Category Archives: Readings in Media

Kay G. Pen Medina, tunay at tapat na konsensiya ng bayan

Pen Medina 092117

The actor Pen Medina “whipping up a storm” at the Luneta rally on Sept. 21.

In my Newsstand column last Tuesday, I wrote:

The actor Pen Medina delivered a scorching speech at the Sept. 21 rally in Luneta; he was right to hold to account the so-called “dilawan” for their role in creating an elitist system, but he was wrong to gloss over the militant Left’s participation in the current elite.

As it turns out, I was wrong to think that the iconic actor had deliberately left out the militant Left from his bracing analysis. He wrote the following comment as a gentle rejoinder to my column:

Pen Medina comment

Mr. Medina posted this in the comment thread on the same day the column was published.

I stand, gratefully, corrected. And I hope to catch Mr. Medina in one or two of those other venues for discussion.

 

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On the level of craft alone, this movie is must-viewing

Respeto

I saw “Respeto” a second time last night, and it was even better than I remembered. Just on the level of craft alone, the movie is must-viewing: The actors do not seem to be performing at all, but only living out their portion of life. (Dido De La Paz is unforgettable as Doc; the rap stars Abra and Loonie are a revelation—but it seems unfair to point to individual actors when the ensemble acting is so fluid and generous and on point.) The story is gritty AF but punctuated repeatedly by genuinely funny moments. (In this sense, it is very much like the Noli.) The cinematography finds the hidden poetry of Manila’s ugly quarter (the tracking shots,  the chase scenes in what is our own flyover country, above all the calming, clarifying episodes in the cemetery). The writing is first-rate (and the English subtitles match it). Not least: the music! I am not a hiphop or rap fan, but I came away from the first viewing with a new respect for this nasty, brutal but legitimate art. (That the rap battles were improvised on set, as director Treb Monteras said in one interview, is another reason to respect this angry, difficult form.)

The theme is bleak, and the reality the movie gives vivid life to is as complicated as our own tortuous history. But that this independent movie even got made, and that it is so good, equal parts heart and craft, is both proof and source of hope.

 

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A series of unfortunate appointments

Without meaning to, I started an occasional series of columns on unfortunate appointments to key government positions. It was prompted by Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s kowtowing (a word with Chinese roots!)  to an aggressive China; I patterned the use of the word “unfortunate” after Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” (Irony, though, sometimes refuses to travel.)

“The unfortunate Mr. Yasay” was published on July 12, 2016, the same day the arbitral tribunal awarded the Philippines a near-complete victory in its case against China. “No one wants to go to war,” I wrote. “[T]hat’s what diplomacy and international law are for, to assert our rights and our claims without recourse to violence. It is unfortunate that, even before he starts, Yasay has surrender on his mind.”

On August 23, 2016, I followed up (that is, it became a series in my mind) with a column on “The unfortunate Salvador Panelo,” then, as now, the chief presidential legal counsel. Many things are unfortunate about Sal Panelo, but I focused on the quality of his lawyering. “He argues like an ambulance chaser …. The great principles that animate the higher practice of the law, not merely to resolve disputes but to discover truth and dispense justice, are inconveniences that must be rationalized away.” Also: “Panelo has … argued, in more than one instance, that basic principles of law do not mean what generations of lawyers have been taught they meant.”

Both Panelo and Yasay (since rejected by the Commission on Appointments because of his American citizenship) were appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The third column was on an appointee of President Gloria Arroyo’s—Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Diosdado Peralta. His decision rationalizing the burial of the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani provoked great outrage. On November 15, 2016, in “The unfortunate Justice Peralta,” I wrote: “There is none so blind as he who refuses to see. Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta’s ponencia in the Marcos burial cases will go down in history as the cowardly rationalizations of a willfully blind man; he deserves the opprobrium coming his way. He still has six years to serve in the Supreme Court, but his legacy will be forever defined by this badly written, ill-thought-through, deliberately obtuse majority decision.”

The fourth column in the series went back to a Duterte appointee: the solicitor general who told the public, and by extension the Court of Appeals, that he was effectively a member of the Supreme Court. In “The unfortunate Calida, ’16th Justice’,” published on February 21, 2017, I wrote: “it is both unethical and illogical for a solicitor general to assert that he is ‘considered’ as another Supreme Court justice, because in fact he isn’t and because the separation of powers requires that he shouldn’t be.” I concluded: “Calida’s invocation of his supposed stature as the 16th Justice was plainly meant to put pressure on the Court of Appeals.”

