The Misinformation Age

For most of human history, the natural state of people was to be uninformed about the doings of the great and powerful. Amenemhet the Stone Carver could easily have spent his life chipping glyphs into stones, without ever knowing why or what they were supposed to mean. He was just one of many assigned to work on the latest project commission by Pharaoh. More important, he probably did not care. He had a good job chipping glyphs into stones, which let him have a nice house and send the boy off to chariot school.

For his part, the Pharaoh was not all that concerned that Amenemhet was indifferent to the doings of the state. He wanted his people to do his bidding and remain loyal, but that mostly meant maintaining the grain supply, defending the borders and holding religious festivals where the people were reminded that the Pharaoh was a god. In other words, Pharaoh did not have to invest a lot of time bullshitting his people. Even if wanted to, it was simply not practical, so it was never a part of the ruling toolkit.

Writing the post the other day on millennials, it occurred to me that they are the first mass media generation. In my grandfather’s youth, for example, having a radio was a toy for rich people. He got his first TV in the 50’s. My parents grew up on movie theaters and then later television, but they got their first TV in their late teens, I think.  I had TV as a kid, of course, but I also had outdoors. With just three channels, TV could not compete with outside for the attention of a boy, so I did not spend much time in front of it.

Young people are floating in a sea of mass media and they have never known any other way. It’s perhaps why millennials are so demanding and entitled. Watching TV is a passive exercise. It is up to the show or movie to entertain you, the viewer. There’s no reward for loyalty to a channel, a show or a personality, so there is no loyalty. Consuming mass media is a purely transactional exercise. With so many channels competing for your attention, you have every right to be demanding. Kids raised on TV are certain to be transactional in their daily human relations.

The thing is, our mass media culture is mostly fabricated nonsense. Most of what the news people “report” is made up. As soon as you see the word “sources” you know what follows is invented. Even when someone is named as a source, nine times out of ten we learn that the named source did not actually say what he was claimed to have said. The other day, the news people were claiming Trump got in a fight with a baby at one of his events. It turns out he made some harmless jokes about a crying baby.

It’s tempting to think it is just the ideological bias of the media and that certainly plays a role, but even sporting news is often made up nonsense. Sites like Bleacher Report and SB Nation exist to pump out made up news from writers who never leave their couch. The “legitimate” sporting news is similarly riddled with tales where the word “sources” is featured prominently. The people in the business have to know everyone is just making stuff up, but no one ever says anything. It’s just the way it is.

The question that comes to mind is what this does to the culture. The passive cynicism of the millennials may simply be a result of living in a world of fiction. If most of what you see and hear is bullshit, you’re going to assume everything is bullshit. It is also impossible to have trust in people that lie all the time, so this sea of mass media is self-defeating as a propaganda tool. The Russians during the Soviet era assumed everything told to them was a lie, which made an already cynical people into the first no-trust society.

Something similar may be happening in America as the people producing media feverishly try to break through the noise with ever more outlandish nonsense. Sites like Gawker are simply the logical end point of all mass media. Consumers of mass media are not seeking to be informed, because they assume it is all nonsense. They just want to be entertained. It’s probably why Trump is one nominee and Clinton is the other. Everyone is looking forward to the brash bully tearing into the corrupt old cow. It may be awful for the country, but it will make good TV.

The dynamic since the advent of participatory government has been to increase the number of informed citizens while increasing the franchise. That’s not where we have ended up. The franchise has been expanded to the point where we are now handing ballots to foreigners, but the public is probably less informed than at any time in our history. In fact, it is close to impossible be well informed. That makes popular government nothing more than an entertaining roll of the dice. The characters best able to keep the public’s attention wins, even if she is a sociopath, who kills people.

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PRCD
Guest

“It’s perhaps why millennials are so demanding and entitled.”

