleaners, to listen to commercial radio broadcasts, and to drink fresh orange juice year round.”Digital History, “The Formation of Modern American Mass Culture,” The Jazz Age: The American 1920s, 2007, (accessed July 15, 2010). This boom in consumerism put its stamp on the 1920s, and, ironically, helped contribute to the Great Depression of the 1930s.Library of Congress, “Radio: A Consumer Product and a Producer of Consumption,” (accessed July 15, 2010).

The post-World War II era in the United States was marked by prosperity, and by the introduction of a seductive new form of mass communication: television. In 1946, there were about 17,000 televisions in the entire United States. Within seven years, two-thirds of American households owned at least one set. As the United States’ gross national product (GNP) doubled in the 1950s, and again in the 1960s, the American home became firmly ensconced as a consumer unit. Along with a television, the typical U.S. family owned a car and a house in the suburbs, all of which contributed to the nation’s thriving consumer-based economy.

Broadcast television was the dominant form of mass media. There were just three major networks, and they controlled over 90 percent of the news programs, live events, and sitcoms viewed by Americans. On some nights, close to half the nation watched the same show! Some social critics argued that television was fostering a homogenous, conformist culture by reinforcing ideas about what “normal” American life looked like. But television also contributed to the counterculture of the 1960s. The Vietnam War was the nation’s first televised military conflict, and nightly images of war footage and war protestors helped intensify the nation’s internal conflicts.

Broadcast technology, including radio and television, had such a hold of the American imagination that newspapers and other print media found themselves having to adapt to the new media landscape. Print media was more durable and easily archived, and allowed users more flexibility in terms of time—once a person had purchased a magazine, he could read it whenever and wherever he’d like. Broadcast media, in contrast, usually aired programs on a fixed schedule, which allowed it to both provide a sense of immediacy but also impermanence—until the advent of digital video recorders in the 21st century, it was impossible to pause and rewind a television broadcast.

The media world faced drastic changes once again in the 1980s and 1990s with the spread of cable television. During the early decades of television, viewers had a limited number of channels from which to choose. In 1975, the three major networks accounted for 93 percent of all television viewing. By 2004, however, this share had dropped to 28.4 percent of total viewing, thanks to the spread of cable television. Cable providers allowed viewers a wide menu of choices, including channels specifically tailored to people who wanted to watch only golf, weather, classic films, sermons, or videos of sharks. Still, until the mid-1990s, television was dominated by the three large networks. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, an attempt to foster competition by deregulating the industry, actually resulted in many mergers and buyouts of small companies by large companies. The broadcast spectrum in many places was in the hands of a few large corporations. In 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) loosened regulation even further, allowing a single company to own 45 percent of a single market (up from 25 percent in 1982).

Technological Transitions Shape Media Industries

New media technologies both spring from and cause cultural change. For this reason, it can be difficult to neatly sort the evolution of media into clear causes and effects. Did radio fuel the consumerist boom of the 1920s, or did the radio become wildly popular because it appealed to a society that was already exploring consumerist tendencies? Probably a little bit of both. Technological innovations such as the steam engine, electricity, wireless communication, and the Internet have all had lasting and significant effects on American culture. As media historians Asa Briggs and Peter Burke note, every crucial invention came with “a change in historical perspectives.”Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005). Electricity altered the way people thought about time, since work and play were no longer dependent on the daily rhythms of sunrise and sunset. Wireless communication collapsed distance. The Internet revolutionized the way we store and retrieve information.

The contemporary media age can trace its origins back to the electrical telegraph, patented in the United States by Samuel Morse in 1837. Thanks to the telegraph, communication was no longer linked to the physical transportation of messages. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether a message needed to travel five or five hundred miles. Suddenly, information from distant places was nearly as accessible as local news. When the first transatlantic cable was laid in 1858, allowing near-instantaneous communication from the United States to Europe, The London Times described it as “the greatest discovery since that of Columbus, a vast enlargement…given to the sphere of human activity.”Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005). Celebrations broke out in New York as people marveled at the new media. Telegraph lines began to stretch across the globe, making their own kind of world wide web.

Not long after the telegraph, wireless communication (which eventually led to the development of radio, television, and other broadcast media) emerged as an extension of telegraph technology. Although many 19th-century inventors, including Nikola Tesla, had a hand in early wireless experiments, it was Italian-born Guglielmo Marconi who is recognized as the developer of the first practical wireless radio system. This mysterious invention, where sounds seemed to magically travel through the air, captured the world’s imagination. Early radio was used for military communication, but soon the technology entered the home. The radio mania that swept the country inspired hundreds of applications for broadcasting licenses, some from newspapers and other news outlets, while other radio station operators included retail stores, schools, and even cities. In the 1920s, large media networks—including the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)—were launched, and they soon began to dominate the airwaves. In 1926, they owned 6.4 percent of U.S. broadcasting stations; by 1931, that number had risen to 30 percent.Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005).

