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Freeing Communication

by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book BEST FOR ALL: How We Can Save the World.
For information on ordering, please click here.

While we are reducing the physical pollution that we are releasing into the natural environment, we can also be working on purifying the psychological environment by purifying our communication systems that are greatly polluted by commercialization. Technological advances in many modes of communication because of digital computers are revolutionizing the ways humans can contact each other and learn. Since the inventions of various recording devices and electronic transmission, humans have been able to use cameras, telephones, radio, and television to communicate over greater distances with increasing speed. In less than two centuries since people who were in different localities had to wait weeks for messages to arrive by railroad, horses, or ships, the improvements are astounding and are still advancing in the present computer era.

The telephone was especially significant because it enabled two-way communication in the present moment. Now the interactive Internet is essentially creating a global village in which anyone in any place can communicate instantly with anyone else who has access to a computer. This is also important because it enhances two-way communication.

The introduction of mass communications since the advances in printing in the 15th century and the 20th century development of film, radio, and television made it possible to reach many people with these one-way communication systems. One of the dangers of this capability has been the use of these media for propaganda and advertising. For the purposes of gaining and consolidating power or to exploit larger markets, these forms of psychological manipulation have been used on massive scales to influence the attitudes and behavior of millions of people at a time. The materialistic and capitalistic culture that has resulted needs major reforms if we are to make the transition into a more frugal and compassionate society that respects and takes care of all people while preventing the massive numbers of greedy and selfish people from polluting the world and clashing with violence in genocidal ways.

The same media that delude can be used to wake people up, but we must be liberated from the current power structures that are resisting the needed humanitarian changes. Just as green taxes can regulate exploitive economic behavior that pollutes the physical environment, democratic societies can also find ways to enhance interactive communication in order to reduce the commercial messages in the one-way systems. Democratic government can also create public service forms of communication that will be free to all without any advertising. In the communications field regulation needs to be even more carefully designed so that it does not restrict anyone's right to free expression. Yet in the current system a few gigantic corporations control most of the television and radio networks, newspapers, magazines, and publishing companies. Major democratic reforms are needed to allow people more access to better information, art, and music without being deluged by commercial messages that have been programming people from childhood in the last generation.

I propose that government could tax all television and radio commercials with an equal amount of whatever is paid to the network or station. These revenues could be used to sponsor truly public television and radio that then will not have to depend on corporate contributions or annoying fund drives. With ample resources these public networks will be able to equal and surpass the quality of the commercial networks, and people will soon realize that they are better off watching the non-commercial channels for news, educational programs, dramas, movies, music, and other entertainment. The two-way communication of the Internet and telephone are much better for helping to find the products and services people may want to purchase. Technological improvements are making the transition to a combined system of computers, television, and radio a reality for most people in the near future. The public will be served in various ways so that individuals can find what is best for them by a self-directed process. Thus people will no longer have to submit to hearing and seeing unwanted advertisements that are really a form of black magic in their attempt to manipulate people's behavior. Advertising and commercials are also polluting the world wide web, and a similar tax could be levied on these. People will then be able to find websites that do not impose such unwanted distractions.

New ways can be found to fund the news, arts, and educational programs by socialized taxing. In our present system a few people have the opportunity to make exorbitant incomes because of such mass media while many talented and able people are marginalized because they do not pander to the lowest common denominator that the profit-making corporations have been exploiting to please their advertisers. The public could fund independent agencies with many more professionals to create journalistic programs, documentaries, and artistic and musical productions. When these are presented, the numbers of people using them for free could be recorded so that the producers of the better and more popular programs can be rewarded with fair compensation and additional opportunities to create more programs. Public and private groups could compete not only creating such programs but also in evaluating them so that consumers can find what they want.

Since Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web as a free system in 1989, people have spread the proverb, "Information wants to be free." Now we are entering an era in which the facility of electronic communications enables everyone to have access to information and artistic entertainment at such a low cost that it makes sense for society as a whole to absorb the expense so that every person can have free access. Within a few years virtually all books, films, music, and other forms of writing and arts could be available on the Internet for free to everyone. This also reduces the physical pollution because no paper, plastic, or other materials need to be used for people to see and hear all this information. Thus all individuals will be able to choose freely what they want to experience rather than depend on a few huge corporations to offer programming that enriches a few.

