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Media, Markets and Meaning: Placing Sustainable Development and Environmental Conservation and Enrichment… Hershock, Peter D. between 2006-06 and 2006-08

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 Media, Markets and Meaning: Placing Sustainable
Development and Environmental Conservation and
Enrichment at Risk
Peter D. Hershock
This paper critically assesses the globally dominant pattern
of complex relationship that obtains among mass media,
market economics, and both cultural and environmental
change. Making use of Buddhist conceptual resources that
link the meaning of development, environmental
conservation and attentional enrichment, the effects of
consuming mass media commodities are evaluated in ways
that are compatible with Bhutan's overarching
commitments to enhancing Gross National Happiness
Contemporary media are a complex result of historical
processes shaped by the interplay of wide-ranging social,
economic, political, cultural and technological forces and
systems. Understanding how media affect public culture
and environmental quality requires gaining critical
perspective on these processes and the multi-dimensional
context of their consolidation. Here, I want to focus on a
particular pattern of connections obtaining among mass
media, communications technology and market
economics—a pattern of interdependence that has crossed
key thresholds of intensity and scale to begin globally
transforming the quality and directional character of
attention itself, thereby affecting the very roots of public
culture and effecting a systematic erosion of environmental
In spite of its complex texture, the broad outlines of this
pattern of connections can be relatively simply formulated.
As  a  result  of compounding efficiencies  correlated  with
 specific advances in transportation, manufacturing and
communication technology, by the mid-20th century there
had emerged global markets of sufficient reach and density
to bring about a commodification of the entire range of
goods and services needed for basic human subsistence,
including food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education,
sensory stimulation and a sense of belonging.1 In the early
phases of this process, mass media played a key role in
coupling markets and consumers by transmitting
advertising content specifically designed to manufacture
consumer need. In later phases, positive feedback circuits
emerged between market growth and media consumption
that did not depend upon media content performing a
coupling function.
As a result of advances in communication technologies, the
scale of media consumption crossed a decisive threshold
beyond which the explicit content ofthe media has come to
be less crucial to furthering market growth and the
proliferation of consumer needs than the summative effects
of media consumption as such The most salient among
these effects is the mass export of attention from local
environments, resulting in a depletion of the basic resource
needed to appreciate or directly add-value to those
environments, as well as a concomitant impoverishing of
relational capacities and commitments.
Beyond certain thresholds of reach and density, markets attain
sufficient complexity to begin producing not only goods and services,
but also populations in need of them - populations that experience
themselves as living in increasingly elective environments open to and
i This list of subsistence needs combines the customary triad of
food, clothing and shelter with four other basic needs that are
derived from a range of Buddhist teachings, including those
referring to the "four nutriments" and the minimal level of
material support needed to sustain a spiritual practice. Failure
to meet of any one of these seven needs for very long seriously
compromises quality of life.
 yet also in deepening need of management or control. For individuals
in such populations, opportunities for differing multiply geometrically,
but those for truly making-a-difference to and for one another contract.
Expanding powers for exercising (consumption mediated) freedoms-
of-choice come at the cost of diminishing strengths for relating-
These are very strong claims. They suggest that
contemporary mass media are implicated in a complex
pattern of interdependencies that compromise appreciative
and contributory virtuosity, degrade immediately
experienced environments and ecologies, and foster the
systematic translation of locally vibrant patterns of cultural
and environmental diversity into mere variety. If valid,
contemporary media must be seen as having come to exert
a potent and yet practically invisible, corrosive effect on
public culture.
This will come as unwelcome news for those inclined to see
the media as a potentially powerful forum for developing
national-scale Bhutanese public culture and as an efficient
means of widely promoting environmental conservation. For
those who have seen the media—and especially the new
media emerging at the developmental edge of
communication technology—as vehicles for expressing
differences and resisting hegemonic social, economic,
political and cultural forces, they are likely to be seen as
claims hardly worth countenancing. At the root of such
hopeful visions of the interplay of media and public culture
2 Here, "power" indexes ability to determine situational
outcomes; "strength" indexes capacity for opportune situational
engagement. Power enables winning whatever "game" is being
played, be it social, economic, political or cultural. Winners are
accorded further power. Strength enables playing whatever
"game" is being played in such a way as to keep all players
interested and involved. Where power implies having relatively
greater freedom-of-choice than others, strength implies having
the resources needed for relating-freely with others.
 is the presupposition that the media and their underlying
technologies are essentially value-neutral—the conviction
that neither the media nor their technological infrastructure
in any way determine or prescribe their uses or their social,
economic, political and cultural effects.
In what follows, I hope to show that matters are not so
simple. Media, global markets and the technologies that
make them possible jointly express a sustained
commitment to values, intentions and practices—in
Buddhist terms, a karma—that occasions a complex of
outcomes and opportunities which poses particular
challenges to realizing the deepening capacitiesfor and
commitments-to equity and diversity that are at the heart of
Bhutan's GNH-oriented public policy.
Technology and Media
The crucial role of technological change in the emergence of
contemporary mass media is incontestable, and many media
historians and critics have rightly granted a central role in their
emergence to advances in communication technology. Most
obviously, technological change made avaUable vastly greater
powers both for the mass dupHcation of communications
content and for its geographically expanded mass distribution.
The leap of printed daUy and weekly newspapers from local to
regional and national scales of distribution, for example,
required both greatly increased unit production and greatly
expanded means of reHable and rapid automotive and raU
transportation. Radio broadcast, likewise, made possible vastly
amplified audiences for Hve pubHc commentary, music
performances, and both scripted and improvised dramatic
Less obviously, perhaps, but no less importantly, advances in
communications technology also enabled an expansion of the
sensory reach of the media and a radical extension of their
potential content. Abstract, nominaUy visual media Hke print
 were first augmented by Hthographic Ulustiations and still
photography that allowed the presentation of relevant visual
information/images and not just linguistic representations of
them. The advent of audio recording and broadcast radio
opened the sense of hearing to mass mediation. The invention of
motion picture film enabled mass kinesthesia and the inclusion
of gesture-based, non-verbal communication as media content.
Film, television, and more recently computer-based gaming
enable the merging of visual, audio and kinesthetic content to
bring about potentials for mass-mediated emotional stimulation
and interactive imagination. Although we are perhaps decades
away from fuU-sensorium mass media, that is certainly the
dream of those pushing the communication technology
envelope: the creation of convincingly "real" mass-mediated
virtual environments.