The 19th-century development of photographic technologies would lead to the later innovations of cinema and television. As with wireless technology, several inventors independently came up with photography at the same time, among them the French inventors Joseph Niepce and Louis Daguerre, and British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot. In the United States, George Eastman developed the Kodak camera in 1888, banking on the hope that Americans would welcome an inexpensive, easy-to-use camera into their homes, as they had with the radio and telephone. Moving pictures were first seen around the turn of the century, with the first U.S. projection hall opening in Pittsburgh in 1905. By the 1920s, Hollywood had already created its first stars, most notably Charlie Chaplin. By the end of the 1930s, Americans were watching color films with full sound, including Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Television, which consists of an image being converted to electrical impulses, transmitted through wires or radio waves, and then reconverted into images, existed before World War II but really began to take off in the 1950s. In 1947, there were 178,000 television sets made in the United States; five years later, there were 15 million. Radio, cinema, and live theater all saw a decline in the face of this new medium that allowed viewers to be entertained with sound and moving pictures without having to leave their homes.

How was this powerful new medium going to be operated? After much debate, the United States opted for the market. Competing commercial stations (including the radio powerhouses of CBS and NBC) owned stations and sold advertising and commercial-driven programming dominated. Britain took another track with its government-managed British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Funding was driven by licensing fees instead of advertisements. In contrast to the American system, the BBC strictly regulated the length and character of commercials that could be aired. U.S. television, propelled by prosperity, advertising and increasingly powerful networks, flourished. By the beginning of 1955, there were 36 million television sets in the United States, and 4.8 million in all of Europe.Asa Briggs and Peter Burke, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2005). Important national events, broadcast live for the first time, were an impetus for consumers to buy sets and participate in the spectacle—both England and Japan saw a boom in sales before important royal weddings in the 1950s.

For the last stage in this fast history of media technology, how’s this for a prediction? In 1969, management consultant Peter Drucker predicted that the next major technological innovation after television would be an “electronic appliance” that would be “capable of being plugged in wherever there is electricity and giving immediate access to all the information needed for school work from first grade through college.” He said it would be the equivalent of Edison’s light bulb in its ability to revolutionize how we live. He had, in effect, predicted the computer. He was prescient about the effect that computers and the Internet would have on education, social relationships, and the culture at large. The inventions of random access memory (RAM) chips and microprocessors in the 1970s were important steps along the way to the Internet age. As Briggs and Burke note, these advances meant that “hundreds of thousands of components could be carried on a microprocessor.” The reduction of many different kinds of content to digitally stored information meant that “print, film, recording, radio and television and all forms of telecommunications [were] now being thought of increasingly as part of one complex.” This process, also known as convergence, will be discussed in later chapters and is a force that’s shaping the face of media today.

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Doom Psychology & Philosophy / Writing
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Writing is the physical manifestation of a spoken language. It is thought that human beings developed language c. 35,000 BCE as evidenced by cave paintings from the period of the Cro-Magnon Man (c. 50,000-30,000 BCE) which appear to express concepts concerning daily life. These images suggest a language because, in some instances, they seem to tell a story (say, of a hunting expedition in which specific events occurred) rather than being simply pictures of animals and people.

Written language, however, does not emerge until its invention in Sumer, southern Mesopotamia, c. 3500 -3000 BCE. This early writing was called cuneiform and consisted of making specific marks in wet clay with a reed implement. The writing system of the Egyptians was already in use before the rise of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 BCE) and is thought to have developed from Mesopotamian cuneiform (though this theory is disputed) and came to be known as heiroglyphics.

The phoenetic writing systems of the Greeks ("phoenetic" from the Greek phonein - "to speak clearly"), and later the Romans, came from Phoenicia. The Phoenician writing system, though quite different from that of Mesopotamia, still owes its development to the Sumerians and their advances in the written word. Independently of the Near East or Europe, writing was developed in Mesoamerica by the Maya c. 250 CE with some evidence suggesting a date as early as 500 BCE and, also independently, by the Chinese.

