Monday 8 June 2015

Why do people believe the mass media, instead of their own knowledge and experience?

Anyone who has been vilified in the mass media will recognize that nearly everybody believes mass media accounts, even when they are contradicted their own knowledge and experience as friends or colleagues.

There is a palpable reluctance, a suspicious resistance, against anything here-and-now, anything personal, which goes-against the mass media line.

But why? In theory everybody 'knows' the mass media selects, distorts and lies; everybody claims not to believe the mass media - in practice almost everybody believes almost everything.


Part of it seems to be a kind of misdirected primitive deference to 'power' - the mass media, despite that it isn't a person, is perceived and regarded by the human mind as if it was something like a tyrannical totalitarian dictator who must be obeyed - even in terms of belief.

Another part of it is the psychological corruption induced by living in a mass media society, and being personally addicted to the mass media (as most people are) - so that people dwell psycho-spiritually inside the mass media, and cannot even imagine not living inside it.

But another part has to do with the nature of human consciousness as it is and has been in our particular civilization for some centuries; but which is different in other parts of the world and times.


This is hard to describe, but it is something like the following: People are able to believe the mass media because they do not really believe anything.

This is part of the modern condition - that modern Man is so profoundly alienated, that he is alienated not just from work, bureaucracy, and society; but alienated also from his own thoughts and even his own beliefs.


Our subjective experience of ourselves, is of an isolated self, detached from even our own beliefs.

Our beliefs are not 'us' - our beliefs are 'merely' one of many things which may entertain us or bore us, which we observe with various attitudes... our beliefs are things we 'entertain' rather as we entertain the guests at a party; which is to say we invite guests whom we hope will entertain us.

We sit in the solitary confinement of our selves, observing this parade of beliefs - hundreds, millions of them - nearly all of which come via the mass media - as they dance past us.


Modern people are accustomed to having all kinds of beliefs in their mind - for a while, holding them only lightly. Entertaining them for a while, being-entertained by them for a while - playing with beliefs as a kitten plays with a ball of wool; or seizing upon beliefs and casting them aside in a desperate search for something precious that is lost... but all the time new guests are coming in and old guests are leaving.

It is not so much that people reject their personal experience and common sense in favour of the mass media, as that they do not hold to any beliefs with strength - not even those based on experience and common sense.

Modern Man does not even have conviction in his own nihilism - modern nihilism has turned and begun to consume itself. He suspects that nothing is real, he is dismayed that nothing is certain - but is he unsure whether some things might be real, and he is uncertain about his own uncertainty. 


This is what it is to be nihilist - to believe nothing is really real - it is to believe tactically, as an entertainment, or indeed merely as a distraction; because we cannot believe that anything more is possible.

So, to come-up-against people believing the mass media instead of what they might be expected to know for themselves is something new, distinctive, modern, Western; to come-up-against the shallow, spiteful, superficiality of belief among nearly everybody about everything - even things they ought to know - is a revelation of the depth of our spiritual poverty.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Wow, that really hit home.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - It was stimulated by my current (slow, careful) reading of Owen Barfield's most Steiner-esque book- Romanticism Comes Of Age (1944). A real eye-opener.