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.