On the morning of 28th January 2021, British people woke to find every newspaper and online news site pretending that the European Union was trying to “steal” supplies of “British” SARS-COV2 vaccine. While this absurd pseudo-nationalist post-Brexit sensationalism was eminently predictable by anyone with an IQ larger than their hat size, it is nevertheless extremely effective and thus extremely toxic.
Ironically, the truth — as is so often the case these days — is the opposite of what is presented in the news media. In reality it was the British who, a couple of weeks ago, were begging the EU to safeguard deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine, which is manufactured at Pfizer’s Puurs site in Belgium. The EU, true to its principles, confirmed that vaccines bought in advance by the UK government would indeed be delivered to the UK as intended. At no time has the EU sought to propose that vaccines intended for the UK be redirected to EU member states instead, despite how appallingly the British have behaved throughout the Brexit process.
But who in the UK is going to make the slightest effort to look at the publicly available records that flatly contradict the media claims when there’s a nice juice headline to believe instead? And because all the UK news organizations are pushing the same lie, it therefore must be true! So why bother looking for mere facts?
These are the same media organizations that reliably repeated Brexiteer lies about £350 million per week going to Europe instead of to the British National Health Service, as well as countless other lies about how easy Brexit would be and how the giant EU would automatically capitulate to the totally unrealistic demands of the minnow UK. Incredibly, the British news media is still regarded by many as moderately reliable — which is little different from believing that Правда and Известия are moderately reliable sources of information also. I suspect we’re not far off from the day when the two Kremlin-controlled newspapers will in fact be more reliable than British rags.
Perhaps UK newspapers should consolidate and then rebrand as The Daily Scrotum, because all they contain is bollocks.
The twentieth century ought to have been a lesson in the dangers of stoking populist fires by telling infantile lies to foolish ignorant people but as we humans never learn anything from our experiences we’re now right back to the first half of the last century. News organizations know that responsible reporting doesn’t grab eyeballs, so the emphasis is now 100% on populist sensationalism all day, every day, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, co-creators of the “yellow journalism” of the early twentieth century, would be just as proud of their equivalents today as they undoubtedly were of Goebbels and Mussolini, whose inflammatory nonsense in the Völkischer Beobachter and Avanti! respectively were instrumental in whipping great masses of ordinary people into frenzies of fear, resentment, and anger at imaginary enemies. Naturally the other newspapers of the day joined in, unwilling to be left out of the feast.
We all know what wonders that strategy ultimately yielded.
And yet: here we are again.
Trump rose to power on the back of news organizations tirelessly repeating and amplifying his every lie. Fox News, which has never been anything other than a right-wing propaganda machine, for nearly three decades has played an essential role in persuading gullible Republican voters that they’re under existential threat from a host of imaginary demons. Supposedly “liberal” news organizations have found that the constant need to generate ad revenues must take precedence over any sort of objective reporting and so they too have become nothing more than conduits for an endless stream of lies spouted by cynical politicians and, alas, not infrequently simply invented by editors who have a keen sense of what the great mass of foolish ignorant people will respond to most strongly.
In short, our media organizations resemble the huge fast-food corporations that make their fortunes by slowly poisoning people with profoundly unhealthy slop. We now have a global obesity epidemic — a health crisis of literally monumental proportions — that has resulted from the fact we permit corporations to pursue profits at the expense of society as a whole. We similarly have a global toxicity epidemic that has resulted from the fact that so-called “news” organizations are encouraged to make profits by duping the great mass of ordinary people who are too ill-informed and too intellectually indolent ever to realize they’re being lied to on an hourly basis.
Everywhere we look we see “news” organizations creating as much sensationalist nonsense as they can, because that reliably draws eyeballs that can be monetized. Ordinary people neither know nor care that what they are being fed is poisoning them — after all, ordinary people are also avid consumers of McSlop and Kentucky Fried Cancer. Most people lack the cognitive abilities necessary to protect themselves against manipulation by organizations that fully understand their limitations and hardwired weaknesses.
