Adapt to Experience Journal writing is your private record of what you know

Choosing to Follow, Choosing to Know,
Choosing to Lead


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Some critical dates

Choosing to Follow, Choosing to Know, Choosing to Lead

by John Veitch

A young American wrote to me saying, "You just don't know what it's like here in the US after September 11, 2001.  A lot of people here, myself included, feel deeply violated and believe our quality of life will never be the same again.  This isn't like Pearl Harbor, you know.  It would have made a big difference if we had an out-in-the-open enemy to go after.

I see exactly that point.  Without an out-in-the-open enemy, one can't hope to win a war fought by military means.  All that can happen is the compounding of injustice and the reinforcement of divisions between peoples.  War against terrorism is both sad and pointless.  I try to develop my own understanding of what's happening in my own journal.  There I can collect my own data, "information" that I believe and have reason to trust.  Having my own data makes it possible for me to hold an independent viewpoint. 

After 9/11/2001, I can identify with the watching of endless video, and being captured by the images of destruction we all saw.  That was my experience too.  Here is the perfect example of how our knowledge is constructed.  We all saw the same images, but what did it mean?  Learning to understanding what happened took days, months and maybe is still occurring.  Our understanding develops socially, important other people share their ideas, and we tend to adopt those stances ourselves.  People we don't trust so much might express other points of view, so we discount what they say.  Slowly one's own personal view becomes more established.  In my case, there is a problem.  The person I want to say enlightened and progressive things isn't doing so.  President G.  W.  Bush is planning military action and talking about a war on terror, in a way that makes me doubt his grasp on reality.  I'm disappointed.  The news media seem to have promoted the easy story, to have followed the party line, even here in New Zealand.  The "war on terrorism" is portrayed in our newspapers as an appropriate military operation.  Our papers are not quite as gun-ho as some of the US reporting I have seen, but the NZ government and our press clearly line up to support President Bush.  Patriotic duty has meaning in New Zealand too.

Sadly this does not address the real problem, and it makes much worse the general image of the USA in countries across the world.  I'm sure that history will show George W Bush as the president who scored an own goal against the USA.  [{added 2003} I did not foresee that having failed to win support for the war in the UN, that an illegal war would be started.  Truth was already a casualty, but the propaganda the support the troops and the President was to increase.  I could not forsee the troubled occupation, nor imagine President Bush would insist that the war was a success.]  We can choose to follow President Bush, "You are either for us or against us."  Or you can choose to hold a different position, maybe an opposing position.  Following President Bush demands an educated blindness, an unwillingness to accept some established facts.  You may have your reasons for that.  You choose what you want to know, and that choice marks who you are and what your values are. 

New Zealand news media as I said, seem to toe the party line, even though there is a free press here, much more free I believe than in the USA itself.  Each of us needs to choose who we believe.  In making that choice you decide what data you will make your own.  You decide what you know and what you don't want to know.  We can choose to pay our membership dues by accepting uncritically the party line, to believe the President.  We may reject that stance, and not be very sure what group we then belong too.  The worst sort to censorship, the hardest to detect, is the self censorship we do to ourselves, the educated blindness we cultivate in order to be "like everyone else".  This is the cost of membership.  [{added 2003} Robert Jensen explains very well how professional American journalists failed to report the truth about the proposed war on Iraq in this article, "Robert Jensen, Local fileJust the Documented Facts, Ma'am".]  We may feel very uncomfortable holding a private view that doesn't appear to be widely held by our friends.  You can express both your reasons for standing apart, and your misgiving about that in your journal.  That's a private space where you can develop your ideas. 

I'm shocked at the distortion of the truth that's being widely accepted.  Some NZ political parties think we should follow Australia's lead and offer military support to the USA.  That must be the result of successful propaganda over many years.  Thankfully, most New Zealanders seem aware that President Bush is committed to a wrongheaded mission.  You can see the problems in the United Nations, where the USA is strong arming nations into a mock lineup.  It's blindingly obvious to anyone outside the USA that the way Americans see themselves, and the way the USA is seen by people who live in the wider world is vastly different. 

