Doors of Perception

It’s a simplification to conceive the Cathedral as a media apparatus. As simplifications go, however, one could do far worse. Media are essential to the Cathedral, even if by no means casually synonymous with it.

It is surely noteworthy that ‘the media’ have become singular, in much the same way as ‘the United States’ have done. ‘They’ have turned into a thing, and one that is still far from being confidently understood. Even when subjectively identifying with a residual plurality, they cannot but identify themselves with a unitary effectiveness.

While it would be asking far too much to expect the Cathedral to identify itself as a central causal factor in a world going insane, it gets close. NYmag expresses deep concern about the consequences of the news machine:

A terrifying jihadist group is conquering and butchering its way across big swaths of Iraq and Syria. Planes are falling out of the sky on what seems like a weekly basis. Civilians are being killed in massive numbers in the Israel-Gaza conflict. Others are falling prey to Ebola in West Africa. The world, in short, is falling apart. […] That’s how it feels, at least, to those of us who sit at a blessed remove from the death and destruction, but who are watching every bloody moment of it via cable news and social media. It raises an important question: In an age when we can mainline bad news 24/7 if we so choose, what’s the psychological impact of all this exposure to tragedy at a distance?

Drawing upon the work of Mary McNaughton-Cassill (a University of Texas–San Antonio professor at the “leading researcher on the connection between media consumption and stress”), it describes a process of “negative-information overload” driven by market-incentivized sensationalism, compounded by social media revolution, and prone to poorly-understood tangles of psycho-media feedback. Since a story of this kind consists primarily of the Cathedral talking to itself, with everyone else listening in, we quickly learn that the ‘problem’ cashes out into pessimistic disengagement from electoral politics and progressive voluntarism. According to McNaughton-Cassill, negative news bombardment produces “this malaise: ‘Everything’s kinda bad’ and ‘Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help’ and ‘I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.’”

In addition to a burgeoning sense of helplessness, she said, cognitive shortcuts triggered by the news can also lead us to gradually see the world as a darker and darker place, chipping away at certain optimistic tendencies. McNaughton-Cassill’s research suggests that that all things being equal, if you ask people, regardless of their circumstances, to evaluate what’s going around them — Do they think their neighbors are good people? Do they think the local schools are solid? — “People always say yes in their immediate setting.” […] Zoom out a little, though, and people have less to go on. … “As soon as you get out of your zone, most of your information’s from the news … and the news by definition covers the extreme things.” […] People could be forgiven for adopting a hell-in-a-handbasket stance toward the rest of the world. […] That’s a problem, because when people are led to believe things are falling apart, it affects their decision-making and their politics — whether or not their pessimism is warranted. We already know from political-psychological research that the more threatened people feel, the more likely they will be to support right-wing policies. And people who believe in the concept of unmitigated evil appear more likely to support torture and other violent policies. […] It’s hard to fully sketch out these mechanisms, of course. Could years and years of exposure to negative news heighten your belief in a Manichean world and in turn make you more reactionary?

As noted, there are some critical feedback circuits excluded (in principal) from this analysis, in part to preserve the fundamental architecture of the progressive historical narrative (“… on a broader level there’s solid evidence — perhaps gathered most comprehensively by Steven Pinker …”). Media malfunction as core meltdown of Western Civilization, sucking the world into hell, wouldn’t fit this story at all. Nevertheless, it’s clearly creeping in around the edges, and something considerably more drastic than standard information manipulation procedures seem to be called for.

How can we fight back against the unnecessary coarsening of our outlook that may be occurring every time we glance at one of our gadgets? The simplest technique is … to “Just turn it off.” That is, take a break from the news. […] “You can’t change the externals,” she said. “You have to get some control mentally.” What’s most important is “getting a handle on why you get anxious and worried about things that probably aren’t going to happen, or knowing what your triggers are.” The more you understand your own reaction to the news, the easier it will be to shape your news-consumption habits in an adaptive way.

