Journalism’s “post-truth” era

ChaosThere has been much public weeping and gnashing of teeth by professional journalism observers in the wake of the industry’s (is it an industry or a trade?) loss in November with the election of Donald Trump. “Journalistic handwringing” has become one of my favorite current phrases. Everybody has their opinion about what happened that resulted in the press discovering it was far removed from the everyday people who make up the interior of the U.S. I’ve expressed my views, but I want to think out loud today about the latest revelation of the journalism world – that we’ve entered the “post-truth era.”

What exactly does post-truth mean? The Oxford Dictionary made it their 2016 “Word of the Year” and defined it thusly: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I think this definition serves journalism well, for we’ve already agreed that “transparency is the new objectivity.” Objectivity, it seems, was never really objective and hasn’t been since Creel Committee social engineers first wrote of “Manufacturing Consent.”

However, “post-truth” is terribly misleading as it relates to what’s happening beneath it, and that is that we’re on a learning curve for a new cultural era in the West. It’s not “post-truth;” it’s post-modern, which means we cannot rely on any single, top-down historical narrative anymore. I’ve been following this and reporting on it for fifteen years. Here are thoughts I expressed in an essay from December of 2002:

The digital era, created by the logic of a modernist world, has done far more than simply empower young people with knowledge. It is the force accelerating an enormous cultural shift and leaving broadcast news organizations in a very fragile position. Like Dorothy, Pomos have cast aside the curtain and revealed the Wizard for what he really is — a profit-motivated entity that they believe has fooled people for decades.

I’ve been predicting blowback against this the entire time I’ve been covering the beat, and the election of Donald Trump is certainly the fruit of this cultural shift. Why? Because we’re all deeply frightened about what it means. The uncertainty scares us. We feel unprepared. We stand before progress, as Henry Adams did in Paris over a century ago, when he wrote, “Chaos (change) is the way of nature. Order is the dream of man.”

So it isn’t really “post-truth,” because truth has historically been determined by those with the power to decide what it is, and that power (knowledge) is now being spread horizontally. The web itself – with its associative links – is constructed to function as a machine of deconstruction, the postmodern practice of slicing grand narratives to pieces in order to reveal the biases therein. In the end, the truth of history is revealed for what it really is: the subjective views of the writer, and we’re going to have to get used to something different. We’re going to have to start thinking in terms of multiple narratives and do our best to find information regarding each, so that we can decide for ourselves which is more believable and why. That’s why I say we’re on a learning curve that will be fraught with mistakes along with discoveries. Can we exist in such a world? We have no choice but to accept, study, and learn.

For example, someone recently asked me for “objective resources” on the Middle East, so that they could study points of view other than purely the Israeli narrative. I responded that there are virtually no “objective resources” anymore, and that the best we could do regarding this particular issue is include Mondoweiss in our daily news reading. The slogan of Mondoweiss is “Bringing the news to you that no one else will,” and it is serious journalism that offers alternative views – those outside the Zionist propaganda machine, hasbara – so the people can explore multiple narratives and be better informed. This is what “news” will be in our postmodern world, and we’ll all be much better off for it.

We are most certainly in a culture war, but this one transcends right versus left. Those two terms have become largely meaningless as they battle it out for supremacy throughout the land. It’s really modernism versus postmodernism, logic and reason versus participation, top-down versus horizontal, and it will change the world forever.

It has already begun.

Who writes the history in a postmodern world?

Slate Image

Slate.com Image

As the American press attempts to deal with its devastating loss of authority in the 2016 presidential election process, it might be useful to review one of its most important, albeit self-assigned roles: creating the “first rough draft of history.” The job of writing history in an era where there is no governing narrative is going to be very tricky, as this election has proven. There is no single explanation of what happened, for each “side” has its own narrative. This is going to increasingly be the case, because postmodernism rejects grand or meta narratives as self-serving and biased in favor of, usually, the ruling class.

