Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Drawing To A Close Of The Information Revolution

Few realize it but a 60 year revolution of a different sort is showing signs of closure.  The re-election of Barack Obama was a signal that a victor in this revolution, brought about by the proliferation of the television set, is now beginning to emerge.  Since it is an un-named revolution, hidden perhaps behind other simultaneous and not entirely disconnected revolutions like the sexual revolution, I'll simply suffice to call it the Information Revolution.

It's clear that information has always played a crucial role in struggles, whether armed or cultural.  But this revolution is different for it has been the very concept of information that appears to have been at stake.

Historically, as it involves information, strategies have centered on it's control; bluffing opponents and deceiving enemies with false information, as well as propagandizing the populace to arouse passions against enemies, have all been effective utilities of information.  The American founders understood this well and so enshrined the freedom of information into the Constitution as a defensive bulwark against those who would control information for their own gain. But the television has changed all that.  The control of information has been rendered irrelevant because information itself has been rendered irrelevant.

A glimpse of the new battlefield upon which this revolution would take place occurred in 1960 during the first televised presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. This debate, it so happened, occurred as the proliferation of TV sets in the American home was in full swing. These debates are noteworthy, therefore, not because of the ideas that were debated, but rather because of the impact the medium would have on the outcome.  Nixon, it was said, looked old, pale, unshaven and sweaty while his opponent appeared young, tan and energetic.  That none of these qualities have any bearing on presidential capabilities is very much a foreign thought today.  That we would cringe at the thought of voting in a primary for a profusely ugly candidate is a testament to the revolution and its success.

The famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, in contrast, remain noteworthy to this day for their ideological content.  They embody the battle of the mind and worldview of that day between contestants wielding weapons of ideas bolstered by information.  But this occurred during a time when people drew conclusions from ideas and experience.  But because of the advent of the television set, the Nixon/Kennedy debates would not be a battle of minds, but images.  These debates would therefore forever change American and global politics.  Television would lull Western societies into a false sense of intellectual grandeur and glamour while in actuality relieving them of reason and the toil of thinking.

The power of the moving image accompanied by emotion-arousing music, complete with caricatured, easy-to-hate strawmen, was not a brand-new concept, to be sure. It was developed and used effectively during World War II.  But the migration of that arrangement from the scarcity of the big screen to the daily ingestion in the living room would prove to be an extremely powerful weapon that would bring about previously unforeseen or imagined changes.  Information, and then informed reasoning, would become a thing of the past for the collective society.  It would become a thing akin to a strategically ill-placed fort, bypassed and ignored by conquerors while its inhabitants fawned for battle based on logic.

The very concept of an informed-citizen experienced a sort of reverse petrification process.  The informed-citizen would be transformed into a caring, feeling and malleable citizen instead; one who hates and loves the correct, even thought many times dissonant, ideas, without bothering to consider their origins, reasonableness or consequences. Since these ideas were installed by a medium that bypassed the cognitive filter of the mind, their installation went unnoticed.  For all practical purposes, the mindset originated within themselves.  Truth itself would be a casualty as feelings, rather than an informed, principled and thoughtful position, would increasingly become the basis of a new kind of "truth".

The Nixon/Kennedy debates, as mentioned earlier, marked a beginning of the process by providing the discovery of the image-driven campaign and the power of the TV.  It was quickly realized by some that with this new medium the political ground rules had drastically changed.  A projected image could now trump ideas. This fact dumped an enormous amount of power into the laps of television journalist and executives.  This was an opportunity that leftist began to immediately exploit.  But it wasn't just the news.  All programming became a tool by which ideas and values could be implanted.  The left was successful in populating every aspect of the medium with leftist ideology and ideologues.  Within 12 years, to even their own surprise I am convinced, they were able to take down a sitting president, all while successfully projecting an image of themselves as objective, bystander journalists.

The media continued to consolidate this power and appeared to have been home-free in their agenda when they were met with their first counter-attack from the unlikeliest of corners, AM radio.  In August of 1988, Rush Limbaugh launched his syndicated radio show, the first of its sort.  A society in decline does not lack in awareness of its decline, only in an awareness of exactly why it is taking place.  It is disoriented.  How it thinks-or perhaps better put in modern times, if it thinks-will determine how it responds to reality. Limbaugh simply articulated things that many people knew, but were unable to frame into a cogent thought, thus clearing away the fog of liberalism for many. Within a few years he would become a household name across America.  Not surprisingly he immediately fell under hostile attack from media strongholds.  Nevertheless he was arguably instrumental in a major political upset for leftists in the battle of ideas, the Republican revolution of 1994.  With the mimicking of  his success by like thinkers and communicators, AM radio would become a lone beacon of conservatism and thoughtful dissent.  This conservative outpost would eventually pave the way for Republican majorities in both houses of congress and control of the White House.  Conservatism, however, would unfortunately be successfully blocked.

