Pop! The Praxis of Venal

Praxis  - the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized.

Venality - capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration.

We all live in bubbles, whether we know it or not. The world is full of alternative realities, alternative truths.  News is one of the key aspects of these bubble worlds.  The control of information, the control of the story. The control of the advert.  All these play into shaping our perceptions of the reality around us.  It is what makes Facebook so powerful and Rupert Murdoch the doyen of parties of the rich and powerful around the world.

Lost in Facebook, earlier this week, I was reminded of a time, at the end of my teens, when I had the great privilege to be elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the United Kingdom’s National Union of Students. One of my fellow NEC members had posted some old campaign material which bought back a lot of memories.  NUS is organization that acts as a national advocacy, campaign and lobbying organization for the UK’s seven million students.  

NUS Executive Members were given a series of policy areas they were responsible for.  One of mine was Northern Ireland.  My monthly trips to Belfast and Dublin were my first real exposure to the politics of the north of the island of Ireland outside the confines of regular British media.  The Troubles were ongoing, this was before the Good Friday Agreement, and An Phoblacht (Gaelic forThe Republic), the newspaper of Sein Fein - the political wing of the IRA, was printing stories about British oppression and atrocity that I never heard about in the mainland’s Main Stream Media.  

I was aware of alternate views, of course, but the stories in the mainland’s Trotskyist Left (Socialist Worker and the Militant), when one of those journals was shoved in my less than eager hands, were familiar.  They were obsessed with brutality of Conservatives and Thatcherism, but offered little more than the ratcheting up of the anguish you saw (and still see) in The Guardian.  Anger spewed in the language of the tabloid and with the added frisson of a “One Solution, Revolution!” mentality that was missing from the more safe, mainstream, middle-class, liberal journals.  

An Phoblacht was different. The stories and inference were not the same.  They were shocking and destabilizing.  They made me think, forced me to consider an alternative.  I was outside the bubble looking in.

If you (like me) are a regular viewer of MSNBC of an evening and suddenly switch from there to say, Fox News - from Rachel Maddow to Sean Hannity - you’ll get the same, sudden, disassociation I experienced all those years ago.  There is a confusion not just of tone, but of content.  The stories are different, the inferences are different.  Now, take one step further and switch to Al Jazeera, an altogether different perspective emerges.  You realize that Stormy Daniels may not be such a thing after all.

A major news story in the world this week concerned the actions of a key player in the middle-east.  A republic under the control of a single political and economic philosophy with one of the largest execution rates in the world and a police force which kills on average a thousand of its citizens a year.  A republic which regularly fights proxy wars to maintain its advantage throughout the region, particularly, at the moment, in Syria.  

The country I am describing is of course the United States of America, seen though a highly polished and one-sided bubble, one which many of its citizens would not recognize.  But, is the Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, that different?  

Iran holds (mostly) free elections via a list of candidates chosen by clerics, they are a theocratic democracy after all.  The US holds (mostly) free elections from a list of candidates chosen by big business, plutocrats and the conglomerate media, they are, in turn, a capitalist democracy.  And, before we even get into the issue of an unelected head of a religion running the country, well, I am originally from England.       

I’m reminded of the ending of the 1983 movie Falling Down, where Michael Douglas’ character finally understands that he was the bad guy.  Such a thought could apply to most countries.  

The United States just tore up an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran and plunged the entire Middle East into uncertainty. Iran was in compliance with the treaty, though weren’t seeing the expected benefits. The US was the bad actor.  Trump, in one of those alpha-male pissing contests to mark his own dominance, dismissed the “Obama” Iran deal as a bad deal, maybe the worst.  At the same time he seemed to advocate exactly the same deal for his own diplomatic triumph in North Korea.  The lens of history and its attendant bubble presents the same view with a very different distortion.  

In this great information age we have both the opportunity and the ability, unprecedented in history, to explore different modalities and different points of view.  We can try and understand where we are all, as a single species, coming from: emotionally, economically and philosophically.  We can research other points of view, if only to understand what each other is thinking.  Monopolies of truth are rare and hard to find, most ideas cannot stand-up to such scrutiny.   

I try and read across both the geographical and political spectrum, and, in doing so, I see new ways (for me) of looking at the world. I might not agree with all perspectives, but I understand them better.  So I challenge us all this week to go to a new source of information.  Go to an unfamiliar news channel or newspaper.  One that challenges our presumptions.  Explore a different vantage point.  Consider your own views in relation to that.  If we look outside our own bubbles, or even pop a few of them, we may find a different proposition:  not venality but empathy.