February 28, 2007

Expert Lies

One of the few benefits of aging is to start to see the world as it really is-- without the rose-colored lenses. Of course, the less 'experienced' readers will interpret this realism as mere cynicism-- it's inevitable. Nonetheless, I am compelled to 'tell it like it is,' for the possible benefit of a few brave souls who can put aside the labels and discern the big picture.

You see, my basic thesis is that in virtually every area of human endeavor, the 'conventional wisdom' is almost always foolishness. Oh sure, it always comes packaged with all kinds of paraphernalia to make it appear as solid and secure as anything-- highly credentialed experts, sincere testimonials, statistical evidence, and plenty of reasonable rationale. And so, most of us believe it. After all, everyone tells us, all those experts can't be wrong. Those famous experts; the ones who become the anonymous 'they', as in 'They say that fat is good for you;' or 'They say that there's no such thing as global warming due to greenhouse gases.' These are the kind of experts who were assuring us, a generation ago, that 'there is no observable link between smoking and cancer.' The experts also assured pregnant women in North America that thalidomide was a safe antidote for morning sickness-- until the badly deformed babies were born. Again experts told us there was no danger of HIV infection from blood transfusions-- until many people were infected... and sued the Red Cross. Other experts told us there was no danger from nuclear power generators-- until the 'Three-Mile Island' melt-down, and the Chernobyl explosion, and other 'incidents' proved otherwise. So-- can the experts be wrong, after all?

I could go on and on, citing case after case where highly-credentialed (and needless to add, highly-paid) specialists charged with the authority and presumably the responsibility, gave society assurances that turned out to be absolutely false. Notice that these falsehoods did not result simply in inconvenience or trifling consequences. Far from it! People died, or their lives were terribly affected. In the case of tobacco smoke, millions are still dying premature deaths, while costing the medical system vast quantities of public funds. We have hardly begun to see the costs entailed by the climatological effects of global warming, altho they're already staggering, in the wake of specific meteorological disasters. So, clearly, the bad advice we get from our self-confident experts is far from inconsequential-- it is killing us and costing us untold fortunes at the global or societal level!

When you look closely at the effect of toxic expert advice on individuals it really starts to hit you how we've been duped, and allowed ourselves to be duped. For example, there are numerous myths of financial wisdom on how to become rich. All kinds of financial gurus are out there pedling their expert tips on how to make a lot of money in the stock market, or the commodities markets, or the real estate market, or what have you. One thing they never tell you is that the only person who really makes money in these schemes is the one who produces the hot-tip newsletter, or the broker who buys and sells the stocks. Whether his advice is good or bad, he makes his subscription fees, or broker fees... you, the investor, are the one taking the risks. For decades, the conventional wisdom has said buy blue-chip shares, or buy well-managed mutual funds, hold them for decades, and you will become rich. Sounds good; nothing to it... except, well, how does anyone know in today's hyperactive world what stock will be 'blue-chip' over several decades? Or in an age of ultra-mobile executives, how long will a fund be well-managed? Is this really how the rich got that way? Not very often!

A number of wealty individuals have been packaging and selling their 'formulas' as seminars (usually high-priced ones) ostensibly to teach others how to also become wealthy. It may be true that some of them, as they claim, may want to share their success with others. Yet it's also true that these seminars become a strong source of revenue for these self-proclaimed gurus. Yes, this can be a 'win-win' situation; but it does demonstrate that there are few, sincerely altruistic entrepreneurs out there. I think the greatest benefit someone can derive from these seminars is simply to open one's mind to new possibilities. As an attendee, you may get very little in direct terms from the seminar. But if it gets you thinking about a bigger world out there, one beyond the simplistic nostrums of the well-paid experts, then you have gained more than money can buy. It doesn't matter in what area the seminar was directed; as long as you wake up enough to 'smell the coffee' and realize that you've got to take charge of your life and not drift along in the stultifying currents of conventional wisdom that are taking you nowhere.

