IGNORANCE AND THE NEWS
Its fair to say we live in an Information Age, which is perhaps another way of conceding theres a flood of information and that were completely awash in it.
Is it information we need? Not always. But to the extent that knowledge is power, such information must strengthen us immeasurably. At the very least, we should know ourselves better; at least, we have the facts to claim expertise on a whole host of subjects: tv shows, movies, celebrities, athletes and sport teams. We even come armed with the stats to prove it: batting averages, war-time death estimates and even famous movie lines. Theres nothing we dont know or cant at least look up in the time it takes to type a URL.
Why then, if we know so much, do we still understand ourselves so little? Is it a case of too much fact and too little to the purpose? It may be the consequence of materialism which places considerable emphasis on fact, or rather whats broadly accepted as fact. What cant be proven by a broad consensus is disregarded, leaving us with the faade that we can all agree upon: the sun and moon in the sky, the fish in the sea and people everywhere. If we cant agree, then it isnt a fact but merely a theory.
Information is a combination of fact and theory, consensus and individual opinion. It is what we choose to teach our children and its what they, in turn, will teach their children. Information, once acquired, is rarely disputed. Its often forgotten, however, once it no longer lends itself well to the quotidian purposes of the day. Nothings lost, fortunately, just set aside until a future generation declares the information worthy of attention.
Information, once acquired, is never lost, even if other distractions temporarily take priority. Information remains, open to all to make of it as they will. Whether we learn anything is beside the point. Information, at least, is there, and we can learn if we choose to do so. We have the internet to thank for much of this, which gives us some hope that our days surfing to no apparent purpose (but sheer boredom) will never go to waste. As long as there are adventurers intrepid enough to travel the outer limits of the world wide web, their discoveries may well enlighten the rest of us.
As long as theres an appetite for information, well create it if necessary; and theres no end to what we can make up to keep ourselves from losing interest. When thats not enough, we can while away our free hours assessing what information we have and building upon it, providing a wealth of information about information, a universe of metadata to no end.
One might call information a universe in its own right. Theres so much of it, it needs no human to give it purpose. Its self-validating and perhaps even self-perpetuating, existing in its own right and according to its own rules.
What makes information so impressive is what also makes it troubling. Theres too much of it, and its increasing at an exponential rate. The freedom of information is almost a curse if it requires all our time to examine it. What use, then, is free time, if information consumes it?
We might call it a Pandoras box. We wanted to know, and we looked inside, forgetting that the box, once open, can never be closed. Nor would we want it closed since to close it is to restrain the spirit of human endeavor.
Whats required is discrimination. Those who benefit the most from the existing power structure understand this and always have. Information, if channeled carefully, can be a powerful tool to influence and control.
Most people prefer to leave the business of parsing and examining information to the experts. And the so-called experts examine and declare their conclusions to all wholl bend their ear. Unfortunately, these experts act on behalf of those who can afford to pay them, which means that most expert opinions tend to reinforce the existing power structure; using information to distract rather than empower, assuring the populace, all the while, that knowledge is still power. Not all information is true, however, and only truth empowers; but since when did the power elite ever desire the empowerment of the disenfranchised?
If information were never used to advance an agenda, information could always be trusted. As it is, information should always be greeted with considerable caution. Distinguishing the lie from the truth is easy enough, but lies are most treacherous not for whats misrepresented but for what isnt said at all. And how can one understand the truth if its incomplete?
Those who benefit the most from the existing power structure cant sustain their power alone. They must enlist the support of others. And what better way to enlist that support than with carefully chosen information tailored to make a persuasive case for support?
The prime directive of media watchdogs is not to tell the truth but to tell an interesting and entertaining story. This is the distraction: the political sex scandals and the celebrity break-ups, packaged as the only truth worth knowing. Its a precise agenda designed for maximum drama. It doesnt even matter if its true anymore, the line between fact and fiction becoming increasingly blurred. Soon enough, people will no longer care.
Those who pay for the stories have good reason to keep the population distracted. This way, problems(the usual problems of the disenfranchised and powerless) become stories and need never be repaired. Only problems that afflict the powerful and powerless alike remain problems to be fixed.
Those who pay for stories might not tell story tellers what to write but they still choose the stories. This is the business of setting an agenda. Dont wait for the stories, seek them out. And based on the stories that get told, one might mistake the population for a mob of boredom-prone thrill seekers who care not for the purpose but only for the spectacle.
As long as people prefer the shimmer on the surface, there will be no need to plumb the depths; which suits the power elite just find because lurking in those murky depths are truths that might well put the lie to he veneer of light and color. Fortunately for those with information to conceal, most people will only look so far before other distractions claim their attention. Only the single-minded obsessive ever dares to plunge deep enough, and he or she is invariably mocked for the attempt.
