Most of what’s in the media has become internally reflective. Wire services and newspapers write original reports, which are then digested by secondary news providers (TV, radio, and the web). Then, authorized pundits tell you how you are supposed to feel about the news. The pundits and the secondary news-mongers then provide fodder for people to react to on tertiary communications networks like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. While this system might not be capable of developing perfect consensus, people tend to feel a need to pay (and that payment is costly, even to people earning $8/hour) attention to what the consensus is — or at least what the fragmentation of consensus happens to be.
This makes sense, because the operating assumption of democracy is that generating consensus is what a legitimate government does — it verifies the consent of the governed, providing a moral patina to the state which wouldn’t be present otherwise. They might not be able to garner 300,000,000 signatories to the social contract, but the opinion-molders can generate a serviceable consensus reality. Not everyone will agree, but most people will agree about the fundamentals of ‘reality,’ and even if they don’t agree, they will know what those fundamentals are supposed to be.
At the personal level, all this consensus-generating is enormously wasteful and is often quite damaging. Paying attention to crashed Malaysian planes means that you have less attention to devote to the actually important matters of life within your locus of control. Knowing all the details about the latest lurid scandal means that you have less space in your mind for the people, tasks, and things that actually matters to you.
In this way, democracy generates a pervasive mental pollution which wouldn’t be present otherwise. The media isn’t an entity independent of politics, despite all the pretenses about a free press. The reason for this is because every man is supposed to be a political micro-sovereign. Each person is, at least in theory, supposed to be sufficiently educated so as to be able to ably exercise their tiny slice of authority. And the only way that sovereigns can act with confidence is to accumulate enough support from all those micro-slices to do whatever it is that they wanted to do in the first place.
This goal has never proven to be possible, but it creates a demand to make it appear to be plausible.
In some limited ways, the internet as a technology has made it possible for people to carve out their own islands away from the consensus. This brief resurgence in freedom is probably coming to an end. Important people have noticed that the little people have been evading the consensus. If there are people evading the consensus, then it becomes more challenging to legitimate the popular government. The government’s popularity needs to be lockstep and uniform for it to be truly consensual, so it’s only logical to just eliminate everyone who doesn’t consent to the way of things, who doesn’t see things as the administrators of the state believe that they ought to be seen.
I concur with your mirrors metaphor, Henry. But I tweak it a bit to yield a more menacing conclusion.
If a person is sitting in a well-lit house at night, it is impossible to look through the windows at the traffic, persons and goings-ons in the darkness outside; no matter how hard he squints, the peering home-owner will only see his reflection and that of the home’s interior in the glass. This gets at the self-serving aspect of modern media: they exist to reflect our vanities.
But more insidiously, the glass’ reflections also prevent the home-owner from detecting dangers in the world outside. For instance, a stalker could be brazenly studying the resident inside the house through one of the windows, and the resident could be just inches from the glass but, owing to the glare from the glazing, she would still not be able to see the gawker outside. Thus, the gawker can gawk with utter impunity at the caged home-owner from his concealed “hide” outside. In this, media also serves as a blind behind which the unsavory can sneak, plot and hide, safe from detection.
To take the metaphor to its conclusion, imagine if, one dark night, the home-owner turned off the lights in the house. Suddenly the streets, hedges, trees and peeping toms outside become visible to her. They may be only shadows at first, but once her eyes adjust to the dark, the shadows become hues, the shapes solidify, and the hat, beard and eyes of the stalker resolve into the menace that he is. Then, and only then, might the victim react to repulse the threat.
In short then, if you want to sneak up on people, steal their garden gnomes, or piss on their begonias (or worse), and to do all of this undetected, then modern media provides just the blind you’ll need to perpetrate your crime (the Global Warming crusade best exemplifies this function). And, no matter how wary or armed the victim may be, so long as she is transfixed by her own reflection in her media, although he may be just inches away from her face, she will not see the criminal coming.
Until it’s too late.
And then will you still be free to write and I to read?
People will still be free to write and read but the writing may have to be done anonymously or bad things may happen to you, not necessarily done by govt. However, reading will become a lost art for most. Teaching literature has been deemphasized over time and will continue to be. It matters little under what slogan the modern ‘educators’ operate. Common Core reduces the time spent on literature and reduces much to reading disconnected chunks and reduces some to reading govt provided pap. The ideas underlying Common Core change names periodically as some people catch on.
Recall the role Julie Christie played in Fahrenheit 451.
Re: the left and their attempt to shut down free speech online. Perhaps this will be where we will find the true worth of Urbit – having a space on the internet that’s wholly owned and operated by Mencius Moldbug may end up being our last, best refuge.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of Moldbug’s plan from the start.