Daily Archives: May 1, 2012

Mindism: Notes (incomplete) on what ails American politics, education and industry

April 30, 2012. Over the past 100 years or so Americans have struggled to come to terms with a number of prejudices whose origins lie deep into the human psyche. These prejudices have been fixed beliefs in the inferiority of others: of other countries, races, sexes, sexual identities or generations. In their most obdurate, intractable forms, they have been beyond the reach of reason or the limited experience of those who hold them. America has addressed them as chauvinism, racism, sexism, homophobia and ageism. But there’s another widespread prejudice, as yet unnamed, that’s as pervasive and yet as invisible as the air we breathe. Until America names it, America won’t address it. And American politics will continue to deteriorate at local, state and national levels as they have for the past five decades.

Mindism is the only word I can think of for this prejudice. As I see it everywhere around me, mindism is a fixed belief in the inferiority of the intelligence of the American citizen, relative, say, to that of policy makers. Rather, it’s an outright denial of this intelligence. Sadly, mindism is perhaps as widespread among the general public as it among policy makers.¬† In the general public, it takes the form of the belief that, while I’m smart, my neighbor isn’t, nor are the people living on the other side of town.

Mindism has always existed in America, but the extreme forms of it that we see today – the dumbing down of the American people – are rooted in the media-driven polarization of American civic discourse into two literally mindless extremes of right and left, of red and blue. This breakdown has been widening since the 1960’s when nationwide, network television began to broadcast the political attack ads that since then have enabled America’s so-called political donor class to reduce American civic discourse to the inflammatory 30 and 60 second ad hominem attacks on political candidates that now skew election outcomes at local, state and national levels. These televised attack ads at elections times are (again) as pervasive as the air we breathe. But unlike the mindlessness they foment, they are annoyingly visible. We see them, we hate them, yet we seem to be powerless to replace them with media programming that would give us an informed voice in the political decisions that affect our lives.

[Add two paragraphs about the affirmation of the intelligence of the citizen (or employee) and the essential role of an (informed) public mind in the thinking of Jefferson, Dewey, W. E. Deming, Chomsky, the Chicago Tribune]

Last October, the Chicago Tribune launched that keeps America from tapping the knowledge and wisdom of the what the Chicago Tribune has called “the most powerful of its [Chicago’s] resources: In a societal context, it lies at the root of the denial of the very existence of the public mind: of the the ability of a people to think collectively and intelligently as a people. In an individual context, it is the assumption or belief that the other guy is too stupid to make informed judgments or to give useful input on decisions that affect his life.

  • In politics, mindism maintains that most Americans lack the intelligence for informed judgments or input on the governmental decisions that affect their lives. This belief is widespread among governors and governed alike. Citizens use it to dismiss or put down the views of those they disagree with. Public officials and policy makers use it to do citizens’ thinking for them: to justify the exclusion of citizen input from government decisions about which citizens have profound knowledge. Other reasons and pretexts exist for excluding citizen input from decisions that directly affect citizens’ lives. These include self-interest, feasibility, convenience, tradition, force of habit, the press of time and the great difficulty of securing and channeling informed citizen input in a nation of 330 million people. But when one considers two facts – the extraordinary capacity of modern communications technologies to link citizens and government productively at local, state and national levels, and the failure (indeed refusal) of the nation’s political, academic and media leaders to put these technologies to civic use – it is mindism that best explains not only this failure but also the polarized and dysfunctional state of American civic discourse.
  • Mindism is a corrosive force in democratic government: an affectation of superiority among public officials and journalists that entitles some (not many) Americans to do the thinking and decision making for all. Mindism empowers elected officials and members of the media to define and solve problems without public input. The public spectates, it does not participate. Decisions made under these circumstances ofter fail or backfire because government refuses to include those who will be most directly affected in the decision-making process.
  • In journalism, mindism allows journalists to avoid two-way dialogues that enable their audiences not only to read and listen but to speak back. This belief has proximate roots in Walter Lippmann’s 1922 argument that the journalistic¬†manufacture of consent was essential to a smoothly functioning government. Another source is the public relations and propaganda writing of Edward Bernays.


 

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Implementing civic media in Chicago

We’re building. We want major media pros to see civic media when they first hear of it not as a shot in the dark but as the harbinger of a dynamic and feasible future for all Chicago newsmedia. For a newsmedia that facilitates a Chicago politics that works in the City that Works. For a newsmedia that enables the 20th century I Will city to become a We Will city.¬† Here’s the pitch we’ll make when we’ve lined up our ducks:

Since 1988 Chicago Civic Media has developed and implemented dialogic, problem-solving print/electronic civic media formats capable of making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining and solving the problems and also in maximizing the opportunities that present themselves to communities any size: local, state, or national.

We have also worked to develop an informal, problem-solving civic media network of Chicago public, commercial and community media committed to

  • giving all Chicagoans an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives, neighborhoods and city.
  • Making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining problems and maximizing opportunities (Transparency alone won’t get the job done!)

Civic media, as we think of it, is a mediating media. To jumpstart it in Chicago, CCM has designed a hyperlocal and (eventually) citywide news and information platform, chicagowrks.com (not online yet) that will enable citizens to gather, prioritize and interact with government on any and all issues of importance.

Financially, civic media will sustain themselves by tapping the Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans who desire an informed voice in the governmental decisions that affect their lives. To maintain the integrity of civic media dialogues, civic media will be funded by a broad spectrum of funding sources including public, private and commercial sources and citizens. Because civic media programming is dynamic – because it’s committed to rational, non-ideological resolutions of profound social differences – it will attract local, citywide and national advertisers. It will appeal to and engage the same demographic groups (e.g. 18-35) that advertisers now see as the “holy grail” of advertising.

But because civic media exist to serve the market of the whole, they are committed to listening to and giving voice to all citizens, not just some. This means that when it comes to addressing controversial issues like gangs and drugs, civic media give voice not only to police and political figures but to taxpayers and businessmen and to those most directly impacted by gangs and drugs: young people and their parents and teachers, and to inmates and gang members.

Civic media’s commitment to hear and reconcile divergent voices is at the root of their enormous appeal to its audience and to their ability to generate viable and enduring solutions to truly intractable problems, like gangs and drugs.

Here’s a link to the work we did in the Austin neighborhood in the late 1990’s. This work came closer than anything I’ve seen to mobilizing an entire community to put a stop to public drug dealing. (Austin’s 15th District had a great District Commander in John Richardson and a feisty community newspaper in the Austin Voice.)

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a civic media is not racism or elitism, but mindism: the belief, presently widespread among media pros and politicians alike, that ordinary citizens lack the intelligence (are too stupid) to make informed decisions on the issues that affect their lives. It’s this belief, grounded intellectually in Walter Lippman’s 1920’s notion of manufacturing consent and reinforced by the PR work of Edward Bernays, that appears to entitle a very small number of us to think it’s their duty to do thinking of the rest of us.