I was thinking about what was worth the time to write about here next. What happened then is that I found somebody else saying what needs to be said, even though it’s about as obvious as it can be. It should not even need to be said, but there it is. It came from a reader of the Of Two Minds blog from Charles Hugh Smith, who offered a guest note that is about as simple as things can be. It suggests a New Year’s resolution: how about we approach 2014 by resolving to call things what they are?
That this could even be necessary is an indicator of things as we begin the early stages of 2014.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed a couple of media interview appearances by the writer Gabriel Sherman to publicize a new book about Fox News headmaster Roger Ailes, titled The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country.
The tragedy of the tale of Roger Ailes and Fox News is much worse than the simple reality that it’s not so much a news medium as a medium of heavy manipulated propaganda, in a time in American history when we need clear, correct, accurate and thorough information about what’s happening more than ever. The irony is that the very people who fall victim to the propaganda campaign of Ailes and minions are the people who most desperately need a little light and fresh air and maybe even a little shock to their system to wake them up and snap out of the spell, while at the same time, they are the very people who are least likely to get the message. They’re programmed to respond to any such attempts at awakening by chattering that this must be more of that evil Left-wing radical liberal media bias propaganda that they’ve been warned about.
In one way of looking at it, it really seems indiscernible from any sort of mind-control cult where the victims are constantly indoctrinated with repeated declarations that anybody telling them anything bad about the cult, or merely suggesting that it might be anything less than wonderful, is clearly some evildoer attempting to poison them with falsehoods and confuse them and divert them from truth and goodness. Trying to snap them out of it just finds them digging in even deeper.
The damaged caused by Ailes is probably immeasurable.
Thanks to Ailes and Fox News, people have been herded into notions that all news is political polemics and propaganda, and so then it’s just a matter of picking the stuff from “your side”. It corrupts the very idea of news and journalism and a functioning free press in a free democratic republic.
The effect of Ailes and his operation leads countless people to see anything and everything in the realm of news as something that either comes from their side or the other side, with that being another consequence of this stuff, that is, the idea hammered into the minds of the Fox audience that everything is sorted into a simplistic pair of opposing-side bins.
I suspect that just about anybody in the United States who hasn’t fallen into the Roger Ailes and Fox News bog of bullshit has probably had their own experiences with some relative or neighbor or friend or work colleague, responding to something with absolutely predictable, essentially scripted verbiage, about how some bit of actual fact and reason is “propaganda from The Left” or “liberal media bias”.
The story of the appearance of a new book about the propaganda operations of Fox News fits right in with a general theme, one I’ve been talking about, and one that’s addressed nicely by the piece on the Charles Hugh Smith blog. We have a running problem of a general atmosphere of people operating in some sort of realm of, let’s say, unreality.
It’s very appropriate that another note from Smith within a day or so of that one gets to the essence of a large part of the problem. It’s simply a matter of so many things being so complex, and then compounded by overloads of sheer bullshit, lying and obfuscation and confusion, that most people just simply cannot deal with sorting it out. They’re overwhelmed. The irony is that people are too busy simply trying to cope and function and do what they’re doing to have time to do the homework and the thinking to sort out the real from the deluded and fictional that makes their lives so complicated and overloaded with troubles and problems and dilemmas.
In economic matters, there’s one particular item that really trips the alarm about misused words and a disconnection between words, meaning, and understanding. Any American paying any attention to news has heard noises about “income inequality” or “economic inequality” and so on. Using the word “inequality” is a fundamental misnomer. It only confuses matters and warps any possible seriously thinking and conversation, turning another serious subject into a noisy battle of cliches.
The problem isn’t “economic inequality”, as it’s absurd to think that there is ever going to be some sort of state of affairs where everybody is “equal” in financial terms. It’s just nonsensical. The actual problem, using the actual meaning of words to describe reality, is a matter of matters of economy and finance being deranged and distorted, a matter more accurately described as economic imbalance.
Talk using phrases like “economic inequality” (or “economic equality” as a desired counterpart goal), and it’s predictable and inevitable that what follows is somebody chattering about statist Marxist socialists and their central planning tyrannical government controlled everything and, among the lingo, “redistribution of wealth“. The actual reality that has been staring us in the face for many years now, decades, really, is that the core of the largest share of our economic problems has come from a massive and long running phenomenon of “redistribution of wealth”, but nothing at all like what’s thought of by the people who use that phrase with ideas of some sort of communist state banging around their heads. We’ve had a long stretch of “redistribution of wealth”, that revolves around what’s better described in terms like “wealth extraction” and “rentier economy”, all the games of Wall Street and what some have described as “the financialization of everything”.