The contemporary scale and scope of mass media can, with
considerable plausibiHty, be seen as a direct result of
technological development. But technology itseH is not an
autonomous domain. Its development is closely allied, if not
essentiaUy aUoyed, with changes taking place in the social,
economic, poHtical and cultural dimensions of contemporary life
and, even more importantly, within emergent interdependencies
among them. Thus, while it is entirely natural to begin a
discussion of the impact of media on pubHc culture by reflecting
on technological conditions that have enabled them to take on
the shape and scale that they have, the discussion needs also to
take into account the larger, truly global patterns of historical
development in which the rise of mass media has played a
particularly complex and crucial role.
 Evaluating Technologies on the Basis of Tool Use: A
Category Mistake
As a crucial preliminary to this broader discussion, a key critical
distinction must be made between technologies and tools. Tools
are products of technological processes that can be adequately
evaluated individuaUy, on the basis of their intended, task-
specific utiHty. If tools do not work or work weU, they are
discarded, recycled or redesigned. Although tools are designed
with specific uses in mind, flexibiHty obtains in how they are
actuaUy used; adapting existing tools to new uses commonly
precedes the design and manufacture of new tools. Televisions,
DVD players, radios and internet-connected home computers
are among the more common consumer tools associated with
contemporary media; producer tools include audiovisual
recording equipment, disc manufacturing machinery, radio and
TV broadcast transmitters, and network routers and servers.
In contrast, technologies are complex aUoys of material and
conceptual practices that embody and propagate distinct
systems of strategic values. WhUe tools occupy relatively limited
and precisely located amounts of space, technologies consist of
emergent, value-laden flows of historicaUy-informed relationship
saturating wide swaths of the entire spectrum of human
endeavor. Technologies are not things that can, strictly speaking,
be said to exist—Hterally "standing apart" or "taking place" at
some particular point in space —in service of some task-specific
utiHty. Instead, technologies are indefinitely occurring events
resulting in the generation of new kinds of tasks and embodying
broad propensities for reaHzing certain kinds of world or lived
Unlike tools, technologies cannot be evaluated on the basis of
task-specific utiHty. Indeed, technologies cannot in any strict
sense be used at aU; instead, technologies are engaged in the
shared conception and promotion of particular interests or ends.
 Technological engagement means consoHdating specific patterns
of strategic valence. Thus, technologies—and the values they
propagate—can only be effectively evaluated in terms of how
they affect relational quality and the meaning of the
interdependencies they estabHsh among the personal, social,
political, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of
our situations as complex wholes. Somewhat surprisingly,
technologies must be criticaUy appraised in explicitly aesthetic,
moral and ethical terms.
Important rmpHcations attend the ontological difference
between tools as individuaUy existing things and technologies
as indefinitely occurring event flows. First, although one can
refuse to use particular tools and whatever advantages they
might bestow in carrying out particular tasks, there are no clear
"exit rights" from the effects of heavily deployed technologies.
Thus, even those people who elect not to own televisions cannot
entirely escape the effects of televised entertainment and news
consumption on pubHc and popular culture; people who elect
not to own and drive automobUes are nevertheless subjected to
the poUuted air, traffic gridlock and transformations of urban
space that attend heavUy deployed automotive transportation
technologies. The impacts of a given technology on relational
quaHty may be initiaUy greatest for intensive users of tools
associated with that technology, but eventuaUy these impacts
become effectively ubiquitous.
A second key rmpHcation is that whUe tools can persuasively be
depicted as simple problem-solvers, regardless of how many of
them are in use at any given time, this is not true of
technologies. Histories of technology suggest that scale
thresholds obtain beyond which further deployment of a given
technology begins generating ironic consequences or problems
of the type that only this technology or its close relatives can
apparently address. These ironic (or "revenge") effects
demonstrate the faUacy in assuming that what is good for each
 of us will be good for aU.3 They also demonstrate that
technologies emerge as higher order complex systems4 on the
basis of novel compositions of lower level systems of knowledge
and material practice in novel ways, while at the same time
exerting "downward causation" on such component systems to
bring them into better functional conformity with their own
higher order needs and values.5
3 For a thorough discussion of ironic consequences, see Peter D.
Hershock, Reinventing the Wheel: A Buddhist Response to the
Information Age, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,
4 To clarify the force of this claim, let me distinguish among
simple, complicated and complex systems or phenomena. Simple
systems—for example, an automobile engine or a notebook
computer—comprise relatively few inert parts or variables. Their
behavior can be understood in linear causal terms and can be
accurately predicted and controlled as a sum of the capacities of
their component parts. Complicated systems—for example,
ocean currents or traffic flows in a large city—are composed of
large numbers of simple, interacting, and yet non-adaptive,
parts or variables. Although the behavior of individual parts
cannot be accurately determined or controlled, the overall
behavior of complicated systems remains limited to a sum of the
capacities of their simple, component parts and can be predicted
and controlled in probabilistic or statistical terms. By contrast,
complex systems—for example, living organisms and societies—
comprise significant numbers of interacting and dynamically
adaptive parts or variables. Complex systems do not simply
aggregate the characteristics of their component sub-systems.
Instead, they express qualitatively distinct, recursively-
structured orders that are capable of generating novel behaviors,
actively incorporating histories of the situational outcomes of
their own behaviors to shape present and future behavior. In
sum, complex systems are both auto-poetic (self-making) and
novogenous (novelty-generating).
5 The notion of "downward causation" is explored at length in
Peter Bogh Andersen with Claus Emmeche, Niels Ole
Finnemann and Peder Voetmann Christiansenet edited,
Downward   Causation:    Minds,    Bodies,    and   Matter,   Aarhus
 Confusing tools and technologies, coUapsing the important
ontological differences between them, is to commit a
particularly ominous category mistake, especiaUy if one errs on
the side of considering critical assessments of tools to be the
equivalent of criticaUy assessing the technologies from which
they are derived. In effect, that is to exempt technologies from
any appropriate critical regard at aU.
Mass Media as Complex Technological Phenomena,
not Complicated Tools
The term "mass media" was first used in the 1920s with the
advent of national radio broadcasts in the U.S., marking a close
association of media with technology that continues to the
present day. "Mass media" is now generaUy used to refer a
range of technology-enabled communication systems including:
print pubHshing (newspapers, magazines and books); electronic
broadcast (radio and television, but now also computer-based
podcasts); the internet; and computer games. These media
categories are associated with a range of purposes including:
journaHsm (the provision of news and information); advocacy
(the provision of social, poHtical and business/economic
perspectives and propaganda); entertainment (the provision of
sensory and aesthetic stimulation); pubHc service (e.g.,
organizing disaster reHef); and education.