If this sounds like subtle begging, it really kind of is. Afflicted by incomprehensible cybernetic pathologies, the media system is failing in its responsibility to screen you from reality, and now — quite desperately — needs your help. You can’t any longer rely on propaganda to save you. In fact, you have to assume that there’s a really good story out there that the media is keeping from you. You have to “understand that you’re seeing a lot of bad news not because the world is an inherently evil place, but because news outlets — not to mention individual Twitter and Facebook users — have lots of incentives to broadcast explosively negative news stories.” We interrupt this world historical nightmare to deliver an important news flash — the media has gone insane. You have to protect yourself, or it will seem as if the whole global order is falling apart into bloody chaos around your ears.

Overall, of course, it’s both unrealistic and undesirable to construct bubbles that keep out the world’s bad news. But there’s a difference between being informed and being obsessive, and it’s a line that’s very easy to accidentally slide across in an age when there’s so much scary information zipping around.

Scariest of all is the system of information itself, but it can’t quite get that part of the story into coherent shape. By the time it does, the world will have descended by another gyre. Experts now confirm that throwing your TV set out of the window will help …

ADDED: This classic movie scene (suggested by Mr Archenemy) seems obviously on topic.

ADDED: “Social media – in this context, the most inappropriate of phrases – has a new craze. Atrocity porn.”

August 13, 2014admin 10 Comments »


10 Responses to this entry

  • Alex Says:

    “Could years and years of exposure to negative news heighten your belief in a Manichean world and in turn make you more reactionary?”

    If it does, it’ll very likely be the wrong sort of right. Unflinching awareness of harsh realities is one thing — raw terror at the prospect of a world spiralling out of control quite another.


    nydwracu Reply:

    Yeah, if you accept the thrive/survive theory of politics, it just so happens that a strain of leftism is currently in development that falls on the ‘survive’ side of that dichotomy to a striking degree, while retaining the universal Manichaean worldview of mainstream progressivism and weaponizing thede-energy into Streicherism.


    Posted on August 13th, 2014 at 7:15 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alex Says:

    One with the golden eagle of the morning,
    Flat and flung wide above the spinning plains,
    It seemed my spirit sprang and wheeled and flew.
    The world went under us like a river of light,
    An ecstasy of order, where each life,
    Rejoicing in its law, rushed to its end:
    To break itself and breed; the embattled vines,
    Grassland and grainland waved their thousand spears
    In one wild rhythm as they swept along,
    A map of marching armies, all one way;
    And ploughmen on their uplands ribbed with gold,
    Went forward happy, with their backs to heaven.

    Only the sacred eagle up the stream
    Strove back to his beginnings; left behind
    The white archaic dawns on herbless hills,
    The first cold hues of chaos; like a stair
    Mounted the soundless cataracts of the sun,
    Seeking the sun of suns; till suddenly
    The last heavens opened; for one flash I saw
    Something too large and calm for sight or reason,
    The Urns of Evil and Good, vast as two worlds,
    And over them a larger face than Fate’s
    Of that first Will that is when all was not.
    But that unblinded burning eagle soared
    And perched upon His thunderous right hand.
    I cowered, and heard a cry torn out of me
    In an unknown tongue older than all my race,
    “O Father of Gods and Men”; and saw no more.

    The vulture from his dark and hairy nest
    Far down the low-browed cliffs of the abyss
    Stood black against the sun; a shape of shame:
    A plumed eclipse; and all the ways of men
    Were paved with upturned faces; masks of hate:
    For that hooked head was like a horrible tool,
    An instrument of torture made alive
    With creaking pinions; for what end they knew:
    The vulture of the vengeance of the gods.

    For a red under-light on all that land,
    A hell that is the underside of heaven,
    Glowed from men’s struggling fires; and as I followed
    That evil bird over lost battle-fields,
    Where panoplied and like fallen palaces
    The great and foolish kings who warred with doom
    Lay sunken with their star; I saw far off,
    Misshapen, against the dark red dome of sky,
    A mountain on a mountain. As I gazed
    The shape seemed changed: the upper mountain moved.
    It heaved vast flanks ribbed like the red-ribbed hills,
    Thrust down an uprooted forest with one heel
    And stretched a Titan’s arm to touch the sky.

    “You slay for ever, but you slay too late;
    A stolen secret turns not home again.
    While I lie lifted high against your wrath,
    Hanged on this gibbet of rock, far down below
    The fire is spreading on the earth’s dark plains
    And my red stars come forth like flowers of night
    And my red sun burns when your white sun dies.
    See where man’s watchfire dances and derides,
    The sickly servile sunset crawling away:
    Lo; my red banner thrashes through the air,
    Nor dare your vulture peck it if he pass.”

