As time wears on and I add years to this mostly ignored blog, I keep running across ideas expressed herein, sometimes long ago, recapitulated in remarks and comments elsewhere. Absolutely disparate people can develop the same ideas independently, so I’m not claiming that my ideas are stolen. Maybe I’m merely in touch with the Zeitgeist and express it here only then to see or hear it again someplace else. I can’t judge objectively.

The latest coincidence is the growing dread with which I wake up every day, wondering what fresh new hell awaits with the morning news. The times in which we live are both an extension of our received culture and yet unprecedented in their novelty. Not only are there many more people in existence than 100 years ago and thus radical opinions and events occurring with extraordinary frequency, the speed of transmission is also faster than in the past. Indeed, the rush to publication has many news organs reporting before any solid information is available. The first instance of blanket crisis coverage I remember was the Challenger Disaster in 1986. It’s unknown to me how quickly news of various U.S. political assassinations in the 1960s spread, but I suspect reporting took more time than today and imparted to those events gravity and composure. Today is more like a renewed Wild West where anything goes, which has been the preferred characterization of the Internet since its creation. We’ll see if the recent vote to remove Net Neutrality has the effect of restraining things. I suspect that particular move is more about a money grab (selling premium open access vs. basic limited access) than thought control, but I can only guess as to true motivations.

I happened to be traveling when the news broke of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Happily, what news I got was delayed until actual news-gathering had already sorted basic fact from confabulation. Paradoxically, after the first wave of “what the hell just happened?” there formed a second wave of “here’s what happened,” and later a third wave of “what the hell really happened?” appeared as some rather creative interpretations were offered up for consideration. That third wave is by now quite familiar to everyone as the conspiracy wave, and surfing it feels inevitable because the second wave is often so starkly unbelievable. Various websites and shows such as snopes.com, metabunk.org, MythBusters, and Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (probably others, too) presume to settle debates. While I’m inclined to believe scientific and documentary evidence, mere argument often fails to convince me, which is troubling, to say the least.

Fending off all the mis- and disinformation, or separating signal from noise, is a full-time job if one is willing to undertake it. That used to be the mandate of the journalistic news media, at least in principle. Lots of failures on that account stack up throughout history. However, since we’re in the midst of a cultural phase dominated by competing claims to authority and the public’s retreat into ideation, the substitute worlds of extended and virtual reality become attractive alternatives to the fresh new hell we now face every morning. Tune in and check in might be what we think we’re doing, but more accurately, we tune out and check out of responsible engagement with the real world. That’s the domain of incessantly chipper morning TV shows. Moreover, we like to believe in the mythical stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, such as, for example, how privacy doesn’t matter, or that the U.S. is a free, democratic, liberal beacon of hope, or that economic value inheres in made-up currencies. It’s a battle for your attention and subscription in the marketplace of ideas. Caveat emptor.

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Comments
  1. I am in total agreement with you! I was watching YouTube, the local and evening news, Twitter and Facebook-I couldn’t get enough of the drama. Until I became so paranoid, so bleak-minded and anxious, that I prayed God relieve me of the burden. I know what I need to know for now. If I see one more “Hillary is going to jail, BREAKING NEWS” video, I will vomit all over my brand new boots. Happy to say God answered the prayer, as always…..the evening news, one video a day, and lots and lots of time outdoors was my fix. Well done friend.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. Unplugging from the feed is preserving sanity, whereas being constantly plugged in is crazy making. Outdoors is a good antidote, as is any focal practice that engages the body and mind together.

  2. Quarkybirdy says:

    Bravo, well said!! Every day does indeed seem to bring a ‘fresh new hell’, and the media seems to ramp it up several notches to ensure all social platforms are doused in it.

  3. timkautsky says:

    Well spoken. I think you would like the attached article. Nichols argues that forming opinions about complicated issues is difficult. Too difficult for most readers of the news, so it is much easier to cling to conjecture and sensationalism which reduces complexity to polarization. Also, the democratization of the news has made people less likely to admit to their own ignorance and form opinions where they have no foundation of knowledge. Disturbing stuff, now the question is are we helping or are we trying to debunk by blogging in the first place?
    take care,
    -TK
    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2017-02-13/how-america-lost-faith-expertise

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I only just became aware of Tom Nichols and his book The Death of Expertise. Haven’t read it yet. Among the things he discusses (you mention it without naming it) is the Dunning-Krueger Effect, which is a cognitive bias where people wildly overestimate their skills and understanding. Two examples spring to mind: contestants in the early rounds of American Idol who really, truly believe their singing is quite good and the occupant of an office of a certain distinctive shape who believes his conman skills are transferable to steering the ship of state.

      As to whether we’re debunking by blogging and/or commenting, I can make no such claims. My purpose in blogging is to work things out for myself. If someone else finds value in what I have to share, that’s a bonus. But I’ve long since given up trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m no one’s teacher or guru.

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