Theres a social contract of sorts. Its not one that anyone knows about but it keeps things settled, more of less. We turn to the powerful to sift through the information and share what they believe is most news worthy. That powerful provide what information they choose to share, careful to provide only whats necessary to secure support for the power structure, as is. The rest is disregarded by everyone except for a handful of conspiracy theorists and determined truth seekers.
Fortunately for the power elite, most people prefer easy convenience to painstaking precision, often leaving the tough questions for our so-called experts to answer. We at the Church That Is No Church would do likewise if we werent attempting to position ourselves as experts in our own right; although wed be the first to caution you against relying on experts for all that you need to know.
People ask for only the information they need and the power elite provide what information theyre willing to share; and by filtering raw information, the power elite effectively limit the dialogue and also the publics capacity for making informed decisions. Its tantamount to being told what to think. In fairness, however, it should be noted that everyone has an agenda and that relying on anyone for information will guarantee not the full facts but only a version thereof.
Information empowers all, powerful and powerless alike. Only the powerful, however, know how to make good use of that information while limiting what others might access.
Power has its advantages, as always, which means that, with enough money, no information is off limits. And that means information about you. Its the business of the state to know its inhabitants and so it is that you become information. To better market its products, corporation seek out the same information, the better to anticipate what you want and the better to influence your decisions. In fact, no information is more prized in the transglobal economy than consumer information, and as long as you consume, companies want to know you and understand you. They want your trust so that you might turn to them for advice. It will be self-serving advice, to be sure. Then again, information isnt just information when theres a profit to be turned from it.
If theres a profit to be made, theres almost certainly an agenda to pursue; and that means information gets filtered to support the existing power structure. Anyone who seeks to undermine that power structure is either a criminal or, at the very least, a bad person who cant be relied upon for trustworthy information. The enemy fails because the enemy is called a liar. Only the most powerful speak true, or so its claimed, and its that selfless commitment to honesty, its further claimed, that made them powerful in the first place; powerful because theyre more deserving, or so the story goes.
Despite a wealth of information, only the interesting stories get shared. After all, people prefer being entertained to being informed; and, with any entertainment, the story is all the more enjoyable for its exaggerations. Tell a story often enough and it will revise itself time and time again until it no longer resembles the events upon which it may or may not have been based.
If fact alone could tell great stories, we would never have to distill the observations from the theory or the history from the myth. The truth would be apparent without investigation. Only by developing an eye for the truth, however, can one distinguish it from the half-truth.
Theres information to be had, but, as with anything worth having, it must be sought out and claimed. And by claimed we dont mean to won to the exclusion of others, but rather to assert an equal right of access. Information is for all and it is only by ignoring it that we empower those who stockpile it.
As long as information empowers, those with access to information will release it grudgingly. Seek it out, all the same. Demand it if necessary. Without information, youre as good as blind, relying on sign posts and the assistance of those who know the way, trusting they wont lead you astray. Youre still better off putting faith in your own ability to discriminate whats worth knowing rather than leaving it to others to decide for you.
There is power in information only if you have better access to information than others. Its what makes the state so powerful; and while you may not have the capacity for classifying information as the state is wont to do, theres nothing to be gained from secrets anyway. Keep yourself informed and the less you rely on traditional media sources, the better.
The best information is never given; rather, it must be pursued. If not, you might as well content yourself with distraction and ignorance, because the power elite will never share their secrets, not even at a paid seminar promising the secrets of success and fortune.
Although information should be empowering, the media offers little more than fear and falsehood; fear that a changed world will doom us and falsehood that there is no better path then the one that wears us down. The message being that the world is a frightening place so quit your complaining and consider yourself fortunate it isnt worse. While it is true that the world is a dangerous place, its probably more accurate to say that the business of the world is driven by self-interest, making enemies of those with adverse interests and friends when interests concur; although to the extent that the interests of the powerful diverge from the powerless, it doesnt require a huge leap of logic to guess whose interests will likely prevail. And the key to the inevitable victory is information.
The usual promises wont keep you informed, although they might keep you quiescent and complacent. Arm yourself with information and youll not only learn why those promises are never kept but youll also learn what it takes to actualize them yourself.
Dont make assumptions since assumptions will only keep you ignorant. By assuming knowledge you dont have, youre already done the work of the media, closing your mind to the possibility that your decisions arent entirely informed. Ignorance has no better insurance than self-deception. Its more effective than any Orwellian dystopian.
If you arent sure what to think, its not a weakness. Its merely an opportunity to secure better information. And with a world wide web of information and an eye for whats worth knowing, theres no reason not to keep fully informed. It requires an effort, but self-reliance is worth it.
Fortunately for you, the very fact that youre reading these words rather than contenting yourself with the usual smoke and mirrors is an encouraging sign. Seek and you will learn. Wait, on the other hand, and prepare to be told.
While some information gets commodified and priced, all the information you really need to know is free; and the fewer people you depend upon to keep you informed, the more likely that information will be true. That truth might not make you more human but it will at least remind you what that is and what it will take to make good use of it.