Martin Luther King spoke to today’s predicament, if anything even more acute now than when he said the words:
Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
We are now at the apex of a propaganda attack on the country, for the benefit of militarism, oligarchy … and the highly idiosyncratic ambitions of the President-elect.
This blog was started in 2004, and the tag line “Reality-based commentary” was inspired by the Ron Suskind article on the Bush administration, in which Karl Rove (probably) is quoted:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Even since the Nixon administration, we’ve seen attacks on the “liberal media”, which really meant that the media reports things that are unflattering to conservative prejudices. Ex-Nixon aide Roger Ailes started Fox News in 1996, fairly explicitly as a right-wing propaganda outlet but with the blackwhite trademark “Fair and Balanced”. Climate scientists are well-acquainted with the use of propaganda to muddy and distort the clearest of facts, crippling the public’s understanding of what is necessary for human civilization to continue to flourish on Earth. Reality — or rather, “reality” — is created, not observed, by those who are wealthy and well-connected enough to attempt it. We know about the Koch brothers; Sheldon Adelson; now the DeVos family; and so forth. Their money is like the gravity of a black hole — it distorts the very nature of reality around it.
So the press has been under fairly successful attack for years. Media is business, and the propaganda offensive by Fox and assorted right-wing media empires have created an expectation in a part of the population, that information unflattering to its prejudices is “biased.” Instead of maintaining a “just the facts” integrity against such attacks, media companies like CNN chase right-wing media market share, adjusting their coverage accordingly. (They thereby lose market share from people who look for something more incisive and substantive than relativistic ideological food-fights … but apparently those viewers don’t exist in adequate numbers.)
Parts of the federal government also provide the public with facts, independent of the demands of those in power, or political oligarchy. And those parts are under explicit threat:
… And on and on. Every day brings a new example. The common theme is that factual claims must be run by the authorities first. They must be made to accommodate the ideologies and predilections of those in power. The authorities will decide.
The incoming administration and Congress want to cut off the supply of credible, factual information to the public. Implicit is the admission that they can’t win if the public possesses it.
There are signs of flailing struggle in the media — even at generally-supine and inessential CNN. We may not yet have passed the Event Horizon for a new age of propaganda, though it’s apparent that a considerable chunk of the public will believe whatever they’re served. Social media bubbles, fake-news and low-quality clickbait-news don’t help. They are the crystal meth of information — providing irresistible jolts of satisfaction while providing no new understanding.
There’s no doubt that we on the left get played as well: Lefty clickbait is apparently a real business, based on my Facebook feed — and some is clearly meant to exacerbate internal conflicts on the left. (That was, after all, the very intent of the Wikileaks hack of DNC and Clinton campaign emails.) If we think we’re immune, we’re kidding ourselves. And we need each other — to stick together even while grappling with internal tensions.
So it’s up to us to re-dedicate ourselves to the “reality-based” community — to each other, and to habits of mind that accommodate new information, and discern from propaganda. We’ll have to search out and support credible, professional sources with integrity. We’ll have to know when we’re getting played. It will be harder than ever, given a stream of disinformation from the very top.