How can the most corrupt administration in U.S. history continue to rely on the attention deficit of the public? The medium is the message.
Say that you are watching a baseball game. Say that the Pirates bitterly protest from their dugout every time a strike is called on one of their hitters or an out signaled against one of their runners. They eventually so wear upon the umpires’ nerves that the worthy arbiters unconsciously distort calls to avoid controversy. As the game wears on, the opposition Patriots grow increasingly frustrated. Their hitters are rung up on bad pitches and their runners called out when they clearly beat the throw. From the other dugout come taunts like, “Stop whining!” and, “We got squeezed, too—deal with it!” Even the foul lines don’t stay firm. A hit can fall a yard foul for a Pirate yet be ruled fair, while a hit can fall ten feet fair for a Patriot and be ruled foul. If the Patriots’ manager tries to argue with a verdict on the basis of the rule book, the Pirates’ manager presents the umpire with a revised book, pages torn out here and there and impromptu “corrections” scrawled in the margins. For good measure, the announcers blare away in an overtly partisan manner for the Pirates, while droves of fans are admitted late without having to purchase tickets and given Pirate jerseys and free beer.
It wouldn’t be much a game, would it? No worries: you’ll never see this travesty on the diamond. Once the Pirates’ mouthing started, umpires would be emptying their dugout until not enough players remained in it to continue the game. As for shortchanging the other side, at some point the Pirate fielders themselves would openly smirk and mock the officiating if Patriot runners were called out who arrived five seconds before throw or tag. Even the most rabidly partial Pirate fans would revolt if Patriot homers over the center-field fence were called foul balls. People who play and watch baseball have too much respect for the game—for its rules, traditions, elaborate balance, and complex rhythm—to participate in turning the show into a sham.
Such is not the case in politics—not any more. The progressive, piratical forces that dominate the Democrat Party do not consider anyone on the other team to have any inviolable rights. Rules only apply when they encumber your opposition, never when they get in your team’s way. A patently obvious fact is untrue if it works to your cause’s disadvantage: reality is defined by desired outcome. A victory for the “right side” (i.e., the Left, just to avoid confusion) must be assumed a priori: the density of fiction employed on the way to that victory is a matter of mere implementation, supplied more or less heavily in spots the way a trench is back-filled to give an even surface. The truth is permissible when its narrative runs smoothly; when facts create bumps, they must be pulverized.
The Watergate and Iran/Contra scandals were crises that brought the Republic to the brink of chaos and cried to high heaven for chief administrators to finish their lives in jail. Fast-and-Furious is a lower-level blunder, Solyndra an innocent miscalculation, Benghazi a partisan fabrication, Extortion 17 a non-event (have you heard of it?), the IRS bullying of conservative charities a bureaucratic malfunction, massive voter fraud a blow against racism, the wiretapping of journalists an unfortunate misunderstanding. That ball was never hit—you just saw a white piece of litter blow over the fence. That runner was out—he never touched the bag, and even if he did… well, there’s a rule about leaving the box before you hit the ball, and he probably broke that one. And his shirt wasn’t tucked in.
I don’t think I’m alone in my bemusement. Sometimes I sit down with a mug of tea in a quiet room, stare out the window, and wonder if there may be a Darwinian explanation for the Left. Maybe homo sapiens branched into two radically different strains fifty million years ago. These people… they have no respect for the truth, no sense of decency or fairness, no aversion to rank hypocrisy, no internal alarm to modify their arrogance and egotism. They are brutes… they’re ravening animals. You can trust them to honor a contract whose terms impede their urges about as securely as you can trust a chimp not to touch a mass of bananas after you open his cage and walk away. They produce the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Bill Maher, and Susan Sarandon… yet they say with a straight face, and even with insistent cock-sureness, that they have all the wit, intelligence, and rectitude on their side. I guess a bunch of baboons would say the same thing, if they could talk. “Dumb humans… they don’t even know how to chase a hyena off of an impala carcass and tear away the good meat! How are they still alive, the stupid fools! Wait—turn around! You have a tick on your back. Yum!”
