Wednesday 6 March 2013

Why is the mass media intrinsically anti-Good? Because it necessarily displaces religion


The mass media is an enigma - of the kind that happens when we ask exactly the wrong questions.

And, of course, it is exactly the mass media which specializes in getting people to ask exactly the wrong questions.


I have been trying to unravel this stuff for several years - for example in this piece from my pro-modernization, libertarian, pre-Christian era -

That piece is, of course, wrong both fundamentally and superficially - but the basic insight was correct that the mass media replaces religion.


(Religion may be pro- or anti-Good and to varying degrees, according to the religion - but the mass media is necessarily anti-Good.)


So, if we accept the McLuhanite insight that the medium is the message - so it is not the contents, but the fact the of mass media which is primary (and the fact that so many people are engaged by it for so many hours per day)...

And add to it the observation that there is a reciprocal relationship between the mass media and religion - and as the mass media grows, there is a commensurate destruction of religion...

Then we have the basis of an explanation for what the mass media is doing, and why it is intrinsically anti-Good.


The confusion comes because to be anti-Good is not the same as to be pro-evil.

So much of the content of the modern mass media in the West is indeed overtly pro-evil that we neglect to notice that this is mostly a phenomenon of the post mid-1960s era, growing in strength over the past several decades.

Early mass media was equally anti-Good in its effect - but the content was often anti-evil, or pro-Good - so that this was hard to discern.


The anti-Good effect of the mass media therefore essentially comes from the fact that it displaces religion as the social evaluation system.

The specific evaluations of the mass media may variously be pro-evil, or even pro-good - but it is the fact that the mass media has become the major societal evaluation system which is primary.

Once the mass media has become the primary system of evaluation, then a line has been crossed (this was crossed in the mid-1960s in the West).


So, while the specific media evaluations can and do vary, this is not the phenomenon of primary significance.

It is that the mass media necessarily displaces religion as the mechanism of societal evaluation which is primary. 

What matters essentially is that in the modern West it is the mass media which makes and communicates (or does not communicate) all significant social evaluations: and that is why the nature of the mass media is to be anti-Good.



Bruce B. said...

One of your best posts yet. And that’s saying a lot. This is a nice supplement to your “the media IS leftist bias” post.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - Thank you. This matter of the mass media is something I am thinking-through at present - anticipate more posts on this topic...

Matthew C. said...

This is an EXCELLENT insight. I am going to read this and reread it again.

Another example of why this blog is my #1 read every day (after scripture).

ajb said...

"What matters essentially is that in the modern West it is the mass media which makes and communicates (or does not communicate) all significant social evaluations: and that is why the nature of the mass media is to be anti-Good."

I think it is rather who controls the mass media, and toward what ends?

If religions seized on contemporary media, and started to use them effectively, then the effects would be largely different.

Various people are starting in this direction - see the Catholic church's 'New Evangelization', for an example.

Consider: writing in the form of books or publicly released letters is a mass medium. Therefore, are the Gospels inherently anti-good?

The problem isn't the new forms of mass media, but rather their unprecedented power, combined with an obtuse refusal to recognize how important these new media were and are by members of various forms of Christianity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - Well. my aim is to persuade you that you are wrong!

If the Catholic Church has to influence people via the good will of the media, it is the media which are in charge.

The most successful churches reach their people directly, and their people ignore the media when it comes to their church.

ajb said...

"If the Catholic Church has to influence people via the good will of the media, it is the media which are in charge."

That's the whole point! It's recognizing what has happened.

However, recognizing the importance of forms of new media often means establishing relatively direct forms of communication, and therefore influencing people with less reliance upon the 'good will of the media'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - the direct forms of communication are as old as the hills - face to face, eye contact, natural audible range, touch.

Jonathan C said...

I agree with the others that this is a great observation. And it's almost obviously true once it's articulated, but I had never asked myself the question, "What is our social evaluation system?"

At the same time, I can't help but observe that this new non-mass media called reactionary blogging has taught me ten times as much about religion as my Catholic upbringing did, and that almost none of the many mythbusting reorientations in how I see the world have come from the direct forms of communication. I wish I personally knew anyone one tenth as profound as my favorite bloggers.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - Maybe blogging is not always a mass medium? This blog certainly isn't 'mass'! I could fit all the daily readers into a lecture theatre - and of course that kind of primary communication would be far better.

Jonathan C said...

Yes, that's why I said "non-mass media"...and most of my favorite blogs seem to have very small readerships (and very big ideas).

But my point is that the net has partly reversed the monolithic nature of the media, and made it easier for those who seek to find better social evaluation systems than any I had available through personal contacts. (Though things probably haven't improved for those who don't seek.) Whereas my church, which did reach me directly, gave me a terribly bad social evaluation system.

Reactor said...

Interesting quote by Marshall McLuhan:

"Electric information environments, being utterly ethereal, foster the illusion of the world as spiritual substance. It is now a reasonable facsimile of the Mystical Body, a blatant manifestation of the Anti-Christ. After all, the Prince of this World is a very great electric engineer ..."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Reactor - McLuhan was, of course, a devout Roman Catholic. However, at times he let his enthusiasm, and perhaps his desire for fame, get the better of him.

Furthermore, for most of the period of his fame - post 1967 - he had suffered significant damage from a brain tumour and the extremely (unprecedentedly) prolonged operation to remove it, so all his good work came from the period before the symptoms of this arose in about 1966.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - Yes, but we need considerable self disipline to prevent reading blogs, blogging, commenting etc from becoming an addiction/ distraction.

(In this respect, I am a hypocrite; don't do as I do, do as I say!)