My diet has changed over the years. I am much less likely to eat chocolate, consume ice cream, or use butter than I did decades ago. These changes did not occur because I have had two heart attacks, but rather because I, like you, listened to the news that lower fat intake improves our health outcomes. It made no difference that the studies that launched this change were seriously flawed and sponsored by an industry that was invested in selling sugar and corn syrup instead of fat. Fat was bad, so we changed.
Through exposure and manipulation we had been fed some lies with our macrobiotic, fat-free, gluten-free, soy-laced tofurkey. There were lies, too, about the still dubious relationship between fat consumption and blood cholesterol.
My media diet has also changed with the development of the smart phone. I am now connected to news several times each day instead of at the frequency my former twice-a-day drive time visits to public radio, my weekly shot of the New York Times, and my bi-weekly read of Wisconsin Gazette. News is less reliable, but more frequent. This change in media diet has put many more images of horror in my face than mere words could have done a decade ago.
Again, through exposure and manipulation, we have been fed some lies about our safety, profiteering, and justice — not just by the “reality” TV celebrity running for President of the US, but also by our own democratic champions whose successes are forged in technology over human connection. Certainly Mr. Trump and his party work hard to scare US residents about security. They use fear to coerce prospective voters to scurry to the positions last championed by Pat Buchanan two decades ago.
Our widely used non-democratic polling processes and our referrenda to weigh in public opinion on unalienable rights are confusing popularity with justice, much like the use of drones — those fun geeky gadgets — confuses us about the killing machines of war that they are. My own theory about what Trump followers dislike about Secretary Clinton (and perhaps some of the less racist ones dislike about our President) is that she is a technocrat.
Others with Secretary Clinton’s world view have championed electronic medical records, for example. I would argue that while these systems have reduced medical error, they have also served to increase medical charges exponentially — but not only because we get more care. These charges are due to capturing more billable minutes in existing care. When our President signed over hundreds of millions to a handful of companies as part of the stimulus package several years ago, he inadvertently also increased the likelihood that tens of thousands of elderly patients would forgo regular health check ups for fear of being billed repeatedly for even asking a question during their primary care appointments.
I do not believe that the current administration nor Secretary Clinton would select a policy in order to disadvantage Americans. However, I do think that they underestimate how perplexing and aloof their policies seem to those whom they are intended to help. These solutions create problems of their own and those problems are used by opponents to manipulate the public.
In the meantime, the horrors of the mistreatment of people is itself unchanged while our diet of viewing them has grown exponentially. Black and brown people across the world are being treated in unspeakable ways with increasing efficiency. In the US, we stand by as they are starved out of their homes in African, South American, Central American, North America, the Middle East, South Asia, and Asia. Even as I write this, I can imagine the voices of those who would seek to educate me on the complexities of the issues. They want to argue that new techniques hold the answers and old ones caused the problems. In my experience, these explanations only obscure our heartlessness; they do not end it. These explanations serve to make me feel both powerless and passive.
Our national and local policies keep many black and brown people undereducated, underemployed, homeless, and unhealthy. We have become increasingly proficient at counting the toll of this destruction on their bodies while simultaneously becoming more efficient in the destruction itself. Just last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we witnessed the killing of another unarmed black man by police outside his car. He had been spotted by a police helicopter moments earlier apparently doing nothing illegal, but was still described by the pilot as likely dangerous. Now two cameras catch the culprit instead of one camera or none, but the man is still dead. We have a helicopter in the air, but the man is still dead. And more will die this week. And next.
Since the 1990s we have been fed a proliferation of technologies by the technocrats who serve them up as answers to our hunger for connection and even greater appetite for easy solutions to tough problems. Our piping hot new data bases, gadgets, methods, screens, and polls bring us to our feet. Many of us applaud and cheer as iPhone 7 is released. The market notices and lines form to buy what is being served up. Profits soar and the fall harvest from Apple is credited for saving an otherwise dismal week on Wall Street. Donations are harvested now, too, as polls show Secretary Clinton or Donald Trump up or down. Data are viewed and reviewed, causing social service programs to flower or fold. Just the right photo of a dead child in Allepo will make or break a fundraising campaign.
I hear that the smart phone photos of the bodies that litter the pavements in our cities are creating a change, too. I personally have not seen the change that is being heralded. I only see those black and brown bodies — someone’s child, but my people, too. And I see us unable to adequately express our anguish despite the tools at our fingertips. Perhaps our answers are not on those screens, but in each other’s eyes.