Saturday, April 14, 2018

Communication and Disruption

So, how about another post about one of our New York Society for General Semantics sessions from last year? Interested? Of course, you are!

This one is a little different from some of the others, as it involves one extended address, followed by a few shorter responses. And it features my colleague from Manhattan College and co-founder of the Media Ecology Association, as well as fellow trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, not to mention NYSGS board member, Thom Gencarelli.

I should also mention that Thom is a fellow past president of the New York State Communication Association, as well as the MEA, and this all starts with him being selected as a fellow Wilson  Fellow at NYSCA in 2016, which obligated him to deliver a Wilson Scholar Address at our last meeting, this past October. Which he did, and it was outstanding, which was why I asked him to give it again as part of a NYSGS program.

So, anyway, here's the write up for it:

Last year, Thom Gencarelli received NYSCA's John F. Wilson Fellow Award, based on his record of scholarship and service. Other scholars previously named as John F. Wilson Fellows include Neil Postman, Gary Gumpert, Dan Hahn, Deborah Borisoff, Susan Drucker, James W. Carey, Lance Strate, Susan B. Barnes, and Brian Cogan. In conjunction with his selection, he delivered this year's John F. Wilson Fellow Lecture on October 13th, at the 75th anniversary meeting of the New York State Communication Association:
"Dark Nets and Disruptive Practices"

All too often, people outside the academic discipline of communication and media studies consider what we do to be little more than a special interest, rather than the study of something that is central to, and one of the primary defining features of, the human experience. As a case in point, the Presidential election of 2016, the most disruptive event of all disruptive events in our contemporary experience in the U.S., can be explained from a media perspective, and an historical one at that. Beginning from Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical, movable-type printing press and through our contemporary innovations in mobility, social media, and Tor, this presentation argues that all inventions and innovations in media are a disruption, and that the evolution of media by which the citizenry in a democratic society inform themselves can explain, in full, exactly what happened to us in 2016.

On November 3rd, Professor Gencarelli reprised his Wilson Lecture as the main event of our NYSGS program, and following the lecture, as an added bonus, additional reflections, comments, and responses were delivered by
MJ Robinson, Professor of New Media and Journalism and Media Studies, Bernard N. Stern Professor of Humor, and Graduate Deputy Chair for the Media Studies MS program in the Department of Television and Radio at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York;
Michael Plugh, Professor of Communication at Manhattan College, Immediate Past President of the New York State Communication Association, and Internet Officer and Executive Board member of the Media Ecology Association;
and Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, Past President of the New York State Communication Association, Editor of Explorations in Media Ecology and Executive Board member of the Media Ecology Association, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics, and President of the New York Society for General Semantics.

Thom Gencarelli, Ph.D. (NYU, 1993) is Professor and the founding Chair of the Communication Department at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York. He is a Past President of the New York State Communication Association, the Media Ecology Association, and New Jersey Communication Association (twice), and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics. He researches and writes about media literacy/media education, media ecology, and popular media and culture with an emphasis on popular music. He is co-editor (with Brian Cogan) of Baby Boomers and Popular Culture: An Inquiry into America’s Most Powerful Generation (ABC-Clio/ Praeger, 2014), and is currently at work on a book about language acquisition and cognitive development. Thom is also a songwriter, musician, and music producer, and has released two album-length works with his ensemble bluerace, World is Ready and Beautiful Sky. The group’s third, as yet untitled effort is due out in 2018.







It was a program that most certainly shed light on our contemporary semantic environment!


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Jedi and the Jews

So, my January 12th op ed for the Jewish Standard was given the title, Jew vs. Jedi: “May the Schwartz Be With You”, and here it is for the first time on Blog Time Passing:


The Last Jedi is one of the best, if not the best, of the Star Wars cinematic series that first exploded onto theater screens in 1977. The film franchise, originated by George Lucas, was sold to the Walt Disney Company in 2012, and revitalized in 2015 by the first installment in the new trilogy, The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams.