We’re demanding and entitled because our parents were indulgent and permissive and solved all our problems for us while feeding us regular heavy doses of self-esteem (narcissism) and unwarranted praise. We largely saw our parents do whatever they wanted to, like get divorced. Even the churches we might have attended with our Boomer parents focused on meeting our felt “needs.”

pink lady
Guest

Liberal Parenting has failed all millenials, their offspring were not prepared by them to be adults in the real world, stop whining and start teaching yourself what was not taught to you by your parents who wanted to be your large friends instead of your parents. The kids in my extended family that were raised by traditional/ more conservative parents have turned out GREAT, the others not so much.

PRCD
Guest
My parents were traditional God-fearing Christians and not of the cultural type. I attribute my success to their parenting. I am sadly well-ahead of most of my peers which is quite a drain because a falling tide sinks all boats. Even if you have money, there is no community when so many young people are failing to form families and falling behind in the labor pool.. Your advice to Millennials is good. Most have to re-invent the wheel and learn all the basics of life such as how to work, how to be a good employee, how to be married,… Read more »
King George III
Guest

I’m reminded of two quotes of Thomas Jefferson,

“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”

And,

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”

Uncola
Guest

“The passive cynicism of the millennials may simply be a result of living in a world of fiction.”

Indeed. However, the millennials must never forget what we read in the Book of Morpheus, Chapter One:

“For Neo did not enter into the Matrix to condemn the Blue Pilled People, but rather, to save those digesting the Red Pill and lead them into Reality.“

LetsPlay
Member
“Everyone is looking forward to the brash bully tearing into the corrupt old cow.” Wow, if I didn’t know you better I would say you were being a bit cynical ZMan! The heart of the issue is that no one held accountable for the lies they tell or the outrageous things they do in the name of self advancement. Whether celebrity or politician, few pay a price for their misdeeds. Where is the Justice? We cannot count on our esteemed legal system (derision/sarc) and institutions chock full of attoooorneys, you know the Attorneys Generals, Prosecutors, FBI, Police, etc. Only once… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ LetsPlay – You don’t have to pay for it, you can watch it for free on YouTube. Prime time television shows can’t compete with Russian dash cameras where people can now sit back and watch Ivan and his family get thrown through the windshield of their Lada and into an on-coming bus.

LetsPlay
Member

I believe everyone still has to pay for a wifi connection at a minimum. Access to content is another matter. I don’t use mobile but with my desktop I still have to have my DSL connection to access torrents and YouTube. And I pay a higher price for stutter-free, that is higher speed, bandwidth.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

Today, internet access is nothing more than another utility like electricity or water or garbage. You can get WiFi for free just about anywhere; e.g trains, Starbucks, McDonalds, hotels, etc. There are even apps for finding free WiFi.

BillH
Guest

I pay for mine in the U.S. I wouldn’t go near the kinds of places that have free wifi. Not the kind of people I want to be around.

Member

I told my lefty niece that she’s not allowed to make political comments until she watches Idiocracy in its entirety. You combine that movie with The Hunger Games, and you come away with a pretty good understanding of just about everything you see in American media today.

Member

You might also force her to watch all episodes of the BritCom series “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” before she is allowed to suggest government “action”.

Ganderson
Guest

Humphrey: “…I’m entirely on your side.”
Dorothy: “How can we believe that?”
Humphrey: “Because this time it’s true! I mean this time I am particularly on your side!”

