Practice a philosophy of ‘one less thing’

Michael Bugeja, Des Moines Register

Iowans, like most Americans, lead chaotic lives. Consider that word, “chaos.” It comes from the Greek khaos, which means “the abyss,” a vast disordered and directionless space.

Many of us have fallen into that abyss.

Part of it stems from our being such an outstanding work force. At 64%, Iowa ranks among the top states in the country for the percentage of people employed. Iowa also ranks eighth in the country for working women, although pay gaps and other issues remain.

“Iowa has more households with all parents working than any other state,” Gov. Kim Reynolds stated in 2021, “yet we’ve lost one-third of our childcare spots over the last five years.”

This year she announced a new Child Care Business Incentive Grant Program, urging employers to offer childcare as an employee benefit.   

Lack of childcare is only one issue plaguing Iowans and other Americans coping with work-related stress.

According to one study, 59% of us are so busy that we only can manage 26 minutes of free time per week. We put off tasks like cleaning, paying bills and making doctor appointments, household repairs and healthy meals. 

An article titled, “The U.S. is the Most Overworked Developed Nation in the World,” notes that we work hard “with very little paid holiday, vacation, and parental leave to show for it.”

American employees labor an average of 1,767 hours per year. That’s 435 more hours per year than Germans, 365 more hours than French, and 169 more hours than Japanese. 

See this chart for comprehensive data. 

We work to pay bills. Inflation deflates us. 

Americans and Canadians are among the most stressed in the world. A 2021 Gallup study found that “57% of U.S. and Canadian workers reported feeling stress on a daily basis, up by eight percentage points from the year prior and compared with 43% of people who feel that way globally.”

Americans are not cutting corners at work. Their companies and institutions — including Iowa universities — are cutting budgets in a post-pandemic economy. That adds to workload.

Half of us feel trapped by our financial and individual situations. 

Americans multitask more than people in any other country, often depriving us of inspiration and creativity. There is no study that documents how we multitask while worrying about issues beyond our control.

Many of us spend hours rehashing meaningless interactions, foiled bids for love or attention, real or imagined slights, and other pointless triggers, from road rage to internet outages.

Let’s start with the news. It’s bad. We hear about war, hate crimes, shootings, poisonous politics and, lest we forget, mutating omicron variants. It’s good to be informed, but not at the expense of sanity. 

Take a break. You’ll hear the same reports in a week, a month, a year. One less thing.

Limit social media. Who cares if someone blocked or unfriended you or snubbed you because of a post? You don’t need to know the reason and then obsess about it in your 26 minutes of free time per week. One less thing.

Same holds true when someone stops talking to you at work for no good reason. Or gossips about you. 

“Telling office bullies that they hurt your feelings may feel liberating. But it’s a bad idea,” writes Washington Post columnist Karla L. Miller. “Sharing your hurt only helps with people who care about your feelings. Otherwise, it’s giving them ammunition.”

Ignore them back and interact only when proper for work-related reasons. One less thing.

The philosophy of one less thing is liberating. Say “no” when asked to do extra tasks or service at home, school or work. Saying “yes” is one of the reasons our lives are so chaotic.

The philosophy of one less thing is based on stoicism, which the ancients viewed as a way of life. As the Stanford Encyclopedia explains it, “Once we come to know what we and the world around us are really like, and especially the nature of value, we will be utterly transformed.”

Apart from politics or career, what do you most value? Your church or community? Your spouse, friend, family, partner, pet? A hobby? Travel? Hunting, fishing, hiking, gardening? Make a list.

Now make another. What petty issues occupy your thoughts in the course of a week? Which ones can you dismiss, block or ignore for the sake of wellbeing?

The Greek stoic Epictetus has recommendations that resonate to this day. He reminds us that troubles abound. It’s how we react to them that matters. He also advises us to cease worrying about things beyond our power or control. Epictetus reminds us that people are not worried about real problems “so much as by imagined anxieties about real problems.”

The philosophy of one less thing may not set you free; but it will free up time for the pursuits and people you most value.

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja is a distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences at Iowa State University. These views are his own.

How to disarm manipulation and gaslighting, personally and politically

The Jan. 6, 2022 insurrection is a ‘flashpoint’

By MICHAEL BUGEJA, Iowa Capital Dispatch
Thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the U.S. Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

We all know that domestic violence is a common occurrence in Iowa and elsewhere, but statistics are sobering, with one every four women having experienced it in their lifetimes. Some 1.3 million women are victims of such violence each year. Women aged 20-24 are at greatest risk.

Tactics of abusers involve manipulation and gaslighting.

According to WebMD, manipulation “is the exercise of harmful influence over others,” with perpetrators attacking another’s mental and emotional states to get what they want. Gaslighting is defined as “an insidious and sometimes covert type of emotional abuse where the bully or abuser makes the target question their judgments and reality.”

We often explore these concepts from an individual and psychological perspective rather than from a political and ethical one. The former remains of great concern, and victims of domestic violence need our support and resources.

