Since the development of in the Advanced Sector mass media with the widespread affordability of the radio after World War I, we created the possibility of inculcating specific memes of taste, belief, and prejudice as “mainstream” currents of the culture. This was grafted onto and reflective of the existing methods of mass communication based upon newspapers and pamphleteering, which were by and large generated by very specific political economic interests.
The concurrent rise of dictatorships left and right allowed for the sharpening of these emerging mass media into an instrument of general propaganda, creating a blueprint for mass manipulation available to any amoral enough to take advantage of it. So powerful was this invention that George Orwell famously wrote of how it might be applied much more aggressively in times when technology might make a monopoly feasible even in the democratic West.
Even those on the Left note from time to time that—at least until the appearance of the worldwide web—almost all news outlets—newspapers, magazines, radio, and television—were commercial ventures, governed by the laws of financial survival. Those that became, in the way of these things, the flag ships of the mainstream media, were well-positioned to become monopoly instruments capable of dictating not only tastes and fashions, but political and cultural beliefs more generally.
A nation that can be lulled into assuming that a figure like Walter Cronkite is a disinterested, avuncular paragon of “objective” news is a nation capable of being herded, without its awareness, into a particular mass belief system. Long before Joe McGinniss first laid out how this could happen in his 1969 ground-breaking The Selling of the President 1968, moguls of the MSM in New York and Washington were slowly but surely creating the framework of what was acceptable and what was beyond the pale through their control of the small number of mass media outlets.
Walter Shapiro, writing 43 years later in the Columbia Review of Journalism, notes how McGinniss grasped the methodology employed by the MSM in opinion shaping—but not, of course, how journalism itself is used in the exact same way:
The Big Think message from McGinniss’ book is that—horrors—presidential candidates are packaged just like cigarettes. The original dust jacket for The Selling of the President makes this metaphor explicit by showing Nixon’s face superimposed on an open pack of smokes. As Jim Sage, a prescient Nixon adman, tells McGinniss, “We’re moving into a period where a man is going to be merchandised on television more and more. It upsets you and me, maybe, but we’re not typical Americans.” (The Mad Men era appeals precisely because of that small twinge of guilt, which would probably be lost on 21st-century media consultants like David Axelrod and Stuart Stevens.)And here, in one essay, we encounter the trick by which the MSM hides its role in plain view: it is politicians, Mr. Shapiro assures us in that journalistic voice trained to sound oh-so objective, that engage in the nasty and crass activity of selling us their candidates. We, he is assuring us without the hint of a wink, are reporting this to you as disinterested observers concerned only with “the truth,” as you can tell by our language, unlike they who cravenly employ all the tricks of mass merchandising to convince you of the same thing.
Part of the tension in the book comes from the resistance to this new era of media manipulation from one man—yes, Nixon’s the one. “Richard Nixon did not trust television,” McGinniss writes. “He refused to look at himself, even on a newscast. He refused to use a teleprompter, no matter how long the speech. Television was just one more slick trick and he was a poor boy from the West.” (The notion that a teleprompter equals unethical artifice would be lost on Obama and, to a slightly lesser extent, Romney).
Hidden in the rhetorical devices of reporting and commentary is the straightforward “objective” fact that Mr. Shapiro, like most reporters and commenters, are paid to do their work, and that the money to pay them comes from commercial enterprises engaged 24/7 in the activity of selling themselves to us without appearing to be doing so.
(State-run media like the BBC or non-profit-run media like NPR behave in the same manner, although how they joined the for-profit MSM in the clerisy is a different but equally instructive story.)
Ironic, no, that Mr. Shapiro reports that Richard Nixon refused to be taken in by the game, and resisted participating in it in order to win elections. But even Mr. Nixon had to accept the way the culture had been shaped in the previous two decades since World War II during which democratically-elected governments regularly and unabashedly employed mass media ruthlessly to fashion public opinion as an instrument of war-winning.
We have been trained to ignore the way the media operate from their own particular interest because commercials (what media buyers buy specifically) are presented separately from the rest of the content. This visual separation has been part of the method since newspapers started selling advertising to help their bottom lines in the nineteenth century. And even though we have access to wide-ranging information about how the financiers of news media influence the content beyond their commercials, we have been lulled by the sheer volume and consistency of the format into not seeing and therefore not believing the connection.
The Real News
To the student of the history of our culture and the media, it should be no big deal to appreciate that news outlets rarely had any incentive to follow and report on the real news: the underlying dynamics that generate the day-to-day activities of humanity. Why report on that boring old forest when there are so many interesting trees? Remember: once we entered the era of mass marketing, the goal of each media organ has been to make itself profitable. Thus it needed to cater to whatever audience it judged to be most exploitable.
The unflattering truth is that most of us are not in the market to study and appreciate long-term trends; if such things truly interested us The Economist or Foreign Affairs would dominate world markets instead of Better Homes and Gardens and Game Informer. This is, of course, related to the general level of consciousness we have attained on average, which limits the attraction of communications in general and news information in particular. The center of gravity of even the most advanced cultures is still in the orange modern rational wave, and that imperfectly so. This is also being challenged by the even more imperfect, extremely young green wave dominated by the unfortunate Boomeritis version.
So it is no surprise to the integralite that there is little demand for what we will call here the real news. No demand, no supply.
