And So It Begins: On Writing for Solarian

October 16, 2019

By Guy Crittenden

I thought it perhaps wise to offer Solarian readers an initial "position statement" to introduce my involvement with this website, and to generate a post to which I can point in future, if people question what I hope to accomplish here, which mostly concerns media deconstruction.

Simply put, I've been a lifelong student of media, and media participant for 30+ years, and I'm deeply disturbed by what I consider the collapse of reliable mainstream media which, in the past few years, has increasingly devolved into propaganda for oligarchies and corporate elites. (Perhaps it was ever thus, but things seem to have worsened in recent years.)

Humanity is facing some very serious challenges, including the collapse of whole ecosystems. Every day we learn something new about deforestation (especially of rainforests), the "insect apocalypse," species die-offs in the oceans (e.g., the collapse of the Pacific salmon fishery this year), and many other environmental issues. These concerns are well known but less understood are the ways in which the natural resource constraints of the planet conflict with the demands of ever-expanding and increasingly predatory globalized monopoly-capitalist economies. Progressive and truly independent media voices have been deplatformed and marginalized (a great example being Chris Hedges of Truthdig), such that liberal and progressive people often lack the information necessary to form an opinion, or determine an effective response, that correlates to the actual reality (the actuality) of things.

Enough agitprop already!

The corporate capture of mainstream media and the decline of investigative journalism is one of the most dire challenges of our era,  so I plan to mostly use this space to examine propaganda that poses as news, and point readers to the authentic voices via which we may know the truth.

Background

Why should anyone listen to me?

I grew up in a newspaper family. In and of itself, this doesn't grant me any special authority, but it's useful that I grew up in a home where what was going to appear in the morning paper was discussed at the dinner table. In fact, it was discussed at two dinner tables, as my parents divorced and remarried, and both my natural parents and my stepparents were newspaper people. It wasn't until I was well into adult life that I learned most families didn't discuss the news, politics and current events (at least not with the intensity as occurred in my home[s]).

My father Max Crittenden at work at the Toronto Telegram (the "Tely") in the 1960s. At the family dinner table we often discussed what appeared on the front page of the newspaper the following day.

My (late) father Max Crittenden was (along with my mother Yvonne) originally from Australia; the two of them worked on newspapers in Melbourne and Sydney before emigrating to Canada in 1959. Max found work at the (defunct) Toronto Telegram where he eventually rose to a senior editor position, and my mother was hired as a reporter. When my mom and dad divorced, each married other "Tely" staff. My mother's second husband Peter Worthington was an ex-military guy and award-winning foreign correspondent who co-founded the Toronto Sun newspaper(after the Tely folded in 1971). In fact, the first edition of the Sun appeared on November 1, 1971 — the Monday after the Tely's last edition that weekend. The Sun went on to become a newspaper chain, which was eventually bought by Maclean Hunter and then sold to another party.

I recall both my father and stepfather back in the day were very careful not to accept favours from companies about whom they might one day have to publish unflattering information. They kept a strict separation of church and state where advertisers were concerned. This stands in stark contrast to the situation today in which many ad-starved publishers cater to advertisers, and careerists engage in "access journalism" (i.e., they avoid offending celebrity interview subjects so as to maintain access). Things have become quite corrupt. For example, media in North America depends heavily on advertising from pharmaceutical companies. (In many countries it's illegal for drug companies to advertise directly to the public.) Ergo we don't find many media questioning the orthodoxy of vaccine safety, even as evidence mounts that the current schedule is dangerous, with as few as one per cent of vaccine injuries being reported. Whatever you think about that subject, it's unseemly that the drug companies have so much influence over our media. (An excellent resource for information about vaccine safety is VaccinePapers.org)

The same is true of weapons manufacturers: it's quite terrifying to think of the ad revenue on cable news outlets like CNN and MSNBC from companies like Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Obviously viewers aren't ordering planes or missiles; the ads are a way of buying lenient coverage for these companies, and the news channels don't disclose that many of their expert guests on armed conflicts are retired military personnel on contract to the weapons manufacturers, i.e., people paid to manufacture consent for more war, and more weapons sales. If you think the New York Times and the Washington Post are much better, I've got news for you...

My stepfather Peter Worthington (left), co-founder of the Toronto Sun newspaper chain, with former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during my stepdad's brief attempt to win a seat in parliament in the NDP stronghold of Broadview-Greenwood.

My own career has focused on writing and editing publications focused on the business of the environment. For 25 years I edited two magazines in the space: HazMat Management is a pollution control magazine whose heyday in the 1990s derived from new regulations that heavily impacted corporate Canada; Solid Waste & Recycling focuses on waste issues and technologies that impact Canadian businesses and municipalities.  I was a partner in these publications during the 1990s decade, and worked for Glacier Media for the next 15 years after that Vancouver, BC-based conglomerate bought our company in 2000. Over the years I won 14 Kenneth R. Wilson Awards for excellence in business journalism, and was twice a finalist at the National Magazine Awards.