The subject of the next column in the series is probably Duterte’s most famous, and possibly most consequential, appointment: In “The unfortunate Bato dela Rosa,” published on May 2, 2017, I gave three reasons (reasons shared, of all people, by Speaker Bebot Alvarez) why “No chief of the Philippine National Police has brought as much disgrace and discredit to the institution he heads as Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, a likeable enough police officer promoted beyond his capacity and competence.”

Who should I write on next?

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Column: The transformations of Rodrigo Duterte

Written on the day of the controversial second State of the Nation Address, and published on July 25, 2017.

Since I first met him in August 2015, I have tried to describe Rodrigo Duterte, the man and politician, as fairly, as completely, as I could. In this column and before various audiences—rule of law advocates in The Hague, student leaders on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Asian news executives in Bangkok, campus writers in Legazpi, journalists in Perugia, even residents of my hometown of Cagayan de Oro—I have sought to give President Duterte his due.

I have always pointed out that, in private, Mr. Duterte is unfailingly courteous, and thoughtful and responsive in conversation. He makes bold statements (arguing, for instance, that the presidency is not powerful enough) but leavens them with an earnest mien, a healthy sense of humor, even a talent for mimicry. I’ve met him only thrice — a group interview at the Inquirer that lasted for about four hours, a chance encounter at the Naia 2 airport, a presidential debate — but my impressions have found an echo in the recollections of the senators and Cabinet secretaries I’ve interviewed since his election.

I have also always noted that Mr. Duterte is a genuinely charismatic personality; I have seen his effect on an audience of about 50 as well as a massive crowd (the thanksgiving rally in Davao City after his victory) of perhaps 500,000. There is really something there that many people respond to. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen this charisma at work, not only in the President’s native Davao but in Tokyo, too, when Mr. Duterte came visiting. It is a mistake to dismiss this talk of mass appeal or reduce it to cult-like conduct. (To be sure, there is that, too.)

But put a microphone in front of him, and (time to look afresh at this tired phrase) all hell breaks loose. Continue reading

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About the EJKs: The signs were there; we were warned

Another 10-part Twitter thread, starting here. (You can of course click on the card below.)

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Scenes from the Forum

Haven’t yet had a chance to write about World Justice Forum V—held at The Hague last July. Aside from allowing me to meet rule of law advocates and role models, it moved me to take the next step in a rule of law project I’ve been worrying for some time. It was good to meet kindred spirits, including exemplary Filipino delegates.

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The truth is, Filipinos have long been anxious about Duterte’s #warondrugs

A 10-part Twitter thread, starting here.

 

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Column: But where is the President?

When the President went missing. Published on June 27, 2017.

I understand, from the official daily schedule circulated on Monday by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, that President Duterte will make a public appearance today for the first time in almost a week. The “tentative schedule” (these releases are almost always classified as tentative) shows the President attending the “Eid’l Fitr Celebration” in Malacañang at 7 p.m.

This marks the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Duterte has been missed. He was not seen in public from June 12 to 16, and again from June 21 to 26 — assuming, that is, that he keeps his appointment tonight. (It is the only appointment on his agenda today, according to the schedule shared with the reporters and bloggers who cover him.)

At a general meeting of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines last week that I was privileged to address, a gentleman during the Q&A noted the traditional media’s “failure” to report on the President’s whereabouts. I understood what he meant, and conceded his point (in a word, the media should dig deeper), but I also noted other factors at work that made the President’s first prolonged absence controversial. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’

Antonio Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Updating, again. This column was published on June 6, 2017. I took the photo of Justice Carpio on June 5, about half an hour before he conducted a group interview with the Inquirer.

This could be the question that will haunt us in our old age. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday to imagine that moment, years from now, when our children and grandchildren will sit us down and ask us: “Who lost the West Philippine Sea to China?”

It is our “civic duty,” Carpio said, to raise the alarm today about the imminent loss of our territory and our waters, to forge a national consensus on what needs to be done, and to defend the West Philippine Sea. Continue reading

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The 7 No’s of Dutertismo

Saguisag 060817

On June 8, I joined a “forum on civil liberties and democracy” at De La Salle University on Taft Avenue called “Gathering Hope”—and came away a little more hopeful. Part of the reason I showed up was to see Rene Saguisag, the great civil libertarian of our time, in action again. I was fortunate to sit beside him, and took a couple of pictures of him in mid-speech (at that point when he was recalling an old story about a mischievous boy and a grandfather figure, whose moral the grandfather summed up in the following wise: “The answer lies in your hands”). Continue reading

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Column: If not Duterte’s ouster, what?