This lack of curiosity by a critical mass of us permits the clerisy to maintain its role as an arbiter of the general culture in spite of the opportunities to subvert it introduced by the entirely decentralized worldwide web. As Antonio Gramsci wrote in his Prison Notebooks from his cell in Turi, Italy, the objective conditions for the dictatorship of the proletariat would not arise from economic development alone, as Marx had believed. The hearts and minds of the workers had first to be won over to the inevitability of the anti-capitalist revolution before they would act in their own interest and overthrow the bourgeoisie.
Nonetheless, the human predilection toward bread and circuses does nothing to change the reality of the big picture, and the one that we can see today is quite unprecedented at least in our planet’s history. The central fact is what the exponential acceleration of technology in general, and of cyber space in particular, is offering to the creative genius and reproductive imperative of humanity.
As Ray Kurzweil theorized in his now 10-year-old The Singularity Is Near, the trajectory of the creation of human social wealth is on a steep upward curve, especially when compared to the all the centuries since the end of the last great Ice Age when humans invented agriculture until the nineteenth century. Since that time the transformations we introduced with the rise of modernity and the Industrial Revolution have rattled with increasing force and frequency the worlds we thought we knew and could count on.
The impact of Moore’s Law is almost entirely unappreciated by most of us, and is the story most ignored by the MSM clerisy and the arbiters of our mass culture.
We certainly are quick to enjoy the various fruits of this new world, from smartphones to fracking, from instantaneous communication with almost anybody in the world to an infinite variety of entertainment including games and porn. Yet few of us stop to consider the global disruption the ever-faster introduction of newer technological wonders is having on our societies and cultures.
Beginning with the end of the Cold War and humanity’s abject failure to foresee the world we were about to enter into, we have been struck by increasingly powerful blows which have undermined and weakened the institutions we created after World War II to support the spread of modernity and industrial political economies.
The major benefit of modernity—the creation of a political economy capable of enlarging and enriching the human species exponentially—has made an enemy of entrenched premodernity by rendering it materially impoverished. The vast majority of humanity still lives in premodern cultures, but every one of those has been affected by the lure of modern wealth. Some have responded by accepting the challenge to modernize while others have resisted and hunkered down in opposition.
At the same time a new dynamic has been injected by the rise of postmodernity and its leftwing variant, Boomeritis postmodernism. Postmodernity or postindustrial society remains inchoate as a discernible system distinct from modernity; a world of postmodern institutions arranged to support this emerging world does not yet exist. The various prototypes such as the United Nations and the European Union have been incapable of delivering on their promised goals mostly because of their refusal to account for human nature.
This mixing of premodern, modern, and postmodern dynamics I have called the Trimemetic War, and it is, I submit, the second major news story that our clerisy and cultural arbiters can neither see nor report about. They are reduced to describing its effects—Islamist terrorism, Brexit, the Trump victory—without a clue as to the causes. The Trimemetic War is, of course, intricately connected to the world of Moore’s Law, and appreciating their symbiotic relationship would be of benefit to citizens of the Advanced Sector.
Not surprisingly, our leadership seems as perplexed and shortsighted as the rest of us. And as change accelerates, the distance between social stability and chaos may seem to widen ever faster. Disruption is now the rule, yet we have no conversation that incorporates and “normalizes” this foundational truth. We are unhappy that the institutions we used to depend on are no longer dependable, but we spend more time lamenting their passing rather than inventing the new ones that will stabilize the disruption.
Real news would explore this exciting new global dynamic. It would examine the technological disrupters not merely as discrete activities of the inventors and explorers but as elements of a new emerging world driven by nonlinearity in all of its facets. It would commit itself to looking ahead and not in the rearview mirror.
Integralites are well poised to provide leadership in this endeavor, for we may be the one-eyed folks in the room full of the blind. We at least recognize how the many strands of human life both interior and exterior are expressions of a single truth, even as we may not always agree on what that truth is seeking to affirm. In our willingness to examine our selves, discover the shadow, withdraw projections, and forsake first tier judgments, we are groping toward and creating a new social configuration. It is far too early to draw useful conclusions from the various strands of the integral inquiry, especially because much of what is self-labeled “integral” is anything but.
The clerisy’s obsessing about the “fake news” that they themselves have habitually indulged in for so long can serve as a turning point; inadvertently they are calling forth a renewal of the age-old human quest for knowledge and truth as it manifests in our time.
The real “fake news” stems from our inability to see the forests and the trees, and our unwillingness to learn how. The great irony for our impoverished clerisy, defending the temples of progressive faith whose walls have already been irreversibly breached, is that the gifts of modernity are yielding amazing and unimaginable new vistas for the great project of humanizing ourselves.
The great Bob Seger once sang about this great and unstoppable disruption and how integralites especially might embody it; this is the real news.
In your time innocence will fall away
In your time mission bells will toll
All along the corridors and river beds
There’ll be signs
In your time
Towering waves will crash across your southern capes
Massive storms will reach your eastern shores
Fields of green will tumble through your summer days
In your time
Feel the wind and set yourself the bolder course
Keep your heart as open as a shine
You’ll sail the perfect line
And after all the dead ends and the lessons learned
After all the stars have turned to stone
There'll be peace across the great unbroken void
In your time
You'll be fine
In your time