Crap detection = the process of ferreting out accurate information from inaccurate information, misinformation and disinformation. (Howard Rheingold, the author of Net Smart: How to Thrive Online provides an online mini course to help you develop your own “crap detector”).
When relating the process of “crap detection” to our digital media culture, it behooves us, as thinking and reasoning human beings to use our assessment and analysis skills to figure out if what we are seeing, hearing and reading is indeed factual. Does the information contain elements of truth or is it designed to purposely mislead us or to sway us in a particular direction?
The basic element of crap detection really is suspicion. One needs to think critically and not simply accept information that is presented “wrapped up pretty and tied with a bow”. Don’t be a lemming and just unquestioningly accept popular opinion. To quote those pioneer crap detectors, comedy duo Cheech and Chong, “Good thing we didn’t step in it”. Check it out. Use your sources to find out if “it” really is what “it” claims to be.
So it is with that nugget of knowledge that I wade into this week’s topic for my Gospel and Global Media Culture course at Luther Seminary; thinking about how to make credible judgements about authority, authenticity and agency in the context of controversial public issues. The example of mass incarceration in the United States is used to generate our discussion.
The United States has the largest penal system in the world and pumps billions of dollars annually into the entire incarceration system. There is much public promotion of the “War Against Drugs” and talk about being “tough on crime”. That’s the information that gets headlines. That’s what gets promoted to the public and to law makers, yet there is another side to the story that often gets overlooked or disregarded. That relates to many issues that accompany mass incarceration; disproportionate sentencing for the poor and racial minorities, lack of services for rehabilitation while incarcerated, lack of resources upon release, extremely high recidivism rates (so putting people in jail isn’t fixing the problem on a long-term basis), permanent restrictions on citizen rights (i.e. voting) and life-long branding as a convict that impede the ability to get a job and secure housing. (This Charley Rose segment provides credible background information on this topic).
The Charley Rose piece primarily addresses race and class issues regarding the African American population. I live in North Dakota, where only about 1% of the population is African American. But I do know about ethnic minorities being disproportionately represented in the penal system. The Native American population of North Dakota is about 5.5 %, yet up to 1/3 of youth in the ND foster care system are Native American and many of those children have records of delinquency. While there is a disproportionate incarceration of Native American youth, there is some hope that improvement is being seen with an increased focus upon restorative justice.
What does this mean for us as communities of faith? First of all, we must be made aware of the situation. Heart River Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation that worships on the campus of the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center provides an example of what it means to engage in ministry with those young people who are incarcerated and offer them hope for the future. One of the problems that they have identified in conversation with the incarcerated youth, is finding a supportive faith community once they are released from NDYCC. Heart River Bridges of Hope is an outreach and re-entry ministry on behalf of the ELCA and the whole Church to create such a community. (The photo below is from the Heart River Lutheran Church website).
In 2013, the churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will vote on a social statement on Criminal Justice. While it contains great information, the critical element of a social statement is not simply to have a document of declaration, but to garner action from the people of God. As leaders in the church, we have a responsibility to inform the people in the pews of larger issues in civil society in which we are called to serve our neighbor.