Writing & History

Writing in China developed from divination rites using oracle bones c. 1200 BCE and appears to also have arisen independently as there is no evidence of cultural transference at this time between China and Mesopotamia. The ancient Chinese practice of divination involved etching marks on bones or shells which were then heated until they cracked. The cracks would then be interpreted by a Diviner. If that Diviner had etched `Next Tuesday it will rain' and `Next Tuesday it will not rain' the pattern of the cracks on the bone or shell would tell him which would be the case. In time, these etchings evolved into the Chinese script.

History is impossible without the written word as one would lack context in which to interpret physical evidence from the ancient past. Writing records the lives of a people and so is the first necessary step in the written history of a culture or civilization. A prime example of this problem is the difficulty scholars of the late 19th/early 20th centuries CE had in understanding the Maya Civilization, in that they could not read the glyphs of the Maya and so wrongly interpreted much of the physical evidence they excavated. The early explorers of the Maya sites, such as Stephens and Catherwood, believed they had found evidence of an ancient Egyptian civilization in Central America.

This same problem is evident in understanding the ancient Kingdom of Meroe (in modern day Sudan), whose Meroitic Script is yet to be deciphered as well as the so-called Linear A script of the ancient Minoan culture of Crete which also has yet to be understood.
The Sumerians first invented writing as a means of long-distance communication which was necessitated by trade.

The Invention of Writing

The Sumerians first invented writing as a means of long-distance communication which was necessitated by trade. With the rise of the cities in Mesopotamia, and the need for resources which were lacking in the region, long-distance trade developed and, with it, the need to be able to communicate across the expanses between cities or regions.

The earliest form of writing was pictographs – symbols which represented objects – and served to aid in remembering such things as which parcels of grain had gone to which destination or how many sheep were needed for events like sacrifices in the temples. These pictographs were impressed onto wet clay which was then dried, and these became official records of commerce. As beer was a very popular beverage in ancient Mesopotamia, many of the earliest records extant have to do with the sale of beer. With pictographs, one could tell how many jars or vats of beer were involved in a transaction but not necessarily what that transaction meant. As the historian Kriwaczek notes,

    All that had been devised thus far was a technique for noting down things, items and objects, not a writing system. A record of `Two Sheep Temple God Inanna' tells us nothing about whether the sheep are being delivered to, or received from, the temple, whether they are carcasses, beasts on the hoof, or anything else about them. (63)

In order to express concepts more complex than financial transactions or lists of items, a more elaborate writing system was required, and this was developed in the Sumerian city of Uruk c. 3200 BCE. Pictograms, though still in use, gave way to phonograms – symbols which represented sounds – and those sounds were the spoken language of the people of Sumer. With phonograms, one could more easily convey precise meaning and so, in the example of the two sheep and the temple of Inanna, one could now make clear whether the sheep were going to or coming from the temple, whether they were living or dead, and what role they played in the life of the temple. Previously, one had only static images in pictographs showing objects like sheep and temples. With the development of phonograms one had a dynamic means of conveying motion to or from a location.

Further, whereas in earlier writing (known as proto-cuneiform) one was restricted to lists of things, a writer could now indicate what the significance of those things might be. The scholar Ira Spar writes:

    This new way of interpreting signs is called the rebus principle. Only a few examples of its use exist in the earliest stages of cuneiform from between 3200 and 3000 B.C. The consistent use of this type of phonetic writing only becomes apparent after 2600 B.C. It constitutes the beginning of a true writing system characterized by a complex combination of word-signs and phonograms—signs for vowels and syllables—that allowed the scribe to express ideas. By the middle of the Third Millennium B.C., cuneiform primarily written on clay tablets was used for a vast array of economic, religious, political, literary, and scholarly documents.

This new means of communication allowed scribes to record the events of their times as well as their religious beliefs and, in time, to create an art form which was not possible before the written word: literature. The first writer in history known by name is the Mesopotamian priestess Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE), daughter of Sargon of Akkad, who wrote her hymns to the goddess Inanna and signed them with her name and seal.

The so-called Matter of Aratta, four poems dealing with King Enmerkar of Uruk and his son Lugalbanda, were probably composed between 2112-2004 BCE (though only written down between 2017-1763 BCE). In the first of them, Enmerkar and The Lord of Aratta, it is explained that writing developed because the messenger of King Enmerkar, going back and forth between him and the King of the city of Aratta, eventually had too much to remember and so Enmerkar had the idea to write his messages down; and so writing was born.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, considered the first epic tale in the world and among the oldest extant literature, was composed at some point earlier than c. 2150 BCE when it was written down and deals with the great king of Uruk (and descendent of Enmerkar and Lugalbanda) Gilgamesh and his quest for the meaning of life. The myths of the people of Mesopotamia, the stories of their gods and heroes, their history, their methods of building, of burying their dead, of celebrating feast days, were now all able to be recorded for posterity. Writing made history possible because now events could be recorded and later read by any literate individual instead of relying on a community's storyteller to remember and recite past events. Scholar Samuel Noah Kramer comments:

