I don’t want to sound like a snob, a luddite, or a weirdo, but I sometimes feel like the only person around who isn’t addicted to television. People get mad at me for my strong objection to hate powered factionalism, but to me, they look like raving junkies, mainlining something very dangerous to their sanity. I’m not saying I don’t watch and enjoy television – I definitely do, and yes, I also know that plenty of younger people do all of their viewing online – but that’s a fussy and technical, rather than a substantial argument. The one thing about that which is sharply relevant to our historical moment, is that this fast shifting viewership makes the old media companies very nervous.
This is understandable, too – in the old days, there were just a few huge companies which controlled almost all of the information people saw. For the early part of this century in particular, the internet threatened to turn that established model of profit and social narrative control on its head. A million soapboxes arose.
But you can’t mess with the feeding trough of a bunch of century old billion-dollar hogs, without expecting some pushback.
Right now, there is massive pressure to require internet media companies to censor speech on their platforms, or else face anti-trust legislation. This is double wrong. They absolutely are classic monopolies on their platforms, and responsible legislators would break them up for the public good, and as a public service.
The deal they are trying for instead, is a way to save the new media monopolies from being broken up into true public service utilities, and simultaneously save the old print and television news outlets from utter extinction, by doing something that looks tough, but is intended one hundred percent as political corruption. Removing or reducing the legal protection for data carriers, from third party lawsuits over content created by their users.
At one extreme, we all understand that we wouldn’t have telephones, if the phone company could be sued, every time someone used their phone to say something illegal, threatening or slanderous. People use phones freely to communicate, and we value this free communication so much that we don’t want the phone company listening-in and checking up on us. Whether we are good or not is simply not Ma Bell’s business.
Social media is a little different, because we can talk to people who we didn’t know were listening – or sometimes at a much later date in time. There are also a whole range of funny quirks with the way information spreads. Part of it is gossip psychology, part boasting to look informed, part fear mongering to excuse one’s own inaction – people will be writing dissertations about all of this nonsense for decades, and my guess is that like most historical periods, we’ll understand the deepest truth of ours only when we are entering the next, and the insights are of more scholarly than practical use.
The thing about the modern day social media giants is that they are the richest companies which have ever existed on earth. So if they were required by law to face lawsuits over user content, they could fight them for awhile, and then lay down a big heavy net of censorship – “Forced on them by the courts”. But in the meantime, what happens to the little guys? Independent platforms with huge readerships are not giant corporate profit engines, they don’t have a full time staff of top priced legal sharks to deploy, in case of emergencies. These are serious reporters talking directly to their readers. The majors want them silenced.
I don’t want to start an extra argument, but it reminds me a lot of the Cathars. A group of millions of people in Southern France who thought they could relate to god directly without depending on the guidance (heavy handed control) of a Catholic priesthood at all. The slaughter ordered by the Pope – of these sincere (albeit heretical) Christians, went beyond even the worst atrocities of the crusades. Millions of civilians killed. Power acts like that when it feels control slipping, folks. Death on wheels.
Step away from the pocket watch – and punch that hypnotist in the face. Splash some water on your face, snap out of it! Read a book, meet a friend for lunch. Laugh so hard you cry! Prepare yourself.
We have serious work to do.
I haven’t read a daily newspaper in decades, (and actually, I find it hard to believe we still do that to trees at his late stage – though paper flyers are an even more stupid use of wood pulp, so they do retain some cover in terms of priority at least, if not morality).
We also haven’t got cable, just an antenna. We get about three dozen channels for free that way, and can choose from plenty of news programs, but we didn’t have an all day news station harassing us until just last week, when one of the majors added a piggyback channel for twenty four hour news “Service”.
What I do do is read, voraciously. Books, articles, papers, poems – you name it. I also talk to people in an unusual way. I’m an imbecile for pleasantries, but I can go deep with you as if we’ve been friends for twenty years, in about twenty minutes. I want to share substance, not trivia, and I’ve been blessed with many friends from around the world who feel the same way. Direct heartfelt testimony is the most important component of my understanding of the world, because I know that the people who I speak to, understand the balance of forces in that situation which is relevant to those who live there.
After human beings, books probably get closest. Articles used to, sometimes, but especially in the cutthroat modern market, the pressure to sensationalize a story to make it more profitable is too great to allow for quiet humble witness. Also – editors don’t want to send a writer out for months anymore, to really learn about a thing. They want results while the subject is still in fashion. The way public interest flits about nowadays, months might as well be centuries.
Though many fewer people spend their time on it, some radio programming still has a genuine audience connection. I know a few people who work in the medium, and they listen very carefully to what their listeners say to them. This is good for their humility – and they often find it surprisingly inspiring.
But OMG folks – twenty four hour “News” programming (and its various soulless official media and internet tinctures) is a dangerous and poisonous drug.
I’ve been trying for a couple of years now, to figure out why so many people who are upset, are turning to vicious attacks on others, based on pride in indignation and really shocking ignorance. Suddenly I see the source laid out clearly before my eyes. There are plenty of smiles and sincere looks – snarls, too – as if news is supposed to be a sermon, rather than a description of events – but the sum total effect is a malign hypnotic trance. “I am very concerned, I am informed, I am very concerned, I am very…”
Forty years ago, I used to be able to rely on my chums on the left to take great pains to source their news differently, so as to always be skeptical of the narrative favoured by the system itself – even though they definitely took that to ridiculous extremes sometimes (I still can’t forget a Spartacist friend repeatedly hailing the glorious gains the Soviet Army made for women in Afghanistan in the eighties).
Now, even when willfully contrarian, they still subscribe to that same basic hypnotic mantra, through whichever sources best flatter their existing worldview.
Sure, you’re concerned – but so is everyone else on earth, so stop acting as if that makes you special, instead of whiny. As for informed – no damn way. Informed is something which is reflected in wise action – and there is no more lonely constituency on earth in this moment. Everyone is upset, off balance, foolish.
The question is – how much evil are we going to allow to be done in our name, in our moment of panic, before we come to our senses and realize it is too late to go back? Hate to be the rude one to actually go and mention it out loud, but as a map lover from way way back, I can’t help pointing out – that was the freakin’ Rubicon already, fifty miles back!