“The rich man writes the book of laws the poor man must defend.” Ricky Skaggs

Let’s review: We entered the postmodern era as the internet came into being. Thus, the mantra of Western Civilization is shifting from purely “I think and reason, therefore I understand” to more of a “I participate, therefore I understand” theme. Power is shifting from top-down to horizontal, and this will continue for many hundreds of years. Its end will likely not be dystopian, unless the priesthoods losing their power and control get really ugly. Then, who knows? Meanwhile, and especially for a man of my age, the conflict can be pretty entertaining. Civilization can seem quite unpleasant, uncivilized, and chaotic to those stuck on the modernist bus, where order and equilibrium provide the juice for the drive train.

One of modernism’s beacons of glory is Colonialism, humankind’s grand venture into conquest – often in the name of God – to acquire land and its resources in order to increase the wealth of the conquerers. Colonialism, it turns out, is a special kind of enslavement, for colonies are forced to submit to those who hold the power, and a big part of that power is information – the grand narrative that justifies and maintains the conquest. In order to be in charge in a top-down government, whether democratic or totalitarian, the top must control that narrative. If you’re sensitive to it, you can actually witness such attempts as they happen, and these are even more evident as modernism slowly slips away.

My favorite conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr., once said, “History is the polemics of the victors.” which was his version of the old axiom, “In war, the winner gets to write the history.” This served well in the top-down era from which we’re exiting, but it won’t suffice at all in the future. That’s because history – true history – is an ongoing, ever evolving and complex narrative, one that is highly suited to a connected universe. In the deadline-driven era, it was necessary for the press to provide a finished product for consumption, even if it was just a “first rough draft.” Thanks to hyperlinks and connectivity, however, we’ve no need to summarize and package anymore, for life presents itself as an on-going and chaotic mystery, even though it’s subject to the laws of seasons. Nothing “natural” exists in draft form, finished or otherwise; it is merely one, long, ever-evolving, chaotic mess, while we work our butts off trying to put everything into digestible forms of order.

The history book – with its beginning, middle, and end – will be replaced by search and living links, for the stories that comprise human existence never really conclude; they simply branch off and evolve. Our access to that never ending story won’t require packaging, for the story will supplant the package on the value chain of knowledge.

Essential to order is the myth of objective or absolute truth, the idea that foundational elements of life are set and therefore cannot change, an idea that includes grand narratives, often in the form of religious tenets and beliefs. These, however, fall apart upon honest deconstruction, for somebody always gains while others lose. Therefore, grand narratives are always a zero sum game. The total is the sum of everything. Postmodernism challenges the authority of this by deconstructing narratives to a point of conflict, and this will form a new understanding of history in the centuries ahead.

The best illustration of this today is an examination of the hot button word “terrorist” and how it is used for propaganda purposes. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, and we cannot resolve this to everyone’s satisfaction as long as both sides are a part of an ongoing narrative, the moving target that I’m calling postmodern history. The ruling authority would have to dismantle our ability to connect – and with it, our organized public disagreement – in order to stake its claim of terrorist or freedom fighter. Hyperlinks provide access to multiple points of view, and that cannot be tolerated by those in charge (the top), for we might then agree with the opposite of what the ruling authority is asserting. The postmodern world is immune from this, and one day in the distant future, we will be our ruling authority. The mischief potential of top-down authority is simply too great to be forever sustained by those requiring a special wool to pull over eyes educated to see.

Oh there are plenty of people trying today to interfere with this natural flow of civilization by demanding control. The best example is the Zionist government of Israel, a country where control of the narrative is essential to maintaining the status quo. Despite being only one side of a multi-dimensional and multi-directional overarching Middle Eastern reality, the Israelis are especially good at controlling the world’s view of their geopolitical nightmare. The greatest evidence of this is the way the government is approaching social media by defining disagreeing posts as “incitement” against them and demanding private businesses such as YouTube and Facebook remove those posts. This is trying to control the narrative in the first degree, but it’s merely a form of global censorship. It cannot be sustained, for the forces against it cannot be controlled in our increasingly postmodern world, and it would be much healthier, if we all agreed on what’s taking place in the Holy Land in such a way that the narrative was more inclusive.