Although it was a huge commercial success and generally well received, many fans were unhappy with the shift to a more progressive outlook in The Force Awakens, and expressed dissatisfaction with the casting, which deviated from the previous films, which were all but monopolized by white males. In this new trilogy, the lead heroic role of Rey is given to a young woman, while another main character is played by a young African-American man. Even when the sentiments expressed were not overtly racist and sexist, those undercurrents were apparent, especially given that the plot of The Force Awakens was quite consistent with the original Star Wars film.

Star Wars The Force Awakens cast Harrison Ford; Daisy Ridley; Bob Iger; J.J. Abrams; John Boyega; Lupita Nyong'o; Oscar Isaac



The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson, extended the new sensibility by highlighting female leadership, including the late Carrie Fisher as the leader of the resistance and Laura Dern as a self-sacrificing admiral of their decimated fleet, while introducing a significant new character played by Kelly Marie Tran, the child of Vietnamese immigrants. Consistent with this move toward greater diversity in casting, the film also emphasized the progressive theme of breaking with the past.







Given the reactionary mentality of most disgruntled Star Wars fanatics, I was disturbed to read Liel Liebovitz’s December 18 piece in Tablet magazine, called “Reform Jediism.” Liebovitz explains his reaction to the film:
I felt a torrent of anger I haven’t known since gazing at the calamity that was Jar-Jar Binks. That’s because the movie, while otherwise engaging and enjoyable, introduced a radical new take on the Jedi religion. Call it Reform Jediism.

Anger is consistent with right-wing screeds against any form of liberal politics, but in this instance the target was Reform Judaism. As he puts it,
for American Jewish audiences… The Last Jedi can feel almost like a documentary, a sordid story about a small community eager to trade in the old and onerous traditions for the glittery and airy creed of universalist kumbaya that, like so much sound and fury, signifies nothing.

As a Reform Jew, I am deeply offended by Liebovitz’s disdain for those of us who practice a form of Judaism different from his own. And I have to wonder what it is about us that makes him so afraid. In the words of the Jedi master Yoda, who presumably represents Liebovitz’s idea of Orthodox Jediism, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Don’t we know this to be true? Isn’t our world big enough for different forms of Jewish worship, different modes of Jewish identity? Does he really want to open up an irrevocable schism in the Jewish population?




Responses from readers both sympathetic to his general outlook and supportive of the Reform movement have taken Liebovitz to task for misinterpreting the meaning of The Last Jedi, ignoring important details in the film or just getting them wrong, forcing facts to fit his views instead of vice versa. For my part, I find the entire conversation absurd. Its original sin is Liebovitz’s equating Jew and Jedi.

The Star Wars universe was created by George Lucas, who was raised a Methodist. The film’s underlying Christian sensibility is apparent in its emphasis on a savior figure. In the original trilogy, the messianic character is Luke (evoking the Gospels) Skywalker (paralleling walking on water). In the prequels, Anakin Skywalker is born via immaculate conception on the part of the Force and identified as the “chosen one” of prophecy, before falling from grace and becoming the equivalent of the Christian Satan, Darth Vader.




The Jedi are referred to as an “order” rather than a religion. Judaism does not have any orders, but there are many within the Catholic tradition (e.g., Jesuits, Dominicans), as well in as other forms of Christianity including the Methodists, and also within Buddhism, a major influence as well on Lucas and his creation. The Jedi Order is monastic. Worldly attachments—notably marriage—are forbidden; that’s a rule also associated with Christianity and Buddhism.

A fully trained Jedi is referred to as a knight, and Jedi knights are all but invincible warriors, in some ways modeled after Japanese samurai, but also after holy paladins, not unlike the Arthurian knights of the roundtable in search of the Holy Grail of Christian legend. Jedi also are much like priests, Christian or Shaolin, with a direct connection to the godlike Force, one that ordinary people lack. They are nothing like the great rabbis of Jewish tradition, learned sages who study and interpret our sacred texts.