But an ethical perspective is key in understanding what is at stake personally and collectively.

To fathom the impact on our psyches, we need to acknowledge the human condition whose dual aspects are consciousness and conscience. Consciousness is awareness of our physical environs, actions and words. Conscience is awareness of right and wrong.

Manipulators seek to obliterate the conscience of another person so that he or she cannot tell what is right from wrong. When that happens, the manipulator gains power over the victim.

To do so, manipulators study their intended target, taking inventory of their deepest desires, values and beliefs. They then use these against them. If a person desires something, the manipulator will hold that over their heads. If a person believes fervently in something, a manipulator will pretend to as well, only to deceive their victims later.

In essence, manipulators know how their victims will respond in a given situation and so devise a strategy to set a plan in motion. Typical tactics to control a person include deception, lying, exaggeration, silent treatment, anger and, above all, fear.

Whereas manipulation targets the conscience, gaslighting targets consciousness. The term comes from the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Gaslight” (1944) about a husband with a secret who slowly drives his wife insane.

Gaslighters claim to know a person better than they know themselves. They assert the abnormal is “normal,” so the person questions their sanity. Gaslighters overlook their own misdeeds but expound on transgressions of their victims, triggering depression. They force them to lie repeatedly so that they no longer know truth from falsehood.

Malignant narcissists are both manipulators and gaslighters.

Author Lisa A. Romano has a useful video on how to disarm a malignant narcissist. She asks us to accept the fact that we cannot control someone else’s reality. So when confronted by a narcissist, she deploys these phrases:

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
  • “I can accept your faulty perception of me.”
  • “I have no right to control how you see me.”
  • “I guess I have to accept how you feel.”
  • “Your anger is not my responsibility.”
  • “I’m not going to argue about this anymore.”
  • “Your perceptions are your perceptions.”

Given the state of partisan opinions in our country, with one party diametrically opposed to whatever the other party promotes, voters are being manipulated and gaslighted to such extent that many no longer can trust their judgment or discern fact from fiction.

The Jan. 6 insurrection is a flashpoint.

We all saw what happened at the nation’s capital that day. The House Select Committee has been investigating and elaborating on that tragic occurrence. The first of at least eight public hearings are scheduled beginning in June.

Some Republican lawmakers have claimed it was a regular tourist day while others refuse to call it an insurrection. Perhaps the latter is up for debate. But if you believe U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Georgia, that this was a “normal tourist day,” you’ve been gaslighted.

Social media played a role in triggering the insurrection. Tweets assembled, incited and directed the mob. This is not an isolated occurrence as the use of technology in this manner dates back to the 1999 protest of the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

Protesters used cell phones to organize and vocalize their agenda, which included workers’ rights, sustainable economies, and environmental and social issues. Tactically, they used technology to circumvent police trying to control the mob.

The Jan. 6 insurrection is complicated, involving conspiracies and false claims. Voters not only were manipulated and gaslighted by politicians; they were prompted and triggered by technology.

Nevertheless, we will argue and debate the 2020 presidential election for years to come, with slim prospect of changing minds at home, school and work.

But we have a personal obligation not to allow politics to undermine our conscience and skew our consciousness.

Take another look at those phrases that Romano recommends and apply them to politics.

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way about [my/your politician].”
  • “I can accept your faulty perception of [my/your candidate].”
  • “I have no right to control how you see [my/your party].”
  • “I guess I have to accept how you feel about politics.”
  • “Your anger about [my candidate/party] is not my responsibility.”
  • “I’m not going to argue about this anymore.”
  • “Your perceptions about [my candidate/party] are your perceptions.”

They work.

Annoyed: How to keep everyday irritations from wrecking your day

Michael Bugeja
BY MICHAEL BUGEJA, Iowa Capital Dispatch

 Robocalls are one of many daily annoyances that irritate Americans. (Photo by Getty Images)

We live, work and learn in an increasingly aggravating environment.

Robocalls rank among the top petty annoyances. We may overlook one or two, but several in a day can trigger ire.

Americans receive close to 4 billion robocalls per month, on track for 47 billion robocalls by the end of the year.

The content of calls is disturbing, but the timing can be even more so.

You’re preparing a meal, watching Netflix or enjoying another’s company when the cell phone vibrates — someone wants to indict you for tax fraud, extend your car warranty or report an unauthorized Amazon charge.


The word “annoy” comes to us from the French, “enoiier,” which means to weary or vex. Webster’s defines it as “to disturb or irritate especially by repeated acts.”

Depending on party affiliation, you’ll get political texts and calls — a communique from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or an urgent message from Sen. Charles Grassley.

Americans received an estimated 18.5 billion political text messages in 2020, and there’s little you can do to stop them. Unfortunately, the National Do Not Call Registry does not apply to politics. Neither can you bar charities and debt collectors from contacting you as they are exempt from the Federal Trade Commission’s blocking list.

And then there is the mobile phone itself. Among the top annoyances are battery life, software updates and passwords. Once again, time, place and occasion dictate the level of exasperation. Your phone dies during an important call or updates and wipes out your passwords so you have to remember them again.

