Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cracking the Code, Chapter One

Hartmann makes clear that communication tools are neutral and require an ethical base and a positive vision. They can be and are used to manipulate others through fear to gain power, which threatens our democracy. Conservative leaders like Luntz, Gingrich and Rove have mastered these tools to convince their middle-class base that global corporations and the ultra-rich promote their interests, when in fact they do not in the least. It is a clear case of conscious, intentional and deceptive manipulation to enrich themselves at public expense. To fight back we need to learn these tools and how they are being abused.

He starts by examining the historical bases of the conservative and liberal stories. Prior to the 1600s in England the European narrative was based in the great chain of being ordained by God. This provided the social hierarchy from monarchs to peasants. Hobbs changed this with his book Leviathan, arguing that all men are created equal and deserved property rights. However underlying this was the notion that human nature was inherently evil and needed a ruling force to contain it. While this was originally the church, in the modern era it became the supposed neutral and mechanistic force of the free market's invisible hand as well as the church. Government was to be shunned, for it was controlled by the evil forces of mankind. This became the basis of the conservative worldview.

The modern liberal worldview was best described by Locke's Two Treatises on Government. He argued for natural law which should guide human law, and so guided mankind was inherently good. Private property resulted from the notion that if someone worked a natural resource with their labor then it became their property. However such property can only be amassed within the limits of what one could use. It was government's job to determine such limits. Therefrom emerged the natural rights of man: life, liberty and property.

But as noted, within limits. Jefferson was influenced by Locke but with a key change. He noted that the origin of the US Declaration of Independence was a direct response to the corrupt British tax laws giving the East India Company such breaks as to destroy local US competition, hence the Boston Tea Party. The Declaration thus changed the natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which were governed by man through government. The latter was required because left unchecked the accumulation of private property upset the natural balance and threatened the public good. These are key differences with the conservative notions above. Hartmann argues that the US founders were liberal in these regards in departing from British conservatism.

In summary, conservatives see the world as a dangerous place and people are inherently selfish. Thus we create institutions to keep us in check, so government should only be about protection through the police, prisons and armies. Liberals see the world an natural and harmonious and people are fundamentally good. Therefore government is to help one achieve their highest potential through education, training and a hand up to achieve such opportunity.

Hartmann notes though that conservatives are right when people are in dire straits, while liberals are right when we're feeling safe and secure. It's a matter of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Hence when 9/11 happened there was a deliberate agenda to reduce the populace to fear and our lowest needs to thereby gin up war. Bush's rhetoric made Iraqis into an enemy deserving of destruction. His administration created false evidence in order to invade.

Hence Hartmann thinks that our stories must have an ecology check, what I'd call a reality check. They must serve others, the community, democracy and all life in a sustainable balance based on honesty and integrity. Both conservatives and liberals are not immune from the latter, so it's a reality check on both. It is certain though that when fear is used to create an enemy, like communists, gays or other religions, it's a sure sign of failing the test.

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