The Christian sensibility of Star Wars is especially apparent in its valuation of redemption and forgiveness. At the end of the original trilogy, Luke is able to convince his father, Darth Vader, to turn on his master, the evil emperor. Luke insists that there still is good in Vader, and this final act allows Vader to die in a state of grace, and to appear in ghostly form alongside the good Jedi who have also left the earthly plane. But the fact remains that Vader was guilty of untold atrocities, including destroying an entire planet in the first Star Wars film.





In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is introduced as essentially worshipping Darth Vader as well as following the evil Supreme Leader of the First Order, and engages in acts of patricide and mass murder. In The Last Jedi, Rey tries to turn Ren away from the dark side, just as Luke did with Vader, saying that it’s not to late for him. The idea that you can be forgiven for all of your sins as long as you repent in the end has its origins in Christian theology, whereas in our tradition, as expounded by Maimonides, some sins are so heinous that no forgiveness or redemption is possible.

I don’t mean to imply that Star Wars is based only on Christian elements. Lucas weaved together a variety of influences, including Buddhism, Japanese samurai films, westerns, World War Two movies, old movie serials such as Flash Gordon, and Joseph Campbell’s notion of the hero’s journey (itself more consistent with Christianity than Judaism). What I want to emphasize is that Star Wars does not reflect Jewish sensibilities, and does not make for a good analogy with contemporary Jewish life.

We still can appreciate and enjoy the movies, which above all are entertaining. But we also ought to be aware of Lucas’s failings as a storyteller. His movies have been criticized for portraying democratic institutions as weak and ineffectual, supported only by the elitist Jedi. Only a few people exhibit the force sensitivity needed to become a Jedi, and that trait is inherited rather than acquired through hard work or ethical conduct.






Lucas drew on many stylistic elements from the World War II era, some in disturbing fashion. For example, the final scene of the first Star Wars movie is based on a scene from the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Worse, in the prequel trilogy, Lucas drew on offensive ethnic stereotypes, trying to displace them onto alien beings. The character of Jar Jar Binks, whom Liebovitz and many other fans criticized for being too silly, was based on African-American Stepin Fetchit stereotypes, with a Jamaican/Rastafarian speech pattern. The leaders of the evil Trade Federation were based on East Asian “yellow peril” stereotypes. And the greedy slave owner Watto is hook-nosed and speaks with a Yiddish accent.








Liebovitz is wrong in thinking that the earlier Star Wars movies emphasized tradition. No, they were exercises in nostalgia, romanticized images of the past. And they are profoundly ahistorical, set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” The fairytale-like formula stands in stark contrast to the Jewish invention of historical narrative. The events that occur in the Star Wars universe have no connection to our world. How long ago did they happen? What is the connection between their time and ours? Are we the descendants of the human characters in these stories? Are they even human? For this reason, as well as the fact that there is no rationale given for the “futuristic” science and technology, purists argue that these stories are fantasy rather than science fiction.




As Jews, we believe in progress toward a better future as well as continuity with the past. The Star Wars universe is as disconnected from our tradition as it is from human history. We can enjoy the films as entertainment, certainly, and I would suggest that also we ought to applaud the more progressive approach associated with Abrams, Johnson, and Disney. As for a Jewish take on the franchise, I can think of none better than the 1987 Mel Brooks movie Spaceballs, which teaches us to live and let live and not take ourselves so seriously.





And so I say to Liebovitz and others like him, “May the Schwartz be with you!”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

If Not A Then E (Studio Version)

So previously here on Blog Time Passing I posted my 2013 Keynote Address to the Media Ecology Association, a version of a talk I had first given at an Institute of General Semantics symposium. If you somehow missed it, here's the link: My MEA Keynote (If Not A Then E).

That address, "If Not A, Then E," includes a creative use of PowerPoint, at least I think so, and in fact that was a key element of the talk. The recording of the keynote captures much of the visual presentation in the background, but not all of it. And the PowerPoint is the main point, visually speaking, you don't really need to look at me at all, you just need to hear me talk.

