Wednesday 16 October 2013

The mass media and eternal vigilance


Total resistance to the modern mass media is impossible in The West - because the mass media is pervasive and omni-seductive.

So powerful, so all-encompassing, so alluring, so addictive that nobody who is compelled to remain within the modern situation ever could be sufficiently firm, conscientious, wholly unflagging and well-motivated.

Fighting the enticements of the modern mass media is a constant battle; and constant battle first makes us jaded, then desperate, finally leaves us exhausted - and when our resistance has thereby been broken-down, then the mass media will get us.


Total resistance is impossible, but perpetual resistance is necessary - indeed resistance makes all the difference: all the difference between losing and keeping our soul.

Resistance to assimilation by the mass media, hence to the forces of darkness, requires unceasing vigilance, unresting alertness, unpunctuated strength of will... in other words it is impossible; therefore all this must be backed-up by continual repentance.

Only by refusing to give-up the resistance, despite the demoralisation of innumerable hourly failures, will we be able to have any significant freedom.


However armoured you may be, you will have chinks of weakness - if not now, then at some time or another, sooner or later.

And the mass media is omni-potently set-up to penetrate all possible chinks of weakness.

And however tiny the initial penetration of your armour; the mass media has the capability (and purpose) to enlarge that breach; and like a parasitic wasp laying eggs inside a worm, where they may hatch and devour it utterly from within, so the mass media can enlarge and grow within you until it has consumed your soul - even starting from the smallest of beginnings.


Is the situation then hopeless?

No - not for a Christian. For a Christian this is merely a quantitative amplification of normal life, life as it always has been.

But the situation does need continual vigilance, sustained attempts to restrict and minimize exposure, and an open-ended willingness to acknowledge and repent your own multitudinous failures to resist the mass media; and the renewing resolve - despite this - to try again, starting now.


This capacity to perceive and acknowledge one's own faults, to take responsibility and repent, is surely near the core of the Christian life, and far, far more important than the strength of armour or will-power.

Christianity is not, ever, under any circumstances, only a matter of following rules with perfect obedience - and even if this were possible (and in the case of the modern mass media for most people most of the time it is not possible perfectly to follow the rules of righteousness) - then to follow the right rules for the wrong reasons or in the wrong (un-loving) spirit is utterly worthless.

Our recidivism, our endless failures, ought to makes us ever-more humble and grateful for the forgiveness consequent upon Christ's atonement.


So long as we acknowledge and repent - and do not defend, nor justify, nor rationalize - our failures, either to ourselves or to others; the number and frequency of our inevitable failures is immaterial, and we will not be - we cannot be - corrupted by the mass media beyond prospect of rescue at the last.  



david stanley said...

A powerful message. This ties in nicely with the "low information diet" that I have been trying. I still listen to some radio 4 content via podcasts and classic fm but it's mostly free audiobooks for me now plus a monthly indulgence of one audible download. So far Francis Spufford,Thomas Sowell,Alistair McGrath and Wade Davis have been far better programming than what our betters think is appropriate news. But then I am lucky as I can listen to what I want all day as I work without bothering anyone. The downside is I often don't know what the trivial news items are which people want to chat about.

How about a "Mere Christian" podcast?

Wm Jas said...

By "resistance" do you mean total abstinence -- never watching TV, never reading a newspaper, never listening to pop music, etc.? I know that's impossible in practice, but do you consider it something to aspire to? If not, what exactly do you mean by "resistance"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - The point is that total abstinence IS impossible for most people most of the time.

But giving up to the media is death - so we must be in a state of resistance; that is awareness of the net evil of the mass media, and the tendency toward evil of the mass media, and therefore never to surrender to the mass media - but if we do weaken and surrender then repent it, and start resisting again.

Wm Jas said...

Yes, I understand, but my question is not about what is possible but about the ideal standard of behavior to which we must aspire, and for which we must repent of falling short. Do you believe that a hypothetical morally perfect person would abstain totally from the mass media?

In other words, do you believe that repentance is in order every time one reads a newspaper, watches TV, etc.? Or do you mean by "surrender" something more serious than mere voluntary exposure?

Nicholas Fulford said...

What? Give up The Economist, and Foreign Affairs. (Sorry, I can't. I would begin to jones almost immediately.)


(How can I give articles like that up?)

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Most people cannot abstain all of the time - the nature of their lives and their innate natures make it impossible.

What I was getting at is that whenever we participate in the mass media, we are - sooner or later - going to be subjected to temptations to which we yield. It is that which must be resisted - especially when we know what is being done.

As an example - every time I sign out from my e-mail, I cannot help but see several very carefully and cleverly crafted news photos and headlines which are designed to make me click the link and follow the story - which is almost always *bad* (and intentionally bad) in one way or another. Mostly I don't click, sometimes I do, sometimes I get swept along.

I need to use the e-mail. I cannot always be strong. Therefore eternal vigilance, constant resistance - but also acknowledgement when I fail, no excuses to myself, but repentance.

Living in the modern media world is like being a child in a world where addictive drugs hidden in sweets have been strewn and hidden everywhere.

Alcoholics anonymous can work when there is just one drug, and there is some possibility of avoiding exposure to temptation - but the main thing is to explicitly admit that 'I am an alcoholic'.

Modern society will never learn to escape the clutches of the media until it first admits it is addicted to the media. And I mean *really* addicted, like a desperate, down and out alcoholic who will drink *anything*.