I realize many will view my statements as vast oversimplifications, but the vision presented here is available to anyone who’s paying attention at the macro level.

We can either participate in the evolution/revolution or sit back powerless as others do it for us.

My post-election, press introspection screed

campaignWow, what an election season we’ve just had. And isn’t the transition fun with the President-elect bullying TV anchors and executives while by-passing the liberal media filters in speaking directly to us? Well, we may not have gotten what we wanted, but we certainly got what we deserved. By “we,” I’m referring to the press, those standard-bearers of truth-telling that seem to get it wrong more often than right.

Post-election press introspection screed

I’ll warn you that I am not kind in this essay, and if you support the President-elect without question, you won’t like it one bit. We’re on new ground here in America, and we badly need a viable Fourth Estate. We don’t have it right now, so I don’t mince words (not that I’m any sort of words mincer anyway). I hope readers will at least appreciate the intent with which this is offered.

The real threat to the working class

My dad coming home from work at one of the big furniture factories in Grand Rapids circa 1959.

My dad coming home from work at one of the big furniture factories in Grand Rapids circa 1959.

In the endless litany of analyses over why Donald Trump was elected president, the winner seems to be the cultural subgroup known as “the working class.” All the nostalgia over making America great again was targeted to this group, people who once participated in the American Dream but have lost out to foreign manufacturing, among other things. As a working class guy and a transplant to the South, I can tell you this is serious business down here. Textile mills that used to dot the landscape have moved where labor is cheaper, leaving behind a legion of good people without a way to provide a middle class lifestyle for their families.

Mr. Trump blamed trade agreements that allowed other countries to steal the manufacturing sector out from under us, but he did so without ever mentioning two important aspects of this: cheaper products produced by cheaper labor, which benefit us all, and dramatically increased profits that didn’t have to be shared with the cheaper labor. Assuming all of that was somehow brought back to the U.S., consumer prices would skyrocket, which would not please anybody. I mean, what’s the point of a “good” job, if it means inflation and higher prices for everything from housing to a pair of jeans?

But the bigger story is what’s ahead for the working class regardless of the extent to which nationalism grows as a practical matter. Technology isn’t just disrupting hierarchies and those whose value to the economy is based on protected knowledge; technology is also stripping away working class jobs and will continue to do so at an accelerating pace. By 2019, the Labor Department projects that 40% of the labor force will be self-employed, which doesn’t bode well for those who whose parents went to the office, the plant, the mine, or whatever. No amount of “Yea, America” is going to make corporations care about the lives of their employees beyond what they can do for the bottom line.

And that means the digitalization of the kinds of jobs once thought untouchable will continue. Today, it means little that a truck can transport goods without a driver, but what about tomorrow? Anybody who drives for a living can be replaced. Robotics continue to advance in all directions, as does artificial intelligence, holograms, virtual reality, advanced military weaponry, and many, many other areas. This has brought about serious discussion about the concept of “uniform basic income” or “guaranteed basic income,” in which the government would give everybody money whether they worked or not. The election of Donald Trump, some within the basic income movement argue, may jumpstart the idea, while others, according to a Business Insider article, disagree.

“The election of Trump as president is probably not good news for the basic income movement,” Rutger Bregman, Dutch basic income expert and author of “Utopia for Realists,” tells Business Insider.

And with millions of jobs set to get displaced by robotic automation in the coming decades, Bregman could be right. As Business Insider’s Josh Barro argued, Trump doesn’t seem too concerned about the lack of manufacturing jobs in the future. That lack of clarity has experts like Bregman worried. The president-elect seems unwilling to acknowledge that humans could get booted from entire industries in a matter of decades.

That’s precisely why Trump has every incentive to cozy up to basic income, Pugh says. His fan base has serious fears about the future of the economy.