The password guessing game is infuriating. You get three chances to recall a password before you’re blocked and now must call the facility or organization to be reinstated digitally.

Then there is two-factor identification, increasingly used by schools and businesses. You can’t simply sit at the computer anymore and get to work; you have to find your phone and affirm, “Yes, it’s me.”

We also are annoyed face-to-face.

According to one study, top irritants include bosses requesting urgent work, no toilet paper left, empty milk cartons in fridge, friends canceling plans at last minute, and encountering someone you dislike at the supermarket.

Journalism annoys, too. Former Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson listed these bothersome cliches:

  • Familiar with the situation. “I’m always glad that the reporter didn’t rely on an unnamed source who was unfamiliar with the situation.”
  • War chest. “If political writers want to get cute, I vote that they replace it with the term ‘piggy bank.’”
  • Amid. “Amid these turbulent times, a little less ‘amid’ would make me happy. And we can ditch of ‘turbulent times’ while we’re at it.”

(For the record, my most annoying news phrase is “take a listen.”)

A Marist poll reported in December 2021 that “Trump” and “coronavirus” were among the most maddening terms, replacing “whatever” for the first time in more than a decade. Other annoying words included “Critical Race Theory,” “woke,” “cancel culture” and “It is what it is.”

Americans have a hard time trusting the news. The least trustworthy anchors in descending order are Sean Hannity (Fox News), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), Don Lemon (CNN), Mika Brzezinski (MSNBC), Chris Matthews (MSNBC), Joe Scarborough (MSNBC), Tucker Carlson (Fox News), Chris Cuomo (CNN), Laura Ingraham (Fox News) and Anderson Cooper (CNN).

Cooper also was listed as among “the most trusted” after NBC’s Lester Holt, indicating how divided viewers are in ranking the news.

Considering worldwide disease and war, we might wonder why these trivial annoyances hijack our emotions, sometimes leading to outbursts that jeopardize character and reputation.

According to Psychology Today, “A minor irritation, a ‘petty annoyance,’ can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back under chronic stress.” We are asked to put things into perspective, think positively, be patient, avoid antagonistic people and understand moods, including our own.

People have been trying to tame emotions for millennia.

Stoicism, an ancient branch of philosophy, encourages us to face our feelings in a mindful way. One Stoic meditation that can help with annoyance is called the “premeditatio malorum.” Stoicism accepts that bad things can happen in life and urges one to imagine worst-case scenarios in logical, unemotional detail. If those bad things do indeed come to pass, then we can act quickly with purpose rather than be surprised and react with anger.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher, believed we have power over our mind, not external events. In his book, Meditations, he writes: “Begin in the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial.” Accept that as fact, he states, because being vexed at everything goes against human nature.

Do not take petty annoyances to heart. Rather, he opines, overlook the failings of others and “remember that all is opinion.”

Especially robocalls.

Professional Media Ethics Portfolios

These students have agreed to allow us to share their URLs of their media ethics codes. In Michael Bugeja’s classes, each student is tasked with creating a website that contains all of their work thus far with a designed resume, code of conduct and work samples.

Dr. Bugeja’s students enjoy near 100% placement in journalism advertising and public relations within six months of graduation (including military and graduate school).

For students using Dr. Bugeja’s text, Living Media Ethics, or who follow this site, feel free to link to our assignment page that explains how to create such a portfolio.

Here are URLs that students agreed to share on internet.

Advertising Spring 2022
Sarah Carney
Sarah Collison Adrian Cunningham Hyerin Kim
Chase Hoffman Anna Keplinger Morgan Maher Kayleen Mercer Madisyn Postma KaLea Rowe
Sarah Schaffer Ben Teske Abbey Van Wyngarden

Athletics Spring 2022
Brenna Cohoon

Journalism Spring 2022
Nyamal Gatluak:
Cassandra Foxen: Kylee Haueter
Eva Newland
Carolina Viera

Photography Spring 2022
Alexis Russell

Public Relations Spring 2022
Kelsey Boal
Bryce Garman Franchesca Johnson Olivia Nuckles
Vanyon Ong:
Josie Pautzke
Whitney Schlotfeldt

Sports Journalism Spring 2022
Truman Boyd-Harris
Andrew Harrington

Guerilla theater, stunts and pranks make a mark on politics

MICHAEL BUGEJA Copyright 2022 Iowa Capital Dispatch

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has engaged in “guerilla theater” style tactics in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In 1967, activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin staged one of the greatest political pranks of all time when they entered the New York Stock Exchange and threw dollar bills to the traders on the floor.

Free money, seemingly from the heavens, sparked reactions. Some rushed for the bills. while others waved or shook their fists angrily at the agitators.

But the media picked up the stunt, elevating the Hoffman and Rubin — and the organization that they led, the Youth International Party (Yippies) — into media darlings.

Hoffman called the stunt “guerrilla theater” and later observed, “If you do not like the news, why not go out and make your own?”