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ theZman – I’m not sure why you are going after the millennials so harshly in your recent blogs. It’s been the global elites of our generation, and even our grandfather’s generation, who have been propagating disinformation for well over a century. Yellow journalism isn’t new, it’s just more easily spread across the internet. And those few people who actually have a few sparking neurons limit their fact finding to sites like Wikipedia and Snopes instead of doing a little critical thinking and real fact finding. But let’s get to the heart of why people are so misinformed. Consider that… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
Hey Karl, ending your piece with a reference to the “Huff Post” is hilarious! Talk about spreading disinformation and manipulation. I don’t read that liberal rag and wouldn’t take anything from it seriously. As for you statement about “… giving them no other option,” I worked hard at two things with my kids. One was emphasizing that school, their education was not about memorizing or passing tests, but about learning how to learn and how to ask questions and do research. The other thing was, knowing that they would face difficult times (as everyone inevitably does in life), trying to… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ LetsPlay – If you had actually read the referenced link, you would have found the data they quoted was from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. Perhaps you should confirm the stated findings before passing judgement. As a fellow engineer, I would expect no less of you. When you talk about “always having options” to your children, does that mean only so far as it doesn’t impact your life as is the typical superficial commentary of most American parents? Would you want them to move back home with you? Would you give up your… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
Huffington Post, Dept of Education? I always consider the source and those are particular ones that have an edge to grind and I don’t put much credence in what they publish. What they publish is mostly garbage statistics to enhance themselves and push a political agenda and are not very realistic or truthful. Lies. Which is what we are talking about here but from social institutions that are paid for by taxes and purportedly existing to serve the public. I don’t know how you went from my mentioning “options” to children living at home. What I meant was, and this… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ LetsPlay – I appreciate your explanation, thank you. You are correct, the mix of social pressures, sex, drugs, and suicide are major concerns. We can not afford to discount these issues as real threats to our youth, especially as more and more of them fail to find meaningful work or a place in society that benefits all of us. We may not appreciate their attitudes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time to understand them and why they are where they are. The role of the parent doesn’t end when the move out of the house.

Marina
Guest
Millennial here. I think parents complain about it because it’s a visible sign of declining American standards of living. When we got married in 2009 at 21 and 24, we lived with my parents for a while. They were fine with it, but we all knew my grandparents had married in their late teens and had been living independently from the beginning. We paid rent, which appalled by Chinese husband, who was shocked my parents would accept it. But they needed the money so I did it to help. We’re in the market for a house right now, and I’m… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ Marina – For post war Germany, the 50’s were a very prosperous time thanks in part to the US and the Marshall Plan which allowed us to rebuild and re-tool while the rest of Europe was struggling to rebuild on their own. German engineers and businessmen who survived the war could very easily build a new business and were in the right time and the right place. In contrast, Great Britain was for the most part financially ruined and their citizens were still rationing food and fuel well into the late 50’s. France was slow to recover and the… Read more »
Member

I’m a physician. I see the people on the lowest rung of the ladder. Your illiteracy rate is bullshit. Made up. Quoting crap like that as if it’s the truth makes you a part of the problem.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ teapartydoc – It is not my illiteracy rate. This is from the US Department of Education. Is there a better, more accurate, source of such statistics?

Member
No. As the article states, this is the misinformation age. The Department of Education has an investment in putting out crap like that in order to justify its existence. This is global warming for those who, like most Europeans, decide to remain idiotically gullible and manipulable by people who make their living off of bullshit. There. I tried to say but in as nice a way as possible. You can try and discount my opinion all you like. I have spent my whole life dealing with stupid people and I can say with complete confidence that they are not nearest… Read more »
BillH
Guest

You left out how good those that earn a little are at milking the federal income tax system for EITC, multiple declarations of dependents, and other cash payouts. A few get caught, indicted, tried and convicted, but most don’t. I saw a lot of this as a consultant to housing assistance programs many moons ago.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ teapartydoc – I am not discounting your opinion, as everyone in this forum, we are all entitled to one. But I would like to know what source you would recommend for accurate statistics since you make the point that the data the DoE publishes is not accurate. Certainly there must be some credible data available. Would local or state statics be more credible than at the Federal level?

As I said, I am not challenging your opinion, I’m simply asking for a credible source from someone who is obviously well versed in scientific statistics.