The aUgnment of mass media with technology that is evidenced
by standard categorizations of the media reflects how the media
are appraised, especiaUy in terms of their impact on the
dynamics of the pubHc sphere. Unfortunately, however, the
media have not been understood and appraised as truly
complex technological phenomena. Rather, they have been
treated as merely compHcated tools that can be evaluated in
terms of how weU they serve the distinct purposes for which
University Press, Arhus: 2000
 they are used. In essence, the effects of mass mediation have
most often been assumed to be a simple, combined function of
the intentions of those using the media —either as profit seeking
producers or enjoyment or information seeking consumers —
and the content that mass media deHver. Consequently, the
pubHc impacts of the media typicaUy have not been assessed
comprehensively—as I have argued should be the case for any
technological phenomena—in terms of how they affect relational
quaHty and the meaning or directedness of the
interdependencies they foster.
Seeing the media as tools has deflected critical attention away
from the media themselves to the commodified goods and
services passing through them and the reasons that they do so.
ParaUeHng the popular argument wielded by the proponents of
the right to bear arms —"guns don't kUl, people do"—the media
are generaUy held to lack any intiinsicaUy determined effects on
pubHc culture. Whether the media have good or Ul effects on
society depends strictly on who is using them and why.
In sum, mass media for the most part have been criticaUy
regarded as an essentiaUy neutral interface between media
users—a means of transmitting messages and not
communicative systems expressing and/or propagating
meanings of their own. Media ethics has thus tended to
concentrate on estabHshing codes of professional conduct for
those generating media content (most prominently investigative
reporters, newscasters, journalists and book authors); on
buUding systems for regulating media production and
marketing (often reflecting stances on censorship and worries
about market monopolies); and on discerning if, how, and in
what way specific program contents affect individual media
consumers (e.g., the effects of violent cartoon programs on
young viewers)
To be sure, the intentions of media users (both producers and
 consumers) and the communicative content Unking them do
make a difference in how the media affect popular culture, as
well as other dimensions of the pubHc sphere. The importance of
program content is evidenced, for example, in strong
correlations between the consumption of violent media and
social violence.6 The proven success of mass mediated
advertising and the successful use of television as a propaganda
tool in—to illustrate both ends of the "propaganda" spectrum—
both Hitler's Germany and contemporary American presidential
election campaigns leaves Httle doubt as to the relevance of
intention in the pubHc impact of the media. Nevertheless, the
effects of program content and producer/consumer intent do
not exhaust the full range of media effects on the dynamics of
the public sphere. Indeed, granted that technologies arise as
complex and value-laden relational flows that pervade both the
personal and the pubHc spheres, and that their effects are not
restricted to those making direct use of tools associated with
them, it may weU be criticaUy counterproductive to focus
exclusively on media users —those whose communication and
information needs are being adequately met, and perhaps
shaped, by the increasingly refined tools of mass mediation.
In the foUowing section, I want to sketch out the relational
terrain Unking mass media and market economics. The point of
this is to open for consideration the possibility that, as important
as   the   mediating  effects   of  content  and  intent  are,   they
6 A summary of scientific findings on media and violence, as well
as media misinformation about these findings, can be found in
Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson, "Media Violence and
the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media
Misinformation," in the American Psychologist, June/ July 2001.
An interesting work focused on the role of unconscious imitation
in media consumption is Susan Hurley's "Bypassing Conscious
Control: Media Violence, Unconscious Imitation, and Freedom of
Speech," in Does Consciousness Cause Behaviour? An
Investigation ofthe Nature of Volition, edited by S. Pockett, W.
Banks, and S. Gallagher, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.
 ultimately may be dwarfed by the systemic effects of the media
as complex, value-laden technological phenomena that have
emerged through, and helped to both sustain and direct, a
particular pattern of interdependencies among modern (and
now postmodern) social, economic, poHtical, and cultural
practices and forces.
The Bigger Picture: Market Realities and the
Emergence and Flourishing of the Media
It has been said that the only thing more certain to hamper the
advance of critical understanding than generaHzations is the
faUure to make them. The aerial views afforded by
generaHzations are notoriously short on detaU, passively
obliterating differences that at ground level may be profoundly
important. At the same time, however, their broader horizons
make possible both a significant expansion of what might be
considered relevant and an almost paradoxical sharpening of
detaU with respect to large-scale patterns. Comprehensively and
criticaUy understanding mass media and their current and
potential shaping of pubHc culture requires systematicaUy
reckoning with how the media's historical evolution has affected
and been affected by large-scale patterns of development
outside of the communication sector. Adopting such an aerial
perspective on the media wUl mean glossing over important
differences in how mass media have emerged and become
woven into the fabric of day-to-day life in various parts of the
world.7 But at the same time, it will enable shedding critical
Hght on whether those dHferences might — or might not—be able
truly to make a dHference in how 21st century media affect
pubHc culture.
Within the overaU patterns of events constituting the historical
7 For a collection of essays exploring such differences, see James
Curran and Myung-Jin Park, edited, De-Westernizing Media
Studies, NewYork: Routledge, 2000.
 "terrain" out of which contemporary media have emerged, I
want to concentrate on four main features. These are: 1] the
growth of national and global institutions aligned with such
modern values as universality, equaHty, autonomy, pluraHty,
tolerance, precision and control, which fostered; 2] the
concurrent evolution of a globaUy integrated economic system
that has successfuUy commodrfied virtuaUy every aspect of
human subsistence, thereby; 3] chaUenging and dissolving
traditional socio-cultural roles, practices and identities,
especiaUy those related to direct, mutual contribution to shared
weUare, to; 4] greatly expand experiential freedoms-of-choice
and systematicaUy support the fashioning of globaUy profitable
elective identities and communities, ironicaUy compromising
both capacities-for and commitments-to relating freely in the
reaHzation of a truly diverse and environmentaUy enriching
pubHc sphere.
Modernity and the Advent of a Global Market
Among the most prominent and significant features of global
history over the past half millennium have been the ideological
and institutional triumph of modernity and the consolidation of
globaUy integrated market activities. Understanding how
contemporary media affect pubHc culture involves coming to see
how the media have been rmpHcated in expanding the scope of
market activity, but also in quaHtatively altering the critical
purchase and practical traction of modern values, inculcating
postmodern sensitivities-to and celebrations-of difference in a
technologicaUy enabled reconciHation of tensions between the
values of autonomy and equaHty.
