Games for changing cynicism

(Cross posted at Greater Democracy)

Democracy, from the Greek, demokratia, “rule of the common people”. Oligarchy, from the Greek, oligarkhia, “government by the few”.

With low voter turnout, gerrymandered voting districts, the large role of money in politics, efforts to disenfranchise opponents and drive down turnout, and the growing doubt in the veracity of vote counting, it may be useful to question what sort of government we really have, and what our roles have been in bringing about the government we have.

Going back to the Greek, I am reminded of Diogenes. Diogenes was known for carrying a lantern in broad daylight in search of an honest man. Perhaps, he was the precursor to modern get out the vote efforts. After all, so much of politics today seems to be focused on finding those voters that are most likely to vote and who support a specific candidate.

Today, we have much greater tools that Diogenes’ lantern, but perhaps the process is essentially the same. Diogenes is perhaps the best know of an ancient Greek school of philosophy known as the Cynics. Greek cynicism was an ascetic sect railing against the selfishness of people.

The cynics were founded by Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates. Another disciple of Socrates, Plato, provides us with the Socratic dialogs as a chance to understand Socrates’ thinking and method. Many of us may have read the Protagoras in school to learn about the Socratic method, but how many of us remember the topic of the discussion? One of the key points is whether or not virtue can be taught. Another Greek, Plutarch, returned to this discussion years later.

On this site, is an image saying, ‘Stop Gawking! Cynicism breeds paralyzing apathy’. Perhaps some of that cynicism comes from its Greek roots and the focus on identifying voters today. Perhaps we need to return to the issue of whether virtue can be taught, and if so, how.

Today, I will attend the Games for Change Annual Conference. Games listed on the site seek to raise awareness of important issues, Darfur is Dying, Four Years in Haiti, Pax Warrior and PeaceMaker. How effective are these tools in teaching conflict resolution and skills in spreading message? Do these tools teach virtue? How important are these games in helping our country become more democratic?

Yes, we need to identify and turn out voters, but we also need to find new ways to move beyond the cynicism that is paralyzing American politics. Perhaps Games for Change is a good starting place.

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New Media

Sunday evening at 9 PM EST, there is a U2 performance on Second Life. For more information about these performances, check out this. The folks behind this are particularly on and its European counterpart,
. You can read about the group in this post.

Then, Tuesday, I will be attending the Games for Change annual conference in New York City. To a certain extent, the U2 in Second Life is an interesting Game for Change. It will be interesting to see what some of the other Games for Change will be.

Games for Change is both Tuesday and Wednesday. I will cover Tuesday’s event, and if I’m lucky, some of Wednesday’s event. But, Wednesday is when the Media Giraffe Conference starts. I’ll be talking about politics and online videos

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Fiona, talking about Garfield

Fiona, talking about Garfield
Originally uploaded by Aldon.

See all the "Fiona, talking about Garfield" media

Fiona is a natural born video blogger. On the way home from her grandparents house, she said she wanted to make another movie.

In this clip, she talks about visiting her grandparents and going to see the movie Garfield.

This video was originally shared on by ahynes1 with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Uploaded by Aldon on 20 Jun '06, 7.35pm EDT.

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Columbine, Connecticut

On April 20th, 1999, two teenage boys, ages 18 and 17, shot at a group of people. In the end, they killed 13 people, injured another 24, and then committed suicide. It took place at a high school in Colorado and made national headlines.

On Junes 16th, 2006, two teenage boys, ages 17 and 16, shot at a group of people. In the end, they killed a thirteen-year-old girl, and injured two other girls. It took place in New Haven, Connecticut and hasn’t made national headlines.

What is different about these two incidents? The second shooting took place at night and wasn’t at a school. Only one person was killed, instead of 13, and the assailants did not commit suicide. Yet local papers report that this is part of the senseless violence that has resulted in twenty people being shot, three fatally in Connecticut.

I have a daughter who will turn 13 next month. I cannot imagine the horror and outrage I would have if she were shot down the way Ms. Cole was shot down. I would expect the outrage to be widespread.

I would expect people to talk on TV about the causes of the shooting and how future shootings could be prevented. Some might blame the violence on TV, or in video games, or in various forms of music. They would lead efforts to address these causes by calling for a chip to be put in TVs to prevent youngsters from watching inappropriate shows, they would try to ban or at least limit the sale of violent video games and they would rail against musicians with lyrics they didn’t approve of.

So, what is different here? Well, Jujuana Cole was black. She lived in an area where there are not enough jobs and where people are poor.

We need people that will fight against the conditions of poverty with at least the same vigor and vehemence as others have fought to ban violent video games and lyrics they don’t approve of.

Micro-Journalism and the Irish Potato Famine

(Cross posted at Greater Democracy.)

Everyone has different phrases to talk about new trends in journalism that have been enabled by the Internet: Citizen Journalism, Hyper Local Journalism, Stand Alone Journalism, and so on. It is hard to keep them all straight.

So, instead of helping clarify things, let me add a new idea to the mix, Micro-Journalism. The idea comes from micro-breweries. The argument for micro-breweries was best presented to me in the quote from “A River Runs Through It”: What a wonderful world it was once when all the beer was not made in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, or St. Louis.

People got tired of all the same old beer. People started making beer in their homes, Citizen Brewing. They formed companies to make beer for their local community, hyper local brewing. The idea has spread to other finely crafted products, whether you are talking about wine, jelly beans, ice cream, or, as I just read about yesterday, New England Vodkas. Perhaps fine, hand crafted, local journalism is no different.

People have gotten tired of tasting news from a major cable network, or a national chain of newspapers. They want something with a little more individualism, a little more local flavor.

So, what does this have to do with the Irish Potato Famine? In the early nineteenth century, Irish farmers were forced to grow the highest yielding potatoes, independent of any flavor advantages or hybrid vigor. The lack of hybrid vigor, which is a grave danger of monocultures, allowed a fungus to wipe out much of the potato crop.

Today, a growing dissatisfaction with the universally bland pabulum, spiced only with occasional disasters and depravity, could well be the fungus that is threatening media organizations. The high yield of going back to a small set standard sources instead of doing the hard work of investigative reporting and nurturing new sources is compounding this monoculture.

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