    [The Sumerians] originated a system of writing on clay which was borrowed and used all over the Near East for some two thousand years. Almost all that we know of the early history of western Asia comes from the thousands of clay documents inscribed in the cuneiform script developed by the Sumerians and excavated by archaeologists. (4)

So important was writing to the Mesopotamians that, under the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (r. 685-627 BCE) over 30,000 clay tablet books were collected in the library of his capital at Nineveh. Ashurbanipal was hoping to preserve the heritage, culture, and history of the region and understood clearly the importance of the written word in achieving this end. Among the many books in his library, Ashurbanipal included works of literature, such as the tale of Gilgamesh or the story of Etana, because he realized that literature articulates not just the story of a certain people, but of all people. The historian Durant writes:

    Literature is at first words rather than letters, despite its name; it arises as clerical chants or magic charms, recited usually by the priests, and transmitted orally from memory to memory. Carmina, as the Romans named poetry, meant both verses and charms; ode, among the Greeks, meant originally a magic spell; so did the English rune and lay, and the German Lied. Rhythm and meter, suggested, perhaps, by the rhythms of nature and bodily life, were apparently developed by magicians or shamans to preserve, transmit, and enhance the magic incantations of their verse. Out of these sacerdotal origins, the poet, the orator, and the historian were differentiated and secularized: the orator as the official lauder of the king or solicitor of the deity; the historian as the recorder of the royal deeds; the poet as the singer of originally sacred chants, the formulator and preserver of heroic legends, and the musician who put his tales to music for the instruction of populace and kings.

Book of the Dead Papyrus

The Alphabet

The role of the poet in preserving heroic legends would become an important one in cultures throughout the ancient world. The Mesopotamian scribe Shin-Legi-Unninni (wrote 1300-1000 BCE) would help preserve and transmit The Epic of Gilgamesh. Homer (c. 800 BCE) would do the same for the Greeks and Virgil (70-19 BCE) for the Romans. The Indian epic Mahabharata (written down c. 400 BCE) preserves the oral legends of that region in the same way the tales and legends of Scotland and Ireland do. All of these works, and those which came after them, were only made possible through the advent of writing.

The early cuneiform writers established a system which would completely change the nature of the world in which they lived. The past, and the stories of the people, could now be preserved through writing. The Phoenicians' contribution of the alphabet made writing easier and more accessible to other cultures, but the basic system of putting symbols down on paper to represent words and concepts began much earlier.  Durant notes:

    The Phoenicians did not create the alphabet, they marketed it; taking it apparently from Egypt and Crete, they imported it piecemeal to Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, and exported it to every city on the Mediterranean; they were the middlemen, not the producers, of the alphabet. By the time of Homer the Greeks were taking over this Phoenician – or the allied Aramaic – alphabet, and were calling it by the Semitic names of the first two letters, Alpha, Beta; Hebrew Aleph, Beth.

Early writing systems, imported to other cultures, evolved into the written language of those cultures so that the Greek and Latin would serve as the basis for European script in the same way that the Semitic Aramaic script would provide the basis for Hebrew, Arabic, and possibly Sanskrit. The materials of writers have evolved as well, from the cut reeds with which early Mesopotamian scribes marked the clay tablets of cuneiform to the reed pens and papyrus of the Egyptians, the parchment of the scrolls of the Greeks and Romans, the calligraphy of the Chinese, on through the ages to the present day of computerized composition and the use of processed paper.

In whatever age, since its inception, writing has served to communicate the thoughts and feelings of the individual and of that person's culture, their collective history, and their experiences with the human condition, and to preserve those experiences for future generations.

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    Black, J. , et. al. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press, 2005.
    Coe, M. D. The Maya. Thames & Hudson, 2015.
    Durant, W. Our Oriental Heritage. Simon & Schuster, 1954.
    Ebrey, P. B. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
    Kramer, S. N. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press, 1971.
    Kriwaczek, P. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization. St. Martin's Griffin, 2012.
    Scarre, C. & Fagan, B.F. Ancient Civilizations. Pearson, 2007.
    The Origins of Writing by Ira SparAccessed 1 Dec 2016.
    Van De Mieroop, M. A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000 - 323 BC, 2nd Edition. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
    Wise Bauer, S. The History of the Ancient World. W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Doom Psychology & Philosophy / Lexical Semantics
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Diner TV / A gentleman on a date is confronted with an unusual request.
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