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Hiding Behind Illusions: Current Crises Call for a Jeffersonian Revolution

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While attending the University of Toronto in the 1960s, I was frequently reminded about the protests and sit-ins south of the border. Â There was graffiti on the walls of the men's bathrooms imploring you to call the American Embassy to tie up their lines or occasionally, when I walked out of the Sydney Smith building, there would be a symbolic protest on the steps such as a slaughtered cow to remind students of the blood being shed in Southeast Asia.

Apart from the war, there was a plethora of injustices to protest including women's rights, racism and authoritarianism. Â Slogans such as "don't trust anyone over thirty" or "question authority" were the watchwords of the day in the idealistic, visionary counterculture that ultimately faded into middle-class norms.

Paradoxically, the 21st century has been wracked by conflicted, troublesome crises that call out for an uncompromising, tenacious resistance and non-cooperation. Â Yet, there appears to be no public uprising on the same scale as the 1960s.

Despite the thousands of groups campaigning today on such diverse issues as Veteran's rights, the environment, wars, human rights and various social justice causes, the protests, with some exceptions, seem to lack the force necessary to reverse the crises which are catapulting the human race toward a cataclysm on potentially a fatal scale.

Technology, reality television, media bias and current stresses are at least partly responsible for the difference in people's reactions to crises.

Global warming threatens to alter the face of the planet to such an extreme that it will be barely sustain life. Â Proliferation of nuclear technology, enhancement of current delivery systems for nuclear weapons and miniaturization of warheads threaten the very existence of the human race either through deliberate nuclear war, a nuclear misunderstanding, an accident or their possession by extreme elements. Â Destruction of the oceans, forests and biodiversity threaten to destroy ecosystems on which we depend for survival. Â In addition, torture and the disappearance of legal, civil and political rights threaten a growing number of people, especially in the United States.

Accounting for an explanation for the lack of a vociferous public outrage, indignation and exasperation is a complex and problematic task, yet, there are a number of suspects.

Amusing ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, Life the Movie by Neal Gabler, Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges and Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman offer some clues about the passivism, capitulation, apathy and ignorance in the current social and political climate.

One of the major problems is that we live in an entertainment/celebrity culture which not only serves to distract people from depressing realities but encourages them to seek escape, relief and superficial satisfaction, virtually replacing religion as a way to assuage their fears and anxieties about the real world.

In addition, cell phones, blackberries the internet and computers impact people's ability to concentrate, pay attention and focus. Â The rapid pace of interacting on the internet or blackberries and the rate at which frames fluctuate on television debilitates people's concentration skills.

Overall, today's culture has transformed our way of thinking by replacing words with images as the final authority on the truth. Â Literally, one picture is a thousand words. Â A haggard male standing behind a barbed wire fence in Bosnia or an underweight child besieged by flies in Ethiopia conveys a message that can be decisive in forming perceptions.

The power of images combined with the corroboration of the media with marketing major foreign and economic policies facilitates the government's propaganda campaigns to convince the public to buy into a particular policy. Â After three different UN inspection teams had scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, it was still possible to persuade the American public to quiver in fear that a lethal attack from Iraq was imminent.

One major difference between young people in the sixties and young people today is the amount of leisure time available to each. Â In the 60s, the majority of students didn't have to worry about a career upon graduation or work to pay their university expenses. Â Students had more time to think, read and discuss issues of the day and to organize and mobilize their fellow students. Â For example, Berkley was a hotbed of dissent and resistance in the 1960s where students supported a wide range of causes and engaged in non-violent protest and resistance.

Today students are worried about tuition fees, living expenses, finding a part-time job while at the same time, are preoccupied with facebook, twitter, texting and watching Jersey Shore or the Kardashians on television.

Given the severe nature of the crises facing the human race today, one might expect a more vigorous response. Â Unfortunately, it may not be forthcoming until one or more catastrophes strike people directly however, by that time, conditions will be far worse. Â The world needs a thunderous wake up call or a massive dose of caffeine. Â

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I have been a professor of political science at Seneca College in Toronto. I have published five books the last of which "Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death" was released in May/08. As well, I have been featured in CounterPunch, Z (more...)
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