In his book, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity,
Stephen Toulmin has argued masterfuUy against the long
received view that the birth of modernity and its displacement
of Renaissance humanism and skepticism resulted from a kind
of immaculate conception—an intrinsicaUy generated shift of
 basic values and conceptual frameworks. To the contrary,
Toulmin makes the case that transitioning from the values and
concept clusters of Renaissance humanism and skepticism to
those characteristic of modern thought and institutions was of a
piece with equivalently radical shifts taking place in the social,
political, economic, cultural and technological domains. These
shifts, he maintains, occurred as systemic responses to a
confluence of stresses, within the pubHc sphere, that were
unique to 17th century Europe and that continued significantly
to affect the trajectory of global history through most of the 20th
No less practicaUy than theoreticaUy motivated, modernity
involved the interpretation of dHference as an expression of
contingency and the canonization of dichotomies asserting the
primacy of reason over emotion; of mind over body; of the
written over the oral; of the universal over the particular; the
general over the local; the timeless over the timely; and the
logical over the rhetorical. Modernization meant—and continues
to mean—change based upon the preeminence of a consteUation
of values including: universaHty, autonomy, equaHty,
sovereignty, precision and control. These values ramified with
particularly apparent force in the realm of poHtics, setting in
motion nation-buUding processes that profoundly revised the
shape and quaHty of poHtical space. But, just as powerfuUy, they
transformed the dynamics of trade and development.
Global trade is not a strictly modern phenomenon. A quUted
pattern of exchange relations linked, for example, imperial
China and imperial Rome from as early as the 1st century CE.
But global trade began undergoing a series of technologicaUy
and ideologicaUy driven shifts in the 16th century that, over the
succeeding three hundred years would bring about the
reaHzation of a truly global market economy through which
almost aU natural and industrial resources were commodrfied
and put into worldwide circulation. Among the key values
 inscribed in and prescribed by these shifts have been: control,
competition, convenience and choice.
It is useful to identify four major periods in the reaHzation of
contemporary global markets: the period of colonial economics
that prevaUed from the 16 to the 19th centuries; the period of
development economics that developed from the 19th century
through roughly three quarters of the 20th century; the
information economy that assumed global primacy over the last
decades of the 20th century; and, most recently, the subtle
emergence of a media-sustained attention economy.8 These four
periods can associated with technologicaUy triggered efficiencies
that dissolved geographic and temporal constraints on the
expansion of market scale and content, making possible: 1] the
successive commodification natural resources, labor,
information and attention; and, 2] the successive extension of
power over the production and flow of goods, consumption,
knowledge /human capital, and a sense of belonging or
An important turning point in this process occurred in the late
19th century. By this time, markets of truly global reach were
fast maturing, resulting in shortfaUs in the velocity of
consumption required to sustain economic growth. Theorists
like Thorstein Veblen were, by the end of the century, noting
that expanding markets mandate expanding consumer bases
and that limits exist as to how far this expansion can be driven
by falling prices associated with efficiencies in production and
transportation. Sustaining growth meant continuously
increasing the absolute range of goods and services placed into
global circulation. Beyond a certain scale threshold, the growth
of overaU market activity can only be stably reaHzed through
8 I have described these transitions and their wider contexts in:
Reinventing the Wheel (op. cit.) nd in Buddhism in the Public
Sphere: Reorienting Global Interdependence, London:
Routledge/Curzon, 2006, especially, Chapter 3.
 accelerating rates of consumption. In short, maximaUy extended
market reach produces powerful imperatives to maximize
market density, incorporating entirely new populations (e.g.,
children) and new commodities (e.g., entertainment) within the
scope of market exchanges.
In effect, increasing the density of market activities involved the
generation of needs and problems that might be addressed by
new, market-designed and market-deHvered goods and services.
Under the aegis of added convenience and expanded freedoms-
of-choice, market growth came to be sustained by systematicaUy
finding fault with the familiar and traditional. Homemade soap,
for example, was faulted for being "un-hygienic" —produced by
rendering animal fat wastes —and far inferior to the scientifically
engineered and "pure" cleaning agents produced by the
chemical industry. By the mid-20th century, novelty itseU had
been elevated to the status of a selling point. Particularly in the
U.S., accelerated consumption was successfully sold to the
pubHc as a means of bringing "the future" into every home and
Two major consequences of increasingly dense market activity
can be noted here. First, economic growth becomes coupled to
deepening dissatisfaction with things as they have come to be.
In Buddhist terms, this can be seen as the systematic creation of
an economy of dissatisfaction rooted in the production of
papanca or the proliferation of situational blockages — the
steadily expanding experience of disappointment, trouble and
suffering (dukkha). Secondly, economic growth becomes
proportionate to a tightening of the consumption-to-waste cycle,
which translates into decreasing opportunities for directly
appreciating or adding value either to the goods and services
one purchases or to one's situation as a whole. Beyond certain
thresholds of market reach and density, growth has a corrosive
effect on relational quaHty. This effect is most severe for the
poor, who are deprived in relative, H not absolute, terms of the
 resources and imagination needed for investment. Economic
growth, in these terms, becomes systematicaUy impoverishing.9
Mass media have played a crucial role in making this kind of
economic growth possible. Technological advances in industrial
production and transportation had, by the beginning of the 20th
century, enabled the commodification of basic, material
subsistence needs: food, clothing and shelter. Over the course of
the century, the needs for medical care, education, sensory
stimulation and a sense of belonging or meaning were
successfuUy subjected to marketization. Mass media were
important throughout this process. They served first as a means
of advertising goods and services and creating new kinds of
needs. Later, they served as forums for broadly shaping and
setting popular agendas for pubHc poHcy. FinaUy, they began
functioning as almost universaUy avaUable conduits for
marketing/distributing sensory, imaginary and inteUectual
stimulation in the form of news and entertainment products and
pr o gramming. 10
The development of commerciaUy viable, electronic mass
communication, from mid-20th century onwards, was especiaUy
important in bringing about both quantitative and qualitative
shHts in the relationship among media, expanding market reach
9 I have presented this argument in greater detail in: "Poverty
Alleviation: A Buddhist Perspective," Journal of Bhutan Studies,
Volume 11, Winter 2004, pp. 33-67.
i° It should be noted, here, that I am working with a Buddhist-
inspired understanding of subsistence needs as those
"nutriments" required for sustaining human beings as persons-
in-community. It is part of the basic, Buddhist worldview that
human beings have six sense organs and associated ranges and
qualities of consciousness: the visual, auditory, gustatory,
olfactory, tactile and mental. Thus, intellectual stimulation is, in
Buddhist terms, a form of sensory stimulation. Concepts and
ideas are, for us, a kind of "food"—a nutriment without which it
is impossible to lead fully human lives.
 and density, and the erosion of personal and communal
resources and opportunities for contributing directly and
significantly to sustainably shared weUare. Here, let me draw
attention to four phases or aspects of this complex process.
