Not With A Bang But With An Impression
How we’ve become the first civilization in history to destroy itself in pursuit of ad revenues
Some civilizations end because they fall victim to external forces. Others end because they rot from the inside. Ours is ending for the latter reason.
Wherever we look we see the forces of populism in the ascendant. Despite temporary pauses, the ratchet mechanism ensures that the overall trend continues inexorably in the same direction. Populism thrives because ordinary people are ignorant and foolish and thus easy prey for unscrupulous demagogues.
But how do the demagogues spread their toxic messages of fear-mongering and hatred? Is it necessary to stage a military coup and take over the broadcasting facilities of a nation, as per nearly every third-world coup over the last seventy years? Today, it’s certainly not enough merely to have one’s own organ to pump out propaganda for consumption by the simple-minded. Hitler had the Völkischer Beobachter, Mussolini had Avanti! and Lenin had Искга and then Правда. While Fox News and the other Murdoch far-right propaganda machines serve the interests of the US Republican Party and right-wing causes in other countries, the plethora of competing channels both conventional and Internet-based means that it’s impossible for any would-be demagogue to reach a sufficiently large percentage of the population by means of their own tools or those of friendly third parties.
Fortunately, they don’t have to.
It’s an axiom of the news industry that If it bleeds, it leads! Every editor knows that people aren’t interested in facts or matters of importance; what they want is sensation and lots of it. Unfortunately for any individual editor, every news organization on the planet is in competition with a great many other news organizations that know the same basic truth. This means that in order to break through the noise, stories must be ever-more sensational, which means they must have ever-less relationship to anything remotely resembling facts and context. This is because context would reduce or eliminate entirely the sensationalism on which every news organization depends for its very existence.