Understanding “Alternative Facts”

Here’s a little perspective on the matter before us: Marketers have been lying to us since the days of the snake oil salesman. I’ve told the story before of the TV commercial I witnessed many years ago during the grapefruit diet fad. The ad was for so-called grapefruit pills that would help people lose weight. At least that was the assertion of the creator of the commercial. One scene featured a guy washing a horse who turned to the camera and actually said, “It’s so darned easy, it’s GOT to work!” If the FTC ever wanted to crack down on false advertising (they won’t), it would open the eyes of consumers everywhere.

There are many, many ways for marketers to lie. There’s lying by omission. When tissue companies, for example, sell the same sized box with fewer tissues inside for the same or slightly reduced price as before, they are lying to increase profits while giving the impression of holding the line on consumer costs. Welcome to the world of Madison Avenue and the secrets of mass marketing.

Well guess what? People are slowly catching on to these lies, and they’re sharing their knowledge with their families and friends, some of it via social media. It’s getting harder and harder to get away with such, even though there are still a substantial number of folks who’ll believe that it’s so darned easy it has to work. This is where we find ourselves today with all forms of mass media in the worlds of politics and news.

I have an ongoing study, for example, of events in the Middle East, thanks to my family living in Amman, Jordan. There are publications working to deconstruct the Zionist narrative that has been the public face of Israel since 1948. We all need to learn more about narratives, and especially those that undergird even our most basic assumptions of life, for very often these narratives are propaganda and very definitely false, at least to the point where they deserve regular review and often deconstruction.

All of this is to say that KellyAnne Conway’s “alternative facts” is really a fruit of what’s been taking place for years, that is the struggle of those who need to maintain narrative control in a media environment that questions narrative as self-serving propaganda. This is the beauty of our newly connected universe, for it’s impossible now for an institution (and government is certainly an institution) to maintain its own version of truth at the expense of those at the receiving end of their “service.”

This is going to get much worse in our culture, until we all learn that such falsehoods begin with lying to ourselves. Shakespeare wrote: “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, that thou canst not be false to any man.”

May that day come quickly.

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.

A postmodern view of today’s political chaos

We come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.
Christopher Lasch

JFK-250My Nashville blogger friend Rex Hammock reminded me this week of a wonderful quote from President John F. Kennedy in 1963. My goodness, how those of us alive at the time loved that man and his vision.

“No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power.”

We need to think about this today as we gaze upon the sheer madness of the landscape that is America in 2016. And that’s exactly what it is – madness. I know a couple of very sweet Christian ladies who are passing along the most hateful political venom on social media as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I’m talking really vile, hateful stuff. The heartland response to the leftish drift of the culture surpassed anger long ago and now seethes as a horrific rage that threatens peace at every corner.

In the name of God, of course.

I’ve written a book about the role I played in bringing this about, but from my chair today as an observer and chronicler of postmodernity, I view all of it now as an inevitable and necessary portal through which we must pass for humankind to reach its full potential. Hierarchies always corrupt – it’s in their nature – and humankind has had centuries to realize the fruit of powerful institutions with self at the core. Today, however, the very structure of hyperconnectivity judges hierarchies to be inefficient and irrelevant as it routes around them to bring us together. This is the cultural disaster we face through this remarkable cultural shift, and make no mistake, it will be ugly. Of course, there are many of us who don’t view it as a disaster but admit it will have disastrous results.

One of the major shortcomings of humankind is ignorance fed by hierarchies with self-centered motives, especially the elites who write the book of laws. We have a staggering amount of knowledge in the combined library of humanity, but much of it is hidden by those who glean a good living from its protected shelves. Medicine, the law, religion, and higher education, just to name a few, will be judged tomorrow over how well they pass that knowledge along to everybody instead of keeping it from them. This will not go well for modernity’s gasping body, but its inevitability is sure, so long as the network remains free and intact. There’s nothing inherently sinister about it; it’s simply the chaotic, natural evolution of humanity’s desire for self-governance. Those who advance this will be successful downstream; those who don’t will become increasingly irrelevant.

Michael Rosenblum

Michael Rosenblum

A great example of this is my friend Michael Rosenblum, who runs TheVJ.com and has led the way in teaching anybody how to shoot and edit video like a professional, including employees of Fortune 500 companies. I’ve no doubt Michael will always be successful in business, for he understands the need to equip people laterally for the video revolution that’s coming and in many ways is already here. The disruption of media is among the most visible in the world today, but it’s only going to get worse, depending on your point-of-view.

So while forces wishing to maintain the status quo fight for their lives, the people are sparring with each other over elemental differences based on what they know – or think they know. This, thankfully, is leading us back to the cleansing power of argument, which is never a bad thing. Historian Chris Lasch wrote about this in 1990:

Our search for reliable information is itself guided by the questions that arise during arguments about a given course of action. It is only by subjecting our preferences and projects to the test of debate that we come to understand what we know and what we still need to learn. Until we have to defend our opinions in public, they remain opinions in (Walter) Lippmann’s pejorative sense – half-formed convictions based on random impressions and unexamined assumptions. It is the act of articulating and defending our views that lifts them out of the category of ‘opinions,’ gives them shape and definition, and makes it possible for others to recognize them as a description of their own experience as well. In short, we come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.