First, because electronic communications technologies were
instrumental in opening up possibilities for mass producing and
mass marketing auditory and visual experiences, they
effectively enabled mass media to circumvent the literacy hurdle
presented by print media and, in some degree, to perforate the
language barriers that had hitherto segregated national media
markets. Among the most readily apparent outcomes of this
capacity of mass media to penetrate markets worldwide was the
emergence of global pop music.
Secondly, these new technologies also made possible the
penetration of mass media into the Hves of barely Hterate and
pre-Hterate populations, especiaUy chUdren. The affects of
television program content and advertising on chUdren's desires
and expectations — and subsequently, famUy consumption
patterns —has been nothing short of profound.
Thirdly, these new technologies made possible the marketing of
ephemeral goods — experiences or sensory stimulation as such—
that radicaUy collapsed the consumption-to-waste cycle and
habituated media consumers to a diet of virtuaUy unbroken
product streams. An importantly aspect of this was the market-
driven development of user-friendly, inexpensive and highly
portable media tools (e.g., the original Sony Walkman and the
new I-Pod) that allowed the consumption of mass media to be
effectively freed from spatial/geographic constraints. It became
practicaUy possible to consume media products virtuaUy
anytime, anywhere.
FinaUy, the flood of cheap, new media tools combined with
niche marketed media content to fabulously expand consumers'
 freedoms-of-choice in managing the content of their (mass-
mediated) experience. In effect, this dissolved tensions between
the values of autonomy (acting in one's own individual interest)
and equaHty (the combination of dHference with an absence of
expHcit hierarchy). Internet technologies, in particular, made
possible the realization of a virtual pubHc sphere in which—at
least as claimed by some cyberspace visionaries —every
individual can exercise the right to pursue whatever he or she
means by Hberty and happiness, making a difference for himself
or herseU without necessarUy making a dHference to anyone
else. The widely recognized "digital divide" of inequitable
access to computer-mediated information and opportunity is
one shadow of free market media; the digital divide or gap that
allows individual user choices to occur in almost complete
isolation is, in terms of pubHc culture, an even deeper and more
dangerous shadow—a direct threat to diversity understood as a
function of mutual contributions to sustainably shared weUare.
 Mass Media and the Global Market Sustaining Export
of Attention
If the media are viewed as (or, at least, in terms of) tools that are
used and evaluated by individuals, these "effects" of
commerciaUy viable mass media can easUy be regarded in a
quite positive Hght. For any individual, having more choices, for
example, regarding the content of their day-to-day experiences
is certainly better than have fewer choices or none at aU.
Whether mass mediated experience is of higher, lower or
equivalent quality to unmediated experience is, arguably,
simply a matter of personal opinion or debate. And, as proved
by the use of the internet to organize social and poHtical
activism (e.g., the movement advocating alternatives to free
market globaHzation), or by the proHferation of non-mainstream
sources of information and analysis (Hke Z-Net or the blogging
phenomenon), the tools that have been used to buUd global
markets can also be used to take them to task.
However, H mass media are understood as technological
phenomena or strategically structured flows of events, then it is
entirely possible that the sum of aU individual stories about
media use will still not teU us much—at least, not much that is
criticaUy relevant—about media effects on public culture.
CriticaUy engaging mass media requires keeping the bigger
relational pattern in mind. To this end, I want to look at
attention itseU as a form of capital—indeed, the single most
important form of capital for realizing diverse and caring
communities, but also one that is circulated by and essential to
the "health" of the global market economy.
It is often assumed that the overaU viability of (especially)
electronicaUy deHvered, commercial mass media is a function of
how weU the costs of producing and marketing media
commodities are offset by income from their purchase and
consumption.   With   media   like   recorded   music   or   cable
 television, unit charges for individual products or time-based
charges for access to product streams are a major source of
income; for media like broadcast radio and television—which
supply media goods (program content) without any direct
charges to consumers — costs are largely recouped, and profit
generated, through advertising sales and related product spinoffs. The dynamics of the information economy are, in fact, very
much dependent upon such processes in which flows of
information and opinion intermingle to form immaterial
attractors for both production and consumption.
Yet, mass media play a much more important role in global
economics than that of generating product- or program-
mediated monetary transfers. At present scales of media
penetration, made possible in large part by technological
efficiencies that have aUowed media consumption to become
highly individualized, as weU as nearly ubiquitous, mass media
are habituating entire populations to diets of virtuaUy unbroken
streams of ephemeral entertainment, information and news.
This signals a systematic and significant export of attention out
of the environments within which mass media are consumed —
homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, communities, and
so on. Because this export is occurring in the context of rapidly
evolving, postindustrial institutions, it does not result in
obvious, large and lasting accumulations of attention capital.
The export of attention from here does not result in its apparent
import elsewhere; it is the entire system of the global free
market economy that benefits from the flight and circulation of
attention capital.
Critics of mass media have almost exclusively linked the ill-
effects of mass media on family life, personal development and
pubHc culture to specific—most notably, violent or sexuaUy
charged—program content, and these links are quite real.ll But
n It should be noted that the causality linking media program
content and society is not linear, but complex and network-like.
 the most widely spread and relationaUy powerful effects of mass
mediation center on their role in distracting attention from local
environments and placing it into contingently structured global
circulation. Simply stated, time spent consuming mass market
media is time not spent attending to the needs of one's famUy,
home, neighborhood or local community. In countries with
mature media markets —the U.S. is, perhaps, the best, though
not necessarily most extreme, example —time spend in media
consumption now exceeds a per capita average of 6 hours per
day.12 This is time not spent developing new relational
capabilities, not acquiring new skiUs or refining existing ones,
not passing on personal or cultural traditions, and not making
use of locally avaUable resources to meet other basic human
needs by, for example: cooking, designing and making clothes,
buUding or repairing one's home, caring for the ill, inspiring and
refining learning activities, creating new works of art, music,
dance and drama, or participating in public debate, poHcy
formation, or democratic governance. Hi Buddhist terms, mass
media consumption functions as an asrava or effluence of
attention-energy into activities that—whatever personal
enjoyment or sense of freedom they afford—are relationaUy
The linkages are, in other words, correlative—a function of
interdependencies and not one of independent 'causes'
producing dependent 'effects.' The policy failure (or irrelevance)
of research that is critical of the interplay of mass media and
society is itself very much a function of the rarity with which one
can find a "smoking gun" in media content.
i2 Americans spend, on average, 4.5 hours per day watching
television. Internet use stands at about 12-15 hours per week.