The left's failed attempt to mount a counter offense in AM radio is in its own right telling.  Talk radio, as it turned out, is a poor medium for manipulating emotions. It is a medium for the mind.  In response to radio's inroads, TV media, which had begun 24 hour cable news programming in 1980, began to up the ante by testing the waters of shedding the pretense of objectivity.  Any boundaries that once existed, they discovered, had long since vanished. Their "journalism" became increasingly emotion-based as well as glaringly and blatantly biased.  The "news" media, for all practical purposes, was no more.  It had become a de facto state-run propaganda machine.  The lines between the Democrat party and other power players like the entertainment media, government unions, universities and public education had solidified into a huge nation-wide machine that would make Boss Tweed look like a school-yard bully.

As the revolution draws to a close, AM radio, like the reason and logic based ideas it trumpets, is being reduced to a mere nuisance.  The emotions of voting for a man of the people, so vacuous of real content that anyone's Utopian hopes can easy fit inside his image, has proven impervious to pertinent information.  The logic based facts of America's very real financial predicament, for example, simply bounce off the walls of closed minds. No fiscal hole is so deep, it is evidently felt, that the pockets of the rich can't be raided to fill it. Interestingly enough, and also telling, is the fact that so many rich, who are the supposed causes of all that ails us, are on board with the soak-the-rich plan.  That would give a thinking society reason for pause, but no problem there.

The 2012 election was a milestone for several reasons, the most relevant of which was that President Obama did not attempt to hide, and in fact was refreshingly forth-coming, with his revolutionary inclinations. He even removed the facade of his stance on marriage; a milestone in its own right. The conservative media had become prevalent enough so that the availability of information about his views and intentions were plentiful.  It wasn't a lack of unbiased news outlets that brought about his success, for it was not as if his positions were cognitively considered, and then embraced in the minds of his supporters.  And it wasn't like any views that opposed leftist views were refuted either. Such would have meant the thoughtful consideration of valid information, and then the ramifications of that information.  No, for the first time, a  growing number of the people based their choice on how they "felt" about an image that Barack Obama projected.  Though in actuality only a minority actually shared Obama's revolutionary ideas.  That minority, coupled with the rest were enough to breech the last remaining barrier between a free nation and tyranny, the voting booth.  He was able to gain a majority of voters without hiding his true identity.  And he did it in spite of numerous and disastrous scandals and decisions, any one of which would have had a Republican falling to an embarrassing defeat.

The revolution was not about Barack Obama, nor was it about conservative versus liberal ideology.  The name and face of the man in this past election is irrelevant.  What is relevant and revolutionary is the ability of someone unseen to create an image with any smart looking and sounding face though the manipulation of emotions and feelings through mediums, while at the same time quelling critical thought, in a majority segment of the voting population.  What had been the minority has become a majority.  There is now a new frontier before us.  The only question is, where will the image manipulators take us now?


Neil said...

Excellent post, as usual!

"The left's failed attempt to mount a counter offense in AM radio is in its own right telling. Talk radio, as it turned out, is a poor medium for manipulating emotions. It is a medium for the mind."

You nailed it. I always wondered why Air America and similar things couldn't take off. That makes perfect sense. Without their manipulative devices no one would pay attention.

Eddie Howell said...

Thanks for posting your excellent article! It's unfortunate that the left has encouraged so many to be, as Rush says, low-information voters.
But thinking is hard. and too many are content to let others do it for them.

Don and Janet said...

Blow up your TV...

Unknown said...

What do you say to the charge that conservative commentators also dispense with some of the facts some of the time? It only takes a day of listening to talk radio to realize that it is not their goal to present information, but a certain view of information.

Unknown said...

What do you say to the charge that the AM radio presentations by conservative commentators are also intended to entertain and provoke certain emotions? A day of listening to talk radio will confirm this.

Dan said...

Don and Janet... I did! My family almost does not watch ANY TV. We have, on the other hand, read many books aloud in our home in the presence of our children. I recommend it.

Disclaimer. In the above comment "TV" means public programming. We do enjoy some DVD's and the like on occasion.

Dan said...


I might would argue that although all emotionalism is not thoughtlessness, all thoughtlessness is emotionalism.