Thursday 16 December 2010

Down the memory hole - and the inversions of political correctness


The way in which the media can put news 'down the memory hole' simply by refraining from mentioning it is an important insight into the nature of modern discourse.

It indicates the modern 'reality' is only that which is in the media now; and that the price paid for so much media content, so much time spent by the addicted citizenry on acquiring 'news' - is that each fresh day the slate is being wiped-clean.

So, the media control what is in people's minds past, present and (speculations about) the future.


There is nothing too big to be buried.

In the UK, the Fuel Crisis of 2000 - - was without doubt the most extraordinary political event of my lifetime; yet it was almost immediately buried. People never think about it, never talk about it, and - so far as I can see - it made no long term difference.

Even major terror atrocities can be disposed of:


What enables this is something in which we are almost-all of us complicit; the flood of news/ opinion/ analysis/ gossip on a daily basis.

To keep-up means that we must according news priority over history; the new dissolves the old, the old can only survive by being continually re-made as new.

This process is critical to modernity, because the process is intrinsically devaluing of the past - of people, opinions and facts.


This is indeed the key to the inversions of political correctness.

The casual, routine, un-argued assumption of the correctness and superiority of the current, is critical to the ability of the PC elites to retain their avant garde status (and their claim to expertise) by their ability continually to re-make morality, truth and aesthetics - to make sin into virtue, virtue into sin, propaganda into truth, truth into propaganda, beauty into kitsch and ugliness celebrated as beauty.


Because when the old is kept alive, this happens only on the media's own terms; so that the old is seen through the lens of the modern.

In such circumstances it is facile to misrepresent the past in any convenient fashion. Of course the media often invents falsehoods (I have experienced this personally - being 'quoted' - in quotation marks - in the mainstream international media supposedly-saying things which I never said and which do not believe); but invention is not necessary.

Since nobody and nothing is perfect, enemies can be rubbished by remembering bad things (maybe even just bad rumours or speculations); and since nobody and nothing is utterly bad then friends can readily be rehabilitated.

There is no requirement to prove the new better than the old, and no attempt is made to prove this; the new simply displaces the old on the assumption that those in the past were worse than us.


(To follow-up yesterday's example of Evidence Based Medicine - EBM; when this was introduced as superior to past ways of conducting clinical practice, there was no attempt to prove its superiority as a system, nor was this required of EBM. Instead, EBM simply displaced traditional methods of doing medicine in official discourse, and is now taught at medical schools as fact, as morally superior (doctors are taught to submit to EBM, i.e. to submit to management) as the only rational (because systematic) conduct. A 'systematic review' (i.e. a review conducted according to pre-specified and explicit criteria, and done by biostatisticians) is stated to be intrinsically superior to the knowledge and experience of expert clinicians. Past medicine (i.e. pre 1994), past doctors - those who made all of the discoveries from which we now benefit - are talked about and taught almost universally as being wicked, incompetent, selfish, corrupt.)


The future can be controlled likewise. The future is what people today say it will be.

I never cease to be amazed by the way that people around the world came to believe in the predictions of global warming.

One would imagine that to be regarded as a prophet, the minimumn requirement would be to make prophecies which came true.

Otherwise, how would you know someone was a prophet?

There never has been even the slightest shred of evidence that anybody can predict the earths climate, yet because the media is full of people doing exactly this, on a daily basis, 'everybody' (for a while) began to believe it was possible; believed, indeed, that our knowledge of the earth's future climate was the most certain and important knowledge possesed by humanity, the item of knoelwedge around which all policies must be organized.

Yet of course humans cannot predict future climate! Not even slightly.


How could so many people be so stupid as to imagine that we can?

Simple - because it fills the media, we are addicted to media, we believe what is in the media; and we believe what is in the media simply because it fills our minds, and it fills our minds because we have an intrinsic assumption that the current wipes clean the past.

And we believe that the current wipes clean the past because in a thoroughly secular society - and a society which regards truth, beauty and virtue as merely subjective delusions - at a deep spiritual level, we have to believe that the current wipes clean the past.


It is the insight first articulated by the Romantics: Since modern life has no purpose or meaning, life is lived in the present moment; therefore life is (nothing more than) a series of present moments (each complete unto itself - the world in a grain of sand). The validity of life is the validity of the present moment. The past is dead, except insofar as it is remembered by humans - which means the past is merely subjective. Knowledge is simply a matter of: "What have you done for me lately?"

At the root of all this is the absolute need for diversion as a primary spiritual mechanism in secular modernity.

In a world regarded as being ultimately without meaning or purpose; the most effective response is to fill the mind, and given the phenomenon of habituation (where animals stop responding to repeated identical stimuli) the most effective way of filling the mind is with a stream of novelty.

But the whole thing can only continue so long as the mass media remains large, attention grabbing, accessible, and prestigious.

If at any point, for any reason, this media dominance stopped; and of course this will happen sooner or later (probably sooner, due to the corruptions of bureaucracy) - then the PC edifice will immediately crumble.


1 comment:

Dirichlet said...

Professor Charlton --

I came to your blog through a friend who sent me your paper on psychological neoteny, which I found extremely interesting.

Your recent entries on PC are excellent. Since you live in the UK --the epicenter of the PC disaster-- I assume some of your writings are influenced by first-hand experience.

I will continue to read, and hopefully add something to the discussion!

All the best,
-- A reader from Texas.