I don’t know. They kind of look like us… but only on the outside. What happened to them on the inside? If it isn’t something in the genetic code, something very deep and consequential… then what?
I have known for several years that communications technology has altered the way people think—and even, from a certain perspective, their ability to think. Every classroom teacher over forty knows as much. You can tell a group of students five times to do a simple task, having first ascertained that they’re not texting and have logged off of Facebook… and ten percent of them will still go to their graves swearing that the instructions were never given. Another ten percent will have needed all five announcements, and another ten at least four announcements. Probably not more than a quarter of the class, or a third at most, would register the original directive after one clear broadcast.
Are these young people stupid? Their behavior replicates that of older people whom, without hesitation, we would call mentally challenged. Rush Limbaugh politely refers to the lot, both young and old, as “low-information”. But why is so little information being received?
There are several theories. Varieties of information are in constant competition because of the convenience and portability of media; hence more “boring” varieties (i.e., those less focused on the receiver’s immediate selfish interests) are neglected. I think there’s also clearly a state of mind associated with being wired and online: that is, with having the bud of an iPod in one’s ear while texting and keeping an eye on a computer monitor. Inattention becomes a learned behavior in some sense rather than the default condition of untrained minds. It’s almost necessary for survival. Human figures beyond the receiver’s “noospace” (or “mindworld”), as well, turn into mere playthings. Real persons must compete for a share of the present with realistic representations—and the former have no more right to common courtesy, let alone rapt attention, than the latter.
A sad irony here is that people like Rush constantly promote the latest i-tech in the sincere conviction that they are serving free enterprise and Yankee ingenuity. They do not see that this revolution is a collective lobotomy for the electorate, even though it may also be styled a triumph for the Space Race, emergency warning systems, and so forth. The carry-over of these communications miracles into the marketplace has never unleashed the sort of individualism into the world that commentators like George Gilder have prophesied. Yes, ordinary people have been given instant access to a global forum by the Internet… but who pays any attention to them unless they cipher in the sexy shorthand of instant gratification? How many people visit Intellectual Conservative daily in comparison to the numbers that follow Dennis Rodman or Beoncé on Twitter?
The medium is the message, wrote another prophet with far greater truth than he realized. Marshall McLuhan belonged to my father’s generation. Neither one of those worthy men would have thought that television would midwife that regressive species, the Couch Potato, when it first arrived in ordinary households during the fifties. It was terrific diversion—stimulating, vilifying, fertilizing. Only decades later did we figure out, as pictures got better and “for TV” writing got worse, that brain activity was flatlining in front of the miracle box.
Communications gizmos are but one high-tech tentacle of the many that have throttled our intellectual and cultural life. I hope to write about the disappearance of agriculture from daily existence in the near future, for that shift has also had major consequences. Yet I scarcely think that anything can be more important than the manner in which thoughts—words that convey thoughts and, increasingly, full-formed sequences of images—are piped into our brains. I think voters follow the Left in the same way that they follow their pop-cultural heroes on Twitter; they “like” a mouthy candidate in the same way that they “like” a snarky post in a chatroom; and they salivate like Pavlov’s dog at Hollywood-inculcated cues such as “industrialist”, “big oil”, “rogue reporter”, and “female detective”. These voters are people who think associatively: don’t give them linear logic—give them icons and keyword phrases. They are low-information because they’re instant-processing.
I’ve been editing for a friend a long essay about the classic 1968 television series, The Prisoner. If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself for a look into the future—into our present. I believe my colleague is quite right that surveillance technology is merely a sub-species of communications technology. We’ve already reached the point where we can be watched by our laptop camera as we view the Internet, where cookies monitor our preferences and selections in shopping, and where we volunteer immense amounts of sensitive personal information on Facebook just to fit in—to conform in a counter-conformist way, to be one of the Village’s progressive sheep. Changing the content of college History and Civics classes will not save our children from the twenty-first century assommoir. The medium is the message. If we continue to let our media rule us rather than learning how to hold them in check, then we will not recognize our grandchildren. We will have about the same level of exchange with them as Jefferson might have had with Washo the Chimp.