The real 'secret' of gaining wealth is to stop listening to the banks and the captive financial planners, and to notice what the wealthy have done. You'll see that the wealthy have learned to leverage other people's money in order to buy (or control) assets that generate money. They have learned to throw away your parents' earnest advice to never be in debt-- they love debt, because they use it to buy valuable assets and to reduce their taxes, simultaneously. Wealthy people have learned that 'risk' is a relative word-- getting a fixed 3% on an investment is 'risky' to the rich. Getting 30% on a real-estate deal, or in some 'unconventional' but sensible gold-backed venture represents low-risk in the minds of those who are making their fortunes.

As the financial realm illustrates, to be successful you have to be willing to stand conventional wisdom on it's head; to go against the flow; to stop listening to the experts. When you have started to force yourself to look beyond the old panaceas, you soon discover that the experts almost always are dispensing their party line for one main reason-- they have something to gain from it! We now know that the experts who couldn't find a link between smoking and cancer were being paid by the tobacco industry (directly, or via funding of research projects, etc.). The nuclear scientists have jobs to protect, careers to enhance, and often 'bonuses' from the nuclear-related industries. Today, we are learning about medical researchers who produce papers that legitimize certain new pharmaceutical products... while they are receiving monies from the same pharma-companies. Every bit of medical research we read these days must be considered as possibly tainted by the tranfer of funds from affected industries to 'qualified researchers.' What about cell-phone affects on brain health, for example? Independent articles raise concerns that prolonged usage of mobile phones can cause tumors in the brain. The telecom companies vehemently deny any such link. Since cancer/tumors often take years to develop, could this be another 'tobacco' type situation waiting to be discovered... after a generation of mobile-phone users shows unusually high rates of brain tumor? I don't know; but I'm certainly not going to rest assured in the denials of the scientists... whose under-the-table subsidies I have no way of knowing about.

Many legitimate scientists are producing genuine research that supplies us with useful information or even warnings about certain products or phenomena. In the realm of climatology, science is almost unanimous that greenhouse gas emissions are exacerbating global warming. The problem in this case seems to be the mass media who have become proxy experts and love to find the few dissenting scientists and publicize their counter-views as if they represent a significant block of informed opinion. What this does of course, is seriously impede efforts to promote 'green' policy-making to mitigate greenhouse gases. It's a major stalling tactic that will have disastrous consequences. But, as always, the question is 'who benefits'? The obvious answer is the automobile and petroleum industries; but there are numerous other polluting industries that just don't want to change regardless of what may come. The petroleum industry, in particular, has enormous wealth and political clout at its disposal, and doesn't hesitate to exercise them to maintain its stanglehold on society. And you'd better believe that the oil industry has a death-grip on our cherished way of life.

It's bad enough that our physical lives are being pushed toward destruction by bad advice from the experts-- but it's worse still to contemplate how the loud voices in the spiritual realm are similarly herding their flocks, lemming-like, to the precipice of eternal destruction. Deliberately misusing scripture, twisting and warping the words of the Bible, the cheesy, self-proclaimed religious experts rake in donated money--tax-free, of course-- in exchange for fantastic tales of events and scenarios to come. One such tale that finds a ready audience in the USA is the fantasy of a 'secret rapture' that is supposed to whisk Christians off the face of the earth just prior to a period of turmoil, called the 'tribulation.' It doesn't take a lot of Bible study to discover that this is nonsense; but meanwhile, the false preachers are making a pile of money selling lectures, videos, and books based on the terrible tribulation and the rapturous rescue. Christians are particularly vulnerable to hucksterism; probably all believers in religion are. If they are born into a faith, they are trained from childhood to believe that only 'their team' has the truth, and their teachers and pastors must be correct. If they are converts, they have already demonstrated a willingness to recognize the validity of their adopted faith. Relgious organizations are text-book illustrations of 'the power of the paradigm,' whereby the dogma is promoted as distinctive of the faith, and providing special insight that 'outsiders' are not privy to. Anyone who questions the dogma is first, assured that their experts can't be wrong-- after all, they have special insight from God-- and then, if that doesn't work, they are threatened with expulsion from the exclusive status of the faith. To avoid this possibility, most believers in a religion simply do not bother to investigate the claims of their institution. It's better to just trust the experts, is the common attitude. A strange result of this blissful ignorance is that believers usually assume that their organization holds commonly accepted, convenient beliefs. They rarely believe that the system could actually hold bizarre beliefs or ones that contradict the true teachings of its founder/s. (For example, Catholics don't believe that their faith is riddled with pagan symbols, feasts, and so on.)