Member
KH, if you would spend a moment doing some research, you would find at the UNESCO statistics site that none of the OECD nations even report their literacy stats anymore. If you would then proceed to the OECD stats site, you would find that it uses rather subjective measures of “skills” rather than literacy rates these days. This seems to be from where the U.S. Dept of Ed dirived its literacy number — so called “functional literacy” — instead of the old fashioned sort. I’d post links but assume that a really smart guy can use a search engine. I… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest

@ el baboso – Thank you. I actually did look up the UNESCO stats. That’s why I looked up the DoE numbers. If your governments own statistics are unreliable, then the issue misinformation is worse than thezman proposes.

LetsPlay
Member

I have two sisters who work in hospitals and can vouch for every “fact” you have just stated. They have told me the exact same thing. Especially people on Welfare, they may play “dumb” but they are sly as foxes. And they have a network that helps each other with gaming the system. It is the regular Joe who works all the time and has no time for learning how to game the system that pays the most, waits the most, and gets the shaft in supporting all the rest.

LetsPlay
Member
Karl, I have just spent a couple of hours looking for “independent” data but no luck. Most everything comes from the gummint Dept. Ed or some other “agency” and gets published widely because no one has the funds or reach into the system to gather such data. They own the Education System. Hence, my bet is the situation is actually worse than presented but they can’t say that. They have to walk a fine line because in education circles, the solution is always about needing a bigger budget. At the local level, when volunteers were raising funds for local schools,… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ LetsPlay – I appreciate your research. From what you and El Babso are saying, your own governments statistics are either intentionally wrong, intentionally misleading, or skewed to protect a certain segment of the population. Curious. I can understand if they include non-native English speakers into the numbers, it would skew the data. Given the large numbers of illegals in your country, it would create similar statistics if they did the same study here given the recent ‘refugee’ numbers in Germany. I can also understand the PC effect of recognizing that some groups are less literate than others, which doesn’t… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member

No problem. We are learning together. Thank you.

Nunnya Bidnez, jr.
Guest

“32 million adults can’t read. That’s 14% of the population. 21% percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19% of high school graduates can’t read”

It’s possible that the illiteracy rate that they quoted actually means people who are illiterate in english…
There could easily be 32 million immigrants who are intelligent and literate in their native languages, but nearly illiterate in english. I see them on the subway every day.

james wilson
Guest

Millennials are not cynics, that would be a huge step up. They’re all in. It’s all they have ever heard. Everybody knows. Just one example–half of them believe one quarter of the population is queer. Of course, there is that other half. We are in any event speaking of white kids. Blacks and browns are not millennials, they’re perennials. JMO.

Member
My one millennial employee has huge motivational problems. From time to time he just won’t show up. When he’s here he’s fine. If the labour market ever loosens up where I am, and if he doesn’t improve, he’ll be the first to go. I have told him that and while he professes to worry about it, he doesn’t do much. He seems to be a depressive man addicted to alcohol and video games. The discussion here between KarlHorst and teapartydoc about illiteracy got me thinking. I am an employer of construction workers all the way down the ladder to labourer.… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ Fred z – I’m sure you are busy and have many other things to worry about. But have you asked this particular person what he is actually interested in doing? Is there a task he actually enjoys more than another? Someone who enjoys gardening is unlikely to be motived when asked to paint a house. Not to simplify the problem, but I have heard the expression – “We have to cut the dead wood”. To which I ask “And who poisoned the tree?” I have found with our apprentices that when faced with a particular task, I ask for… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member