My years writing for these publications afforded me an excellent opportunity to learn about and evaluate almost every industry you can think of, since all touch upon environmental and waste management issues in some way. And I learned about a wide array of topics and policy matters from the contributors who wrote about everything from contaminated site cleanup to climate change to how to build an efficient recycling plant. From this catbird seat I watched the collapse of mainstream media into stenography for powerful organizations, and the slashing of budgets for investigative journalism.

I was able to watch the collapse of mainstream media into stenography for powerful organizations, and the slashing of budgets for investigative journalism.

Moving forward


My plan in writing for Solarian is not so much to offer original investigative journalism, though that will happen at times. I'll primarily use this space to discuss how we talk about certain subjects, and to help reframe for readers the narratives in their heads put there by others, crafted by yet others, as thought viruses that — because they've not been analyzed — are understood as received truth.


This is subtle, and elaborates on Chomsky's oft-quoted remarks that the media, much as it may provide information to audiences, plays a critical role in manufacturing consent for a range of outcomes that various elites determine, or that systems themselves generate without a governing conscious intent. One of my favourite writers — Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone — refers to it as "narrative management" in recognition that without the deliberate shaping of their views, people don't automatically support endless wars, an expanded surveillance state, the suspension of habeas corpus (which no longer exists in the United States, so long as the word "terrorism" is invoked), the jailing of dissidents like Julian Assange and whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning... and so on. It's narrative management that leads people to complain about the "refugee crisis" in Europe (in that case, Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa) and the United States (Latino asylum seekers) without asking why there's a refugee crisis in the first place. (Answer: Because we're bombing their countries and staging coups d'etat.)

This article is a position statement so I won't go into further detail about the narratives themselves, but in signing off, it's worth mentioning a few thought viruses to whet your appetite for future articles. You know you've hit upon a thought virus when emotions run high and certain ideas are simply regarded as self-evidently not worth debating, or taboo. Examples might include, Oh, I don't know... how about vaccine safety? Have you noticed how difficult it is to talk about that, no matter where you stand on the matter? Or, say, whether Syrian President Assad is (or is not) a "brutal dictator killing his own people." Or whether man-made climate change is (or is not) happening, and to what degree (compared to natural processes like cyclical changes in the energy output of the sun). Or whether the State of Israel is a democracy or a violent, racist apartheid state.

Is your opinion of Syrian President Assad actually a thought virus? How would you even know?

My listing just one of these four subjects may have triggered you. This is because each of these subjects is associated with a number of heresies. I use that word advisedly. A heresy appears when a superstition is present. And by superstition I don't mean black cats crossing your path or seven years of bad luck from breaking a mirror. Instead, I mean the cultural conditioning of which you/we are largely unaware, that has caused us to hold opinions without examining the underlying emotional and other reasons those opinions are important to us. That is, people form opinions without first investigating  and accounting for their ontological predispositions.

Again, we're not going to tackle and solve any big issues in this article, but it's safe to say many people would be reactive in the face of these topics. You might have caught yourself thinking, about vaccines, that to question their safety means people will form doubts, potentially not vaccinate themselves or their children, and therefore raising questions could lead to the needless deaths of children. Or you might reflexively believe all vaccines are deadly at all times and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The point isn't your opinion, but whether your opinion is associated with a heresy. The character of Syria's president, the nature of climate change, and the qualities of the Israeli state all have heresies associated with them. As independent UK journalist Vanessa Beeley writes, the reason you dislike President Assad is because the CIA wants you to (or words to that affect). How you feel about that statement indicates whether a heresy is present in your understanding of the conflict in Syria, and likely relates to your world view.

So be warned: I don't see it as my job to make anyone feel better by catering to their confirmation bias, or sidestepping heresies. On the contrary, I specifically intend to "kick the hornets' nest," keep people off balance and question sanctioned narratives, be they of the elite imperialist kind, or of the identity politics variety. I'll presently publish an article here about the Construct (my name for the situation we find ourselves in, especially in regard to the network of governmental and corporate and media sometimes called the perpetual state. And yeah, the term The Matrix was already taken). I'll list some of my favourite writers and thinkers, so people can start tunnelling their way out of the Construct on their own. Even some of the supposed alternative media is part of the Construct nowadays, so don't be surprised if your favourite indy current affairs writer is revealed to be a gatekeeper for imperial, neo-colonial or elite neocon/neoliberal narratives.

And with that, I look forward to quality conversations about the important issues of our era here on Solarian, and on social media!

CONTRIBUTOR/RESEARCHER:

Guy Crittenden: 
Environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at guy@crittendencommunication.com

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