As a live event, that recording also includes my friend Thom Gencarelli introducing me, and the question and answer session that followed.

My friend Ed Tywoniak liked the address so much that he said he wanted to produce a video version. It took a few years to get around to it, but a little over a year ago, March of 2017, he had me over to his school, Saint Mary's College of California, as a Disney Forum Fellow (that's the Roy E. and Patricia Disney Forum), and one of the goals was to convert the PowerPoint to video, with me doing the voiceover.

There were some challenges in making the conversion. You would think it would be easy enough, but there tends to be a loss of visual definition or quality in making the transfer from PowerPoint to video. To avoid that, this version does not include some of the transitions which were part of the overall aesthetic of the presentation. Still and all, Ed's students, Ryan Moran and Sean Wagner, did an outstanding job in putting together the video, setting up the sound recording, and putting it all together. 

The end result comes in at 28 minutes, as there is no one introducing me as a speaker, and no Q&A session. And here it is:





I'll share some other videos that came out of my visit another time. For now, this is me, signing off, from here on E-world.


Monday, April 2, 2018

The Mind of a Mentalist

So, back again to report on another New York Society for General Semantics program here on Blog Time Passing. This one took place last October 8th, and featured my old friend and fellow Media Ecology Program Moshe Botwanick, aka Marc Salem (his stage name). The title of the program was Words, Mind, and Magic: A Talk by Mentalist Marc Salem, and here's the write-up:


We all have wished for, at one time or another, the power to read minds and decipher the thoughts of others. And while true ESP may be out of reach, it is possible to interpret clues to what others are thinking, a power that leads to greater success at work, in relationships, and in every aspect of life. The key is to pay attention to aspects of our world that we typically overlook, find the hidden meaning in conversations, negotiations, and personal encounters, and understand the meaning of nonverbal communication.
Marc Salem, aka Professor Moshe Botwinick, holds advanced degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and New York University, where he earned his PhD studying with Neil Postman, Christine Nystrom, and Terence Moran, and has served as book review editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics. He has been on the faculty of several major universities, was a director of research at Sesame Street Workshop where he studied the development and nature of mental processes, and is a world-renowned entertainer.
His show, Mind Games, has completed two successful runs on Broadway, as well as the Sydney Opera House, Singapore's Esplanade, London's West End, and the Edinburgh Festival. Salem has been profiled on 60 Minutes, and been featured on Court TV, CNN, The O'Reilly Factor, Montel, and Maury. The New York Police Department, and businesses across the country have turned to Marc Salem for advice. He is the author of Marc Salem's Mind Games: A Practical Step-By-Step Guide to Developing Your Mental Powers, and The Six Keys to Unlock and Empower Your Mind, Spot Liars and Cheats, Negotiate Any Deal to Your Advantage, Win at the Office, Influence Friends, and Much More, soon to be published in a second edition.

 And here's the video recording of his talk, minus a few mysterious, unexplained gaps:





All in all, it was an evening that was nothing less than mind-blowing!



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Success and GS

 So, I know it's been awhile, another bit of a hiatus, life happening while I was making other plans, that sort of thing, but I will try to get back on track, at least a bit. And let me start with a post about a podcast interview that took place back in August, and was published on September 12th, 2017. Here's a rather cool and groovy preview video for the podcast:







The interviewer was Jeff Bogaczyk, who was finishing up his PhD in communication at Duquesne University, and does a podcast series called Mind for Life. As he explains it:


Who Am I?

My name is Jeff Bogaczyk and I write about and produce a podcast on personal development. I am very interested in the intersection between our thoughts and actions and explore this in my writing and podcast. I hope you enjoy!

What is Mind For Life?