In theory, one of the roles of government (pace Adam Smith) is precisely to prevent corporations abusing ordinary citizens in this way. Alas, we know too well that governments consist of highly biddable politicians who are always eager to receive into their outstretched hands a few silver coins in return for passing legislation than helps the giver to become even more wealthy and powerful than before. That’s why the large food companies aren’t facing any penalties for the harm they have inflicted on billions of people around the globe. It’s why the media organizations aren’t facing any meaningful penalties for the ceaseless populist-sensationalist nonsense they constantly pour into people’s heads.
Hearst didn’t care about the fact his self-generated Spanish-American War killed ordinary people. He was concerned only about the profits of his newspaper organization and his own personal power. Goebbels regarded Europe’s Jews as disposable pawns to be sacrificed in order to further the aims of his Führer. Rupert Murdoch and his fellow media barons (including the likes of Zuckerberg and Dorsey) don’t care about the toxic effects of the lies they promote with such assiduousness; their only concern is the number of eyeballs they can attract each minute of every day.
Thanks to the actions of such people and the organizations they control, the lives of billions of people are smashed to pieces.
The hard fact is that most of us have no idea what is good for us. We cram ourselves with junk foods and junk entertainments that make us physically and mentally sick. We know nothing and we understand nothing. So it’s somewhat strange that we take no steps to protect ourselves.
We wouldn’t dream of letting a toddler vote, or decide what to eat every day, or have final say over what to stare at on a screen. But we make the absurd assumption that once the toddler has lived long enough it will magically become more competent at life’s basic tasks. A single glance around us shows the fallacy of this assumption. If we adults can’t even make adequate decisions about what to put into our mouths — the simplest possible choice, and one with unmistakable effects — how on Earth can we imagine that we can make adequate decisions regarding matters beyond our comprehension?
How can we imagine that when we are fed a constant diet of toxic lies we will behave with any semblance of rationality? Ordinary people are the flat-Earthers, the conspiracy theorists, the Proud Boys, the evangelicals, the “patriots,” and all the other poor deluded saps who individually are reasonably harmless but collectively can be persuaded to invade other countries and kill their neighbors in order to “save” everything they’ve been told they should value.
Today we’re supposed to believe that everybody is equal, that everyone’s opinion is valid (no matter how ill-informed and foolish the person may be), and that everyone has a right to everything. But that just makes us hypocrites.
Do we really truly believe anyone at all should be allowed to fly a commercial aircraft provided only that they are over the age of consent? When our tooth aches, do we ask Sally next door to perform dentistry on us because surely she will be just as good as a trained specialist with twenty years of experience? If we have a burst appendix and are minutes from toxic shock and death, do we ask Frank next door to operate on us because, well, everyone is as good as everyone else so what harm can it possibly do?
The fact is, we live in a world of specialisms. We expect competence in every area of our lives — in fact, our lives depend on people acquiring and maintaining essential competences in their particular areas of expertise. That’s why we have carefully designed systems of education, training, and licensing.
We therefore do not pretend that everyone is just as good as everyone else and as competent as everyone else — except when it comes to the most important matter of all: the way we manage our collective affairs. Suddenly, because cause and effect are spaced out by time and therefore not instantly obvious, we pretend that all the things we know to be true and important can be ignored. We indulge in sophomoric fantasies about equality, about what “should” be the case instead of what really is the case.
Which permits unscrupulous and desperate individuals and organizations to take advantage of our folly and ignorance and turn our intellectual and emotional limitations against us. News organizations feed lies to the masses and the masses vote for and support policies that are engendered by those lies. We tell ourselves that this situation is perfectly fine and democratic and good, even as the lies corrode the world around us and turn neighbor against neighbor.
Unfortunately we’ve resolutely refused to learn anything at all from the horrific experiences of the previous century. And so we’re right back here again. Welcome to the past.
Welcome to more lies, more fear, more anger, more specious populism, more pseudo-patriotism, and more hatred. What could possibly be more wholesome and thoroughly democratic? It is, after all, our modern way. Anything else would be censorship, and we all know how terrible that would be. Imagine the horror if news organizations were penalized for spreading lies! Imagine how awful it would be if the information we received was accurate! What a terrible world it would be if people made decisions based on real-world facts instead of being duped by fantasies conjured up by cynical politicians and even-more-cynical editors!
No wonder we resist anything that would constrain media organizations from continuing to lie to us and deceive us and fill our heads with the most dangerous nonsense imaginable.
Anything else would be, well, unthinkable.