Guerilla theater is a form of political protest, typically involving public stunts, satire and pranks. It has evolved in our time via social media but its methods date back to the 19th century.

In 1896, William Crush staged a spectacle to promote the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, crashing two 35-ton locomotives head-long into each other. He even erected a town, aptly named “Crush,” attracting 40,000 visitors on the day of the event — making Crush for a time the second-largest city in Texas.

When the engines collided, the boilers exploded, killing two spectators. A photographer hired to document the event lost an eye to a flying shard.

Crush was promptly fired. He was later rehired because news and photos of the event created a buzz for the company.

Thus, he affirmed the motto — “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” — associated with P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner.

Like guerilla theater, some of the most successful publicity stunts combine marketing with politics.

On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell took out full-page advertisements in top newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Todayannouncing it had purchased the Liberty Bell.

Here are details and text of the ad, “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell”:

“In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”

You can anticipate new forms of guerrilla theater to infiltrate campaigns in the midterms and beyond.

Taco Bell headquarters, the National Park Service and Congressional staff offices received thousands of complaints, overlooking the “April Fool’s” aspect of the ruse.

Later that day, White House press secretary Mike McCurry got in on the joke, telling reporters, “We’ll be doing a series of these. Ford Motor Co. is joining today in an effort to refurbish the Lincoln Memorial. It will be the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”

More than 1,000 print and broadcast outlets covered the Taco Bell story, generating free publicity worth the equivalent of $25 million.

In the digital age, guerilla theater spawned a new genre called prank advertising.

Guerilla theater goes to the movies

The method has crossed over to movie theaters. One of the most successful promoted a remake of the horror movie “Carrie” in a video on YouTube, viewed more than 75 million times.

Titled “Telekinetic Coffee Shop,” it shows a production company setting up a scene in which a man spills coffee on the laptop of an agitated woman with paranormal powers. As patrons order coffee, not realizing the prank, the woman thrusts out a palm, levitating the offending man up a wall to the ceiling. Her anger escalates as chairs and tables telekinetically move away from her. She screams. Wall hangings fall and books fly off shelves.

The video cuts to a blood-soaked image of the actor portraying “Carrie” with the closing credit: “In theaters October 18, 2013.”

Movies are fair game for guerrilla theater, as in Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2020 “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Former President Donald Trump’s then personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was depicted in an indiscreet encounter on a hotel bed with Borat’s daughter pretending to be a TV journalist.

We’ll skip the details, but you can read this to refresh your memory or even view the segment here.

Political stunts

Guerilla theater now uses social media to pull off political stunts and pranks.

Instead of protesting a Tulsa rally in 2020 by then incumbent candidate Donald Trump, TikTok users and K-pop fans used internet to feign interest in the event, requesting more than a million tickets. That prompted campaign officials to build an outdoor venue for the anticipated overflow crowd.

The building where the rally took place had seating capacity for 19,000 but only 6,200 attendees showed up.

After the election, the Trump campaign set up a hotline for people to report election fraud. Pranksters flooded the line with mocking calls about his losing to President Joe Biden.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, has resorted on occasion to political stunts. In April she challenged progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a debate, using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

A month later in the presence of two Washington Post reporters, Greene followed Ocasio-Cortez out of the House chamber, shouting “Hey Alexandria!” and taunted her for support of far-left groups.

“You don’t care about the American people,” Greene shouted.

You can anticipate new forms of guerrilla theater to infiltrate campaigns in the midterms and beyond.

Ethics aside, as history has shown us, many of them will prove successful.

“Fake News”: Shear-Colbert Symposium Lecture 

By Susanna Meyer, Times-Republican

The invention of the internet has changed journalism a lot over the years, and during Professor Michael Bugeja’s Thursday lecture “Fakes, Hacks, Fibs and Tales: Journalism Ethics” on Zoom, he dug into how news has slowly warped into opinion, what role social media plays in the problem and how to combat it both in the short term and the long term.

Bugeja teaches media ethics, technology and social change at Iowa State University (ISU) and was the second speaker for this year’s Shear-Colbert Symposium lecture series at Marshalltown Community College (MCC). The theme of the 2022 symposium — which was originally organized by the late history professor Tom Colbert — is “Fact or Fake: Information Today.”

Bugeja started his presentation by discussing how the distribution of news has changed in recent years and said more people now get their information from social media instead of directly from news outlets. He also went on to address how little confidence people had in the accuracy of the news they consumed.

“Seventy-two percent of Republicans expect the news to be incorrect, 46 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents feel this way. So if you believe that the news is fake, why are you viewing it? The answer to that is because it’s convenient to do so,” Bugeja said.

In the past, the public had to wait for the next news cycle to get reports, allowing time for fact checking. Bugeja said the internet has created an instant gratification culture which does not always provide enough time to ensure the accuracy of information. Furthermore, because a large portion of the population gets their news for free online, fewer reporters are in the field due to a lack of income.

