Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Benefits of a Biased Media

One of the things that has truly fascinated me after me coming to the USA has been the state of the mainstream media in the US.

For one, it is downright pathetic and despicable. News has been conveniently and deliberately replaced by a toxic amalgam of speculation, sensationalism, hype, exaggeration, “expert opinion”, and dramatized debates – all aimed at providing no useful information or perspectives. I have personally come across very few instances of actual news reporting over the past couple of years among American news channels.

Secondly, and perhaps, more significantly, almost every single news channel in the USA is, simply put, biased. It is either Left or Right. But, to me, what appears to be the real talking point  is that there is barely any effort made by the news channels to try to dispel the general impression of bias among the viewers. Yes there have been a few statements released by the channels and a few of them may even have something indicating no bias in their slogans. But these efforts appear to be nothing more than rhetoric. It is a way of saying : “We will say we are unbiased just because we are required to, but you the viewer already knows better.”

Unbalanced and not hiding it.

My intention here is not to expose the obvious fallacies in a biased media. It has been well documented and a google search will provide ample references to read through. Instead, I intend to explore the contrast I have seen with the biased media back in India. In fact, after due contemplation, I have come to realize and appreciate the NEED for a biased media.

Back in India, the story isn’t that different from the first point I mentioned earlier. It is equally pathetic and despicable and checks all the boxes of the toxic amalgam. It is also heavily biased. But where the Indian and American mainstream media differ, is that ALL the news channels in India are biased towards only one political party.

Just a quick summary of the current political scenario in India. The ruling party is the Congress (with its allies) and the main opposition party is the BJP (with its allies). The Congress party has historically dominated the elections and they have been in power for the past 7 years now. They are also extremely corrupt. The opposition party has had its own fair share of troubles from within and is now looking to challenge the upcoming 2014 elections with a popular and charismatic new leader in one Narendra Modi.

The mainstream media (both print and TV) have almost without exception stuck behind the ruling Congress party through all its scandals, failed economic policies and the impotent Prime Minister. News items are routinely twisted to portray the Congress in favorable light to the public. Questions are repeatedly asked of the BJP and its allies while no similar inquiry is made into the Congress. This process has been going on for a while now. So much so, it has become the norm of any news channel.

In such a situation, I have always looked at the US model of mainstream media – and its bias. If the Republican party leaders say something totally ridiculous (which appears to happen every other day nowadays), MSNBC will eat those Senators or Congressmen alive on Live television. Whenever a scandal breaks open for the Obama administration (which also appears to happen every other day nowadays), Fox News is right there to keep pounding on the issue till….well…the next scandal breaks out.

Ultimately, there is no letting up for either party. A Congressman can have some media outlets putting out a story in his/her favor but there is no stopping a bunch of other media outlets who will keep harping away at his/her story until something bigger comes up.

Now here is where the contrast becomes very evident. In a country where the entire news media favors one single party, the scales are already tilted. The solution to this does not involve in getting the existing news channels and print media to become unbiased. Instead, the balance in the scales can only be achieved by throwing an equal weight on the empty scale.

The subtleties and fine details of any bill, legislation, scandal, breakthrough or victory is best revealed through a critique. That is an observation I have repeatedly seen to be true. And simply put, there is just not enough air time for a news channel to critique/analyze BOTH sides of the story on any news item – definitely not when the priority is the previously mentioned toxic amalgam. In such a situation, the only solution is to create two extremes and allowing them to balance out the scales to the best of their abilities. This allows for both points of view to be presented in full and anybody who wishes to hear both sides of the story will have their needs met.

The downside of this proposition is the obvious. The general population may already have certain beliefs and opinions that are usually in agreement with one or the other political party. This inevitably leads them to watch the news channel that serves their bias. Because you see, when people watch news, they are not looking for information. They are looking for confirmation. This then becomes a classic case of confirmation bias – a perfect platform to reinforce already existing beliefs and opinions. So for instance, as time passes by, it will become increasingly difficult for a liberal to get himself to watch Fox News to see the other side of the argument.

Not to say that this isn’t already happening in the US. But the crux of my argument is that the alternative – a balanced and unbiased media –  is just not a reasonable expectation. If this is acknowledged, then the only other option that would balance the scales is having a fully biased media – with certain media outlets catering to one side of the story and another catering to the other side of the story.

Everyone’s Tale of Acceptance

Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they don’t. Mostly they do. Or we just make it work.

We have all seen it. People living together and staying together. People moving to a new city and staying there for the rest of their lives. People sticking to one job or profession all their lives.

