Understanding memory is vital to your health. An abundance of clichés such as the present is “the future and the past is the present” have been floated around. Karl Marx and Jacques Derrida added insights to the importance of memory and how it establishes a philosophy of liberation. Memories of injustice remind us what we inherited from the past.
The danger is that memories can be manipulated and used to minimize the negative impact of government policy on public health, safety, and welfare as well as cloud corporate corruption.
Memory is a needed to create new memories. Distortions today contribute to gross corruption tomorrow. What we actually learn is through hearsay. The professor or teacher interpret history through their or someone else’s memory.
We also acquire memories through the observation of current events. Thus the concept that “the present is the key to the past” takes on meaning. Negative memories alert us to the dangers of certain courses of action. Because I am so passionate about the evils of war, every semester since the mid-1970s I have shown my classes documentary “Hearts and Minds.” After every showing I ask, “What have we learned from the Vietnam War?”
Recently it dawned on me that I should also be asking, “What have I learned about how I am contributing to the students’ memories?” In search for the answer, I reviewed memories of forty years of student reactions to the documentary.
If in the 1960s we would have talked about assassinations, there would have been a reaction; today it is routine, part of everyday life.
I remember when I first showed it in the mid-70s students would cry uncontrollably and often walk out. When the scene of the two soldiers in the whorehouse came on many walked out.
The reaction was less emotional in the 1980s and 90s. There were tears but they were not uncontrollable. It changed radically in the past ten years; there are fewer wet eyes. No one seems shocked by the prostitution scene. Without reading too much into it, generational memories differ.
In 1975, the scenes in “Hearts and Minds” were real to most students. There was nothing new, and the atrocities were familiar and common place. For all the deception during the Vietnam War, there was a free press. Journalists were on the ground at home and abroad. They fully covered atrocities such as the My Lai Massacre and the napalming of children and civilians.
Although seventy-one television crew members and journalists were killed in Iraq by 2006, the same number as in Vietnam, the coverage during Vietnam was indelible for those watching the evening news. I remember when the Vietnamese soldier was assassinated – shot point blank in the head that was all my high school students could talk about. The war was being televised.
So when we view “Hearts and Minds” today, the reaction seems to be less real as the times change. There are no Walter Cronkites or Edward Murrows to engrave them on our memories. Instead we have Brian Willams and Bill O'Reilly manufacturing memories.
Without the memories the lessons are lost or softened. We are no longer shocked by scenes of the victims of the drones; they are not part of our everyday memories and in some ways are unreal. Torture and assassination are morally accepted. If in the 1960s we would have talked about assassinations, there would have been a reaction; today it is routine, part of everyday life.
The sex scene in “Hearts and Minds” that highlights the dehumanization of women, especially those of color, is no longer a novelty.
Ten years ago I asked a college audience how many 55 or over had watched porn, only one hand went up; 35 to 55, five hands; until I got to those of college age, and it seemed as if every hand went up. Porn was not as common in the sixties as it is today when the “mature” category leads the pack.
A comparison can also be made with horror films and their shock value. When I saw The Son of Frankenstein circa 1939 as a child it scared the crap out of me. Today kids laugh at the monster and horror films have gotten progressively bloodier.
What role does the present play? It scares me when I consider that the 1960s generation is not affected by what is happening in the Middle East and Africa. It leads me to ask, what about the present generation that does not watch the nightly news, but the dribble on Fox News? What is their reality? What will they remember as time distorts reality?
In 2014, AlterNet carried an article titled “The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers Are the Most Misinformed.” The article was by Chris Mooney author of The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality. It wrote that authoritarian “people have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape factual challenges to their beliefs.”
Mooney exposes Fox’s history of misinformation and blatant lying. The article is important because it goes beyond the usual name calling. Mooney says that news should be based on available evidence, and he shows the “Fox News effect.”
An obvious example was widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war in 2003. Americans believed the fabricated notion that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had collaborating in some way with Al Qaeda and had “weapons of mass destruction.” The lie grew to the point that a plurality of Americans believe that Barack Obama started the war.
A 2010 survey, found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming.” Despite scientific evidence Fox viewers do not believe scientists on global warming.
A 2009, NBC survey found “rampant misinformation” about the healthcare reform bill before Congress — “Obamacare.” 72 percent of Fox News viewers believed the healthcare plan would give coverage to illegal immigrants; 79 percent that it would lead to a government takeover; 69 percent that it would use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions; and 75 percent that it would allow the government to make decisions such as when to stop providing care for the elderly.
Although the percentages were not as bad among CNN and MSNBC viewers, misconceptions existed. Propaganda gave authoritarian personalities the opportunity to act out their biases. It created a nation of true believers polarizing society and wiping out memories.
I cannot help asking where we are heading. Vietnam and the lessons learned in the Middle East l have consequence. We seem headed for a situation identical to that of Israel with the only reality being our truth. This is especially lamentable since Jews played a central role in the protection of human rights and the civil rights movement..
Words have no meaning because they are rationalized. Lives other than our own do not matter.
Progressives are contributing to the distortion because they are tolerant of lies. Quoting Herbert Marcuse, “Tolerance is an end in itself. The elimination of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for protecting man and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions for the creation of a humane society.”
Tolerance is spread by the bread and circuses of the ruling elite that allow the distortion reality. Soccer games become divisive distorting our memories. It is divisive when words have no meaning and it is okay for comedians or journalists to use inappropriate words. “Tolerance strengthens the tyranny of the majority.”
The strength of the right is that it is blunt that it is intolerant and that is why they are winning.
Rodolfo F. Acuña