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Active Participation

Updated on July 11, 2017
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Lawyer, research/writer and social activist, working alongside many Australian and international non-profit third sector society orgs.

When we flick on the TV, scroll through our newsfeeds or listen to some news channel on the radio as we drive, it’s usually the same garbage. Most of us, I hope, understand that the contents of mainstream media is designed to skew public perception and should be taken with a grain of salt. Confusion, I think, emerges from a mental and emotional level. When we don’t know something, we tend to look to others to validate or help us make sense of whatever is going on. The media, like any other large structure, is a system and can have a very big impact on how we, as individuals, participate and engage with either our society, politics, each other or the larger world, because it is our media that regulates our information streams. To think that we’re not affected by the media’s influence everyday of our lives is ridiculous, unless you’re some very in-tuned monk sitting in a Himalayan cave somewhere with no iPhone. But, if you’re living in contemporary society like the rest of us, then good luck.

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Cogs in the Wheel

The thought school of 'Systems Theory' sifts through various influencing factors of components of what makes a system tick;independent things or mechanisms for the creation an interconnecting network, a complex whole to further an ultimate objective. Within that school of systems thought there are other, more subjective applications, mini—schools if you will. Mass System Dependency Theory is just one. I won’t get into it because I’m by no means an expert on anything like this, but if you wish to follow more a credible link is provided below. All in all MSDT is grounded in sociological literature, claiming that media and its audiences should be studied in the context of larger social systems, to be able to provide an individual with a comprehensive explanation of the effects media and mass media can have.
By now it’s become and of obvious that everything positioned in mainstream media is usually negative. Coverage usually focusses on war, fighting, quarrels between politicians, stupid inconsequential things a politician tweets rather than the important policies he advocates or discourages, celebrity gossip (angel of Death just take me now with this one), or some other representation that really, doesn’t not have much relevance or benefits to the majority or even minority among us. Chalk it up to whatever you like, the Murdoch press, media acting as a beuqacratic mouthpiece and nothing more, or how the spread of information is sold to the highest bidder with further considerations irrelevant. There’s so much literature on any subjective aspect of MSDT or Communications Theory in general, but if you’d indulge me for a minute I’m going to focus on the traditional works of media dependency as developed by Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin Defleur, first published in 1976 (link below) to explain why this focus on negativity is just such a big ass deal.


Ball-Rokeach and Defleur’s structural investigation and psychoanalytic application of Mass System Dependency roots itself in the notion that media and consumption of media is a very personal interaction. Although millions, billions of people could be presented with the same data, each person will internalise that data dependant on their own individual moods. The authors identify three basic needs that must be met to determine how important mass media may be to a person at any given moment, they are:


  1. The need to understand one’s social world (surveillance)
  2. The need to act meaningfully and effectively in that world (social utility)
  3. The need to escape from that world when tensions are high (fantasy-escape)


The more some source of information/media can meet these needs on an individual basis, the greater the opportunity to affect and influence peoples attitudes and behaviours to the world around them. Humans are naturally wired to be many things, especially with correlation to the above three points above.

  1. Curious (surveillance). Our sheer ability to be cognizant beings, inquisitive just like animals, to wonder and think about our surroundings. Of course humans have a need to understand one’s social world, we’re innately primed to be curious - about everything.
  2. Social Creatures (social utility). Since the days of Aristotle, man created words to explain this feeling present in all humans of wanting to be a part of something, a group, by nature we are social creatures - always have been, always will be. To want to contribute, be useful and hone in on those feelings again are present in all peoples. To be anything different (leaving room for various clinical determinations) would class you as a sociopath and a liability to the outside world.
  3. Creativity/Imagination (fantasy-escape). Perhaps most important of all, in my mind anyway, is a humans ability to create and imagine things. Our entire civilisations development have relied upon creativity to invent things, innovate new ways of doing things and push us into the future. Humans sit somewhere in the middle between reality and fantasy already anyway. What is art, music, poetry, whatever else, if not the communication between people in a non-tangible way? A dog (as beautiful creatures as they may be) cannot paint a picture, something so of this world and hard - really a painting is just a bunch of colourful chemicals on a sheet of processed tree paper or fibre canvass. Yet the effect a painting can have on people, could stir up all sorts of emotional significance and convey a meaning that is out not of this world.


These three concepts alone, of surveillance, social utility and fantasy-escape are so fundamental to our being already, that don’t you think it’s just a bit sick and twisted for larger system or structure to try and manipulate that for some other end? I sure do and most of the time we’re completely unaware it’s happening. We’re only human, we can’t be on guard every second of every day, we’d drive ourselves insane, which unfortunately is the end that some people arrive at thanks to our societal relationship to modern day life.


