Archive for March 7th, 2011

Robert McChesney on federal support for public broadcasting

| March 7, 2011 | 2 Replies
Robert McChesney on federal support for public broadcasting

The co-founder of Free Press, Robert McChesney, discussed U.S. support for public broadcasting with Amy Goodman on today’s episode of Democracy Now. The episode begins with Hillary Clinton’s recent statement that Al Jazeera and other foreign news sources are offering real news–useful information–unlike America’s corporate news. Here’s an excerpt of Clinton’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Wednesday:

Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news, which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.

Robert McChesney agreed with Ms. Clinton’s disparagement of America’s new media. He disagrees with her proposal for addressing this serious problem. Clinton is proposing to increase funding for America’s foreign media operations. According to McChesney, we should scrap the plan to increase international propaganda and, instead, provide better support for America’s domestic public media.

The current federal support for Public Broadcasting and support for community broadcast stations, is $420 million. This amounts to one one−hundredth of one percent of the total federal budget, (i.e., that is one ten-thousandth of the federal spending for 2010) and this only about half the amount ($750 million) that the federal government pays to support various international broadcasts (Voice of America and other international media operations).

McChesney recommends that we combine these monies into a single first-rate public-supported media that will treat the United States just like it treats other countries. It should be a network with no double-standard and no blatant propaganda (BTW, I recently noticed that American media outlets call opponents of a government “rebels” when it approves of them but “insurgents” when it doesn’t). McChesney proposes that this new government-funded public media should produce the type of information that other countries trust to such an extent that they will value it and rely on it; we should thus make this new public-funded entity’s news freely available to the rest of the world. Wouldn’t that be a fundamental change? I certainly haven’t seen any indication that the world flocks to see the jingoistic arguing-head-pundit “news” that our electronic currently specializes in producing.

McChesney reminded Amy Goodman’s audience that those concerned with media reform should consider attending the upcoming National Conference for Media Reform, April 8 – 10, in Boston, Massachusetts. I will be there; I’ve attended prior national conferences by Free Press and they present numerous critically important topics, including reform of corporate media and lots of encouragement for citizen journalists. Admission to the entire conference is $175. Here’s what one can expect at the upcoming conference, according to McChesney:

[T]his will be the fifth National Conference for Media Reform, in Boston. I’m more excited about this one than any of the other four, because I think politically in this country right now, with what’s happening in Wisconsin, with what is happening with the battle over public media, with the battle for an open and uncensored internet, the network neutrality fight, I think this is going to be an organizers’ conference. This is going to be an activists’ conference. This is going to be a conference for people to get engaged with issues and learn how to effectively fight, because I think what we’re learning now is that on issue after issue, the vast majority of the American people support us. They care about these issues. And all they need to do is drop a match on that prairie, and we’re going to have a fire. And that’s what we’re going to be doing in April in Boston. It’s going to be an extraordinary event.

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The non-science offered by the new atheists

| March 7, 2011 | 27 Replies
The non-science offered by the new atheists

This article is a continuation of my previous post analyzing Installments I – IV of David Sloan Wilson’s series of articles titled “Atheism As a Stealth Religion” (Here is Installment I). This article relates to D. S. Wilson’s installments V through VIII.

In Installment IV, D. S. Wilson presented six major hypothesis that have been used as plausible evolutionary explanations for religion. In installment V of his eight-part series of articles on atheism as a stealth religion, he indicates that religion is “a fuzzy set,” and that each of the six hypotheses he previously offered seem to bear on at least some aspect of religion. The only way to pick and choose which hypotheses truly work is to employ the scientific method, strictly speaking. That is the approach D. S. Wilson has claimed to have done in showing that the super organism hypothesis is more relevant and persuasive than the others.

If you could say only one thing about religion, it would be this: most enduring religions have what Emile Durkheim called ‘secular utility.’ They define, motivate and coordinate groups to achieve collective goals in this life. They promote cooperation within the group and bristle with defenses against the all-important problem of cheating.… [T]hey score high on practical realism, no matter how much they depart from factual realism along the way.

Wilson argues that the “byproduct” and “individualistic” accounts of religion can be fully reconciled with the superorganism hypothesis. For instance, the byproduct approach often includes the concept of a “hyperactive agency detection device (HADD)” that refers to our over willingness to explain events in terms of actions of “intentional human-like agents.” To the extent it exists, such a tendency could have come into existence about for reasons having nothing to do with religion. As such, HADD could well be a byproduct (or an exaptation) that currently contributes to our groupish tendencies. D. S. Wilson’s argument reminds me of the concept of “ontological metaphors” offered by Lakoff and Johnson. At bottom, human animals quite often demand intuitive explanatory models for understanding causation with regard to complex phenomena, and a prime method of portraying causation is through some sort of sentient agency. Since there is no evidence of such sentient agency, it becomes a logical move for a motivated individual to argue for a supernatural version of sentient causal power.

What are the consequences of accepting the superorganism hypothesis? By choosing among the hypotheses, we can better devise strategies for dealing with religion. Organisms and super organisms “compete, prey upon each other, coexist without interacting and engage in mutualistic interactions.” In these ways, superorganisms can be seen to be a special type of secular system akin to governments and business corporations. Religious organizations are not exceptions to the rule on how one conceives of and deals with organizational systems. Religions are, rather, merely one type of organizational system. Granted, they are notable to the extent that they “depart so flagrantly from factual realism,” but they are, at bottom, “corporate units.” Because they are essentially corporate units, we should expect that they behave comparably to other corporate units with regard to such things as competition and predation. D. S. Wilson notes that he has done quite a bit of research in this area, and is convinced that

[T]he majority religions… Originated and spread in a non–violent fashion–think of early Christianity and current versions such as Seventh-day Adventist him. I am not claiming that religious groups are biased toward pacifism, only that they are like secular groups in employing the full range of options in their interactions with other groups.

[More . . . ]

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