Like many, I do not want the military to oust President Duterte; that attempt at a cure (to speak figuratively) may prove to be worse than the disease. Like many, I only want our democratic processes to function, our checks and balances to work, our politicians to grow a spine worthy of the dignity of their office—so that everyone, Duterte included, can be held accountable not only by history but in real time. The lesson from the history of democratic polities is clear: The consent of the governed depends on limits placed on government. Published on April 25, 2017.

I have written in this space before: There is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte, and there are no destabilization attempts against his administration. What is the “point,” then, of all the criticism? To ask the question is to misunderstand the role of a free press, an unco-opted opposition and the democratic project itself. In our different ways, we criticize to hold him accountable.

Let me limit myself to the responsibility of journalists. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Why prefer a dictatorship to freedom?’

The second column prompted by the IJF17 panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.” Published on April 18, 2017.

As it turns out, more research exists on authoritarian followers than on authoritarian leaders. I do not know this paradox for a fact, but I believe someone who does: the psychologist who is a leading scholar on authoritarianism, Bob Altemeyer. I was led to his work by a presentation Alexa Koenig of UC Berkeley made at the International Journalism Festival two weeks ago; I have since read his “The Authoritarians,” available for free online. It makes for instructive reading. It helps explain our experience under martial law, and why we may yet again find ourselves on the road to authoritarian rule.

The paradox can be explained simply. As Altemeyer writes: “The psychological mystery has always been, why would someone prefer a dictatorship to freedom? So social scientists have focused on the followers, who are seen as the main, underlying problem.” Continue reading

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Column: The authoritarian and his followers

The first of three columns prompted by a panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. (I might add a fourth column, one of these days.) Published on April 11, 2017.

 

One difference between the Marcos years and today: Today there is deservedly more attention paid to the role the public plays in empowering authoritarian regimes. A panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, which it was my happy task to moderate, brought this difference home to me.

Alexa Koenig, who serves as executive director of UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, began by outlining a useful framework for understanding the subject. Yavuz Baydar, a prominent Turkish journalist living in exile since the postcoup total crackdown by President Reycep Erdogan, drew lessons from his country’s degeneration into a “robust authoritarian regime.” Tamas Bodoky, a Hungarian investigative journalist who founded the watchdog site Atlatszo.hu (“transparent” in Hungarian), described “defining features” of emerging authoritarianism, based on the Hungarian experience under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. I presented five theses on the Duterte presidency. Continue reading

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Column: Becoming blind

Published today, April 4, 2017 — but in a different time zone, and in a different frame of mind.

I find the phenomenon of willful blindness in the Duterte era vexing, and would like to take a closer look. To begin: There are degrees of not seeing.

Some are born truly sightless, or qualify as legally blind. Different institutions would have different definitions for legal blindness, but I think the nontechnical phrasing used in Merriam-Webster comes close to a common basis: “having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses.” (That means that seriously visually impaired people who can see well enough to drive with the help of corrective lenses are not, in fact, legally blind—a common misconception.)

Some are blind because they are unable, or unwilling, to question what they see. Continue reading

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INQxIJF17

En route (literally) to the 11th International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. According to the Etihad flight path map, we are currently flying over Turkey — an appropriate place to begin any discussion about journalism as it is practiced today (or not allowed to).

The programme features some 600 speakers, panelists, authors, performers. (It is the biggest journalism conference in Europe.) Here’s the link to the PDF version of the programme.

The panel discussion I will moderate is scheduled for April 6: Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.

A sign of the times: The panel includes journalists from Hungary, the Philippines, and yes Turkey, and a human rights expert from the US.

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One difference between Congress and the Senate, Philippine edition

A memorable phrase from prominent political analyst Mon Casiple, our guest in tonight’s INQ&A radio/Facebook program: “In the House [of Representatives], a congressman has one eye on the President. In the Senate, a senator has one eye on the presidency.”

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Column: Jollibee, and the many kinds of love

Published on February 14, 2017.

Last week the largest fast-food chain in the country “broke the internet”—as people have learned to say these days, with enthusiastic and forgivable exaggeration. Jollibee released three television commercials with compelling storylines, all variations-with-a-twist on a theme of love, and Filipinos had a collective sob. I liked the ads; I think they have the potential to teach us something we often forget about love’s true and varied nature. They also make me, a political journalist, realize that Jollibee has the unusual opportunity to remind us about yet another kind of love—but I’m getting ahead of the story.

Make that “stories.”

The three commercials are part of a continuing series of narratives each “inspired by a true story.”

“Vow” is what is known as a meet-cute: Boy meets girl in unforgettable fashion. In this ad, the boy and the girl are side by side at the counter and order the exact same thing, even the exact same upgrade, at an auspiciously empty Jollibee store. The story ends with a wedding, but with a twist in the final frames.

