10.14.2018

how the media (invisibly) props up capitalism and other hidden biases

I recently read these somewhat old, but still relevant, letters to the New York Times Book Review.
Cost of the Crash
To the Editor:

In his review of “Crashed,” by Adam Tooze (Aug. 12), Fareed Zakaria asserts that “the rescue worked better than almost anyone imagined.” He notes there was no “double-dip recession” and growth returned “slowly but surely.” But this misses what was the major criticism of the “rescue.” It merely hit the re-set button — keeping the big banks solvent. Meanwhile, the stimulus did little to put people back to work. It was not the double-dip recession that critics feared but a long sluggish recovery that failed to affect the majority of the people.

For example, it took six years (2009-15) for the unemployment rate to return to the pre-recession number. The share of income received by the top 1 percent had been 23 percent before the recession. After falling to 18 percent in 2010 it jumped back to 22 percent by 2015. Meanwhile, as late as 2015, the bottom 99 percent of the population had only recovered two-thirds of the income they had lost. Zakaria should have added a few words to his assertion that the rescue worked: It worked for the top 1 percent, not for the rest of us.

MICHAEL MEEROPOL
SPRINGFIELD, MASS.

The writer is an emeritus professor of economics at Western New England University.



To the Editor:

Fareed Zakaria’s review of Adam Tooze’s “Crashed” is an approving account of an approving book. But what was “saved” was “the economy,” not humans.

Yes, the government and others acted to prop up banks. But humans lost twice: Houses and savings were savaged, while banks, their executives, and the rich, as usual, won. And in a further irony, they used taxpayer money to save “the economy” and the banks. Yes, some of it was repaid from those financial institutions, using money deposited in them by humans.

And the endless greed spawned by free market capitalism and lax regulations, which created the crash in the first place, gets mentioned simply in passing.

PHILLIP GORDON
CASTRO VALLEY, CALIF.
These letters brought to mind some concepts that I enjoyed thinking about in library school information school. There were many exercises in illuminating hidden biases and assumptions. In academia-speak, this was sometimes called problematizing or contesting, but I like to think of it more plainly as making the invisible visible. This book review reinforced the dominant view of the economy; the letter-writers challenged the underlying assumptions of the review.

When something is everyday ordinary, commonplace, accepted as normal, it becomes invisible. How can we discuss and analyze, and perhaps challenge, its influence? First we have to make it visible.

Gender roles are the perfect example of this. From the colour of a baby's room, to the toys they play with, the stories they see and hear, and a million other data streams, humans are taught gender roles and expectations. Sure, this has loosened up a bit for some segment of society, but in the overall scheme, it is still largely true. Expectations of gender roles are as invisible as the air that baby breathes. We are thoroughly indoctrinated from the moment we are born. If we want to challenge gender roles, we first have to name the many ways those roles are taught and reinforced. We have to make the invisible visible.

This in turn leads me to think of something Allan and I talk about a lot: how anything progressive or leftist is labeled "political" -- and declared inappropriate in many settings -- while pro-government and pro-military displays are thought to be natural and not political. Military displays at sporting events: neutral. Sitting down during the national anthem: political. Honouring "fallen heroes": natural. Honouring anyone who is a vocal opponent of war: political.

Once you are aware of these hidden biases, you see them everywhere. In one iSchool project, I had to choose a classification system, describe it, then use a different method to classify the same things, and show how assumptions and biases were transformed through the use of a different classification system. I analyzed the way clothing is classified by L.L.Bean, and proposed a gender-free alternative.

I think this hidden bias thing should be a regular wmtc feature, for capitalism, and for war. Or maybe it already is?

(Whoo-hoo, I'm blogging again!)

2 comments:

Amy said...

As you may have noticed, Michael Meeropol taught at the same university where I taught and where Harvey still teaches. We know him fairly well. He is the older son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; he was adopted by the Meeropols after his parents were executed, along with his brother Robbie. Robbie was a student of mine years ago and now works to help children of activists who are being persecuted or imprisoned. Both Michael and Robbie are committed progressives, not surprisingly. (That also puts into perspective where Michael is coming from in his letter).

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. I know that about him and you. We've talked about their foundation. Our war resisters campaign applied for funds for Kim Rivera's children.