Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cat Litter and Mandarin Oranges

Running low on Mandarin oranges was bad enough, but the absence of cat litter made a trip to CostCo imperative.

Blithely stocking up on these essentials and a couple of non-essentials, I thought surely, this is where I can kick back and disengage from the larger world. Perhaps I've done too much for one day; too much for this week. What does it matter that I agonize over American foreign and domestic policies? Shouldn't I just be like everyone else and just shut up? CostCo was surely the place to cocoon from it all while I pick over the oranges and fondle a new home theater DVD player that didn't make it into my shopping cart.

The checkout lines were blissfully short. Walking up to the conveyor belt, a store employee pulls the few items in my cart onto the black belt.

"Hi, how are you today? CostCo card?, invites the young female checkout clerk. I hand her the black and red card, as she scans the items from the black belt.

"Do you know which Latin American country is the most dangerous?, the clerk asks me as she scans the oranges and cat litter with the grace and ease of an Olympic gymnast.

I don't know quite how to take this, but venture a bite. Why aren't we talking about the weather or the the juicy oranges?, I wonder to myself. "Oh, I don't know... Argentina?" I ventured.

"No," she replied.

"Uruguay?" I offered.

"No." Again she says, this time with greater confidence.


"El Salvador!" she declared with the countenance of a college professor.

"Ahhhh, interesting......interesting"........and after a pause I notice the customer behind me less than thrilled with my dialog with the checker, but we had the attention of the checker's assistant.

"Do you know why?" I asked.

Blank stare............................

I posed the question again; this time more formally. "Do you know why El Salvador is the most dangerous country in Latin America?"

Blank stare........................... accompanied by much discomfort.

"Because your tax dollars spent by the CIA to arm and train the death squads makes El Salvador the most dangerous country in Latin America."

I swiped a bank debit card through the electronic reader to pay for my purchase.

Pausing over the checkout register, the bright, young checkout woman reflected,........."Really?"

"Yes, really."

L took the receipt for my purchase and walked out the door, melding insight with sunlight.

This is what it's all about. The crux of the problem with corporate news media and state-sponsored education lies with the disconnection between facts and meaning.

I know no other life experience that demonstrates the failure, or the intentional design, of our educational system and television "news" -- indeed, the entire cultural context of understanding our place in the world.

History and "civics" is not about names, dates, and events. It is no wonder that so few Americans know anything about American history. The way it's taught is enough to put anyone immediately to sleep.

The fact that El Salvador is "the most dangerous country in Latin America" is meaningless and vacuous without context, and that crucial context is frequently missing from corporate news, or that context is fabricated by the powerful and passed off on Americans as truth.

The only thing of any importance that can be taught in schools is critical thinking. Nothing else matters, and I do mean nothing. Loaded up with facts, students and Americans are pushed into a a desert of facts, unknowingly starved for meaning. Glazed over, the eyes--like LED indicators--indicate the deadening of the brain behind.

It is as if corporate media and state schools live by the rules of Supersize Me. More is better. More facts, More news, news now, 24/7 CNN news; Internet news. instant news, RSS news, News on your cellphone. News at 6, News at 11; news news, news. Have you heard the news?

Corporate news, and state-sponsored primary and secondary education push people down a path of fact overload, with a dearth of meaningful context. USA TODAY.

As in the movie Supersize Me, the lack of meaning and context can kill you. Fast food; Fast facts. Empty calories of facts do not a meaningful meal make.

I will never again enter CostCo with the same mind. Every moment matters. People need to know the truth, and are starved for meaning and context. Never doubt it.

The Mandarin oranges are sweet; the cats revel in flicking sand upon the floors of intentional irony.

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