The Bogosity of News IQ

Posted: November 17, 2013 in Advertising, Culture, Debate, Education, Media, Politics, Tacky
Tags: , , ,

/rant on

The Pew Research Center offers what it calls a News IQ Quiz with the following blurb:

Test your knowledge of prominent people and major events in the news by taking our short 13-question quiz. Then see how you did in comparison with 1,052 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions in a national survey conducted online August 7-14 by the Pew Research Center. The new survey includes a mixture of multiple-choice questions using photographs, maps, charts, and text.

When you finish, you will be able to compare your News IQ with the average American, as well as with the scores of college graduates and those who didn’t attend college; with men and women; and with people your age as well as other ages.

First, there is no such thing as a news IQ. The presumption that awareness of news equates in any fashion to IQ is scurrilous. I scored 75%, which surprises me considering how much of the mainstream media (MSM) I ignore. Second, most of the “prominent people and major events” and hot issues filter down to me in time, but without the editorial spin that brands news organs. Third, I contend that attending to the news is essentially asking to be brainwashed and conned incessantly with respect to the truth (which we rarely glimpse except in the most banal sense) and what constitutes suitable expectations for life and living (which judging from the news are wildly distorted toward the tacky and salacious).

The link came to me in a snark-laden e-mail that warned to be prepared for just how stupid one’s fellow Americans are — those same Americans who vote alongside a supposed cognoscenti in periodic elections. I forwarded the link to one of my discussion groups, which sparked a discussion about the presumed importance of tracking news. In what is becoming a typical exchange for me, my iconoclasm sparked brief outrage but was then flatly ignored. In particular, I suggested that knowing who is the CEO of Yahoo! lies well below my threshold of importance (really, who cares?). The newsbit was thrust upon me nevertheless, not unlike all the rest of the ephemera vomited up by the MSM (e.g., Miley Cyrus’ nonstop antics, the very sort of tawdry spectacle that drives sales and ratings) to draw in my eyeballs (since my viewership is really what’s being sold). Discussion then turned to the CEO’s implementation, just as other companies are abandoning it, of stack racking, a moribund labor management principle used to spur productivity and clear deadwood reduce fixed personnel.

So how important is it, really, for me to know this particular news? I can go several directions in answer. My argument to the discussion group was that knowing or not knowing won’t make one iota of difference to those of us vulnerable to such top-down edicts. Some of us may prefer to see the steamroller coming, but there is little doubt that no one can stop it once it gets moving, and only a few of us can sidestep it. Thus, I find the “importance” of knowing who is the CEO of Yahoo! and her managerial excesses quite irrelevant. Admittedly, this attitude is fatalist. After all, how can labor resist the predation of management (or for that matter, how can the citizenry resist the corruption of government officials?) if no attention is paid? That’s a good question, of course, but as recent history ought to demonstrate, even when we know, even when management, finance, and government types are exposed in all their corruption and villainy, even when utter and complete nincompoops natter on incessantly in the MSM, none of the rest of us possesses the power to stop it. The shaming of Wall Street by the Occupy Movement is an obvious case in point, and who suffered at the end of that debacle? Prime exception may be sexual peccadilloes, which have claimed more than a few careers. There are only a very few exceptions not related to sex, such as Bruce Schneier’s blog post on “Fraying of the Public/Private Surveillance Partnership,” but as they say, the exception only serves to prove the rule. Plus, this particular exception is driven by lost profits, and nothing stands in the way of that, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership demonstrates (which some interpret as undermining existing laws, regulations, and even puncturing national sovereignty).

Now that I do know something about the CEO of Yahoo! and the issue of stack ranking, let me contextualize the news. Being forced out of one’s job for falling into an arbitrary indexing level (the purge threshold, let’s call it) demonstrates that the lives and livelihoods of labor simply do not matter to decision-makers. Maybe this is the resurrection of the spirit (if not the mechanisms) of scientific management, but I think that doesn’t go far enough. A larger historical narrative has been underway for centuries, if not millennia, that inverts the relationship of those served by human institutions and asserts instead that the masses serve institutions. Thus, it’s no longer the masses who provide labor to corporations but corporations who provide employment to people — at least until the purges come. Similarly, the bailouts of a few years ago, which are ongoing under artificially low interest rates banks are charged to borrow money and the Fed’s never-ending bond-purchasing program, served to maintain institutions rather than assist individuals fleeced by those institutions. Republican reduction and/or withdrawal of entitlements from those in need is another example. My favorite, though, is the U.S. Dept. of Defense, which sucks up 20% of the Federal budget according to this report by The Washington Post, spending more than the next 13 countries combined. What makes the U.S. so much more vulnerable than other countries that it needs to maintain this giant institution when so many of its people live in poverty?

The MSM will only rarely characterize inverted power relationships properly precisely because it is one of those institutions struggling to survive as it becomes ever more irrelevant to the people it pretends to serve. Its irrelevance is due to a variety of factors, including the democratization of production (and attendant flood of mediocrity) and its pathological or institutionalized mendacity. Worse, various institutions — governmental, corporate, educational, journalistic, etc. — work together to weave the narrative that flows of power from institutions matter the most. One bald statement of this inversion appears in Paul Chefurka’s blog post called “The Many Faces of Denial” (which I picked up from comments at The Collapse of Industrial Civilization):

Growing up, I was taught that the world worked in a particular way: that governments were of the people, for the people; that humans were conscious, rational creatures; that policy was guided by sound science; that human beings learned from their mistakes; that the future would be better than the past.

Now in my 60’s I discover that absolutely none of it is true. Governments are of the rich, for the rich; human beings are largely unconscious and most of our decisions spring from emotion rather than reason; policy is guided by greed for wealth and lust for power; most people want today to be about the same as yesterday, mistakes and all; and the future looks not just dim but bleak.

I don’t have a particularly good conclusion for this already overlong rant. Airing grievances doesn’t exactly advance a cause, does it? It’s far too easy for institutions to simply ignore and outlast protest and dissent from actual people seeking redress. Until the revolution, power will continue to reside with institutions rather than people.

/rant off

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