Many of us have had that strange experience where the media is suddenly interested in something about which we either have involvement or have direct knowledge. It is a strange exhilarating thing to see people on TV or at a major media site covering something or someone you know. In most cases, that moment of exhilaration is then followed by a brief moment of confusion, then irritation and then maybe anger. Without fail, no matter how simple the topic, the media will get the important parts wrong in some way.
My first experience with this was in the early days of the internet. This was right around when the first ISP’s were mailing people diskettes with offers to try this new thing called the internet. I was on a sports statistics mailing list and somehow the local news got wind that there was a “secret cable operating on the dark internet.” Apparently, someone showed one of the lunkheads an e-mail from the list and they reacted as if they witnessed black magic. Whatever the cause, it was suddenly a media story.
The person assigned to “report” on this secret cabal on the dark internet went on television and said a bunch of things that were obviously not true. In fact, it was clear to me the person had made the whole thing up. What was fascinating to me is they made up some anecdotes to add color to their tale. In other words, this was not just laziness, but a calculated decision to create a fictional tale, rather than report the news. Given the way TV news works, it also meant everyone at the station was in on the scam.
It was a moment of clarity, but as Theodore Dalrymple wrote about last week, even knowing the news is all fake, I still have to fight the urge to believe it. When they report on what I know, the rational part of the brain is jolted into action and I can see straight away that they are spinning fabulous tales. Maybe I will go on-line and point out the nonsense to those who may care about it. When the topic is outside my sphere of knowledge, I’m tempted to just accept what is being presented without thinking too much about it.
The reason the plutocrats prefer narrative journalism over actual reporting, of course, is it lets them set public opinion. We’ll get a dose of that this weekend as the actors and actresses of cable news explain to the world why we must go to war with Venezuela to stave off a humanitarian crisis. Most people know little about Venezuela, other than the fact our rulers are mad at the local ruler. That leaves the press to fill in those massive gaps with made up tales of horror from so-called experts on the subject.
As Dalrymple pointed out toward the end of his post, “One cannot live in a state of permanent skepticism about everything.” Most people are trusting and most people are wired to trust authority. That’s why we have propaganda. It works on that innate trust people have in authority. It’s not limitless, of course. The people living in the old Soviet Bloc evolved a morose cynicism, after decades of being lied to by the authorities. The same thing is happening in America, as people adapt to the reality of fake news.
Even so, some portion of the public can be counted on to believe what they are told, no matter how absurd. The Left has always relied on this to hold their ranks together. The people inclined to radical politics are in search of salvation, so they are inclined to believe more than most. The confirmation they find among their radical soulmates on the Left keeps them in the fold, even when their leaders are revealed to be frauds or contradict themselves on matters of faith. Belief is a powerful narcotic.
That raises an interesting corollary to Dalrymple’s line about living in a state of perpetual skepticism. Can a society exist in a state of perpetual fiction? We seem to be managing it, as most of what fills the public space these days is made up, either by our rulers or the various scammers allowed to work the crowd. The public space is now just a sea of nonsense and lies that no one can trust. We live in an age where even the weather forecasts are created to sell ads. Yet, the people manage to bugger on.
Maybe that’s what we are seeing in the information age. It’s Propaganda 2.0. Instead of trying to mobilize the crowd in support of the rulers, the point is to atomize the mob by turning everyone into a cynic. After all, if you can’t trust anyone, even the people in charge, then how can you conspire with anyone? Even if you find some safe space to conspire, how can you get others to join the conspiracy? In order to prevent resistance to their rule, the rulers have eliminated the social medium it requires to thrive.
Of course, by vaporizing social trust, the people in charge have eliminated an important medium through which they can maintain power. On the other hand, maybe soft-power has evolved to the point where social trust is no longer useful. Look at Venezuela. It’s clear that the US is slowly squeezing the life out of the country’s ruling class. They are doing so in a way that will cause the public to blame those bad rulers and welcome the handpicked good ruler, even though everyone knows he is a puppet.
It’s a great example of how social war has evolved. The local rulers are using the old methods of information control. They have state media repeating statements from the ruler, blaming some outside trouble makers and all the usual stuff. The US is not saying much, other than pointing out how awful it is that the power grid keeps failing. Of course, the US is probably behind the sudden rash of explosions, but that’s not important. What matters is Juan sitting in the dark, wondering when he charge his mobile again.