Mind for Life is a podcast/blog designed with your best life in mind based on the idea that how you think greatly affects the way you live. This seems obvious at first glance but a deeper probe into the question reveals how important this fact is, and also how often it is forgotten in our daily activity. The majority of our life experience is done on “autopilot.” What this means is that our actual lived experience is comprised of thousands of things each day that affect what we choose to do, how we respond to people, the choices we make, and the actions we take. There are so many factors involved that we cannot consciously be aware of all of them and so our brains “choose” for us based upon past experiences and decisions. Our brains act for us and make “autopilot” decisions beneath our conscious awareness.

Of course some of these decisions are minor and don’t have major affects on our lives–we are tired of sitting so we stand, we stretch our arms, we fidget in our chair because we are uncomfortable. Usually, we aren’t aware that we are doing these things because it happens subconsciously. However, there are other decisions our brains make for us that have greater consequences in our lives. How we respond in a conflict situation with someone we love, for example. See, our brains have been “programmed” to respond in these instances based upon the past experiences in our lives. In other words, our environment has taught us how to respond simply by experiencing things and events. To use the conflict example–we usually respond to conflict the way we have been “taught”–not intentionally, necessarily–but by the examples of the people that we have been around and grown up with. Our parents, our household environment, our friendships, and other relationships all influence how we learn about managing conflict. So, if we have grown up and lived in an environment that has been characterized by shouting, slamming doors, demeaning others, etc. in conflict situations, we learn that unconsciously and that becomes the “default” for how our brains operate in similar situations.

We Can Change

The good news is that we can change our default thinking patterns by establishing intentional, productive thinking processes in our life. Recent research into our cognitive development has shown that our brains have a quality called neuroplasticity. This basically means that our brains, our thinking patterns, our thought processes are still mold-able and can be adjusted and improved. This is good news because we all understand, if we are honest with ourselves, that we have areas in our lives where we can improve. Self-awareness is the ability to see those areas of weakness in our own lives. The challenge is finding ways to correct them. This is where communication can make a difference.

Mindful Communication

Really, if you think about it, thinking is simply a process of communicating with ourselves in a particular direction. When we think, we enter an internal dialogue with ourselves where we ask questions, provide answers, state premises’ and hopefully solve problems and come up with solutions and answers. This podcast/blog is basically about helping to turn our attention to this entire process as it is taking place in our lives and helping to establish proactive thinking patterns that will, in time, provide better outcomes and a better life. If our default thinking patterns in particular aspects of our life are dysfunctional due to bad experiences in our past, then the default thought process will result in a habitual action that results in a destructive outcome. Think of it like this. Though the “computer” model of brain function has many problems, in this area we might be able to say if the programming is bad, the output will be bad. Garbage in, garbage out as they say.

The solution? Though we can’t always fix what goes in, we can take steps to address these inputs in constructive and productive ways. Changing our thinking involves self-awareness–a realization in all facets of what has happened to us and where our areas of difficulty lie. Secondly it involves education–learning about what is really happening, how these processes are taking place and how we can respond positively and productively. This is what Mind For Life is all about. Join with us on the journey!

Jeff has been doing very impressive work, and we originally connected via his interest in media ecology and participation in communication conferences. Given the nature of his series, it was only natural that the discussion emphasized general semantics, and it seemed only fitting to get into Wendell Johnson's general semantics concept of the IFD disease. 

Jeff incorporates the connection in his blog post related to the podcast: 3 Powerful Leadership Lessons From General Semantics And Media Ecology. You can read what he wrote over on his blog, I'll just note here that the three lessons he mentions are: 1. Develop operational definitions; 2. Watch out for idealization; and 3. Avoid abstract jargon and leadership clichés. His explanation of these three ideas and the overall discussion leading up to it are worth reading, so I recommend checking it out.

As for the podcast itself, can listen to it via this link: MFL 22–Dr. Lance Strate: Success and IFD Disease. I do think it turned out rather well, don't you agree? And here's the custom pic he included:




You can download the podcast via that link, and there's a bio and list of my books on the same page, and some links, which I don't need to include here. But I think the following items Jeff also includes are worth a little cut and paste. The first is a list of Podcast Time Stamps:

Podcast Time Stamps

[5:51] – Dr. Strate tells what Media Ecology is all about and explains General Semantics.