    The vulture passed, a shadow on the fire,
    And the dark hills were loud with dreadful cries.

    I woke; the skies were empty of the eagle,
    And empty of the vulture all the abyss:
    And something in the yawning silence cried
    Giants and gods were dying in new dawns:
    Daylight itself had deepened; there opened in it
    New depths or new dimensions; stone and tree
    In that strange light grew solid; as does a statue
    Or many-sided monument set beside
    The flattened fables on a bas-relief.
    Only in dark thin lines against the dawn
    The last and lingering monsters limped away,
    The boys with crooked legs and cries of goats
    Ran as from one pursuing; amid the weeds
    Wailed the strange women, neither fish nor flesh,
    And from the hoary splendours of the sea
    Rose Triton with the limbs that curled like whirlpools,
    Stonily staring at some sign afar.

    For a new light in a new silence shone
    From some new nameless quarter of the sky
    Behind us on the road; and all strange things
    Looked back to something stranger than themselves
    And, towering still and trampling, the Last Centaur
    Cried in a roar that shook the shuddering trees,
    “We rode our bodies without bridle at will,
    We hurled our high breasts forward on flying hooves:
    But these two bodies are a simple thing
    Beside that Fear that comes upon the world.
    A Monster walks behind.” I dared not turn;
    A shape lay like a shadow on the road.
    I saw not but I heard; a sound more awful,
    Then from the blackest cypress-close the call
    Of some dark Janus shouting with two mouths:

    “I am Prometheus. I am Jupiter.
    In ravening obedience down from heaven,
    Hailed of my hand and by this sign alone,
    My eagle comes to tear me. Touch me not.”

    I lay there as one dead. But since I woke
    This single world is double till I die.


    neovictorian23 Reply:

    We got the bubble headed
    Bleached blonde
    Comes on at five
    She can tell you ’bout the plane crash
    With a gleam in her eye
    It’s interesting when people die
    Give us dirty laundry

    Can we film the operation
    Is the head dead yet
    You know the boys in the newsroom
    Got a running bet
    Get the widow on the set
    We need dirty laundry

    [Instrumental Interlude]

    You don’t really need to find out
    What’s going on
    You don’t really want to know
    Just how far it’s gone
    Just leave well enough alone
    Eat your dirty laundry


    Karl F. Boetel Reply:

    Well I’m about to get sick
    From watching my TV,
    Checking out the news
    Until my eyeballs fail to see.
    I mean to say that every day
    Is just another rotten mess,
    And when it’s gonna change, my friend,
    Is anybody’s guess.

    So I’m watching and I’m waiting,
    Hoping for the best,
    Even think I’ll go to praying,
    Every time I hear them saying
    That there’s no way to delay
    That trouble coming every day.
    No way to delay
    That trouble coming every day.


    Posted on August 13th, 2014 at 7:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • Doors of Perception | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on August 13th, 2014 at 8:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alex Says:


    Posted on August 13th, 2014 at 9:01 pm Reply | Quote
  • Izak Says:

    It’s interesting that the article mentions Manichaeanism. The article itself strikes me as far more Manichaean than what it’s criticizing: the news media has created a false, demiurgic world of illusion which keeps us from the vast plenitude of cosmic good.

    Honestly, I feel like this article gets written every year or so. It’s one of those articles I’ll find being shared around by the same news-addicted people the article criticizes. It’s like a way for them to check themselves altruistically. The target audience reads an article like this and goes “Wow, we’re so jaded. Remember when we used to *feel*? Welp, back to the news!” I think it’s this way pretty much by design. The bubble of one’s certainty has to be deflated a bit from time to time. The whole, “Is our entire way of receiving information wrong?” article is practically a genre unto itself by this point.

    For the record I barely ever read the actual news.


    Posted on August 14th, 2014 at 5:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • GoingPro Says:

    Elvis shot his TV.


    Posted on August 15th, 2014 at 1:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lightning Round – 2014/08/20 | Free Northerner Says:

    […] effect of the media. Related: Clickbait yellow […]

    Posted on August 20th, 2014 at 5:02 am Reply | Quote

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