The first time I became aware of this problem of "two world views" was in conjunction with Northern Island and "the troubles".  A reporter with many years experience made this valuable comment.  "There is a free press in the UK.  It works like this: I can tell the story from a government point of view, or I can tell the story from the IRA point of view.  Both stories demonize the other side and paint their own side's actions as politically correct and thoroughly justified.  What I can't do as a journalist, is tell the truth as I see it.  My editor returns stories that tell the truth to me.  Rewrite this, he says, "It's too involved, our readers won't understand it"." 

What's happening here?  The truth is complicated, the truth doesn't allow us the comfort of our personal prejudices, the truth shows evil and lies on both sides.  The truth sees real people in pain and understands their frustration and recognizes the heroism of simply putting up with unacceptable situations while doing the best one can.  The truth is about ordinary people leading normal lives.  A bombing is a news story, the story about the lives people are forced to live is "boring".  While that is the case, we'll have more outrages, more bombings, because that's what the system demands.  Some people believe that committing an outrage is the only way they will ever get attention paid to their needs.  Each of us can choose to know or we can choose to ignore the situation.  This is for me the real value of keeping a journal.  It's the place where your personal journey to seek truth and understanding can be recorded and constructed. 

Those in power twist the reporting of the story to justify their use of power and to paint the opposition as worthless, violent, criminal or terrorist.  Those dispossessed of power struggle to get any mention in the media at all, and what is reported is a justification for the desperate and outrageous acts of a few.  Nobody speaks the truth.  Neither of the sides is allowed to speak the truth.  The price of membership of each side is to cultivate and perpetuate the practised party line.  Sticking to the party line, wins credit with "my" friends.  The news media play this game of reporting the distortions and lies and misunderstandings of both sides and fail in their duty to tell the truth clearly.  What pretends to be unbiased reporting of the news is a fraud on the truth.  Misrepresentation of the truth is too often the real result of the efforts of our "free press" to report both sides of important stories.  Reporting the Propaganda of both sides doesn't report the facts and is an insult to justice and understanding.  This ridiculous situation only continues because it suits certain powers to maintain the status quo.  There's a profit in it somewhere for someone. 

So the plight of Kurds, or the Palestinians, or the native people of almost every country is ignored, their property is destroyed, often by military forces acting under orders.  Their land is stolen, often confiscated by the government and the theft is made legal by legislation after the fact and supported by politically influenced courts.  There might be paper that say's it's legal, but it's a theft never the less.  In many countries civil rights are denied, minority groups are discriminated against.  Such abuses are common around the world, look at the plight of refugees, they have become people who don't count.  NOTHING happens to resolve their problems which stagnate for years and years.  A simple neglect of justice, that sadly we are all part of. 

I can illustrate this with a NZ example.  135 years ago the new European settlers "took" 600 acres of the best Maori land for themselves.  (The Treaty of Waitangi, permitted the Europeans to buy land and to settle in NZ.  But the Maori didn't want to sell this land, they understood it's value too.) The Europeans occupied the land and Maori protested.  There was a short war but the Government intervened and agreed that there may be just cause on the Maori part.  A settlement promised a "judicial review" of the crown's rights over the 600 acres.  George Grey, (Later to become Sir George Grey, Governor of NZ) wrote a report for the government that was released in 1863, confirming that the land was illegally taken and should be returned.  The government of the day (a settlers government) in it's wisdom decided the Maori were rebels (terrorists?) and that they should be punished, so they proceeded to confiscate 2 million acres more Maori land.  (Compounding the original theft, and giving the seizure of land the gloss of legality.) Two more judicial reviews have followed, in 1927 and in 1996.  Both have reported that the land was stolen by the crown, but no meaningful negotiation has followed, the problem is simply "ignored" by successive governments.  The parties talk past each other; the injustice is not addressed.  Anyone can check the facts, but those with the power to correct the situation don't care to look. 