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Column: Why we MUST fight fakes

Published on January 24, 2017.

The inauguration of the Trump presidency is a true, deeply disorienting pivot in history; it may lead to the end of the post-World War II international order. The only certainty is uncertainty: As his dark inaugural address reminded us and his first acts in office confirmed, Donald Trump will upend many rules and traditions designed to limit the power of the American president, and as a consequence dramatically reshape US relations with the rest of the world.

But many Filipinos watching the Trump takeover over the weekend may have felt a shiver of déjà vu. We’ve seen this kind of brash talk, media hostility and enemy-oriented war footing before; when President Duterte speaks of the illegal drugs problem he is fixated on, it can assume the contours of the apocalypse. If Trump has his American Carnage, Mr. Duterte has his Philippine Collapse (or, maybe, Pambansang Bad Trip). If Trump has his “movement,” Mr. Duterte has his 16 million voters (a part of the body politic he sometimes mistakes for the entire country). And if Trump has his Twitter-enabled, cable-news-fueled campaign against media, Mr. Duterte has his social media army (and his sometimes uncontained contempt for inquisitive journalists).

But in at least one aspect, President Trump has trumped President Duterte. From Day One, the American president and his administration have declared war on reality; both Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer have for instance falsely claimed a much larger estimate for the inaugural crowd, despite overwhelming TV, photographic, and eyewitness evidence; and adviser and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway rationalized the false claims as “alternative facts.” The most that Mr. Duterte and his various spokespersons have done is either blame the media for reporting his statements, or ask journalists to exercise “creative imagination” in interpreting the remarks. Continue reading

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Column: The most-read opinion of 2016, and why

Published on January 3, 2017.

A look at the most-read opinion pieces published by the Inquirer last year shows that politics, especially political anxiety over the Duterte presidency, was the dominant concern of our readers. It also shows a healthy mix of the types of opinion that resonated with the audience: columns, of course, but also an editorial, a contributed commentary, a letter to the editor—and a vivid illustration of the digital “long tail.”

But let me begin with a word about the limits of this overview. I am using statistics from the online consumption of the opinion pieces (both web and mobile). I am limiting myself to only the Top 10 pieces read online, which together account for almost one-twentieth of all Opinion traffic. I am basing the ranking on page views, as tracked by Google Analytics (not on share numbers, which can help show consumption only on social media). And I can tell you that all these 10 opinion pieces enjoyed a minimum of six-digit traffic.

(I can also add that traffic increased substantially over 2015 levels, for both Opinion and the website as a whole.)

By far, the most-read opinion piece of 2016 was Solita Monsod’s Aug. 27 column, “De Lima’s record speaks for itself.” This essay on the politics of vindictiveness generated 2.5 times more page views than the last item in the Top 10 list. It begins forthrightly: “This persecution of Leila de Lima is getting out of hand. That it is led by President Duterte makes it even worse. The President, who, in his State of the Nation Address just last month, described himself as ‘not vindictive,’ has proved otherwise.” (It was also shared almost 50,000 times.)

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Column: Seven ‘life hacks’ I learned at the Inquirer

Published on December 13, 2016.

I was one of two Inquirer employees who had the privilege of speaking on behalf of this year’s service awardees in simple rites last week. Please allow me to share excerpts from my response:

… The first of the [seven] “life hacks” I learned at the Inquirer is: Stay humble. I learned this lesson well working closely for over a dozen years with longtime Opinion Editor Jorge Aruta. His approach to editing is exactly the same as his approach to life: Know what’s important, and keep a light touch…. Very few people know that he was, as I wrote back in 2012, one of the most influential opinion journalists in Philippine history. His example of serene confidence and sincere humility continues to inspire me.

… the Inquirer has grown its various audiences and kept its agenda-setting leadership in part through doing new things. The second of the life hacks I learned then is: Stay hungry. I think of Tess Samaniego … who has created a new advertising lifeline for the Inquirer. How did she do it? She looked at the landscape with new eyes, and was able to imagine new possibilities. Continue reading

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Column: Different from other presidents

Published on November 29, 2016.

At a forum hosted by the Asian Media Information and Communication Center last Friday, I had a chance to paint a picture of the conditions journalists labor under when covering President Duterte. With Marites Vitug’s own take, it was meant to prompt discussion:

President Duterte is an unusual subject, different from most other presidents, in many ways. A large part of the challenge of covering him can be explained by these differences. Let me cite four related pairs of unusual.

