Op-Ed: John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist and peace activist, born in Lebanon to U.S. parents. He was part of a group associated with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which received the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to seek solutions to conflict and global security threats.
Mass media could potentially be a great force for public education, but in general their role is not only unhelpful, it is often negative. War and conflict are blatantly advertised by television and newspapers.
A consumer who subscribes to the “package” of broadcasts sold by a cable company can often search through all 100 or so channels without finding a single program that offers insight into the various problems that are facing the world today. What the viewer finds instead is a mixture of sitcoms, “reality” programs, gardening shows and food channels. Meanwhile the neglected global problems are becoming progressively more severe.
In general, mass media personnel behave as though their role is to prevent the peoples of the world from working together to change the world, and to save it from thermonuclear and environmental catastrophes. The television viewer sits slumped in a chair, passive, isolated, dis-empowered and stupefied. The future of the world hangs in the balance, but the television viewer feels no impulse to work actively to change the world, or to save it. The Roman emperors gave their people bread and circuses to numb them into political inactivity. Modern mass media seem to be playing a similar role.
In 1955, following the explosion of an enormously powerful thermonuclear bomb, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell became concerned and wrote a declaration that proved to be the founding document of the Pugwash Conferences. The document reads:
“Here then is the problem that we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?... There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.”
These words accurately describe our present situation, but mass media gives us no information about the constant existential danger that a thermonuclear war, produced by human folly or technical failure, could destroy our civilization and much of the biosphere.
We live at a critical moment of history and our duty to future generations is clear. We must eliminate the institution of war; and we must develop new ethics to match our advanced technology, ethics in which narrow selfishness, short-sightedness and nationalism are replaced by loyalty to humanity as a whole, combined with respect for nature. Mass media could mobilize us to action, but they have failed in their duty. Our educational systems could also wake us up, but they too have failed us. The battle to save the earth from human greed and folly has to be fought in alternative media.
Alternative media, and all who work with it, deserve both our gratitude and our financial support. They alone, can correct the distorted and incomplete picture of the world that we obtain from mass media. They alone can show us the path to a future in which our children, grandchildren, and all future generations can survive.
John Avery’s book, discussing the importance of alternative media, can be downloaded for free here.