“Enacting basic income would help to revitalize parts of the country hit hardest by outsourcing and automation by spurring entrepreneurship in those areas.” Or as writer and basic income advocate Scott Santens put it, “Basic income is good for business.”

The working class faces a very difficult future, which is why it’s probably a safe bet that young people will continue to leave rural communities for opportunities in the big city. There are still innovative opportunities available to anyone within the Great Horizontal, but such opportunities demand a different mindset than one based on nostalgia and making American great (again) by going back to an era buried in the sands of human progress. The irony is that rural versus urban is an artificial barrier, for we have achieved a degree of omnipresence never even considered by the planners of old.

Personally, I’ll take small town living with a good internet connection any day of the year.

Going, going, almost gone

It’s time to update my graph of the Gallup organizations “media trust” measurement. In 1997, Gallup switched from taking this pulse every three to every year, and the graph they produce today only begins in 1997. However, I’ve never felt that was appropriate, for it misses a big part of the story, and so my graph goes back to 1973 and is spaced every three years.

galluptrust2016

2016 is an off-year to include, so I’ve projected this year’s numbers forward. That’s because the drop-off between 2015 and 2016 is significant, and I don’t expect it to rebound. Here’s Gallup:

Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year. (Emphasis mine)

The culprit is the election and more specifically the Donald Trump campaign, which has been very effective at accusing the press as being party to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the accusation is accurate; in politics, perception is truth.

It’s fair to say at this point that the illusion of objectivity in the press is history and that transparency is all that’s left. Americans will never again heed the press as “the voice of God” as we did in the days to which Donald Trump wants us to return. This alone should convince Trumpers to look beyond the slogans, but it probably won’t.

Meanwhile, any media outlet believing it does its work with the public trust is operating daily under a highly fallacious assumption.

How to clear your Facebook feed of political crap (that you don’t like)

The acrimony on display this political season is just the beginning, and no where is this played out more than on Facebook. For reasons I have stated both here and elsewhere, I’ll not be voting for Mr. Trump. Moreover, my vote includes animosity and disrespect for those so-called right wing media outlets that create or forward the utter nonsense that created him in the first place. It’s their right to do so, but I think it’s a blight on American culture.

That said, there’s a way to filter such garbage from your Facebook feed that will have a lasting result. Here’s something posted by one of my Facebook friends. The identity has been removed.

fbfeed1

Note that the source of the “report” is a site called “Web Daily.” Here’s the first graph of the link:

Ever since Barack Hussein Obama first took office, he has faced accusations that he is a Muslim secretly posing as a Christian just to get to the White House. While he has always denied being a Muslim, a disturbing new video released by Fox News host Sean Hannity suggests that he is indeed a follower of Islam.

Now, I know this to be absurd and entirely void of fact. So how did it wind up as a link from my friend, and more importantly, what can I do about it?

First, Web Daily makes no claim to be a “real” news site. It offers a two-paragraph “Legal Statement,” which begins “Information on this web site may contain inaccuracies or typographical errors. This information may be subject to changes or updates without specific notice.” The site is operated by WorldNewsDaily.com, a member of “Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors.” Thus, nothing the site produces and makes available to Facebook can be believed whatsoever. Nothing.

So the question is, why would I ever want to see ANYTHING from this group of people? The answer is I wouldn’t, and Facebook makes it easy for me to insure that I’ll never again see anything from this website. The option is shown below.

fbfeed2

This is much better than unfriending or unfollowing (for a time) my friends, and the biggest reason is I’m now divorced from only the company providing the link. That this is lasting is especially sweet, because I can promise you, I never wish to see anything from the likes of WorldNewsDaily or WebDaily’s Facebook pages.

I predict this is an issue that all people who use social media will have to resolve, and my hope is that it can be done intelligently. Of course, there’s always the possibility that some of my friends don’t care if the report is factual as long as it fits their agenda. How brutally cynical of me!

I could never believe that.