[7:48] – Lance describes how General Semantics can help us in thinking about words and how we use them in our lives.

[10:03] – Dr. Strate describes how General Sematics can help us when thinking about success.

[11:00] – Lance talks about IFD disease: Idealization, frustration and demoralization. A process that occurs when we use our words as high level abstractions instead of more specifically.

[17:13] – How operational definitions can help to prevent IDF disease. Operational definitions prevent us from idealizing any given term or goal in our lives.

[18:42] – How General Semantics is an attempt to take scientific method and generalize it to human relations.

[21:26] – Lance talks about his own personal “operational definition” of success. Specifically about looking at accomplishments and completing tasks as realistic expectations instead of idealized abstractions.

[24:00] – How pride and status are related to success and accomplishment. For Lance, it’s more about “going with the flow” and following the path that rose up before him.

[25:30] – There is also a component about being realistic about what you are able to achieve.

[26:22] – How Lance finds the motivation to write as extensively as he does – it’s about committing to things and leveraging his sense of obligation to deliver on what he promises someone.

And the second is Jeff's list of Top Learning Moments:

Top learning moments

Much of success is related to your definition of success. From a General Semantics perspective this has to do with creating an “operational definition” that allows you to pursue something that isn’t a generalization or abstraction.

IFD disease – the idea of having “idealistic” expectations that will never come to pass turns into frustration and demoralization. If you find yourself frustrated or demoralized, ask yourself if you aren’t pursuing some idealistic end and then think about how you can make that more realistic and practical.

Committing to doing something leverages the psychological power of obligation. When we commit to something, we have a stronger tendency to accomplish it because other people expect it of us. So, to accomplish more, it may be helpful to say “yes” rather than “no” when someone asks us to do something outside of our comfort zone.

 
All in all, I'd say the outcome of this interview interaction was, indeed, a success!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Scenes From My Book Launch

So, let's get back to talking about my new book, shall we?



😃 😃 😃 😃 😃 😉  😉 😃 😃 😃 😃 😃


So, back on September 8th we had a book launch event at The Players in Manhattan, hosted by the New York Society for General Semantics. The event was held under the heading of Media Ecology and the Human Condition: A Reading and Conversation with Lance Strate, and was quite well attended for a NYSGS program. The write-up for the event included the following:

Our first event of Fall 2017, held on September 8th, featured a book launch for Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition (New York: Peter Lang, 2017) by Lance Strate, published on July 4th. Dr. Strate is Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, a Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, and the President of the New York Society for General Semantics.

Thom Gencarelli, Professor of Communication at Manhattan College and a Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics hosted the event, which included a conversation, discussion, reading, book signing, and reception....

It was a gathering and celebration that was most certainly stimulating and thought-provoking!


And here are some photos taken by representatives from the publisher, Peter Lang, who were present:



 But we can do better than that! As you many know, we try to record every NYSGS program, and that includes this one. So you can get a sense of the conversation that took place, some of my readings, and the question and answer session that followed:







As this was an NYSGS event, there was more of an emphasis on general semantics than you might find on other occasions. And I will be doing a book signing at the upcoming National Communication Association's annual meeting, in Dallas, Texas, on Friday, November 17th, from 2:45 to 3:15 PM. Look for me at the Peter Lang table in the exhibition hall!

Following the signing, there will be a program session on my book with commentary and reviews by Thom Gencarelli, Ronald Arnett of Duquesne University, Janie Harden Fritz also from Duquesne, and Robert Craig of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Ed Tywoniak of Saint Mary's College of California will be chairing the session, and I'll be responding to the panelists, responding to the responses, as it were. If you will be at the conference, this program is listed as taking place on the 3rd floor of the Marriott, in the Champagne Room (I suppose that's fitting in some way).