Have you noticed that there is a "party line" on economics, that it is "correct" to praise the free market and the integrity of businessmen, and the process of creative destruction that is the day to day reality of business life.  There is also a social reality that money flows out of little pots into big pots.  People go from the small centers to bigger centers.  The money and the power and the political influence all flows the same way.  Under "free markets" the flow is quicker and more intense.  People at the bottom get exploited, robbed, dis-empowered by the way the system works.  (Remember Northern Ireland; two stories?) Here we have the same sort of thing.  The truth is not being told.  The problem is not being addressed.  It's too hard, it's too complicated.  Anyway the "winners" in this situation control the press, the politics and the universities.  Who's addressing the real issue?  Nobody.  I've yet to read anyone who seems to even to understand that our problem is at one time a failure of economic theory and a failure of public information and a failure of political process.

"In New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada excellent free public health systems existed."  People here understand that the American system of public health provision is miserable in comparison.  Yet many aspects of the American system are being slowly introduced, particularly as right wing politicians try to reduce public expenditure on health.  Privatization of services is seen as efficient and smart.  It takes a lot of resolve to oppose such ideas.  The language of the powerful invades our space.  In schools we speak like the teachers or like our peers.  At home we speak like our parents.  In court we adopt as best we can the formal language of the court.  In commerce we speak the language of the people we need to win over to our view, or who's support we need.  So people across the world adopt the language and attitudes of Americans too easily and too unthinkingly.  If our own ideas are supported by our own carefully collected data and grounded in our own experience, we are less likely to be blown aside by the flash ideas of the powerful looking wealthy man in a suit. 

Our political situation in New Zealand is so much better than in the USA.  Here the change to mixed member proportional representation in 1993 broke the two party strangle hold on the political truth.  Because the two main parties both opposed the change to the electoral system, we have legislation designed and intended to be a failure, (voters were supposed to vote against it.) but in a muddling way it's working.  Both on the economic front and on the political front we have tried to become "modern".  With some success I might add.  Our markets are much more "free" than the USA, and our electoral process is much more democratic.  Our work is not done, but we have made progress.  It seems to me that in the USA, people are so propagandized about the wonders of American democracy that they are unable to see how outdated and how undemocratic the USA has become. 

9/11/2001 could provide a watershed, it is a chance to re-examine some things.  To look at the roots of events.  To quietly examine the stories by which we control and understand our lives, and to see if those stories still make sense.  It's not easy work.  Somehow we need to stop supporting the party line right or wrong.  We have to be independent enough to hold our own opinions and blessed with a social situation where we are free to discuss those opinions.  We need to address what the real world is like, to see with fresh eyes how things are connected.  As Jonas Salk said, "Jonas Salk, Local fileRelationships are fundamental", so we need to look beyond people, institutions and events, and look for patterns.  We have to have the courage to abolish the status quo if that structure is the root source of injustice and mal-government.  This is not and easy thing to do.  Those with power seem never to give it up easily.  The problems of the world cannot be solved without breaking a few eggs in places of great power and prestige. 

You need to be your own best source of reliable (information) data.  You can't know about everything, but you can be knowing about your own street, your own city and your own country to some extent.  You will be able to identify patterns of behaviour typical of what happens everywhere.  Political processes that refuse to deal with real issues and that operate for the advantage of the politicians for instance.  The warlords in Afghanistan carry guns and are openly engaged in self enrichment.  People with the same malevolent intent in advanced societies have university degrees and wear suits.  People like that seek your support.  Where do you stand?  There is a burden of knowledge.  Those who choose to know cannot hide behind "not knowing", knowledge demands commitment, action and leadership.  Having chosen knowledge you need to play your part as a participating citizen. 


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