Survival of the Idlest

It wasn’t the first such postal advertisement I’d received though perhaps the first I’d given more than a cursory glare and the standard rant of expletives. Was it the recent flood of ads from this industrial mammoth that gave me pause? The obscene sums of money dumped into a campaign of such obvious deception? Maybe the gnawing fear that such schemes must have their effects… or why bother?

I studied the glossy 9×14. Full color on both sides, heavy cardstock, each side featuring an image of the same person— a bearded man in hiking garb, blue Polartec half-zip, khaki cargos. He wears an expression of gentle contentment posing near bouldered mountains on one side, a grimace of determination in a rock climbing hold on the other. What would this advertiser have me believe? That the man in the photo is no office suit but a rugged environmentalist; that there is joy in what these mountains offer him; that he loves this space, dresses for it, plays in it and, so, would support nothing that might bring it harm.

This high-priced postal version is one of hundreds of ads I’ve seen or heard in the last several months on the safety and necessity of fracking. On my Pandora feed a woman tells listeners how safe she feels allowing oil and gas companies fracking activity on her farmland, and, recently, primetime radio promotions suggest to us that if Russia amasses more oil than the U.S., we will surely lose life and liberty in a conflict. Fear sells. Of course the omissions— the images of methane gas explosions, of flooded lands where compromised oil and gas technologies inject cancer causing toxins into the veins of primary water sources, of maps identifying new seismic activity relative to fracking sites—the omissions expose these ads for what they are: propaganda—brought to us all by monstrous profiteers of the oil and gas industry.

That this is straight propaganda seems obvious, yet it isn’t likely these moguls would let go of untold millions in an advertising blitz if it wasn’t going to have effect. So how does it work? Noam Chomsky once said this: “Our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like.”

Propagandists bank (literally) on the ignorance that is mystery.

A mystery perpetuated by an absent media, corporately owned and motivated by investors and profit. Truly, it’s tough to know what you don’t know when the knowers are making sure you don’t know it. But I think there’s more to this mystery than the silent sabotage of media. In truth, wouldn’t most thinking people inundated with advertisements on a single issue, at the very least, ask the question, Why?

In his 2004 essay, Quitting the Paint Factory, Mark Slouka suggested that we are a culture deprived of idleness, hoodwinked by players who know the dangers of a populace finding its soul in quiet meandering solitude.

“Idleness is not just a psychological necessity, requisite to the construction of a complete human being; it constitutes as well a kind of political space, a space as necessary to the workings of an actual democracy as, say, a free press. How does it do this? By allowing us time to figure out who we are, and what we believe; by allowing us time to consider what is unjust, and what we might do about it. By giving the inner life (in whose precincts we are most ourselves) its due. Which is precisely what makes idleness dangerous.”

And he goes on to say, “If we have no time to think, to mull, if we have no time to piece together the sudden associations and unexpected, mid-shower insights that are the stuff of independent opinion, then we are less citizens than cursors, easily manipulated, vulnerable to the currents of power.”

No time to think…

Ours is a consumer culture, members validated more by what they have than by who they are. And so we go about accumulating, making sacrifice to the gods of stuff in the form of constant doing. We do stuff to make money to buy stuff. And we trade up, mostly, I would argue, because we care what the masses think—our rung on the ladder—not because these things actually reflect us in some personal way (admittedly, sometimes they do). We trade up from an Outback to a Lexus; from two thousand square feet of livable space to three… or four; from Sonoma to Wang to Prada. And, no doubt, many of us convince ourselves that our doing (in the name of buying) is actually meaningful. That, in fact, the world needs this product or service and so we’re offering our members a favor.

But the great irony of our service to stuff is that it keeps us so shrouded in mystery that corporate forces stacking the decks in their favor now slither unchallenged into economic crevices that make vulnerable our capacity for further acquisition. Few of us, for example, questioned the propaganda on which NAFTA was born and KOR-US FTA (Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement) after it. Fewer still questioned their morality as they made industrial slaves of people in “developing” nations. The results? (and I’m repeating from a previous post)… nearly 700,000 jobs lost to NAFTA; in the first year of implementation, about 40,000 jobs lost to KOR-US FTA and the trade deficit between the two countries has increased by $5.8 billion; at present, income inequality in this country is at its highest in 100 years—greater, by far, than any other developed country in the world; and with their billions, corporations continue to write laws and treaties like the TransPacific Partnership in an all-out effort to both increase the numbers of working class people (decreasing jobs at the middle class level) and to so demoralize them as to make them take any job, at any pay, and at any cost to their well being.

And we sleep to the mysteries we cannot see because we do not look.


At dusk on the evening I received the fracking ad, I took a walk with my aging dog. Our path along a chain-link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire separates Denver’s Stapleton residents from Aurora’s “hood” residents of substantially lesser means. On the have-not side of the chain link, an American flag flaps in the wind over a manufacturing facility. Little of it—the flag, the fracking, the privilege, the poverty, and the myriad intersections—is mystery to me. I have observed, I have read… I have been idle. And, truth be told, it’s not for the preservation of democracy that I whittle such time away, but for the preservation of my children and myself… for the preservation of a world that might sustain us all.




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Filed under civil liberties, fair trade, institutions, politics, society, Uncategorized

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