The Common Good

COMMENTARY: Deliberate Distortion of Reality Won’t Work for Long

I was dismayed when I learned that Mozilla Foundation, maker of the Firefox Web browser, had named an anti-gay activist as its new chief executive officer.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

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Brendan Eich wasn’t a hard-core activist. He had donated $1,000 in 2008 to a California campaign to ban same-sex marriage.

Even so, his ethical stance struck me as unfortunate. Mozilla’s naming him CEO struck me as tone-deaf. And his refusal to discuss his views seemed too aloof for a high-visibility enterprise like Mozilla.

I didn’t join the crowd demanding his resignation. I did the one thing I could do: I stopped using the Firefox browser.

Big deal? No, not really. Nor was it a big deal when I switched back to Firefox after Eich had the good sense to resign and a chastened Mozilla board learned its lesson about being a public enterprise serving an entire population.

It was a somewhat bigger deal when Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, filed suit against Wal-Mart to force consideration of a shareholder resolution on sales of guns and violent music.

Even if Trinity’s measure gets before Wal-Mart shareholders, it isn’t likely to prevail. But the point is made: At the people’s end of the telescope, we will use the power we have to push for change.

If enough push, impact will occur. Most institutions are well-insulated against constituents’ desires. Look at General Motors and its determination for 10 years to avoid addressing safety hazards. But the balance can tip.

Consider the collapse of institutional Christianity in America, not because of bad doctrine or a coarsening of the culture — though that is what some believe — but because of an attitude that said, quite incorrectly: It doesn’t matter what our constituents and prospective constituents need.

It does matter. If people stop trusting leadership, or turn against products, or see corruption, businesses will fail, politicians will be swept out of office.

Money-hungry politicians scored a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court handed democracy over to the mega-wealthy few. That victory, however, probably will be short-lived. Attack ads on television, like banner ads on websites, will stop being seen. Phony research, phony news outlets and deliberate distortion of reality won’t work for long. People have more sense than that.

Watch for people to seek real information. Using free social media — even the Koch brothers can’t buy Facebook or Twitter — people will accelerate a movement already underway to seek out accurate information and to share it widely.

Yes, some of it will be slanted liberal, and some will be slanted conservative, and those who seek objective reality will have work to do. But I think we can trust people’s common sense to ignore conspiracy theories, obviously biased coverage and hysterical headlines.

Some will choose to live within the bubble, like those who get their news from the Fox News propaganda machine. More will seek reality.

If your job is tenuous, your family’s welfare is under attack by the precious few, your community feels less safe, the excesses of the gilded set appall you, you won’t linger on fear-driven propaganda and cold ideology.

You will ask what’s really happening. Multimillion-dollar attack ads and the politicians who benefit from them won’t deliver the information you seek. So you will become a news-gatherer yourself.

Tom Ehrich writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS

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