Friday 6 December 2013

What is the intrinsic, core function of the Mass Media? Just: to grow...


The mass media is a social system like no other; and the difference accounts for its intrinsic evil: that is to say its intrinsic tendency towards destruction of Good (destruction of truth, beauty and virtue).


The mass media is a social system of communications. But the other social systems have a basic, core, extrinsic and unifying function that is clearly useful: the police and military are about intra-social and inter-social coercive force; the political system and the public administration are about government; the health services are about alleviating suffering, promoting health and increasing life expectancy; the educational system about transmission of knowledge and so on.

Whether these systems actually do what they purport to do, is another matter. But all the social systems have a relatively clear and valuable social aim.


However, the intrinsic function of the mass media is merely to expand itself - that is, to expand its own system of communications; and it seems that the mass media does not have any extrinsic goal, nor any unifying useful function.

Therefore, the mass media succeeds by growing its own system of communications - and fails when this growth fails to happen, or reverses into shrinkage.


But why is the growth of the mass media intrinsically, on the whole, evil?

Simply because there are no functional constraints on mass media growth; so the mass media tends to take the short-term-beneficial line of least resistance; and grow and grow as far as it can, in whatever direction it is growing.

Differential growth of a system is intrinsically destructive in a zero sum world, because growth of one system can only be at the price of another - this applies especially to 'cognitive processing time and effort' in the human mind.


At first the other social systems supposed that they could use the mass media in order to amplify their own communications: for example, government could amplify its propaganda, science could popularize its results, the arts could 'reach' a much wider audience, and so on.

But pretty soon, the mass media began to dominate all the other social systems; its own internal logic of growth in communications began to invade and to dominate the other social systems; and this penetration inevitably was destructive of whatever functions these other systems had previously done - it had to be: anything other than the core function of a social system is a corruption.

A corruption, that is, except for adhesion to those 'higher laws and principles' necessary for social cohesion. This is typically a religion. All social systems thus - for the functional cohesion of society - ought to adhere to the over-arching religion, as well as to their own internal aim.


The mass media has now displaced religion as the over-arching, all-including system. But while a religion unifies without exception, the mass media undiscriminatingly attacks.

Now, the whole world is subject to all-embracing, all-including attention of the mass media.

But all this not to any aim, not in pursuit of any positive purpose - merely for the mass media to fuel its own expansion.



Wm Jas said...

Surely the aim of the mass media is to inform and entertain -- though of course it doesn't actually do that any more than the other systems you mentioned actually do what they're supposed to do.

As for growth-for-growth's-sake, Darwinian mechanisms constrain all systems to pursue that to some degree. Those that don't, don't survive long.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - "Surely the aim of the mass media is to inform and entertain" -

Not so, there is no system to inform (the MM has no capacity to generate information; for this it is parasitic); and entertainment is done by the arts.

The need to survive/ grow is a constraint of all systems - a property of systems per se; but not a primary function (which distinguishes systems).

ajb said...

The Deseret News recently added a national edition - curious as to whether you think this is a bad thing or a good thing for the LDS Church to pursue?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I have no idea. The mass media has a mass effect which is clearly discernible and is evil; yet of course that is a net effect, on average - and there are wonderfully Good counter-currents, among which is So far as I can tell - online, the Deseret News is pretty much an ordinary newspaper, but with some Mormon interest magazine features and coverage. I can't imagine the Deseret News is regarded as a major missionary tool; merely not as actively-bad as some other newspapers which Mountain West Saints might be reading.