Ten days into the year 2000, as the media were abuzz with the merger of America Online and Time Warner, the Internet wafted to me the Dalai Lama’s millennium address. It’s a strange global info-world that brings those two pieces of information to one’s attention on the same day.
The Dalai Lama remarked that there is nothing special about a new millennium. The ticking over of zeroes doesn’t change anything. “If we really want the next millennium to be happier, more peaceful and more harmonious …, we will have to make the effort to make it so.”
He listed six arenas of effort:
1. “While engaging in material progress and taking care of physical well-being, we need to pay equal attention to developing peace of mind.”
2. “We need to develop more altruism and a sense of caring and responsibility for others… One could call this ‘secular ethics,’ as it consists of basic human qualities such as kindness, compassion, sincerity, and honesty.”
3. “We must seriously consider the concept of non-violence,” starting, said the Dalai Lama, with internal disarmament. “By internal disarmament I mean ridding ourselves of all the negative emotions that result in violence.” Only from there, he said, can we work toward eliminating nuclear weapons, stopping arms trade, total demilitarization. “Human problems will, of course, always remain, but … the next century should be one of dialogue and discussion rather than one of war and bloodshed.”
4. “We need to address the issue of the gap between the rich and the poor, both globally and nationally. This inequality … is not only morally wrong, but practically also a source of problems. Equally important is the issue of freedom. As long as there is no freedom in many parts of the world, there can be no real peace.”
5. “We need to take care of our earth and of our environment.”
6. “Lastly, one of the greatest challenges today is the population explosion. Unless we are able to tackle this issue effectively we will be confronted with the problem of natural resources being inadequate for all the human beings on this earth.”
What does this message have to do with AOL Time Warner?
Just about nothing. That was what struck me, as I read the Dalai Lama’s words while pondering the $183 billion deal that would combine the access point for more than half the nation’s Internet users with nine cable channels, a major movie studio, 33 mass-market magazines, several large book publishers, and 13 million cable customers. This combination could determine, in the assessment of the Washington Post, “who controls access to the Internet as it becomes increasingly central to much of American life.”
The Internet through which a friend sent me the Dalai Lama’s message. The media giant that did, I am told, interview the Dalai Lama (on Larry King Live on New Year’s Eve), but on more ordinary days, 24 hours a day, ignores anyone who thinks like him. Avoids mentioning in any serious sense his six critical issues. Broadcasts into millions of minds and hearts messages that actively disparage and undermine those issues.
With consummate skill the mass media whip up material longing, destroy peace of mind, direct our attention only to the external aspects of our being.
They mock the possibility of kindness, compassion, sincerity, and honesty. They demonstrate and celebrate vanity, greed, falsity, and deceit.
They glorify violence on every level, from the incessant depiction of fist fights and car chases and casual shootings to the drama of war. Even in the more sober spaces of news broadcasts, if people who take the idea of nonviolence seriously are heard from at all, they are subtly demeaned as deluded idealists.
The gap between the rich and the poor is either invisible in the media information stream, or it is inevitable, a law of the universe, beyond anyone’s power to question or change.
The environment is present in the form of cute nature shows. It is absent in the form of straight information about what is actually happening to nature and why.
The population explosion is sometimes mentioned, but again with that strange mixture of distance, apathy, and cynicism with which the Time Warners see the world. Something to tsk tsk over. Not something to think hard about. Nothing to be done.
Sometime in the latter half of the past century, right in front of our mesmerized eyes, the RCAs and Zeniths agglomerated into the CBSs and Disneys and Time Warners. Astounding communications capacities that could carry the ideas of our most noble minds fell under the control of ignoble minds. Global information streams could have shaped global culture in any direction and could still. The direction they followed was cramped and cheap. Mass communications have eroded to become little more than the delivery of ears and eyes, minds detached, to the manipulations of commercialism.
The Internet still allows everyone with a computer to be a broadcaster. It is the only place where big issues and real thinkers and the ideas of anyone lucky enough to have access to a computer can be transmitted unfiltered by commercialism or cynicism. Now the keepers of the on-ramps to the information highway are merging with “content providers” who clog the lanes with clown tricycles, Good Humor trucks, and bumper cars.
Why on earth should those of us who would like to hear the Dalai Lama on a regular basis and work on his issues — those of us who by law own the communication channels — permit this to happen?