Statistics for radio, video-game, magazine, newspaper and
recorded music consumption are not readily available, but
surely add significantly to the total. Even allowing that some
media—like radio, MP3 products and podcasts—can be
consumed while engaged (at least superficially) in other
activities, it is quite conservative to estimate the Americans
devote roughly one-third to one-half of their waking hours to
media consumption.
 polluting or wasteful.13
It must be stressed, again, that the Ul effects of mass media on
pubHc culture and the appreciation (or sympathetic resonance
with and adding of value to) local environments are not a direct
function of media content. Attention is exported just as
powerfuUy by so-caUed pubHc broadcasting, documentaries,
and locaUy produced news or entertainment as it is by
commercial, global media. It must also be stressed that a
significant, cumulative effect of massively exported attention
wUl be an increasing reHance and, eventuaUy, dependence on
market designed and market deHvered, non-media
commodities. That is, time spent in media consumption
effectively mandates the consumption of goods and services that
otherwise might have been personaUy produced (and, perhaps,
traded). Mounting reHance/dependence on market produced
goods and services leads, first, to a professionaHzing of the
means of production for meeting these needs, then to the
erosion of local production ecologies, and, finaUy, to a
consoHdation of highly mobUe, profitably rationaHzed global
production monocultures.14
From one perspective, this be seen as a means of opening up
economic opportunity —fostering a transition from a world of
locaUy made and used crafts to one of globaUy circulating
commodities. Recommending such a transition is a marked
increase in the number of choices avaUable with respect to
meeting basic needs, but also—at least at certain points in the
process of transition—a general increase of quaHty with respect
to specific goods and services. But, this same process can be seen
as   trading-off   or   forfeiting   high   productive   diversity   for
13 It is worth noting that, particularly in early Buddhism, the
elimination of asrava was identified with the attainment of
ultimate freedom—the realization of liberation from trouble and
14 See, for example, Buddhism in the Public Sphere, Chapter 3.
 heightened consumption variety—acquiescence to the seductive
mandates of consumerism. As the attention economy matures —
albeit with considerable unevenness at aU geographic scales —
there occurs a proliferation of dHferences associated, for
example, with the development of niche markets and new
domains for the exercise of choice. There is not, however, a
comparable enhancement of capacities-for and commitments-to
making a difference. Indeed, an important outcome of the
individuation of media tool use that fuels the attention economy
is a shrinking of active opportunities either to dUfer-with or
drffer-for others.
Beyond a certain threshold of complexity, global market growth
has the downward causal effect of producing populations in
need. Consumer needs now span the fuU spectrum of
subsistence, including: food, clothing and shelter, medical care,
education, sensory stimulation, meaning-making and a sense of
belonging. Mass media consumption, by exporting attention
capital from homes, neighborhoods and local communities,
plays an indispensable role in the deepening of consumer
neediness.15 The complex pattern of values-intentions-actions
(karma) informing global market economics and the emergence
of the attention economy yields conditions in which increasing
opportunities for exercising freedoms-of-choice are coupled
with lowering opportunities for relating freely in the satisfaction
of our own needs and in contributing aptly to others.
Ivan IUich's insight that the commodification of subsistence
needs invariably leads to the institutionaHzation of a new classes
15 Among the most striking demonstrations of this neediness is
the epidemic of boredom afflicting much of global youth—a
generation that can only with great difficulty bear being "alone"
or present in a way that is not technologically or commodity
mediated. The need they experience is not just to be entertained
or to be present virtually with others, but to be entertained or
networked with increasing variety and speed.
 of the poor is, here, of signal relevance. By effectively making
sensory stimulation, meanmg-making and sense of belonging
commodrfied services to which pubHc has ready access, the
complex dynamics of the attention economy engender a pubHc
in need of such services. Simply stated, the growth dynamics of
the attention economy are relationaUy impoverishing.
Mass Mediation and the Conversion of Environmental
Places to Locations
It is not possible to accelerate rates of consumption, especiaUy of
goods and services aimed at meeting, as weU as stimulating,
needs for sensory stimulation, meaning and a sense of
belonging, without intensHying dissatisfaction with present
circumstances. Empirical studies on happiness or perceived
well-being suggest that a threshold exists, beyond which further
consumption and accumulation of material "wealth" do not
enhance perceived weU-being. On the contrary, evidence
suggests that accelerating consumption—or tightening the
consumption-to-waste cycle —at some point begins negatively
affecting perceived well-being.
Buddhist teachings on karma and consciousness are particularly
useful in understanding this inverse correlation of increasing
"wealth accumulation" with a decreasing sense of weU-being.
The Buddhist teaching of karma can, for present purposes, be
summarized as enjoining insight into the meticulous consonance
that obtains between values-intentions-actions and the play of
experienced outcomes and opportunities. Put somewhat
differently, the teaching of karma encourages reaHzing that we
have intimate relationships with the environments in which we
find ourselves and with all that takes place therein.16 The
16 The karma of global markets and the various economies—
colonial, development, information and attention—that
historically have been associated with them is, undoubtedly, a
complex function of many generations of intentional activity,
informed by historically and culturally distinct constellations of
 consumption of mass-produced, globally marketed commodities
to meet aU of our basic needs, rather than personaUy or locaUy
crafting them, alters these relationships. This is especiaUy the
case with mass media, which serve the dual purpose of
providing desirable experiences while extracting attention from
consumers' immediate environments.
As noted earHer, shifting from a world dominated by craft to
one of commodities is not necessarUy a bad thing. The
avaUabUity of fruit and vegetables throughout the year can (but,
as is weU know, need not) enhance physical weU-being. What is
crucial, from a karmic perspective, are the values-intentions-
actions in accordance with which our relationships with our
environments are altered. As a crucial part of the global market
economy, in addition to their expHcit content, mass media also
promulgate a particular complex of values and, in order to be
profitable, must also systematicaUy affect patterns of intention
and action. The pivotal values embodied within global market
operations are competition, control, convenience and choice.
