Sunday, April 10, 2005



Writing in his book Step by Step, Maha Ghosananda focuses on the personal and political practicalities of nonviolent engagement in social change. In making the claim that our goal as humans is to realize our universal brotherhood, he explores some of the hindrances in reaching it, such as enmity, anger, and especially ignorance.

Ghosananda reports Gandhi as having said that in overcoming the ill-will caused by ignorance, the essence of nonviolent action is to end antagonism—by appealing to the best in people, we achieve peace. As such, Ghosananda says wise ones wish for neither victory nor defeat. Rather, through generosity, wisdom, and kindness, we will create peace.

Despite seemingly naive statements, such as “With loving kindness, all enmity is transformed”, Ghosananda convincingly argues that kindness will create peace. Reading further, it becomes clear that what he is getting at is that, while conflict is likely to continue, and reconciliation does not mean surrendering rights and conditions, the only way out of endless cycles of retaliation, hatred, and revenge, is to use love in negotiating resolutions to these inevitable conflicts. In so doing, he says, “we uplift ignorance into light.”

Suggesting that we accept and live only according what will enable us to see truth face to face, Ghosananda warns that when anger controls us [perhaps as our awareness of and indignation at injustice grows], we harm ourselves and the people around us. As Ghosananda eloquently puts it, “Compassion without wisdom can cause great suffering.”

Peacemaking, says Ghosananda, requires wisdom; “It is not an aimless wandering...[but] the conscious meeting of humanitarian needs and political realities. It means compassion without concession, and peace without appeasement.” Recognizing this, he says, “Great beings arouse their energy by keeping the welfare of others at heart. Through this energy they attain courage and patience. They do not deceive, but are unshakeably committed.”

If one desires to more effectively act for progressive social change, one might consider the method of Kalle Lasn. Kalle Lasn, cofounder of the Media Foundation, writes in the July/August 2001 issue of Adbusters magazine, that
"We've watched the battle of the mind intensify to the point where thousands of commercial messages per day are now discharged into the average American brain. We've tracked the rise of addictions, anxieties and mood disorders as they have grown into what some public health officials now describe as an "epidemic of despair."

Lasn notes that a number of groundbreaking psychosocial studies point to a growing toxicity in American culture, where cultural toxins have reached dangerously high levels.

William Vega, an American public health researcher at Rutgers, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1998, observed that Mexican immigrants have roughly half the incidence of psychological dysfunction as Americans. After 13 years, though, these immigrants develop depression, anxiety and drug problems at the same level as the general population (32%). Additional studies have extended these findings to other ethnic groups, leading to the conclusion, that "socialization into American culture and society increase susceptibility to psychiatric disorders."

Studies from the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2000, as well as from the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1992 and 1996, document that the overall rate of depression in the US has doubled since World War II; for women, it doubled between 1970 and 1992. Even more startling, "American school children today are taking four times as many psychiatric meds as all of the rest of the world combined."

The World Health Organization has found that schizophrenia in developing nations is up 45% from 1985, due primarily from "significant disruptions in cultural practices, social routines, and traditional roles in work and family." The WHO predicts that "depression will become one of the most common disabling disorders in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease."

The roots of these disorders: rising expectations from media saturation, and reduced satisfaction from loss of collective family and community life, says Lasn, help to explain shootings, drug use, domestic violence, obesity, rage, cynicism and the hopelessness enveloping our culture.

In a July 2001 interview in The Sun magazine, Lasn talks about his organization's use of "mindbombs" or "subvertisements": advertisements aimed at subverting consumer culture. Central to his work, is the fight against corporate control of hearts and minds, through disinformation and pollution of the mental commons.

An ex-advertising executive living in British Columbia, Canada, Lasn started the Media Foundation in 1989, when he found that television networks would not sell him time to counter industry propaganda. Alluding to the insidious effects of advertising, Lasn believes that, "the really important battle of the future might not be over race or gender or the environment...What it might be, instead, [is] the fight to control the culture. ...Our overconsumption, our hollow lifestyles, our lack of democracy--we [see] these as parts of the same package."

Lasn's solution for breaking out of the media trance and creating authentic culture, through what he calls "culture jamming", involves hacking, pranking and provoking to "break up the seamless charade our culture has become." Noting that communities, traditions, and entire cultures are being replaced by American consumer culture, he remarks, "It's a measure of the depth of our consumer trance that the death of the planet is not sufficient to break it."

Lasn candidly describes culture jamming as "jamming the signals that put us in this trance in the first place. It's about creating cognitive dissonance, disseminating as many seeds of truth to as many people as you can, with the ultimate goal of toppling existing power structures..." Referring to his television, radio, Internet and billboard uncommercials, during the Battle in Seattle in November 1999, Lasn proudly speaks "of a new kind of pincers strategy that combines street action with sophisticated mass-media thrusts."

He notes that the old activist movements relied heavily on text, but that jamming is driven by images, sounds, and video which " slip easily into the collective psyche." Lasn unapologetically states "Once you realize that consumer capitalism is by its nature unethical, then you realize that it's not unethical to jam it any way you can."

Lasn describes the corporate-driven artificial, violent environment children grow up in as abuse, with psychic scars that last a lifetime. He says the European Situationists call our consumer culture a spectacle, described as "a form of mental slavery where we're free to resist, but it never occurs to us to do so." Lasn explains that culture jamming is just a way to stop the flow of spectacle long enough for people to remember that they have their own lives.

Observing that whole classes of information have been systematically kept off the airwaves, Lasn predicts a groundswell of support in the "battle to make the right to communicate a fundamental human right of every person on earth."

--Jay Taber

[This essay is included in the book War of Ideas.]


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