In the regard that their experts do not take kindly to questioning, you can see that science and religion behave remarkably similarly. And accordingly, they both hold their believers captive to specified paradigms that are to be accepted without challenge. This is a very dangerous orthodoxy. It leads to terrible abuses of minorities by the mainstream. I'm not just talking about ostracism; I'm referring to things like the Inquisition of the Dark Ages, and its modern equivalents of purges, professional black-listing, and persecution of all kinds.

The most promising solution would appear to be education. We should train our children to be discerning, questioning, not mere followers. But that's what we think education is doing now! Obviously, it's not. In fact, quite the opposite. The school system simply cannot tolerate students who exhibit independent characteristics of thought-- they are clear trouble-makers. The system is premised on having a 'curriculum' that is an established body of consensus reality... to question it is to challenge the entire Western civilization. And so, we all learn what the 'right answers' are, and how to conform... the rebels among us call it 'using the system.' Sure, we use the system... without realizing that in so doing, it is really using us! Because by the time we've been successfully through the system, we have assimilated unconsciously its essential values. Think about it; it's not pleasant.

In the scheme of things, the experts are themselves indoctrinated cogs in the machine, while also part of the control system used to fabricate the desired reality. Even if they should have a wakeful moment and realize the group illusion, most experts will banish the thought and carry on the brave pretense. To do otherwise is to invite upheavel in one's life. It's a remarkable ability of the human psyche-- the capacity for denial, at the individual and the group level. And so our societal relationship with our experts is a symbiotic one: they tell us the lies we want to hear, and we're happy to believe them, for the most part.

The trouble is that, eventually, all lies unravel, collapse under their incongruity with reality. For a textbook illustration in recent history, we have the collapse of the once-mighty Soviet Union. While various factors contributed, I suggest that probably the main reason for its failure was the distinct disconnection between the official, five-year plans, and the reported results by the apparachiks responsible for achieving them. The economy was built on lies and the outcome was inevitable. Today, the US White House administration is doing the same thing-- creating economic and political policies based on lies. They are paying dearly for it in Iraq, and the drop in the dollar is yet to reach its nadir. But they get away with it mostly because the media have been co-opted as their willing accomplices, providing a panoply of 'talking heads'-- the experts, the professionals, who have been selected for their soothing assurances that, all evidence to the contrary, everything is just fine.

We are living in perilous times when truth is a scarce commodity, sequestered by special interests, and repackaged for general consumption using the precise techniques of mind manipulation honed over the deadly experiments of the 20th century. Every individual must make a quantum leapof consciousness from the present somnambulistic daily routine to an awareness of the game being played out with their unwitting participation. Experts must be held accountable and disclose their benefactors. The lies must be revealed, and the truth proclaimed. None of this is going to happen; we have become hooked on lies. The system can't function on truth (without total revolution, at least). And so this warning will be seen by a mere few readers, and accepted by even fewer. Destiny will run its course, whether we are ready or not. Truth will win out; the lies will eventually destroy themselves... whether you believe it or not.

February 24, 2007

My Journey

This is not an autobiography; more like a spiritual sketch. How I got to this point, in a nutshell.

Born to second-generation, European-decended parents, I was a precocious talker and reader. It was only in the higher, elementary grades at school that I became conscious of being the guy with the funny surname. While my father was of Polish descent, and mother of Italian, they both came from a Roman Catholic tradition, and I went to Catholic elementary schools to grade eight... (and still have my 'first communion' card in an album my mother thoughtfully prepared.) By age 19 I no longer believed, but kept attending church as long as I lived under my parents' roof. In fact, I couldn't accept the claims of Christianity as being the only route to salvation, and I studied about (mostly) Hindu-derived beliefs, which are quite fascinating with their spiritual development based on meditation, yoga, 'chakras', and reincarnation. I did some yoga, and meditation, without any profound insights. In my mid-twenties, I finally used a mind-altering drug, long after most of my contemporaries. While many of them had had negative experiences-- bad trips-- I had a profound and largely ineffable experience. It seemed to move me into a new phase of life wherein I became more adventurous in exploring activities that I previously would have shied from. I was also reading a lot about so-called psychic phenomena, altered states of consciousness, and UFOs.

