Neil Postman coined the term ‘media ecology.’ He points out that the term ecology dates back to Aristotle, coming from the Greek word for ‘household.’ Aristotle, according to Postman, “spoke of the importance, to our intellectual equanimity, of keeping our household [or oikos] in order.” The modern usage is apt because we are all–plant, animal, mineral–sharing a single household. “If we wish to connect the ancient meaning with the modern,” he continues, “we might say that the word suggests that we need to keep our symbolic household in order.”
I was struck by that when I was reading an old talk by the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell. He says:
Even with its flaws, the family is basic, and since no other institution can compensate fully for failure in the family, why then, instead of enhancing the family, the desperate search for substitutes? Why not require family impact studies before proceeding with this program or that remedy, since of all environmental concerns the family should be first? Hundreds of governmental departments and programs protect various interests, but which one protects the family?
Since democracy depends upon citizensâ€™ â€œobedience to the unenforceable,â€ why then the stiff resistance to moral education which could emphasize widely shared and time-tested principles?
Only reform and self-restraint, institutional and individual, can finally rescue society! Only a sufficient number of sin-resistant souls can change the marketplace. As Church members, we should be part of that sin-resistant counterculture. Instead, too many members are sliding down the slope, though perhaps at a slower pace.
Elsewhere, he wrote:
There are no victimless crimes, no private wrongs. For every wrong act there is at least one victim, the doer, and secondary impacts that we just don’t have the sophistication to measure. We can’t have it both ways: extolling and exhorting over the interrelatedness of things in nature (with which we must truly be more concerned as stewards of this planet) while, at the same time, denying the ecology in human nature. (Deposition of a Disciple, page 21.)
We combine these two thoughts, and we realize that it matters very much how, when, and where, we imbibe media messages, and what we should permit to intrude into the original oikos of our own households. What would an ecological (household) impact statement look like when it evaluated The Sopranos or Katy Parry? What happens when we scrutinize what we allow into our homes in the way the Environmental Protection Agency evaluates contaminants? What is the maximum recommended dosage in parts per million? When we consider everything we allow into our homes as a potential pollutant?
While I don’t know what either of these Neals, both deceased around the same time, and both heroes of mine, would make of blogging (though I do know Postman had no use for the Internet) I still think it is worthwhile to discuss how these two related ideas of ecology could be combined to form a relevant and informedÂ moral stance in our fast-changing times. I think an interesting place to start would be Postman’s “Creed of A Loving Resistance Fighter,” found in his book Technopoly. It connects Elder Maxwell’s idea of a needed counterculture to Postman’s image of the gentle warrior. I paraphrase it below:
Loving resistance fighters…
- pay no attention to a poll unless they know what questions were asked, and why;
- refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations;
- have freed themselves from the belief in the magical powers of numbers, do not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth;
- refuse to allow psychology or any “social science” to pre-empt the language and thought of common sense;
- are suspicious, at least, of the idea of progress, and do not confuse information with understanding;
- do not regard the aged as irrelevant;
- take seriously the meaning of family loyalty and honor, and who, when they “reach out and touch someone,” expect that person to be in the same room;
- take the great narratives of religion seriously and do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth;
- know the difference between the sacred and the profane, and do not wink at tradition for modernity’s sake;
- admire technological ingenuity but do not think it represents the highest possible form of human achievement.
A resistance fighter understands that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technologyâ€”from an IQ test to an automobile to a television set to a computerâ€”is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism, and control. In short, a technological resistance fighter maintains an epistemological and psychic distance from any technology, so that it always appears somewhat strange, never inevitable, never natural.