Keep Well Informed
Real democracy requires a well-informed, responsible, forward-looking
citizenry – a public that views the authority of government, and the
influence over government of those in pursuit of private profit, with
healthy skepticism. That is something hard to maintain in a society as big
& diverse as ours, in which mass disinformation & effective
disenfranchisement are order of the day.
Most people have a hard time figuring out what's going on in the world
beyond personal experience; we have our own pressing day-by-day concerns, &
when there's a break from those we have plenty of easy, sometimes
mind-numbing entertainments to distract us. On top of that, the lesson of
most public affairs seems to be that big money runs the show, & there isn't
much an ordinary citizen can do about state, national, or world affairs.
One result is that the US has the highest rate of electoral abstention
(that is, the lowest rate of voter turn-out) of any Western democracy.
Another is that political power is concentrated in fewer & fewer hands
So it's more important than ever that we keep ourselves well-informed about
what's going on & what we can still do about it. Here are some suggestions
for doing that:
- Devote some time every day to information-gathering about the subjects
that interest you most. Take satisfaction in being a "minor expert" on a
few subjects that are important to you & ought to be important to
- Talk frequently with friends & relatives about what you learn & they
learn day by day. That will encourage them as "minor experts" on the
things that interest them the most, & broaden everybody's understanding,
while helping you keep what you've learned more firmly in your brain.
- Steer clear of the "news", beyond a quick look at headlines. Look
instead for well-researched & thoughtful reporting on important subjects,
with some analysis. "News" clutters the mind, while offering little real
information & less understanding. In this country, to make it worse, most
news-gatherers get their viewpoints & much of their information directly
from the government & major corporations. If you doubt this, check it out.
- TV news, mesmerizing viewers & flitting by too fast to think about,
leaves only vague impressions. TV is invaluable, of course, for CSPAN &
the occasional documentary. Radio news is somewhat better; we can perform
other tasks while learning if we concentrate. Local alternative radio gives
a lot more to think about than commercial radio. National Public Radio is
often helpful, especially the thematic information & talk shows; but ask
yourself when you've been encouraged by NPR to take action as a responsible
citizen of this country. Ask why corporate mergers & rising stock prices
are big news every time; & ordinary people getting it together to try &
make big changes seldom make a splash. Newspapers often include careful
reporting on important subjects; but they tend to stay close to the
mainstream, & they too do little to encourage citizen involvement. The
Washington Post & NY Times are wider-ranging than most other papers, but
scarcely more reliable.
- Most of us learn best from well-told stories about concrete,
down-to-earth human experiences, with the analysis woven into them, when we
can make time to read or hear & think about them. We learn especially well
from stories that startle us with an unconventional viewpoint, rather than
lulling us with tiresome top-down familiarity. These stories appear more
often in alternative publications than in the mass media. MBEAW has been
built primarily from the work of journalists writing in alternative
publications, & that of independent scholars & creative artists.
- MBEAW lists the alternative publications & websites that have been most
useful to us so far, on the
of this site. Tell us about others!
To help you keep well-informed, we offer tens of thousands of references to
informative websites, articles, books for adults & children, poems, plays,
songs & films sorted by topics, on the hundreds of topical pages found in
our Resources section.
You can explore there directly, or access a
particular topic through the Search box on the Homepage.
- For detailed information on the workings of the US government, visit the
new & fast-growing Government
Information Awareness site from MIT's Media Lab.