Around the end of my 20s, I met the woman who became my wife. She is a native of India, but was a devout Catholic at the time, having come from a former Portuguese area, and educated in nun-taught schools. It was like destiny, since I had just begun to return to my roots, and was attending church again... sort of. My parents had joined a 'charismatic prayer group,' which is what Catholics called their brand of pentacostalism; and they invited me to a mid-week, evening meeting. I found that it was not like the stuffy, structured services of my youth, and the spirit seemed to be inviting. I started attending regularly, and later, my wife, Edna, and I became quite involved in that prayer group. We also regularly attended the RC church in our neighborhood.

After our daughter was born, I began to get quite restless in the Catholic Church. I had a subscription to a magazine called 'The Plain Truth,' put out by the Worldwide Church of God. That magazine had a lot of though-provoking articles in it, as well as topical stories. I ordered some of their literature, and read some fascinating material that was based on the Bible and quoted scripture. Strangely, I never felt inclined to join, or even investigate their local church. By my late 30s, I was ready to abandon Catholicism for good-- but, where to go? I resolved to just be the best Christian I could, right where I was... until something else might appear. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, as they say in Budhism. I got to talking with a lady in our church who was basically driven out the doors for being too enthusiastic in worship... she raised her arms in church, as they used to in the charismatic meetings... a no-no in the mainstream mausoleum. She and her husband, a resourceful electrical engineer, were now listening to satellite broadcast, religious TV shows from the US bible-belt, and making audio tapes for re-listening. They lent me some tapes, and my wife and I were impressed by them. The other couple were hopping around, checking out various denominations, looking for Bible-based solidity.

One day I met her again, and asked what was their church flavor of this week. Her reply floored me, it sounded so unlikely: Seventh-Day Adventist. They felt this one was finally a Bible-based church, and invited me to a video seminar at their house. My wife was still a devout Catholic but agreed to accompany me at the seminar. We were supplied with 'KJV' Bibles, and fill-in-the-blanks workbooks, which always led, unerringly, to the proper conclusions (fancy that). Before the end of the multi-week series, we were convinced we had to leave the RC church, and join 'God's remnant church,' the SDA. We did; and we went 'whole-hog,' abruptly switching to their strict vegetarian diet, enrolling our daughter in their denominational school, and, craziest of all, attending church on Saturday, which they always call 'Sabbath.' Oh, and I should add, almost completely alienating my parents and whatever few friends we had accumulated in the Catholic system. Our once close relationship with my parents became unbearably strained; they were totally dismayed, lamenting if only we had become pentacostals! Our weekly visits with them became an exercise in 'heads they win, tails we lose.' There was no way they could comprehend our apostacy, and our wierd new habits of nutrition and worship, try as we might to reassure them we still held Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

But, there was something that never sat well on my religious sensibilities right from the start with Adventism. Our instructor was an erudite pastor who laid out the complicated, two-stage, 'Adventist gospel' which separates justification ('what Jesus does for us') and sanctification ('what we do for Jesus,' revamped as 'what the Spirit does in us'). I just couldn't make this work in my understanding of scripture; yet I let it ride... for almost a decade. Chalk up another one for 'the power of the paradigm;' it felt wrong, but I got swept along by the persuasion of the majority. After about six years of Adventism, I met a couple of other fellows who had the same doubts as mine, and had found the scriptures to prove the errors. My wife and I joined a more liberal congregation that seemed open to Bible truth and for another couple of years I lingered in the SDA Church, trying to bring this serious theological error to the attention of anyone who'd listen. Finally, it was obvious to both of us that we had overstayed our time with Seventh-Day Adventism, and its curious attempt to live the New Covenant life based on Old Covenant legalism. We bailed, and asked for our names to be removed from their membership rolls. It was off into the wild, blue yonder once more!

Later, we moved to another area, which gave us the chance to visit some of the new, local churches/denominations. After a few weeks, we had settled on an evangelical, pentacostal assembly, with a very well-rounded, personable pastor. We lasted something over a year, maybe, and made a few, temporary friends; and I even went and had tea and discussions with the pastor several times. But, we soon found that it was no use-- the magic was gone; churches were all alike-- peddling a strange hybrid gospel that had no power because it was based on a contradiction. I was surprised to find that Edna was ready to toss in the towel before me, this time. Now, what?