Because that’s what people do.

They stay.

Yes marriages and relationships fail. People move to different places and change jobs. But then that was never the argument. My argument is that if you stay long enough, you will stay for good.

As far reaching as my contention may appear, I wish to elaborate.

When two people get into a relationship, there is attraction at some level to start with. Always. Then comes the part about getting to know the other person. New things are discovered about the partner. Some are likable. Some, not so likable. Barring one or many shocking revelations, the relationship continues.

When someone moves to a new city, they move for reasons that span the entire spectrum: from an exciting new job to blindly following a sweet heart. It could be an opportunity or it could be a compromise. Take your pick. But irrespective, there is a period of getting to know the city – all it has to offer, what it lacks, the people, the places, the weather. And again, barring one or many shocks, they continue to live in the city.

When someone takes up a job, the reason is more likely just pure necessity. It gives money, it pays the bills, it gives peace of mind, and it helps you feel secure about the future. But then over time the rigors of a regular job are revealed. Some things are likable and some things are not. But yet again, barring a deep rooted hatred for the job or the boss, people continue to show up every single working day at the same place.

But why? Why don’t more people seek new relationships, new city experiences or new job challenges?

The answer is simple:

Because everyone’s ongoing predicament is not sufficiently bad.

That’s pretty much it.

Unless acted upon by sufficiently bad circumstances

A relationship need not be passionate or significantly compatible to work out for the long term. If the two people involved like each other to some minimum extent and don’t hate each other’s guts on a day to day basis, there is usually very little motivation to leave. They just learn to live with it.

A city need not be exactly what one is looking for. As long as there are things to keep people occupied, friends to hang out with, and some basic fulfillment of expectations, people will stay. The city may not have a vibrant social life but the light traffic and laid back lifestyle is perhaps a relief. Or put it the other way around, the traffic may be a pain, but there may be so many things to do and places to go to, that it makes everything else worth it. So unless there is something that is completely unacceptable or when even the most basic of expectations are not met, people will just stay.

A job need not be a dream job. The security the regular income provides goes a long way in making a job pretty darn comfortable. Not necessarily enjoyable, but very comfortable. The coworkers maybe a pain but the boss is good and there is some pride and recognition for the work. Or perhaps the work is monotonous and the boss is just barely manageable, but the work ultimately provides for the family and helps people stay close to their loved ones. So yet again, unless there is a complete breakdown in professional relationships or the hatred for the job is intense, people will just continue to stay.

There is an obvious and clear thread running through these situations. All of them involve spending significant time in a particular set of circumstances. Then follows the revelation and understanding of the good and the bad the situation has to offer. And then comes the part where people just get very comfortable wherever they are.

And then they just stay.

So ultimately, if under any set of circumstances involving a person, place or job, as long as you like the things that it has to offer and can put up with the things that it lacks or goes against your preference, and you spend sufficient time under those circumstances, you are likely to stay wherever you are. You will get comfortable too, and will even begin to feel lucky that you are able to experience all the good things that everything has to offer.

It is called a trade-off. And the longer you find the trade-off worth it, the more you are never likely to seek new challenges, experiences or relationships. It is the reason why arranged marriages work. It is the reason why people don’t move around as much. It is also the reason why the whole economy works like a clock.

People just get comfortable if things aren’t sufficiently bad. They ACCEPT, ADJUST and ADAPT.

There are a couple of lines in one of the songs in Steven Wilson’s new album. It goes thus:

Eliza dear, you know there is something I should say

I never really loved you but I’ll miss you anyway…..

The Watchmaker

It is really scary to contemplate the depths of the message in those two lines. Familiarity, comfort and security are not necessarily things to strive for. Sometimes they are just obstacles to a better life.

The grass maybe greener on the other side. But the pasture here is not bad enough to make people want to climb that hill and see what’s on the other side.

There is rarely any pride in inertia.

Why be Happy when you can be Sad?

In the past few months, I have gone through states of mind that I was initially apprehensive to acknowledge. Admittedly, I felt ashamed to think about it and expected ridicule, condemnation and judgment if I spoke about it. Why? Because that is the way I was brought up. And that is still the way society expects me to be. Society wants me to be happy. Nobody wants me to be sad or depressed. Come to think of it, it is not that everybody wants me to be happy. It is that everybody requires me to be happy.