Karl, FYI, you miss the point of the American slang “We have to cut the dead wood”. It is an idiom that managers use to cut costs recognizing that if you have to reduce the number of employees, you start with the least productive members, or product lines, or divisions, etc. In any population, employees can be ranked on a Bell Curve and the plain fact is that some fall into the lower 10%, for instance in each company, department, etc. It is not about “poisoning” anything.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
@ LetsPlay – Understood. My point would be that when these people were hired, it was assumed they would contribute positively or they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place. However I have seen cases where the business changed or evloved into something else, and these employees were no longer able to contribute in the same way – thus they became redundant rather than being retrained. I would argue that American industry has a horrible track record of hiring and firing to maintain the quarterly bottom line. This does little to keep employees loyal to a company. It’s a… Read more »
Notsothoreau
Guest
I’m not sure which is more destructive; tv or the educational system. People read, but at a lower level. They don’t like big words or anything that takes effort. We’ve lost the common culture so some classic works don’t make sense. (I think about that professor’s informal survey-most of those in his classes didn’t know who Moses was and thought America invented slavery!) We have an incredible amount of knowledge online but few take advantage of it. Yet we push more people into college. We have to reform education and it has to start at the lowest level. Return to… Read more »
Member
It’s strange, Z. The quantity of truth remains constant in an ever expanding cloud of FUD. I use FUD on purpose since while I agree that a lot of the untruths in circulation are are just the result of dull people distorting things they heard in a networked version of the “telephone” game, I get the sense that there are an increasing number of bad actors out there spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. I also think that most of the bad actors are too dumb to realize the harm they are causing to the information marketplace by debasing existing standards… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member

Great comment. Haven’t heard FUD in ages! But there it is underlying all the spin that is the media.

I think the “… new marketplace” does exist and is separate and distinct from the MSM/liberal media and is why Trump caught on so quickly. Call it the “Silent Majority” or Middle America, the Working Class who doesn’t do politics as a livelihood, they were out there waiting for someone to hitch their wagon to. They/We were just tired of the same old “One Trick Ponies” who could only do that Potomac Shuffle.

Severian
Guest
“That makes popular government nothing more than an entertaining roll of the dice.” I think we’re starting to understand that, as truly representative government has only existed for a limited time under very rare, very specific conditions, it probably only *can* exist under those conditions. We have no more idea what to make of “the franchise” than Amenemhet and his Pharaoh would’ve. The last attempt to keep those conditions in place ended by fire and sword in 1865. Karl Marx, that bastard, was right after all, albeit in a way he’d never understand and would horrify him to see.
Mart
Guest

You can’t be serious that Pharaohs didn’t bullshit their people. They told them they are gods! What is bigger bullshitting than religion?

AquinasJohnPaul
Guest

I gathered he meant that they didn’t need to spend much time on said bullshitting.

A simple “I’m a God, this is how it is” sufficed.

Now a whole lot of calories burnt.

Mart
Guest

That doesn’t work well anymore, at least some people are too intelligent for that. On the other hand, people are perfectly able to use their intelligence to bullshit themselves. Take UFO community for example.

Tom Saunders
Guest

Socialism and its cleric adjunct atheism. Come to think of it, since Socialism functions wholly as a religion, I guess your right.

Mart
Guest
Yes, by religion I meant anything which creates its own confirmation by its own “facts” based on crooked logic going in circles in its own “echo chambers”, and prohibits even think about alternatives in a way other than derisive. From GreenPeace through various “isms” to real religions and last cults like Islam where any change is punishable by death. Socialism wasn’t very successful in that. Joke from socialist era east Europe: Soviet president meet Pope, and asks: we promise paradise and you promise paradise, how it comes that everyone believes in your paradise and no-one in ours? Pope smiles and… Read more »
Spare Dog: Up for adoption
Guest

Great Post Zman, as always.
My take is the voluminous mass media message, which is mostly fiction as you point out, has numbed and dumbed down everyone, especially the Millennials, to the point that truth/reality is no longer capable of being seen. No one has had to feel the sting of their erroneous take on reality, yet, but that day is fast approaching. The Millennials may be sensing something is not quite right hence their hypersensitivity to any perceived threat especially to their delicate psyches.
Hard lessons are coming since the illusion cannot be sustained much longer.

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Ann K.
Guest

I urge everyone interested in this to read “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” by the late Neil Postman. Very prescient and insightful.

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