When I started writing this weekly column about 10 years ago, I gave it this title. I felt it was important for me, and possibly for others, to take more control over our lives, to fight against the many forces and institutions which try, openly or secretly, to control us.
At that time, I was not thinking mainly about government, because I did not feel that our governments, local, state and federal, were asserting too much control over my life. Certainly there were actions taken by the federal government that worried me, notably the secret surveillance of our personal communications that George W. Bush’s administration had set into place. A report in 2009 written by the Inspectors General of all US intelligence agencies concluded that the program involved “unprecedented collection activities” that went far beyond the scope of its legislative basis and was based on a “factually flawed” legal analysis.
But I was more concerned about how private corporations took control over pieces of our lives, often without our knowing anything about it. Since then, we have learned much more about the invasions of our privacy perpetrated by the giants of the digital world, who collect information about what we do and buy, where we go, and whom we contact, and then sell it to other corporations, all of whom are thinking about profit.
So one way that I have tried to maintain more control over my life, to take it back from those who want to know more about me than I want them to know, is to keep as much of my life off the internet as possible. I buy online with credit cards as little as I can. I mainly use checks and cash. I stay away from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. I refuse to provide my telephone number or email address to most of the people who ask for it as a normal part of their employers’ snooping about their customers. I ignore the constant requests for me to respond to “surveys” about my “experiences”, because I believe they are mainly attempts to gather information about me. I don’t believe that I have suffered in any way from trying to retain these aspects of my private life.
But it’s not enough just to be defensive. To take control over our lives we also need to demand clearly what we want. We certainly deserve a better federal government than we have now, and that means learning about candidates, supporting ones we like, and voting every chance we get. When we spend money, we deserve to get value in return, and that means complaining when we don’t get it.
That brings me to the message I just sent to my local newspaper about the unacceptable quality of what they have been delivering to my door. I reproduce that letter to the editor here as an example of taking back my life. I am not suggesting that you do the same thing, although many of you live here in Jacksonville. I do urge you to be assertive about what you deserve to all those institutions who control chunks of our lives. Protest shoddy merchandise or service. Refuse to do business with crooks (I’m thinking about Wells Fargo here). Call upon authorities to behave as they have promised, to fulfill their obligations to us individually and collectively.
We won’t always get satisfaction. But without speaking up, we’ll get only what those who have power want to give us, which is often much less than we deserve. Both public government and private corporations have too much illegitimate power. Take back your life.
May 21, 2019
To the Editor and Staff:
In the Journal-Courier of Saturday, May 18, the long story about the sexually abusive Ohio State University doctor appears two times, on pages 4 B and 8A, under slightly different headlines. That might seem to be a rare example of publishing error, akin to a 100-year flood. Except that, like the recent repetition of 100-year floods, I believe this is the third time in two months that the Journal-Courier has produced newspapers with the same story in two places.
Unlike floods, repeated instances of journalistic incompetence are preventable. Apparently, neither our local publishers nor Hearst Newspapers care enough about producing a quality newspaper to fix this problem. That was clear in the lead headline on page 1, where “musuem” was spelled incorrectly.
Is this related to the reduction in local content over the past year? Has some financial statistician at Hearst discovered that a local newspaper does not need local content or careful production to make money? Is that all that matters in Jacksonville journalism any more?
We subscribers deserve better. In exchange for our money, the Journal-Courier now guarantees to deliver the paper by 6 a.m., and claims to want to “be the undisputed news and editorial leader in West Central Illinois”, speaking “intelligently”, and embodying “the highest principles”. I don’t know what they mean by those words. I would like my subscription to pay for a promptly delivered, carefully produced and thoroughly researched daily newspaper that tells me things no other newspaper offers. What is happening in Jacksonville? What is happening in the rest of the world that we in Jacksonville should know about? What do people in Jacksonville have to say?
Only Hearst and other newspaper conglomerates are getting rich by journalism, by robbing us of the richness of good journalism. Generations of far-sighted Jacksonville newspaper people created a tradition based on other ideals. Is that going extinct, too, like our natural world?