Well, as the Spirit moves you, when one door closes, another opens. And so with us, too; after leaving Adventism, we remembered an older man who was apparently once a pastor, and later, the 'up-line director' in a vitamin, network marketing organization that Edna had joined. He had some 'interesting ideas' regarding Sabbath, etc. Okay; let's check his ideas out, I decided. We phoned him up and asked if we could visit and hear what he had to say. As it turned out, Sam and his wife Dorothy, were an amazing couple who had been through worse spiritual struggles than us, and lived to write about it. They knew where we were coming from, and I gratefully accepted a book Sam had written with his studies. Edna and I began to visit regularly, and learned much from our new friends. Presently, we continue to met with them, and a few other people, in our homes, on a periodic basis, to share our lives, study the scriptures, and pray.

Certain truths that have been flirting with me for decades are now clear in my mind. They might, instead, be labelled as herecies by orthodox believers; but everything I believe can be supported by scripture. I know-- everyone makes that claim. My two former friends who actually introduced me to the efficacy of Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross are, themselves, still not free of legalism, insisting that they must continue to hold church on 'Sabbath.' Just as Paul described the Galatian believers as being under a spell, so too, my erstwhile deliverers are under the spell of legalism, as much as they may deny it. They just can't 'see' the futility of making the core of the Old, Mosaic Covenant the center of the New, Christ-centered Covenant. The contradiction, 'Is it Jesus, or The Law, that is the focus of the faith?' doesn't hit them in the face, and grate on their spiritual nerves. They have written reams of scholarly papers for their like-minded associates, justifying the persistence of the Mosaic Ten Commandment law in the New Covenant. But it makes no sense, really.

But, I've come to realize that spiritual blindness is more due to personality than to sincerity. Those who are conservative by nature find it awfully hard to swallow the idea that God could set us loose on this world without following the time-honored system of reward and punishment. You can try and explain that Jesus gave us the only 'Law' that covers all situations without loopholes-- love your neighbor as you love yourself-- but they can't buy it. It's anarchy, or 'antinominianism' if they are scholarly minded. So they try and pretend that a believer can 'by the aid of the Spirit' lead a sin-free life, and thus rest assured of qualifying for heaven. So, I have my website where I post my hard-won spiritual insights in the hope that God will lead those who need the information to stumble on it and be enlightened by His Spirit to 'see' the truth... and find true freedom at last.

My final conclusion is another hard one-- that we, this generation, are living in the 'last days' of this age. Again, most people find this notion repugnant, therefore, crazy and to be denied. That's okay; events wil speak for themselves, and will not be ignored. It's clear that the weather has gone very unstable, and scientists assure us it will only get worse. So far, earthquakes and volcanoes have not been frequent enough-- in populous areas-- to get the masses excited. Yet remember that in Dec., 2004, the earth experienced a magnitude 9 quake that shook the whole planet and affected the rotational speed measureably. We have 'wars and rumors of war,'-- business as usual, one can say. There are deadly pestilences lurking menacingly in various parts of the world, stirring dim memories of the 'Spanish flu' epidemic of 1919 that killed some 20 million souls. The oceans are rising as the polar caps melt. Most of the effects of global warming are now in 'positive feedback' mode, meaning that those effects are reinforcing further global warming. It's a different world than the one I remember as a young boy, 5 decades or so ago.

The US stock market is essentially an artifact of economic smoke and fiscal mirrors; yet anyone who says 'this time it's different' is laughed at by the financial managers. But it's a nervous laugh, because even the most cock-eyed optimists know that there's got to be a day of reckoning, sooner or later-- the timing is the hard part. So it goes with the world at large. Mankind has recklessly overdrawn his accounts on the world's resources; polluted with gay abandon; spilled human blood like worthless slop... and it looks as if it will only get worse. There will be a day of reckoning... and now it's not far away. As with so many facets of human endeavor, the majority has no idea of what's coming. More than that, they don't want to know. Truly, they prefer ignorance, darkness, to information that troubles them. Curious. It's the 'Titanic syndrome.' I consider the story of the Titanic to be iconic. The ship represents the world; we are arrogant, self-absorbed passengers and crew, partying away in indulgent excess, engines set to full speed ahead, as we sail blithely into the starry night, confident in the power of our pitiful technologies to deliver us from any natural hazard... and then blind-sided to catastrophe by mere frozen water.