Bugeja also showed a media bias chart, which sorted an array of news organizations into left leaning, right leaning and neutral categories. He said the neutral middle is less appealing because it is both crowded and unprofitable.

“Consumers want news on demand but then pundits tell you how to feel about it, and that’s important because the margins are too low in the more objective middle,” Bugeja said.

For the rest of the story, click here or visit:

Philosophy provides tools to deal with polarization

 (Illustration by Getty Images)

For more than two years now, the news has focused on vaccines, masks and mandates, often couched in political rhetoric resulting in polarization.

The COVID pandemic has divided friends, families and colleagues at the same time it has amplified the frail condition and nature of being human.

We need to set aside politics, at least for a while, and contemplate philosophical concepts that might put anger and anxieties into perspective.

The “human condition” copes with the mental and physical struggles of life. “Human nature” is our emotional response to those struggles.

Our condition is based on two universal but opposite tenets: consciousness and conscience. The former tells us we come into the world alone and will leave it alone. Conscience says what is in me is in you.

It doesn’t matter how you think about these concepts — scientifically or theologically. You can say we are social animals who only care about each other for evolutionary reasons. Or you can say we are divine creations who should care about each other because of a supreme being’s will.

Our nature fluctuates daily between these two polarities. Sometimes we’re alone in our struggles. Other times, we seem connected to something more profound.

That is how it feels to be human.

The pandemic has exacerbated our perplexing duality, at times affirming the view of consciousness as loved ones died alone on ventilators in hospitals. Other times it has tweaked the conscience with health care workers tending to patients with compassion.

The struggle has poisoned our nature as we search for someone to blame.

Researchers are measuring that impulse in “The Polarization Index,” created by the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California in conjunction with the public relations firm Golin and intelligence company Zignal Labs.

Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations at Annenberg, believes polarization dominates American culture, fueled in part by partisan journalists and politicians who benefit from conflict.

The index measures political division regarding immigration, policing policy, racial equity, gun legislation, voting integrity, COVID vaccines, abortion, climate change, health care reform and minimum wage. Republicans are concerned about immigration and policing. Democrats worry about voting, health care and abortion.

Political parties are divided on religious beliefs

Democrats and Republicans feel so strongly about these topics that they accuse opponents of acting immorally.

One study found boldness and meanness traits were higher in Republicans than Democrats. In another study, Republicans found Democrats “immoral,” “lazy” and “dishonest.”

Members of both parties accused opponents of lacking a conscience.

What, exactly, is the conscience? Here are four theories:

  • It’s the voice of God directing us in matters of good and evil.
  • It’s just human intuition presenting itself as a moral voice within us.
  • It’s the internalized values of society.
  • It’s a phenomenon of experience that develops as we age.

What do you believe?

According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans (90%) believe in some kind of higher power. The study identified a gap in belief between Democrats and Republicans:

  • Democrat-leaning individuals tend not to believe in the God of the Bible while their Republican counterparts do (45% vs. 70%).
  • Democrats are more likely than Republicans (39% vs. 23%) to believe in a higher power other than the biblical God.
  • Some 14% of Democrats vs. 5% of Republicans don’t believe in any deity at all.

By contrast, another study found only about half (51%) of scientists believe in God or a higher power.

Philosophy offers different perspectives

In “What God, Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness Have in Common,” Scientific American advises scientists to adopt one viewpoint when it comes to phenomena that cannot be measured: agnosticism, which comes from the Greek agnōstos, or “unknowable.”

Speaking of Greeks, science is based philosophically on the “The Cave” in Plato’s Republic. Prisoners there have been chained all their lives facing a wall across which are cast shadows of passing people. Prisoners believe the shadows are real because they have never experienced “matter” beyond phantom images.

Plato suggests that we free ourselves from the cave (ignorance) and grasp the fact that shadows do not exist. There are mere phenomena of reality.

Plato believed in the natural sciences, mathematics, geometry and logic. Everything else is delusion.

Over time this led to “scientific materialism,” a term coined by Spanish philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952). He believed matter is the source of everything. Science, then, must doubt or dispel belief in the mysterious, paranormal and religion.

Disbelief includes the conscience.

One philosophy originating in Africa embraces the conscience and differs from Western materialism. According to Sophie Oluwole, one of the foremost scholars in the discipline, shadows on Plato’s cave are as real as the folks who cast them. A tree casts a shadow, she says, but you cannot separate it from its shadow. Both exist and equally important.

Asian philosophy as expressed in the Tao Te Ching, a Chinese text second only to the Christian Bible in popularity, affirms the African model and goes a step further. Material objects are real but meaning is derived from shadows.

What do you believe?

Philosophy reminds us there different ways to interpret the world apart from polarizing politics and news. For instance, your conscience should inform consciousness and vice versa. You can attribute others’ anger and division as part of human nature and our response to universal pressures of life.

Contemplation provides a reality check to help us discern what is material and meaningful.

When we do, we just might understand others’ viewpoints even if we disagree with them.

‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ is now a shared one

The spread of misinformation via the comedian’s influential podcast and through social media provides a glimpse of a world without journalism.