The increased interactive communication also enables individuals to find other people with similar interests and concerns so that they can communicate directly with each other and work together on various projects. The ability to do this from our homes will enable people to spend less time and energy in transportation, which causes so much of our physical pollution. For personal contact people can still find others nearby with similar interests for interpersonal activities and relationships. People can also save time and money by working and finding recreational activity locally instead of by traveling.

The people have a democratic right to tax advertisements on the public airwaves because these licenses are granted by the government for the benefit of the public. Because it is impractical to have more than one cable or telephone system in each area, these systems, which currently are usually owned by private corporations, are either monopolies or must function as public utilities. Voters have the right to remove the selfish profit motives and put these under democratic governments. Even if some remain under private control, advertisements can still be taxed because they can be required to serve the general public. A similar case can be made for taxing the commercial messages on satellite systems as well. These systems that are beamed directly to people's homes already are demonstrating that they can offer hundreds of channels at very low cost.

Newspapers, magazines, and books are in a different category, and I suggest that advertisements in those media may not need to be taxed. However, the print media can be taxed for the impact of the paper and ink on the environment. Because these media are more physically polluting, society and the Earth may be better off if people use the electronic media more than the print media. Nonetheless I think that books, especially in libraries, can provide excellent service to many people; but the transient periodicals loaded with advertisements are more polluting and may be taxed accordingly.

The Internet is world wide and beyond the jurisdiction of local and national governments. However, a Federal Earth Democracy could be used by all the people in the world to regulate this global communication system. Thus advertisements on the world wide web and international trade could be regulated and taxed for the benefit of all. For example, Google has developed effective search engine technology, and its founders have used advertising revenues to become multi-billionaires in just a few years. They may be commended for the advances, but why should those who are fortunate enough to be at the top of such a pyramid be allowed to keep such excessive wealth when so many in the world are suffering poverty? Just as people can choose to be on a "do not call" list to avoid interruptions by telemarketers, spam could be regulated so that people do not get unwanted emails.

Wal-Mart has pioneered efficient marketing techniques, but in doing so a family has garnered enormous wealth while exploiting millions of underpaid workers. The people can either create their own systems of marketing for the good of all, or they can use democratic means to tax excessive profits in order to redistribute the wealth more fairly. Local governments may decide, for example, to organize their own discount stores in the most efficient manner, because they can do so without skimming off large profits for the owners and investors. Companies owned by the public could pay better wages and still have some profit left for the public at large or offer even lower prices to the public. In corrupt politics some local governments have been giving large companies enormous tax breaks to locate in their community so that they will provide jobs, but this only results in more exploitation by the capitalist owners and investors. Such localities would probably be better off organizing their own public corporations or by letting non-profit corporations provide the services.

The purification of the political process with major campaign reforms will also free the most important political communication from domination by financial interests. The media can be used to provide everyone on the ballots with equal time in debates and public service programs. Voters can also find as much information as they want on the world wide web so that they can be much better educated on the real issues than those in the past who were influenced by political commercials. The political system in the United States especially has been corrupted by the money in campaigns, and the corporate media have reaped enormous windfall profits by selling advertising time. The people need to take back their control of these public channels of communication and stop this private exploitation and hijacking of the political process.

Instead of the corruption by paid lobbyists and campaign contributions, voters can use the Internet to express their views in responsive two-way communication systems. Various websites can analyze and inform people about every bill that is proposed in legislatures, and the elected representatives can poll their constituents quickly and easily on any issue to find out what they want. Thus democracy will become much more participatory on a voluntary basis. All those who are interested in an issue can express their opinions and help to inform others. Those people who are not interested are not obligated to vote on everything. Responsibility is given to the elected representatives to act wisely, and the voters can hold them accountable by electing someone else at the next election.

I have discussed how we can improve our personal communication in The Art of Gentle Living in the chapter "Compassionate Communication" in which I recommended respect and courtesy, listening with empathy, understanding and clarifying, being sensitive, expressing feelings, asking questions, allowing choices, speaking honestly, and declaring intentions.

Copyright © 2005 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book BEST FOR ALL: How We Can Save the World.
For information on ordering, please click here.

Global Emergency
Alleviating Poverty
Disarming Weapons of War
Creating Global Democracy
Reforming the US Constitution
Restoring Justice
Sustainable Economics
Freeing Communication
Spiritual Awakening
Nonviolent Strategies
Global Disarmament Treaty (first draft by Beck)
Constitution of the Federal Earth Democracy (first draft by Beck)
Constitution of the United States Revised (first draft by Beck)

BECK index