That's my spiritual journey (to early 2007) in a nutshell. God holds the final chapters in His providential future.

Bread and Circuses, 21st Century Style

History has seen its cycles of societies that wax and wane, growing from obscurity into dominating their sphere of influence... and then fading to some lesser status. Any student could cite the examples of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British, and so on. Today we have the American Empire exercising hegemony over the whole world. And one thing that hasn't changed over the ages is the need for these empires to invent ways to amuse their masses and thereby maintain order and stability. For every imperial power soon learns that populations that enjoy the benefits of hegemony must not be allowed to become bored. A population with time on its hands and a measure of economic power is a threat to the governors of that nation. The people might start to contemplate the quality of their lives, of their leadership and its policies, at home and abroad... and they might come to recognize these policies as self-serving and designed for the aggrandizement of the governors and their entourage. This of course is never to be tolerated.

We don't know for certain about the Egyptians, but they were successful for several millennia, and seemed to provide their populace with an elaborate religious system combined with sophisticated mathematical and astronomical knowledge. It took the Greeks to really find the ideal means of keeping the people amused-- namely sports. Yep; they instituted the first Olympic Games... an obviously successful strategy since it was revived in the modern era and continues to command global attention on a regular, four-year schedule. The sums of money involved in the Olympics have assumed truly olympian proportions. And in turn, this is a measure of the amounts of efforts expended by most nations in preparing and competing in 'the Games.' So effective have the Olympics proved in generating vast quantities of money, that modern man has ingeniously found a clever way to retain our interest during the four year waiting period-- it's called 'the Winter Olympics,' and held every four years in between 'Summer Olympics.' Double the hype, double the money wasted on games, double the bureaucracy, the TV rights, the travel packages, and on and on-- marvellous invention! The Greeks obviously were clever indeed.

Then we have the Romans. Ah yes, the coliseum springs immediately to mind, with visions of gladiators, lions, and so on, engaged in battles to the death. Probably not all combats were pursued to death, but there's little doubt that the Romans loved violent entertainment almost as much as Americans love their TV violence. Taking cues from the Greeks, the Romans built impressive 'hippodromes'-- horse racing venues, and specifically chariot racing tracks. The grandest of these was the Circus Maximus in Rome, where generations of crazed race fans placed their bets, drank their booze, and cheered their favorites. Crashes were frequent, and almost certainly serious, given the lack of any semblance of safety consideration. These Roman stadiums could hold thousands, and were, we are told by contemporary writers, immensely popular. While the killing of Christians for sport was a relatively brief phase, chariot racing was carried on for many centuries and was a major source of entertainment for the masses.

When we get to the British, we find them more serious minded than the earlier imperialists. Was it the Protestant work ethic? For whatever reasons, the Brits amused themselves by pursuing the business of empire-building, which occupied them over several centuries, and took them right around the world in the process. Well, they did manage to develop cricket and polo along the way, but these pursuits were seen more as aristocratic pastimes than popular passions. Business and religious proselytizing seem to summarize British efforts at mass preoccupation. The onset of the industrial revolution kept the populace so enslaved to their occupations that there was no place or need for amusements for the masses. For the wealthy however, there were various ways to while away the idle hours. One could read, or perhaps even write, poetry and prose; study classical literature in original languages; play a musical instrument; study mathematics and 'natural science;' travel to exotic locales; and hold court with other bored aristocrats.