And there's one last look at the pile of books from the book launch, before they were all sold out! Many thanks to everyone who came out that evening, especially those who bought copies, and to the New York Society for General Semantics, for a memorable evening and event!





Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Call to Disarms

When it came time to write my latest op-ed for the Jewish Standard, I was preparing to write on another topic when the Las Vegas shooting occurred on the night of October 1st. After reading many other news articles and opinion pieces on the subject, I decided to add my voice to the chorus, albeit without much specific reference to this particular incident, because I want the arguments to be independent of any one event, to apply to all of the mass shootings that have occurred in the past, and will continue to occur in the future, until something is finally done about the gun culture in the United States.

I also wanted to get to the root of the problem, the reason why efforts at curbing gun violence are blocked time and time again, and that's the Second Amendment. I am far from the first to call for that Amendment to be abolished, but I do think it's time to stop acting as if the idea of a "right to bear arms" is somehow okay, normal, immune from any questioning or criticism.

If we were drawing up the Bill of Rights today, instead of the late 18th century, we would certainly include First Amendment protections, maybe even strengthen them, as well as the right to a trial by jury, and habeas corpus, and we might even add a right to privacy, which is absent from the original ten amendments. We would probably include amendments prohibiting discrimination based race, gender, religion, creed, etc., and protections regarding voting rights. But would we include anything like the Second Amendment? Would we list packing a gun as a basic human right?

Sure, there would be a vocal minority who would say yes, but I think most American citizens would agree that guns are no more deserving of special protection than automobiles. And that's the point. The abolition of the Second Amendment would clear the way to setting up licensing and restrictions on firearms in the same way that we do so for cars, and trucks, and ships, and airplanes.

And yes, of course, this cannot happen quickly. But nothing is happening anyway. Nothing. At all. So it's time to start playing a long game, and working for a constitutional amendment, one of the longest games in American politics. But it's worth it. It may seem insurmountable today, but if folks keep working at it steadily over time, it can be done. And then, even though we have to live with the omnipresent threat of gun violence, maybe our children, or maybe their children, won't have to.

So, anyway, here is my op-ed, originally published on Oct. 13th, entitled, A Call to Disarm:



Let me begin with a thought that might sound like heresy to some citizens of the United States: The Second Amendment to our Constitution is not scripture.

Indeed, neither the Bill of Rights nor the US Constitution itself were handed down to us by God. Nor are they said to have been dictated from on high, or be the product of divine inspiration. Rather, they are the product of human beings, subject to human flaws and human error. And they are a product of a particular time and set of circumstances, some of which are no longer in effect, such as slavery, and some of which have changed radically, such as the likelihood of a solider being quartered in a private home, an infringement that is the subject of the Third Amendment.

The founders of our republic clearly were aware of their own limitations by including Article Five of our Constitution, which allows for the possibility of amending our governmental framework, and lists the procedures to be followed in order to propose and ratify a constitutional amendment.

Famously, new amendments have abolished slavery, granted voting rights to women, and lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Infamously, the 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture, importing, transportation, and sale of alcohol in the United States. Thirteen years after it was established, this amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment, ending the period characterized by crime and violence known as Prohibition.

We the people can amend the US Constitution, and we can amend our amendments. In theory, we can amend our amendments to our amendments, and so on ad infinitum, but the important point is that amendments can be repealed. And I want to join the chorus of sane and concerned voices calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment.

Bret Stephens, in a recent New York Times op-ed arguing for repeal, concluded with the following: “The true foundation of American exceptionalism should be our capacity for moral and constitutional renewal, not our instinct for self-destruction” ("Repeal the Second Amendment").

Everybody knows that the Second Amendment is written in a torturous manner that makes it impossible to determine its precise meaning: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Historians tell us that the first clause is the main point, to guarantee the right of individual states to maintain their own armed forces, as a matter of collective defense. In part, the motivation had much to do with skepticism about maintaining a standing army on the federal level. The idea that the Second Amendment refers to individual rights is a later interpretation, with its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and largely a 20th century innovation.