“We come to know our own minds only by explaining ourselves to others.” This is profound and the most pressing need for the cultural advancement of postmodernism. It’s a natural part of the evolution of global humanity, and a necessary step if we are to learn to live with each other instead of killing each other.

We simply can’t trust ANY hierarchical institution to educate us. We must do that for ourselves – with postmodernism’s deconstruction as our authority and the practice of exploring associative links on the World Wide Web as our tool – and this, I believe, is in the spirit of President Kennedy meant those many years ago.

Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Re-writing history by erasure

Media in the U.S. is more often than not the servant of special interests, even though professional journalists would scoff at the idea as absurd. Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s been this way since the early 20th Century and the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. I’ve written extensively about the Creel Committee and its manipulation of information about World War I and especially the later work of its members, Walter Lippmann and his friend Edward Bernays. The only way to overcome this and set the historical record right is to participate in the postmodern practice of deconstructionism. The problem is rarely one of the facts but almost always of the narrative or grand narrative that comes from selecting certain facts and dismissing others.

Journalism in the future – it is certainly my hope – will embrace active deconstructionism to separate truth from self-serving narratives. It simply has no choice in a networked world. That’s because people can talk to each other without filters. Truth in mass media is often obscured for the sake of populism and nationalism, and we have a great example of this underway currently in the Middle East.

Zionism is a very real attempt to eliminate certain portions of history in order to establish a direct connection between modern day Israel and the historical record of the Old Testament in the Bible. There are regional political and economic reasons for so doing, and I get that. However, we don’t need to sit back as a culture and look aside as crimes are being committed in the process, no matter how righteous our intentions. The truth is there isn’t a direct connection between contemporary Israel and the Israel of the Bible, and attempts to make that connection by eliminating everything between are entirely self-serving. We must not only be concerned with what’s happening today, but what will happen tomorrow, if such a connection becomes a part of the grand narrative of world history.

mamillaMondoweiss, a publication that searches for verifiable truth in the region, today published the words of Sergio Yahni, an Israeli journalist and coordinator of the Palestinian-Israeli organization, the Alternative Information Center. The article expresses concerns about the necessities of Zionists to establish Jerusalem as entirely a Jewish city, despite prior agreements to keep it multi-cultural. The article specifically references an important Islamic cemetery.

“They are commercializing the city, selling it as a modern Jewish city, but at the same time as an ancient one. The mayor, Nir Barkat, wants to sell Jerusalem to the world as an opulent tourist attraction, because of this, he is transforming its character and the nature…”

“To reach this goal, it’s erasing the Islamic history and tradition of the city. Jerusalem is built on multiple layers, a unique stage of history, but the municipality is working hard to simplify it. How? Erasing the Islamic layer in order to replace it with the Roman and the Jewish ones…”

“The scientific archeology was replaced by the ideological archeology: all the Israeli work in this field is based on the Bible and the Old Testament, trying to demonstrate their narrative, and obviously, in this context, there is no space for the Islamic and Arab tradition. Let’s take the example of the Moroccan Quarter, in the Old City, just beside the Wailing Wall: it was built in the 12th century and it was destroyed after 1967 because it was contradicting the Zionist narrative. The same thing is happening in Silwan with the City of David and in Mamilla: the archeology is a tool to justify a personal and self-interested narrative, erasing the real one”.

I realize a lot of people simply say “so what? After all, Israel won the war, so let them do what they want.” The problem is very simply this: The prophecy that both Jews and Evangelical Christians use to justify this (Ezekiel 36:24-36) must be edited in order to apply it to contemporary Israel, for the text concerns God scattering the Jews for their misbehavior regarding the covenant God had established with them. The verses describe God’s great mercy in cleansing them and bringing them home. So one is free to ask the only pertinent question in light of the prophecy: is the nation of Israel’s behavior righteous or is it not? Are the people living in accordance with the laws and sacrifices ascribed to them as the people of God?

Even an idiot could answer that question correctly, unless they’re only given a tilted form of truth.

If Zionism is allowed to get away with this ruse, we will all bear the global consequences of a country, armed to the teeth, doing whatever they please in the name of God.

It’s enough to make you wonder who are the real good guys and bad guys in what we see unfolding day in and day out in the Middle East.

Deconstructing the path to truth

Here is the latest in my ongoing series of essays, “Local Media in a Postmodern World.”

Deconstructing the path to truth

We’re hearing lots today about the laziness and weakness of what Jay Rosen calls “he said/she said” journalism, where writers find what feels like a sterile form of “balance” in the issues of the day by including both “sides” of any particular matter. This formula is fine until we discover that there isn’t another “side,” or that this other view is actually one that’s based on falsehood or worse, manipulation. “He said/she said” has worn out its welcome in many places, where the experiment now is to find a sense of fairness amidst the often manipulative efforts of those who have a selfish interest, and use the rules of “balance” to interject their thinking into complex issues.

In the advancing “age of participation” – what I call “postmodernism” – this artificiality is having difficulty standing up against the wider spectrum of the public, which has two things going for it today. One, they’re more able to monitor and respond to any form of artificiality in the news, and, two, they can participate in the forum that was once reserved only for the professional journalist and make up their own minds. As Gallup reaffirmed last week, the American public simply does not trust the professional press, and the whole “he said/she said” business is a big part of that.

It is against this background that I’ve published another chapter in the manual of postmodern journalism. It is my hope that you will give the ideas expressed herein a few moments of your valuable time.