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More Than Enough


As the world around us seems to become more complex, what with advances in technologies, growing socio-political and cultural issues and so on, we look outside ourselves to find information to our questions. It seems the ability to have an answer is more readily appreciated than the ability to just ask the questions these days and critically examine ones surroundings in todays world. Even this, this article right here, I could be trying to subtly push some agenda you have no idea about - what’s the point of writing if not to express a perspective? Well, I’m easy, I’ll just tell you my agenda. Which is to be just one more addition to the already flourishing body of literature out there to help individuals navigate this crazy, messed up world and to offer a perspective different to the the out-dated, manipulative messages we’ve received from the military industrial complex for the better part of a century. The external informative shit we receive daily from the media, whether that’s your Sunday newspaper, TV, the internet or whatever, trains us to marginalise ourselves and our efforts, to think we cannot effect change and to drum up as much fear as possible to paralyse us from stepping out and taking actual action.


This is a purposefully designed infiltration of information streams and debunking of free communication flows to a wide audience of people. Propaganda, manipulative or incentive popular participation, framing, these are just some tactics the media and politics uses to obscure their responsibilities and distract us from their actual intentions and motives behind doing what they’re doing. Democratic governments were formed in the name of ‘representative democracy,’ that is to represent. To uphold and pursue the needs and desires of the citizens, constituents and people, not to pursue their own needs but to have the collective benefit in front of mind.


We are easily able to find fault in our surroundings. Nothing, no approach or method ever seems to work and we see failure all around us to fix or assist with the issues that are most significant in our current socio-political climate. Most of us are aware of politicians abusing their authority and office, although we’re less aware that our detached relationship to the political process itself only encourages them to continue this negative, harmful behaviour. Let us not lose sight of the fact that we’re in 2017. It's the second millennium. We’ve survived through the bleakness of the Dark Ages, we’ve enjoyed the liberation of the Renaissance, we’ve experienced the universal insights of the Enlightenment Period and we’ve also excelled in our ability to produce and create things though the Industrial Age. Now, we’re supposed to be in the Information Age, and we have the most information than we’ve ever had accessible before in the history of human existence, but we’re not letting the right people, the right systems, with the right motivations use them for our collective benefit.


Given that we’re so well off intellectually and materially affluent than any period before in human civilisation, there is absolutely zero, ZERO, need for millions/billions of people to continue losing their lives and the lives of loved ones to avoidable and fixable issues such as poverty, homeless, war and just a lack of basic human rights. Moreover, there is zero need for people in materially affluent and developed countries, worlds, suburbs whatever to have to kill themselves to simply make ends meet and provide for themselves and their families. We have this idea that we’re all lacking in something but that’s simply not true, there’s enough in this world for everyone. We have enough of everything for everybody yet these resources are not making their way to the people that need them, so we must look to the lines of distribution to cut through the bullshit and call a spade a spade, then work towards solutions.


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If you want to depend on something, depend on yourself

We’re so distracted by our own individual issues that we easily lost sight of the bigger picture and how our power to change the situation is right there, we just have to claim it. It’s not our fault either though, we’re human and humans are fragile. Tiredness, exhaustion, frustrations and sadness, these can take a toll on even the strongest of us energetically. Although we risk to lose a lot more if we sit back and do nothing.


We stand to lose our ability to think autonomously, free from some manufactured sense of dependency on media or anything else outside of ourselves. We stand to lose our ability to speak our minds without fear of retribution or judgment and if you think this isn’t happening already, try voicing any opinion that’s different to the commonplace at your job and just look at the changed behaviours and reception you receive. We stand to lose the option of living a life that isn’t subtly controlled by strings in higher places and top-down pressures to control and exploit our time and energy.

No matter how difficult the struggle, I don't think humans in all our magnificence should settle for being another puppet in the malevolent facade corporations, financial institutions and government are playing at. We can evidently see, especially in recent times, people are starting to wake up. We’re realising nothing good comes out of war, we’re realising universal truths always known to us but squandered by those who don’t want us to think for ourselves because we’d rely less on them and their products resulting in lost profits.


Developing countries sometimes appear to be a little more clear sighted on what is really important than we are here in the West. In some developing countries, ‘Active Participation’ and new policy programs are being implemented at the local, state and federal government levels, as they've realised the need to sanitise corruption and greed from governmental institutions. Active participation provides platforms for the people, regular, local people to express their needs and priorities and work together to form a system of governance that’s beneficial for themselves as individuals, as well as for their national development and growth. Active participations rests on an individuals daily life and engagement with what’s going on around you to deter falling into the trap of allowing someone, something or some system to directly or indirectly influence your thoughts, actions and behaviours as you go about living your life.


Bhutan’s national growth, akin to our GDP, isn’t measured purely on fiscal quantifications, but on a Happiness Scale. The Happiness Scale is inclusive of economical and socio-political targets but also on personal development at the individual level, which further motivates and helps active participation by people in the future. Everywhere could use more of an emphasis on individual targets rather than purely productivity or economical ones. In a world obsessed with products, we forget that the human product is the most valuable thing in the world.

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