Domination Fantasies

It has been a long time since I last saw a TV program on the subject of American imperialism on the "huge variety of news, information, opinion, culture, and entertainment, whether from 10, 50, or 3,000 sources" to which Ben Compaine refers ("Domination Fantasies," January). Some of Bill Moyers' programs come to mind. Nowhere else, especially not on Fox or the Pentagon News Network (a.k.a. CNN). 

Thank God I have such a huge variety of choices. It's like being in a country with 500 different flavors of coffee, except there is no milk, orange juice, or beer. Only coffee.

Please disagree and prove me wrong. I will gladly stand corrected and start watching whatever television network or channel you claim is broadcasting such information.

Bill Fairchild
Douglas, MA

Unlike some of the media critics Ben Compaine discusses, I do not see concentrated ownership of media outlets as the issue so much as the alignment of their propaganda. We all have a certain tunnel vision in our views: For the well-read, it is easy to assume that everyone has the time, interest, access, and understanding to counterbalance the bias of any one news source. The reality is that some will eagerly solicit the uninformed to support their agenda via the one-note, often sensationalized message of the media. The ordinary person is not given a balanced view, and to assume that the struggling masses will look for it in alternative venues is naive.

Larry Barlow
Chester, VA

Ben Compaine replies: Bill Fairchild and Larry Barlow are addressing much the same core issue: Both are concerned that the mass audience is not exposed to a wider range of perspectives. Fair-child would like his particular perspective to get broader coverage; Barlow assumes that the great unwashed are too dumb, busy, or lazy to be proactive enough to be well-informed citizens on a wide range of issues.

Fairchild needs to think beyond network television news shows. They are mainstream by definition. None is the video equivalent of The Nation or The Weekly Standard. If they became like those publications, viewership would drop to about the same level as the circulations of those magazines.

Moreover, although mainstream networks may not do an hour on American imperialism, they certainly have covered that perspective through guests on Meet the Press-type shows, in sound bites as part of other coverage, even in covering recent presidential debates. So, while the 7-Eleven may have only coffee, there are many specialty stores in town offering other beverages.

Barlow is right that most of us don't have the time to review the many sides of the major issues of the day. Most people are busy raising families, keeping up with their professions, and paying their bills. In their down time, they want relaxation, not research.

But the answer is not to require every media entity to provide every view on every issue in every program. Even the now-defunct Fairness Doctrine did not require that. Nevertheless, over the decades I have noted that on major fault line issues—incursions into Iraq, gun control, abortion—Americans are about evenly split. Somehow people manage to get the information they need from a variety of sources to form diverse opinions.

One footnote reinforces my point about access: In the month after the January issue of reason became available, I heard relatively little about my article. The first morning that it was available at the reason online site, I was flooded with e-mails from friends, colleagues, and strangers. E-mail lists following the media scooped it up, distributed the URL to subscribers, and provided it on their Web sites. My viewpoint had not been covered on CNN, Fox, or ABC, but you folks sure found it. More cream for your coffee?

Just Say No Again

Although Renee Moilanen's article on the "new" anti-drug education ("Just Say No Again," January) was interesting and enlightening, and I'm no fan of the war on drugs, I'm not convinced by her negative appraisal of the Life Skills Training program.

Any study of a program's efficacy has to cut out participants who don't complete enough of the program for it to be effective. If a high school student shows up for class only three days a week, every week, and then gets a poor grade at the end of the year, the course material seems a poor starting point for troubleshooting.

It may be that the kids who do barely half the training tend to be the same ones who use drugs, but the program designers don't know whether that's true at the outset, and they have to draw a line somewhere. Without a separate study to first determine what percentage of students tend both to do drugs and to skip out of anti-drug training, the researchers can't take such associations into account.

It's certainly possible (and maybe likely) that the study's authors chose the most favorable cutoff point. I wonder what it would have looked like if they'd chosen only kids who'd completed 80 percent of the coursework. If the numbers didn't look good from that angle, it would be more damning than the criticism offered by Moilanen. Too bad we'll probably never see the raw numbers required to draw our own conclusions.

Dan Hull
Antelope, CA

Self Delusions

Julian Sanchez's well-reasoned review of Owen Flanagan's The Problem of Soul ("Self Delusions," January) may be further developed on two crucial fronts.

First, Flanagan's general contention (as summarized by Sanchez) that "it would not count as an act of free will if some nondeterministic quantum fluctuation" causally contributed to an eventual action (an argument long rehashed since the advent of quantum physics) presupposes a myopic view of "freedom" and "self-authorship."

As posited by the Oriental doctrine of wu wei, one may freely—and quite literally—open one's mind to random neurophysiological inputs and still claim personal responsibility for that act of openness, if not sole authorship for its consequences. On this nontraditional account of free will, we retain self-authorship by virtue of freely deciding to initiate an undetermined "value experiment."

Second, even without a libertarian free will we are still, as Sanchez highlights, left with the option of being more or less reflective with respect to determined actions. In this sense, the real "problem of the soul" may turn out to be that we have been focusing on free will rather than free consciousness.

Christian P. Erickson
San Francisco, CA

I find it interesting that reviewer Julian Sanchez, and apparently author Flanagan, conclude that the absence of a permanent "self" is a new insight, a result of modern neuroscience. The notion is, however, at the very core of Buddhism, a religion and philosophy now about 2,500 years old. Almost every word of the review could have been written by a Buddhist, although the citations (Rand, Wittgenstein, Hayek, Nozick) doubtless would have been different.

Needless to say, there is a profound role for morality in Buddhism, even without a permanent self, due to (as they see it) the law of cause and effect: karma. To oversimplify, we are punished by our sins, not for them. A Buddhist is as free as a libertarian, though: One's karma is one's history, not one's fate; it conditions our actions but does not determine them.

Albert S. Kirsch
Bal Harbour, FL