Podcaster Joe Rogan in 2017. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)

By: Michael Bugeja

Spotify, a Swedish-owned streaming audio service, signed a $100 million contract with New Jersey-born comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan to provide exclusive content for subscribers.

Let that figure, $100 million, sink in.

That is more than twice as much as Steph Curry, the NBA’s highest-paid player, will make in the 2021-22 season.

So what did Spotify get for its money?

“The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast featured COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, prompting musical artists — Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, among them — to pull their work from Spotify.

Rogan apologized to Young, Mitchell and Spotify.

Then a clip surfaced documenting Rogan’s use of racial slurs over a 12-year period. He apologized again, stating he never used the N-word “to be racist because, I’m not racist.”

Rogan claims not to have a racist bone in his body, but the malady usually is associated with the mouth. His reaches 11 million subscribers per episode.

Let that figure sink in.

That’s 2.6 million more than the population of New York, America’s largest city.

More importantly, that is almost half (45%) of the 24.3 million digital and print readers and viewers of all U.S. daily newspapers.

Here’s another number: $69,635. That’s the average highest paid salary for a news editor in Massachusetts, which pays more than any other state for the position. Editors are responsible for moderating content for truth and appropriateness. The average news editor salary across all states is $58,415, eerily equivalent to the average salary, $58,690, of a Facebook moderator. (More on them later.)

To be sure, the Joe Rogan saga will likely fade by the time you read this as another outrage flares across our screens. But the emphasis here is on news vs. entertainment, and the impact of the latter on the health and well-being of society.

One of Rogan’s proclamations focused on Generation Z: “If you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go, no.”

As of February, 12,311,814 people ages 18 to 29 contracted COVID-19, more than any other age group. Some 5,476 have died. But, hey. When you amuse 11 million listeners with disinformation, perhaps that’s a minuscule number not worthy of consideration.

Neil Young took exception to that on his website. “Most of the listeners hearing the unfactual, misleading and false COVID information on Spotify are 24 years old, impressionable and easy to swing to the wrong side of truth.”

He’s right. According to the Pew Research Center, only 3% of people ages 18 to 29 get news from print. Some 7% rely on radio and 16% on television. A whopping 71% rely on smartphones and other devices for updates and notifications, mostly from social media and streaming sources, from Facebook to Spotify.

The COVID-19 economy has been particularly harsh on journalists, especially editors overseeing newsrooms. Here are data from the Columbia Journalism Review:

  • At least 6,154 news organization workers were laid off between March 2020 through August 2021.
  • At least 100 U.S. news organizations have closed throughout the pandemic.
  • Another 42 outlets were absorbed through mergers and acquisitions, bringing the number of eliminations to 128.

In the wake of the Joe Rogan scandals, Spotify quietly removed 70 of his podcasts. In journalism, this is known as retractions. In social media and other hosts of dubious information, it’s known as a “404 Not Found” error.

Because of threats by artists to remove content, Spotify now will post “content warnings” that promote dangerous false or deceptive medical information “that may cause offline harm or pose a direct threat to public health.” These include assertions “encouraging the consumption of bleach products to cure various illnesses and diseases.”

Spotify’s new policy is a whitewash, literally and figuratively.

Offensive content continues, warnings aside. But there are consequences.

Social media and streaming platforms are aware of the threat, not to humanity, but to its bottom line. For instance, Spotify denies that Rogan was the main reason why its stock plummeted by 18.9% in the aftermath of his scandals.

That’s why social media platforms employ moderators to screen offensive content.

CNBC reports Facebook spends billions to review millions of pieces of content every day. TikTok, Twitter and YouTube outsource that work to third-party companies.

Moderators are attracted to the prospect of working at home for an average of $16.50 per hour. But job risks include digital PTSD from viewing and deleting content about bestiality, incest, pedophilia, suicides and murders.

Other PTSD symptoms that develop from viewing thousands of offensive posts include adopting conspiracy theories promoting the Earth being flat, the Holocaust never happening, and the U.S. staging the 9/11 attacks.

To help alleviate the human emotional toll, Facebook has turned to computer moderation to delete disturbing content. Nevertheless, many obscene posts slip through because AI lacks the intelligence (and conscience) to catch them.

The environment allows the likes of Joe Rogan and company to “experience” the world any way they wish, without worrying about its impact on society. They have replaced reporters as the main purveyors of news. Moderators have replaced editors who once protected the audience from objectionable content.

This is your world without journalism.

Now let that sink in.

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Tags: Joe RoganMisinformationSpotify

Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, is author of Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine (Oxford Univ. Press) and Living Media Ethics (Routledge/ Taylor & Francis). These observations are his own.

Michael Bugeja

Everyday temptations bedevil us in personal and political life

We’re all subject to temptation; it takes strong values to resist

MICHAEL BUGEJA @ Iowa Capital Dispatch

A group of people looking at a paper

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(Photo illustration by Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images)

Temptation happens in the gut, not in the brain, eliciting a jumble of magnetic emotions, luring and repelling us simultaneously. It can be as innocent as reaching for a piece of chocolate cake, hesitating, and then pushing away from the table. Or as guilty as embezzlement, reaching into a cash drawer, hesitating, and then stashing the bills.