The Second Amendment is not scripture, and therefore should not have to undergo talmudic exegesis, just so that it can serve as a pretext for preventing any and all regulation of firearms. The initials NRA do not stand for the National Rabbinic Association, so that organization does not have the moral or intellectual authority to dictate its interpretation of the amendment to the American citizenry.

And what about scripture itself? Of course, there were no firearms in the ancient world, but there are references to other weapons. Look at the famous words of the prophet Isaiah: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” in reference to warfare; in another Jewish context, the Christian Bible’s Gospel of Matthew has Jesus admonish one of his followers by saying: “all who take up the sword, will die by the sword.”

Of course, we would expect to find messages of nonviolence dominating the sacred texts of our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. And we might well wonder how it is that so many people of faith in our country can resist any efforts to reduce gun violence so zealously. In another New York Times op-ed, David Brooks argues that “guns are a proxy for larger issues,” for “a much larger conflict over values and identity” ("Guns and the Soul of America").

In other words, it’s the culture war, stupid.

And let us make no mistake about it. Resistance to gun safety legislation is linked to the populist movement that gave us the Trump presidency, it is linked to the alt-right, to white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements, to anti-immigration sentiment, to Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. It should be pretty clear which side we ought to be on.

If there is a passage in scripture that might be the ancient equivalent of the Second Amendment, it might be found in the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus, in the commandment “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This suggests a right to self-defense that might translate to a right to bear arms. But it also implies a collective right to be safe and secure, the right implied by the prophet Micah, and alluded to by George Washington in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, that “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.”

Psalm 115 incorporates a polemic against idol worship, characterized as “the work of men’s hands,” concluding that “they that make them shall be like unto them, yea, everyone who trusts in them.” If people treat the Second Amendment as scripture, are they not in effect worshiping firearms as their idols? And consequently, doesn’t that transform them into instruments of violence, molded into the image of their molten gods, tools of their own invention?

This summer I published a book called Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition. One of my central arguments in that book is that our tools and technologies are never neutral, that they have inherent characteristics and tendencies that influence how they are used. Just as objects tend to roll down rather than up a hill, and stones are hard not soft, so guns are inherently designed as instruments of violence. This is a tendency, not an absolute. In some instances, the presence of guns may deter violence, it is true, but on the whole, the more guns in a situation, the greater the potential for violence, and the greater the frequency and harm of violent events.







You may notice that I have made no reference to the specifics of the most recent mass shooting, and that is because the details do not matter. As of this writing, journalists covering the story are obsessed with the question of why it happened. In this instance, that question is proving to be harder to answer than usual. But in my view, the why is irrelevant. The why will always be different, individual, personal. Taking a media ecology approach, what matters is not why, but how. And the how remains consistent across the 131 mass shootings that have occurred over the past 50 years.

It’s the guns, stupid. It’s the firearms.

The answer to why often is some form of insanity, as if there were ever a sane reason to commit mass murder. But allowing for that, the same side of the culture war that defends the Second Amendment also opposes funding for research into the causes of gun violence, and funding for mental health in general, and funding for universal health care, which would aid the victims of gun violence. There is no moral equivalence between the two sides.

And while one side argues for the Second Amendment in absolute or near absolute terms, the other asks, you might say begs, for modest modifications that might not make more than a modicum of difference. Is there any wonder that the outcome is more of the same, over and over again?

It is time for a new abolition movement, one dedicated to the repeal of the Second Amendment, because that in turn would open the door to substantial Federal gun safety legislation. This is not a call for a prohibition on firearms, but rather to open the door for reasonable safety measures, so that we all can sit under our vines and fig trees, in our concert halls and movie theaters and night clubs and malls, and in baseball fields and schools and houses of worship, and in our streets and homes, and none shall make us afraid ever again.