He was a truly reluctant candidate. This helps us understand why, six months after the election, he can still startle with unexpected talk about his readiness to give up his post. He is the only president who speaks of resigning if certain policies are already set in place, who talks of sitting down with alleged coup plotters, who pledges to leave the presidency if his critics can meet certain (admittedly impossible) requirements.

At the same time, he is the one president who is fully committed to use the full range of presidential powers, the one who casually mentions imposing martial law or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, who threatens to marshall legislative consensus to abolish an office created by law, who readily takes to the bully pulpit to name suspect oligarchs or suspected criminals.

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Column: On Ira Panganiban’s outburst, I call BS

Published on August 2, 2016.

MY RADYO Inquirer colleague Ira Panganiban posted something provocative on Facebook the other day, and it has since gone viral. Unfortunately, the multiplatform journalist got his facts wrong. Even worse, his assumptions did not only lead to the error; they also raise worrying questions about the true value of a human life. In the spirit of free speech and fair play, and as an admiring friend, I wish to set him straight.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Panganiban wrote on July 30. “Andaming matatalino sobrang ingay tungkol sa pagpatay sa mga pusher at adik!!! (So many intelligent people are making too much noise about the killing of pushers and addicts!!!)”

“These so-called decent and progressive thinkers all cry about the number of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his post.”

“The Philippine Daily Inquirer even has a running tally of the killings in their pages. The last number I looked at is 400+ nationwide!!! (Sorry PDI kayo lang may running tally eh.)”

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Column: Cayetano on Duterte and the media

 

Published on June 7, 2016.

I have had occasion to criticize Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano directly in this space, but I believe he does not take it against me. He is a rare breed of politician in that sense; he seeks to engage even his (occasional) critics, confident in his ability to make his case. When I had the chance to interview him during the campaign period, the vice presidential candidate was his usual articulate self—he mentioned the fact that I had criticized him before, but only in passing, and only as an example of the difference in our responsibilities: his as a politician, mine as a journalist.

His views on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s criticism of media practices, and in particular of those of national media organizations based in Manila, hold a special fascination for me then. Over the weekend, I heard him express these views thrice: at the “VIP lane” leading to the massive victory rally dubbed “One Love, One Nation” in Crocodile Park in Davao City on Saturday, on stage at that rally, and in an exclusive interview with Inquirer.net (also carried live on Facebook) the following day.

I found his VIP lane version to be the most developed and on point, and I would like to engage with his views as he expressed them then, in a chance interview (the far better term for ambush interview, which came into use during the first Aquino administration) by national and local media.

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Highs and lows

I was part of a three-person team from Inquirer.net who covered the climate change negotiations in Paris, in December 2015. Belatedly uploading the two columns I wrote there, plus one I wrote before, brought back strong, Seine-filled memories.

“In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol …”
“But five factors suggest that … Paris will succeed.”
“I asked him to say a little more about the central spiritual question.”

Now might be a good time for a quick summing-up.

Our team — Kristine Sabillo, Sara Pacia, and me — wrote over 50 dispatches, posted dozens of tweets, produced several video stories and infographics. Back home, we were backstopped by NewsLab lead Matikas Santos and reporter Marc Cayabyab, and by web designer Sephy Garibay and artist Mok Pusong.

p-to-p

The special site Sephy created featured our Media 21 Asia project on stronger storms and the coping mechanisms of two coastal regions — as well as a Dateline Paris section that allowed us to update our special site several times a day during the Paris negotiations. (All the dispatches are here.)

“The sound we heard, then … must have been a controlled explosion …”
“In a move certain to raise the Philippines’ profile …”
“The Ice Watch does nothing but melt.”

The two-week coverage had many highs and lows; seeing actual Arctic ice melting in the heart of Paris (in front of the Pantheon, in the art installation called Ice Watch), hit me like a great shock. It was many highs and lows, all at once.

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Column: Doubt everything

Published on March 15, 2016.

I HAD the privilege of giving a talk at TEDxADMU on Sunday. The topic had seized my imagination: “How to train your outrage.” Here, with your indulgence, is an extended excerpt:

What is this outrage culture we are living in, and what do we do about it?

The Urban Dictionary actually has a definition. The outrage culture is where people “bend over backwards to be as offended as possible.” Ryan Holiday of the Observer defines it by its product, “outrage porn,” and describes it by its characteristic: “perpetual indignation.” Jon Ronson wrote an entire book about its corollary, Internet shaming, which “targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive.”

The outrage culture, then, is that state of constant offendedness, or at least a heightened sensitivity to take offense, which results in what we can call virtual outrage: outrage that is itself insensitive, one-dimensional, skin-deep—and ultimately self-regarding. It is opinion, not as Ego, but as Id. Continue reading

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