Anger was one of the earliest responses to my depressed state of mind. Anger not only at the endless snowfall this winter, but more at myself for allowing my mind to get depressed. It really was a matter of ego and pride that I simply continued to refuse and deny the sadness that was consuming me. But why? Why did my pride feel hurt just by me becoming sad? Why did it even become an issue for my ego? The problem was not with my ego or my pride. The problem was what was deemed unacceptable and frowned upon and how I was brought up with those values.

Or just a Happy Life. Again. No Pressure, right?

You see, the way I grew up, there was just no room for being sad. Except for an event involving the passing away of someone close, there was never a set of circumstances leading to sadness that could be justified or tolerated. The objective always was to be happy in life. There were always instructions to be happy – by people at home, at school, in the books you read, in the ads that you saw and in the movies you were told to watch. Sadness was never tolerated as a normal state of mind. If you were sad, you just had to put in extra effort and do things that made you happy. Or worse, just stop feeling sad – just like that! Simply put, there was always immense pressure to appear to be happy when you were sad. And if anything, that only made matters worse – starting a vicious loop in the process.

But it got worse. The line that was drawn between being sad and being happy also doubled up as the line between being a failure and being a success. Success and happiness were deemed to feed off of each other in a never ending loop. So was failure and sadness. If you were not happy, you were a failure. Or put it the other way around, you were considered successful only  if you were happy. Nobody ever told me, “It’s OK to not be happy all the time.” I wish someone had. Because then I would not have spent so much time growing up feeling like a failure.

You see, just the way success and happiness were deemed to be in a reinforcing ‘positive’ loop, the feeling of apparent failure and sadness were also on a reinforcing loop – albeit a ‘negative’ one, so to speak. And once you get stuck in it, there is no way to come out of it unless someone tells you that it is OK not to  be happy all the time.

Truly, there are very few things that can match the profundity of the realization that follows that event  – the event when you are told that it is OK to be sad. Till today, nobody has actually told me that. I just decided that was the case. And once I did that, it was the most beautiful and fulfilling feeling ever. It relieved me of so much stress and lifted the massive burden of expectations off my shoulders. Suddenly, there were no obligations that I had to fulfill. I was truly a free man.

Come to think of it, society has made us believe that we have an obligation to feel happy ALL the time. Trying to be happy ALL the time is easily the most exhausting thing mankind has ever conjured up in its entire existence. And the fact that this has been successfully perpetrated through hundreds of generations does not make it easy for anyone to live against this norm.

I see it everyday around me – people making a sincere and inevitable effort to not only tell the world that they are having an amazingly happy time, but to also desperately seek their approval for it. None more evident than on the phenomenon that is Facebook.

If I take Facebook for its word, it means that  my friends are always travelling, getting married, having kids, partying with friends, hanging out with buddies or families, in fulfilling relationships, showing off their new acquisitions, cheering for their favorite sports team, coming up with witty or quirky sayings, sharing apparently profound sayings or just being extremely happy and successful ALL the time.

As much as I wish for everyone to be in whatever state of mind they prefer, I cannot help but feel a sense of desperation at play in all those posts and photographs seeking approval and validation for their current states of existence and for what they are able to portray for their life. I suppose mankind has always been that way. With the advent of Facebook, the platform to do that just got a whole lot more convenient and easy. I would be lying if I said that I have not done the same myself. I know how I was when I did that back then. It was also the same time when I used to envy all the happy posts that my friends put up and the approvals they received. I look at that whole experience as a necessary step to take to get to where I am now.

Ultimately, there are just so few instances in life when one feels truly happy. All the other times, it is just an end product of rationalization, denial or pretense. On the other hand, sadness is always genuine – simply because nobody wants to be sad.

From The Raven That Refused To Sing by Steven Wilson

But really, why does sadness have to be a taboo? Why can’t it just be another state of mind that completes the experience of human emotion? Why should anyone feel obligated to be in one state of mind or another? Why can’t someone be accepted for who they are even if they are drawn to sadness? Why can’t people be encouraged to generate more art when they are sad? If I am feeling sad, why do people have to sympathize with me? Why can’t it just be a fact? Why should anyone have to deal with their sadness? Why should anyone be judged as a success or a failure based on their state of mind? Why does anyone have to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? What does it even mean to feel sorry for someone else’s loss? Why aren’t we encouraged to read sad and melancholic stories when we are kids? Why do all self help books have to tell us the way to be happy? Why can’t they tell us that it is OK to be sad and tell us how to enjoy its beauty? Why don’t people realize that the most beautiful works of art were created by people who led really sad lives? Why can’t people be encouraged to explore the depths of sadness in addition to the heights of happiness?

When will sadness receive its due approval?