Mass media are competitive to the degree that they are able to
attract and, finaUy, extract attention—that is, the degree to
which the consumption of media commodities supplants other
practices for meeting the basic human needs of sensory
stimulation and a sense of belonging and meaning. What the
media offer is convenience, a nearly infinite array of choices, and
values, flowing together in the gradual articulation of globally
shared practices and institutions. Just as doubtlessly, however,
close ties obtain between the patterns of inequity and
impoverishment associated with contemporary scales and
depths of globalization and the distinctive modern and market
values that have largely shaped its dynamics—in particular:
control, competition, choice, autonomy, equality and
universality. Human history is always a function of both
intention-rich personal karma and
collective/cultural/communal karma in which intentional is of
largely generic importance and in which the force of values is,
accordingly, much more prominent.
 almost complete, individual control over the contents of
AU of these values have HabUities in terms of the cycHc pattern
of outcomes/opportunities that they generate. Consider choice.
Choices, in contrast with commitments, do not imply sustained
involvement. One chooses between two or more things, courses
of action or experiences. Although it is possible only to choose
one out of any given range of things, actions or experiences, all
of them are equivalent as intentional objects that are subject to
being chosen. We do not have an intimate relationship with
what we can choose, but rather an entirely contingent one. A
world in which we have an almost infinite array of choices — like
that offered by contemporary global media —is a world of things
that we can instantly possess; it is not a world to which we
belong, a world to which we give our hearts. The karma of
continuously expanding our freedoms-of-choice is then a karma
for being free to not belong, to not commit, to not contribute as
needed; it is not a karma for enhancing our capacities-for and
commitments to relating freely.
A distinctive feature of Buddhist thought is that consciousness is
understood as a quaHty of relationship constituted by and
encompassing the interplay of sentient beings and their
environments. That is, consciousness arises between and
quaHtatively integrates sentient organisms and their supporting,
sensible environments. From this, it foUows that degraded
environments are necessarily correlated with degraded patterns
of consciousness. It foUows, as weU, that degradations of
consciousness — defined genericaUy, here, as an attenuation of
attentive virtuosity (samadhi) or the capacity for sustained,
concentrated and yet flexibly responsive awareness—wUl also
necessarily result in environmental degradations. Degradations
of consciousness wiU eventuaUy result in being less and less well
or valuably situated.
 This, in fact, is the particular pattern of outcome/opportunity
that is associated with the controUed satisfaction of wants or
needs: the better we get at getting what we want, the better we
wiU get at wanting; but the better we get at wanting, the better
we will get at getting what we want, only we won't want what
we get. To get good at getting what we want, we must be left
continuously wanting. Likewise, the karmic cycle of control
rmpHcates us in finding ourselves in situations that are not only
increasingly open to control, but also in apparent need of it. The
abiHty readily to determine experiential outcomes leads to a
systematic depreciation of being where and as we have come to
be. This, in a nutsheU, is what results, karmicaUy, from the
convenient, choice-rich and control-bestowing consumption of
globaUy circulating mass media commodities. There is a point
beyond which the export of attention from our immediate
situation brings a mounting degradation of our environment.17
The Buddhist teaching of karma enjoins seeing that
environments are always 'mine' or 'yours' or 'ours.' As the
relational understanding of consciousness stresses, we
ultimately are continuous with—indeed, infused by —our
environments. Environments are places in which we have a
place —they are an expression of what we mean by being
sentient. Consuming mass media is an act of displacement. Mass
mediation displaces our attention, removes it from where we
have come to be. Mass media aUow locating ourselves
elsewhere. Hi doing so, they render contingent —a matter of
choice—both where we have come to be and who we have come
to be along the way. The media aUow us to choose,
experientiaUy, where we are and who we are, at the cost of
reducing our current place to but one among an infinite array of
locations or spaces that we might occupy H we wish. The natural
world, once home, becomes a genericaUy shared context for
17 I have discussed at length, elsewhere, how the consumption of
contemporary mass media qualitatively affects consciousness
(see, in particular, Reinventing the Wheel, Part III).
 choice. It ceases being the place where, together, we aU belong.
Under the regime of consumption that is mandated by the
market-driven attention economy, there is Httle time left for
immediate and sustained appreciation of famUy and friends, of
the day's weather and the advance of the seasons, or of the
subtle presences that distinguish houses from homes. If there is
no time for appreciating what is most nearby —the Hved
environments of the home, the community, the viUage and the
urban center, but also in the environments within which
economic and poHtical activity is directly undertaken—there is
even less time for attending to the natural processes without
which nothing human ever could have come to be. And, while
the effects of degraded consciousness wiU be most apparent in
the disintegration of homes and neighborhoods and senses of
felt community, they are ultimately horizonless and affect every
scale of environment from the most ultimate to the most global.
The looming prospect of human-triggered climate change is a
singularly troubling case in which quaHtatively deficient
patterns of human consciousness have had a corrosive effect on
planetary health.
Bhutanese Public Culture, Environmental
Conservation and the Media
It has been argued thus far that errant or troubling patterns of
relationship have come to obtain among mass media and global
market economies, resulting in systematic compromises of
attentive virtuosity and diversity, at every scale, and in every
domain, of the pubHc sphere. This pattern of compromised
diversity extends beyond the pubHc sphere to affect even the
ecological systems comprised in the biosphere as a whole.
Nevertheless, the critical perspective from which this argument
has been forwarded also aUows asking whether there might be a
scale or depth of media penetration that is compatible with, for
example, Bhutan's policy of development committed to the
 promotion of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Is it possible to
make use of media tools to further the evolution of Bhutanese
pubHc culture and environmental conservation, without
opening the Bhutanese population to the neo-coloniaHsm of the
attention economy? Or, put in more operational terms, how
does one determine the utiHty threshold beyond which mass
media —as complex technological phenomena—begin producing
the conditions of their own necessity?
The second of these questions is more easUy answered. One
cannot determine, in advance, the precise level of deployment at
which a technology crosses the threshold of its own utiHty. It is
not possible to predict when a technology wiU begin spawning
problems of the sort that only it (or related technologies) can
solve. Technologies are complex phenomena, and while they
may exhibit quite typical histories or patterns of development,
they are also capable of behaving in ways that could not have
been anticipated. There is no amount of empirical data that will
make it possible to know in advance when mass media will
cross the line, in any given society, from just providing
entertainment, news, and a sense of meaning or belonging, to
generating intensHying needs for (or perceived lacks of) them.