Temptation triggers corruption in political life when government officials abuse their power and the public trust.

Temptation triggers guilt in our personal lives when we cave in to desires.

Common temptations include eating too much, spending too much, laziness, venting on social media, gossiping, feeling jealous, viewing pornography, lying or cheating and abusing alcohol.

Each of those enticements has a virtuous flipside: wellness, frugality, diligence, composure, discretion, trusting, wholesomeness, truthfulness, honesty and moderation.

We may desire the virtues but succumb to the vices, as if good and bad angels hover on our shoulders, whispering contrary counsel in our ears.

That iconic vision comes to us from “The Shepherd of Hermas,” a second-century Christian text: “There are two angels within a man — one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity.” The good angel is said to be gentle, modest, meek and peaceful; the bad angel, wrathful, bitter, foolish and evil.

When we heed the good angel’s advice, we are grateful for the betterment of our character. When we heed the bad angel’s advice, we are gratified momentarily at the expense of our character.

Temptation involves desire. A 2012 study explored “how often and strongly do people experience desires, to what extent do their desires conflict with other goals, and how often and successfully do people exercise self-control to resist their desires?”

Findings were illuminating. Of the various character traits, perfectionists often experience powerful impulses that clash with their motivation and goals. Their intense focus has a side-effect: anxiety. Ergo, they seek relief.

Narcissists were most prone to yield to temptation as a form of entitlement.

Alcohol, predictably, weakened resistance to temptation, prompting people to enact their desires without considering ramifications.

The presence of other people — especially at work — helped in resisting temptation. At home, we are prone to indulge in our desires. Due to the pandemic, that may carry into the workplace when the pandemic ends.

Politicians are prone to the same temptations as the people they represent. The difference typically involves the power associated with their public positions.

As Lord John Acton (1834-1902), the English Catholic historian once mused, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Political corruption is the abuse of power by government officials seeking to gain personally via their positions. According to Science Daily, forms of corruption vary, but include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, graft and embezzlement.

Corruption facilitates such crimes as drug trafficking and money laundering.

In 2021, 35 current and former government leaders and more than 300 public officials were exposed in files from offshore companies. The so-called “Pandora Papers” included the King of Jordan, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others.

Here are key findings:

  • The offshore system thrives despite decades of legislation combating money laundering and tax dodging.
  • More than a dozen U.S. states, including South Dakota, have become leaders in the business of selling financial secrecy.
  • Owners of secret bank accounts are exposed with possessions that include private jets, yachts, mansions and artworks by Picasso, Banksy and other masters.

Apart from money, there is little ethical difference between personal and political temptation. They have the same attributes:

Temptation is relative. What might tempt one person — personal use of a company car, say — might not tempt another. As such, temptation is a matter of choice associated with our individual likes, dislikes and desires.

Temptation pits one value against another. A person may value honesty and career success but opts to cheat because they fear losing their job.

Temptation strikes without warning. We normally would not cheat or violate our values were it not for a sudden opportunity that just happens to appeal to our desires.

It is important to remember these characteristics if we hope to resist temptation. Our desires may be strong, but our value systems must be stronger. Short-term gratification is not worth the long-term risk to our reputation. When temptation strikes, remove yourself from the location or situation and give yourself time to make a proper decision.

Finally, do not blame yourself when tempted. Temptation is part of the human condition. Great spiritual leaders, including Jesus Christ, were tempted (see Luke 4:1-13).

John Quincy Adams, one of our most ethical presidents, believed “every temptation is an opportunity of our getting nearer to God.”

In secular terms, every temptation is an opportunity to enhance your character to address the myriad problems of personal and public life.

Pajama Journalism Lacks Standards

Pajama ethics: bear in mind these 4 principles when doing desktop-based reporting

Copyright 2022 by Online Journalism Blog

Image by morgaine CC BY-SA 2.0

“Pajama Journalism”—reports you can do in nightclothes on a computer, without going anywhere or talking to anyone—should not define online news, but the practice is widespread. In a special guest post, Michael Bugeja argues that following just four basic principles of reporting can help improve this form of journalism.

The Internet greatly enhances the ability to assemble a story in record time, using information from social media, blogs and databanks. But while this expansion of access has opened up new prospects for reporting, and increased productivity — it also brings risks to credibility.

The rise of “PJ Journalism” is due to multiple factors. Reporters work in downsized newsrooms with scant travel budgets, if any, and are evaluated by productivity levels. Recently isolation due to COVID-19 has added a further reason for remaining indoors rather than onsite.

This is not to say that “PJ Journalism” is inherently bad, if you view the digital world as having its own reality apart from the physical world. Stories about the Dark Web would be one extreme example of this, but you could also argue that newsworthy statements and discussions which would have previously taken place in the physical world now increasingly take place entirely on social media and other virtual spaces.

