For five-thousand years human civilization has been about a small privileged elite mostly directing the activity of the rest of us. The bankruptcy of this approach to human society, if not evident previously, became brutally so in the 20th Century when some of the most “advanced” countries on Earth sent millions of their young people to slaughter each other for national pride and systematically exterminated millions of other people simply attempting to live their lives in peace.
Better late than never, there is a more egalitarian approach to human civilization that we have to date only seen small glimpses of. In the vision of great thinkers like Isaiah, Laozi, Gautama Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Michael Servetus, Mikhail Bakunin, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Emma Goldman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Aung San Suu Kyi. In the consensus governance practices of the Quakers and the Iroquois. In the egalitarian societies of Scandinavia and the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Some of the key principles of this revised approach to civilization beyond control and conformity include…
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I caught the cover art of the recent Time magazine piece calling out the “Protester” as its “Person of the Year” and thought it was very cool. For the second time in this new century this long-time bulwark of the Eastern U.S. establishment has gone against its longstanding elitist tradition of calling out a member (or at least a darling) of the elite as its (once “Man” and now) “Person of the Year”. You may recall back in 2006 when “You” were the “Person of the Year”, Time‘s nod to the growth and importance of the Internet and the egalitarian social networking it fosters.
My understanding is that Time magazine has always represented the world view and biases of its founder Henry Luce and his second wife and successor, Clare Boothe Luce. Stalwarts of a moneyed New York establishment, Republican in that old school Nelson Rockefeller or Henry Cabot Lodge sort of thinking, prior to that farther right drift of the GOP starting with Goldwater in the 1960s to the various incarnations of the political right today.
I remember my mom, who was a Democrat and feminist activist in the 1960s and 70s, telling me that she always read Time to see what the other side was thinking. (One of many bits of wisdom she gave me – putting yourself in the shoes of your adversary to more effectively challenge that adversary.) So my mom, were she still alive and ticking today, would certainly alert me to take note of this new perhaps more egalitarian nod from one of the champion voices of the elite.
I for one would like to see this new century be all about “us”, the regular folks of the world, rather than “them”… highlighted members of some defined elite or even the iconic leaders (like Barak Obama for example) that may rise out of “us” but then grab the spotlight to lead and perhaps vicariously represent our aspirations. To the extent that people in the U.S. still live vicariously through celebrities – whether politicians, sports figures, media stars, etc. – I’m so ready for all of us to move beyond that! We can move our society forward without having to put so much stock in the beneficence of our anointed superstars! Continue reading →
The Internet is our most dynamic new societal institution, developing quickly over the past 25 years from “Web 1.0” (providing static web pages with existing content) to “Web 2.0” (providing interactive environments for building connections between people, facilitating other societal institutions, and the “marketplace of ideas”). I think this is a good example, a good metaphor, for the direction we are moving (and should continue to move) in our entire society and its institutions, from top-down dissemination and control, to a more egalitarian exchange between a circle of equals.
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In my previous pieces based on Playboy magazine’s extensive 1969 interview with Marshall McLuhan, I looked first at McLuhan’s ideas on how revolutions in our communication technology – particularly the inventions of phonetic literacy, later printing, and most recently electronic media – have fundamentally changed how we perceive the world and thus organize our society. Second, I focused on his idea that people who have grown up in an age using electronic media – radio, movies, television, computers and now the Internet – are becoming in his words “post-literate” and “retribalizing”, which involves moving away from individualism and back to a more collective experience of the world.
For my fellow Baby-boomers, this post-literate retribalization would be most stereotypically seen in the whole hippie subculture with its at times paradoxical conformist non-conformity, including the whole sex, drugs, rock and roll, long hair, bell-bottoms and tie dye thing, the collective focus on “peace, love, joy” and sense of solidarity, as the band The Who sang, “talkin bout my g-g-g-generation”. Think thousands of young people at an anti-war rally holding hands and singing in unison, “All we are saying is give peace a chance”.
For my kids in the Millennial generation, with their developmental milieu of computers, cell phones and the Internet, their “hive mind” of connections with each other through their ubiquitous electronic devices would seem the most obvious evidence of perhaps an even higher level of the same retribalization. A blank stare at times to their parents or other adults, masking a complicated web of virtual “kinship” with each other.
So in this third installment of my messy tussle with the ideas of this “metaphysician of media”, I want to look at the issues he raises regarding the development of retribalized youth in a culture that still has not come to grips with its post-literate zeitgeist. My fellow Baby-boomers these days cavalierly throw around the term “gone viral” like we’re still hip and all, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means when our entire culture is in the grips of such virtual infections spread by our ubiquitous electronic media.
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