It might be objected that media history, of sufficient scope, can
surely afford useful insights, H not accurate predictions, in
regard to the conditions for such a crossover. Unfortunately,
history never repeats itseU precisely. In a world of increasingly
complex social, economic, poHtical, cultural and technological
interdependence, it is not just that no particular "history" is ever
repeated, the very rules of history are being constantly
The first decades of television consumption that were
experienced in the U.S. or Europe will never be repeated
because more recently developed media complexes in other
societies have simply leapt over them. In many Asian countries,
 for example, ceUphones with extended functions like image
transfer and email capabilities have aUowed leapfrogging over
the era of building extensive land line infrastructure; access to
television programming by satelHte dishes preceded (or made
irrelevant) antenna-based, national broadcasting; direct
downloading of music and films from the world-wide-web and
a vibrant trade in (often bootlegged or UlegaUy reproduced)
DVDs and VCDs has enabled the mushrooming, virtuaUy
overnight, of consumer markets across the region that are
accustomed to viewing the latest Hollywood, BoUywood or
Hong Kong films within days of their official, theatrical releases.
The postmodern realties of "time-space compression"—most
incisively analyzed by David Harvey in his book, The Condition
of Postmodernity — do not, however, only affect macro-level
phenomena like technology transfer and global flows of
production/consumption. Compare the sensory diets of the
present generation of world leaders, born in the 1950s or earHer,
with that of children today, especiaUy during the first six to
eight years of life, when basic enculturation and personaHty
formation take place.
Consider the effects, first, of a shift from engaging in mass
media consumption for, at most, a few hours a week to doing so
a few hours per day, and the associated lack of time spent in
shared play and other social activities that encourage, not only
skill in improvised communication, rule-making and joint
imagination, but also criticaUy appraised reasoning and
emotional maturation.
Consider, next, the pervasive violence, physical, verbal and
emotional, that characterizes so much of, for example, so-caUed
children's television.18 Consider the product placement and
18 The average American child, turning eighteen this year, will
have watched 11,000 murders, killings or rapes in the course of
his/her life in media consumption.
 consumption cues ingrained in television shows, films, books
and educational media targeted at young children, as weU as the
quick-cut editing and narrative discontinuities that condition the
nervous systems of young viewers to anticipate and eventually
"need" environments in which change is constant, rapid and
extreme. FinaUy, consider the computer and on-Hne games that
constitute a major global media for children and young people —
media that share aU the traits just enumerated and which
inculcate, in addition, a keen sense of competition and yearning
for control.
The effects of adding limited mass mediated experiences to the
sensory diet in the first generations exposed to global mass
media do not provide a basis for envisioning the effects of
contemporary media diets on today's children and youth. The
only certainty, at present, is that their sensory appetites and
understandings of meaning and belonging are being
systematically adapted to meet market imperatives for
accelerating media consumption and for proportionately
depreciating engagement with their immediate, natural and
social environments.
This suggests, at the very least, that Bhutanese public culture
and environmental poHcies wUl be served better by limited the
overaU time spent in media consumption, especially by children
and youth. The reaHties of Bhutan's steady integration into the
global economy, and its commitment to increasingly democratic
governance, prohibit accompHshing this by restrictive legislation
or by technologicaUy constiaining choices related to media
consumption. In fact, any attempt to exert control over the
pubHc's consumption of media or other globaUy circulating
commodities is Hkely to have the same ironic consequences that
are associated with control karma in general—a pattern of
outcome/opportunity in which mounting capacities for control
are inseparable from ever more intensely experienced needs for
 What is needed, instead, are poHcies and practices that wiU
enhance the sensitivities and sensibilities needed for the
Bhutanese people to realize the difference between taking
advantage of what global media offer and being taken
advantage of by them. They must, in other words, be weU
enough attuned to their own qualities of consciousness to
perceive the onset of a relationaUy degrading hemorrhage
(asrava) of attention from their own Hves and life circumstances,
and to have the wisdom and moral clarity to respond
accordingly. This wUl mean taking the time to make a dHference
in how the relationships constitutive of their immediate
situation are unfolding, sustainably appreciating or adding-
value to them, becoming, thereby, ever more valuably situated.
There are no set recipes for how to ready the Bhutanese (or any
other) people to avert the relational and environmental ravages
of steadUy accelerating rates of consumption and the erosion of
attentive resources needed to service a growing attention
economy. PubHc policy responses must themselves be
improvised in attimement with local conditions, as they have
come to be. Still, it is possible to spetify the overaU direction in
which pubHc poHcy must move in order to foster the
sensibilities and sensitivities needed to realize GNH enhancing
Simply stated, conditions must be created and maintained
within which each and every member of society is poised to
offer something distinctively to others. This means sufficiently
sustaining local ecologies of production to insure that each and
every person is not becoming increasingly needy —the result of
capitulation to the demands of market growth that radicaUy
compress the production-to-waste cycle and that engender
populations that are in almost continuous states of perceived
lack or want—but rather increasingly needed. To be a needed
person is enjoy kusala or virtuosity-developing capacities-for
 and commitments-to contributing to others. It is to enjoy the
bodhisattva karma of having ever more to offer to others, which
is also the karma of being ever more richly endowed and
valuably situated. PubHc poHcy must be oriented to the
accumulation, not of material wealth, but of the noble wealth
that results from skillfuUy demonstrating compassion, loving-
kindness, equanimity and joy in the good fortune of others.
Development along these lines involves conserving differences,
for the purpose of insuring the continued viability of each
member of a community to truly make a difference. It means
carefuUy recognizing the limited value of equaHty and the
supervening value of equity or fairness in the context of resolute
difference, thereby conserving the conditions needed for
reaHzing truly robust diversity or innovation-rich mutual
relevance throughout the pubHc sphere.
One concrete measure that can be taken to create opportunities
for reaHzing aestheticaUy rich and enriching pubHc spaces for
meeting the basic human needs for education, sensory
stimulation and a sense of meaning or belonging. Environments
like this are natural in the sense that they cannot be constructed
according to preordained plans; instead, they can only emerge
through the free interplay of those to whom spaces are
entrusted, within which they can assume an abiding place. The
privatization of experience and the creation of hybrid
private/pubHc spaces that are critical elements in the reaHzation
of a functioning attention economy must be resisted, but, in
order to be effective, the resistance must take the form of a
positive expression of common purpose and shared meaning-
making. Some forms of knowledge can be acquired in private.
Wisdom cannot. And yet, it is wisdom that is needed to promote
truly sustainable development and the reaHzation of truly
Hberating human and natural environments.


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