I teach media ethics at Iowa State University and decided last month to do a session on “PJ Journalism” to illustrate shortcomings in rushed reports — and how to avoid those.

There are four key dangers that the pajama journalist faces:

  1. Linking issues, failing to cite source content or point to original documents.
  2. Missed opportunities, failing to contact sources for additional information.
  3. Due diligence, failing to note if officials or organizations had been contacted to respond to content.
  4. False impressions, implying the writer was onsite at an incident or event.

Here’s how those dangers can be avoided — demonstrated through deconstructing a CNN article by Theresa Waldrop, titled “Washington State head football coach ousted after refusing Covid-19 vaccine”. It concerns the firing of WSU’s head football coach, Nick Rolovich, and four assistant coaches who failed to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Links are missing

If you are going to use a computer to assemble content, you owe it to viewers to provide links to original content.

This digital standard was missing in a few instances in our example article.

The lead and following paragraphs use the attribution “said” in reference to a news release, rather than “stated” or “noted” — the preferred terms when you cite an inanimate object, such as an athletic department or news release.

Worse, no link was provided to the news release.

No links are provided either for “a statement” (fifth paragraph), Rolovich’s hiring on Jan. 14, 2020 (accessible here), and while a link is included in the sentence “Earlier Monday, the National Hockey League announced that Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks has been suspended,” that link opens to another CNN report, not the NHL announcement, which I found here.

The article does include some links: a link is provided for Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation requiring full vaccinations for state employees. And a link was provided for his salary.

But here’s where we hit the second item on our checklist…

2: Missed opportunities for contact

Opportunities are missed to approach those in the story

The reporter might have contacted the governor for a quote about Rolovich’s firing. But she leaves it at that.

There’s another missed opportunity for contact when the article references a Twitter statement by Rolovich in which he states that he is not getting the vaccine for “private” reasons.

It ends, “I will not comment further on my decision” – but things change, and a good reporter should check if the person is still refusing to comment or if they have new things to say — as turns out to be the case in this story…

3: Due diligence

He posted that statement on Twitter on July 21, 2021. And he would comment further—initially not whether he got the vaccine—but about his decision not to commentas in this article in the Spokesman-Review.

Rolovich did confirm why he is not getting the vaccine—a fact omitted from Waldrop’s post. USA Today reported on Oct. 9 that he was seeking a religious exemption.

That disclosure would have made the Waldrop report more substantive. So would have a quote from a lawyer or theologian. 

4: Avoid false impressions

The video of the conference could have been linked here – or even embedded

A more serious omission comes in the last five paragraphs, featuring quotes from Rolovich about his situation: no link is provided, implying the reporter was at the postgame interview where those comments were made.

This is an unintentional oversight, but everyday viewers might not realize that.

You can hear the Rolovich quotes in this YouTube video of that news conference.

Embedding the video would have not only avoided this — it would have provided a more valuable and engaging article, potentially increasing the amount of time readers spent on the story.

All too often these lapses are found in reports by cable news sites disseminated by wire services and reaching multitudes. Little is added by way of context—including whether additional information might be forthcoming—and then updating accordingly. Quotations are lifted from news conferences or on-site interviews without reference to source material, as if the writer was at the scene.

Basic standards that make reporting better

It’s important to note that Waldrop’s piece does contain information that viewers would have considered newsworthy. Again, my intent is to show how attention to basic standards—linking, additional information, updates and context—could have enhanced her article.

That used to be the task of copyeditors, eliminated in typical newsrooms. The onus now is on the reporter, which makes this discussion particularly vital.

Instant digital access allows reporters to keep pace with rapidly occurring developments. But the danger here is relying too much on access without the reporting. Eventually, that affects credibility—not only of the outlet but of the platform itself.

Audience Concerns

Image by nataliej CC BY-NC 2.0

In a recent piece for Poynter, I wrote how Americans can’t tell the difference between fact and factoid, assigning political labels to news outlets based on columnists rather than reporters.

I argued for new standards to label opinion and, in some cases, require subscribers to opt-in to get them in newsletters.

Online editors and producers need to rethink what is becoming conventional practice—hurried reports without substantive context or updated information—that parades as quality journalism and is re-distributed as such.

Keep in mind that viewers (not to mention the competition) also question such reports, especially if content seems political, divisive or controversial. That’s when posts can be called out, often by what they omit as opposed to what they state.

We can apply higher standards with links to original content; additional quotations via phone, email or text; notations about whether new information is forthcoming and when; and transparency, attribution and links to actual conversations, without any semblance that a reporter was on the spot.

These simple practices will build trust and add value, especially since links to original content help SEO for an outlet. Moreover, updated information will be re-tweeted and shared, again enhancing credibility.

In the end, standards aside, rushed journalism is still news to many. But we are advocating here for reports that have an extra dimension. A few hours to contact sources via text, email or phone call is not too much to ask. Neither is a bit more effort to verify data or add context.

The public deserves better, and we can easily provide it with online tools.