Now, in the era of American hegemony, the whole problem of mass amusement has been elevated exponentially in terms of variety, range, and depth. Never have so many types of amusement been available to so many people... you know what I mean. However, the main principles remain. Governments of all stripes prefer to see their populations kept diverted by harmless preoccupations that will prevent boredom and circumspection. With the invention of television, the ideal societal control mechanism had indeed been found. Here is a medium that allows a standard message to be truly 'broad-cast' into every home, to every citizen, to present a common experience. We rarely stop to ponder the evolution of modern, Western television broadcasting-- but it's instructive to do so. For example, we take it for granted that we're going to have commercial messages interspersed with our desired programming. And despite the 500-channel universe, many of those programs are simply repeats in different time-zones, and re-runs of old series or 'classic' shows. Television production is very expensive, and altho we have what appears to be many channels, in fact there are relatively few sources of news, of information. With the consolidation of networks and the absorption of many independent stations, it has become easier than ever, even in a big national market, to homogenize public attitudes and outlooks. The USA has only a handful of national, three-letter acronymed TV networks, and with their news programs all attempting to cover the same stories, lest they miss a good one, there is little difference in reporting or in viewpoint. You know all this; Chomsky has been saying it for years.

However, it's worse than most of us think... (especially since most of us don't think about it). At the time of this writing, the US media are obsessed with two stories. These two stories are being analyzed in painstaking (or painful) detail by the tabloids, the TV news, the TV entertainment programs, and the magazines and newspapers. One concerns the unfortunate death of a woman who was mostly famous for being famous (Anna Nicole Smith). The other is a 'made-for-TV' tragedy involving NASA astronauts in a 'love triangle.' This one has all the ingredients loved by the media pundits-- astronauts, the new cowboys of the rocket age, sexual intrigues, jealousy, revenge... you get it. Perfect diversion for the bored yet harried masses of capitalist drones of the free-enterprise paradise that is modern America. If you tire of those stories, don't worry-- you can turn on the telly and watch your favorite 'reality' show. Like to watch ordinary people make fools of themselves trying to sing and then being humiliated by sarcastic judges? How about ordinary people becoming temporary celebrities by trying to answer inane 'trivia' questions to win pots of money dangled in front of their dazzled eyes? What about selected photogenic males and females arranged in variously concocted teams and struggling against each other in some isolated, exotic locale to gain the big million-dollar prize? Or fat people competing to lose weight? (Can you imagine trying to imagine that one, ten years ago?) And that's not to mention all kinds of 'situation comedies,' old movies, new pay-per-view movies, adult cartoons, and need I go on? We haven't even hit the sports channels; yes, the passion of the Greeks and Romans has been re-energized in the 21st century with dedicated channel, televised broadcasting. Probably the premier sporting extravaganza of our day is the modestly termed 'Superbowl' showdown between two football teams. There's no point rehashing the hype that surrounds this annual sporting orgasm, except to remind readers of the astonishing phenomenon that many viewers actually want to see the commercials for this event-- that's an indicator of how much human and financial capital go into filling every millisecond of this one-afternoon event.

Now the point I'm approaching is not simply that modern society spends huge quantities of time, money, and intellect on essentially valueless pursuits. (Sports fans get a hold on reality; they really are of negligible worth, face it.) No, it's more than that. It's the fact that in devoting all that energy on these activities, we are NOT spending any time on things that really matter! By filling their pages with 'Hollywood gossip,' the newspapers are not telling us about the lies our polliticians are telling us, or the true extent and potential consequences of global climate change, and so on. While we gape at gridiron heroes and fleeting celebrities, we expend time better spent on informing ourselves about what's going on in the outside world. Heaven knows, we might even start contemplating the state of the world and start recognizing the intellectual prison subtly erected around our mental territory. We might start to get in touch with our spirit, and take some personal responsibility. We might start thinking about death and God, and what really matters.

But that's not what the powers that be want or expect. No, they want to maintain a steady, soul-crushing flood of 'entertainment' coming at us from every sensory perception. They know the lesson of antiquity-- that to keep the masses in a hypnotic state of aquiesence, it is only necessary to keep them in a constant state of amusement. Those harmless pastimes are literal diversions-- they divert our attention away from things that matter towards things that are, in the big picture, worthless. From life... to death. And we, modern lotus-eaters, are happy to consume the mental pabulum, strained, processed mush that slides down our mental gullets effortlessly, requiring no chewing from our toothless gums. As Hosea laments in the Bible: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge". Today we are awash in so-called knowledge; the lament would be re-cast as 'My people are destroyed for lack of interest in knowledge... they just want amusements.'