It’s becoming more and more obvious to anybody really paying attention and being honest about what they see, rather than being sycophants or somehow blindly swallowing all the assorted posing and propaganda nonsense flying around, that when it comes to any economic matters, the general set of narratives and pictures presented to us all about what’s what are just nonsense, full of contradictions, lies, wishful thinking, and full on delusions. The more everyone pretends, the more people keep recycling the same nonsense, the worse things get. Yet people keep it up.
All this is wound up in a big messy knot with the reality of the energy situation, with things continuing on much the same, in terms of people happily playing along with all kinds of nonsense instead of getting a grip on where we are and the need to make changes damned fast to accommodate actual reality. The PR and political narrative of a steady stream of warped presentations of reality seem to have made most people in America absorb the deluded notions that some story they’ve heard about energy booms in oil and natural gas coming from shale formations means that everything is all set, no problems there, and that there’s no need to change anything to function within the actual reality of diminishing returns in the realm of all the stuff people refer to as “fossil fuels”.
So that’s where we are here in early 2014. This includes the problems of too many people splitting into the various camps of different ways of being simplistic, choosing between “it’s all good!” platitudes that seem to hold beliefs that if you just pretend everything is great, and there’s no problem, then it will be all great, with no problem, or an opposite problem mindset that we might simply label as “waiting for Doomsday”, whatever form that might take, or what might be the most common, as far as I can tell, which essentially boils down to grabbing on to explanations and assessments of often complex situations revolving around a particular scapegoat to blame.
With that, of course, I realize that even spelling things out in the form I just did runs the risk of being overly broad and simplistic, but you have to do some of this. All of those loose categorizations of attitudes are a serious problem.
In those, the “find a simple easy scapegoat” group does seem to be the most popular, and faces a potentially severe set of problems. People looking for easy scapegoats for the problems of their era throughout history have caused all kinds of ugly problems. This, all by itself, is a good reason for people to study history.
I figure that this kind of category blends in to some degree with a slightly different kind of mindset, one I encounter now and then. What I’m talking about there is something that seems like a generally positive attitude, on the face of it, and has some sense to it, but I have a bit of a problem with the idea I find in some people that the thing to do is to just do something, just act, don’t think about it or talk about what it is that needs to be dealt with, just simply act, as if any action, just the act of doing something, will just make things work out on their own by the simple input of action, of doing anything. Never mind the fact that just doing something, anything, for the sake of simply having some action in play, can just make things even worse, if it’s not what’s actually needed, without understanding what’s being done and how and why, without understanding the actual problem that might need to be dealt with. Aside from the matter of misdirected energy, and maybe resources as well, along with the possibility of acting in some way that worsens the situation, there’s the basic problem that some burst of random action for the sake of action can completely divert attention from noticing what the actual problem is, and then maybe figuring out what does need to be done.
I flipped on a TV and passing through MSNBC, I found a talking head chatterfest while on the bottom of the screen, a graphic banner read “SUPER BOWL OF POLITICS”, followed by text saying the expected theme of the 2014 State of the Union address was “inequality”. This confusion of the situation from misused words is something worse than just being a little annoying, as I already said. I hate to even think about listening to the upcoming annual circus there, especially after seeing something like this. The speech itself is likely to be an extended spiel of useless noise that really addresses little of reality as it is, and as I said about only about a week ago, to go along with that theatrical performance from the president, it’s a sure thing that the now standard “Republican response” will be worse, with two things about it being certain. It will be just a different exercise in useless theater divorced from reality, and the essence of it will be “the opposite of whatever Obama said”.
I think this is a pretty good idea, this resolution for 2014 to call things what they actually are. The point to be clear about is how many people there are who are virtually guaranteed to not do that, and who those people are. Considering how many people seem to have a need to have everything reduced and simplified down to some singular simple item, maybe this is the thing, then, the primary problem.
Turning our attention to sorting out the people who are almost certain to not call things as they are, it takes us right back into the kind of broad categories I was talking about just a little earlier.
We have the kind of thing where it’s essentially something like “hey, people, it’s all good, move along, nothing to see here, everybody just keep doing what we want you to keep doing!“.
A slight shift from that edges things into something different, that’s really not as far off from the above as many people might think, which is something like “it’s all good, except for this simplistic thing…“, which is more likely to be some distracting diversion than a genuine identification and articulation of a real issue, and then followed by some neat simplistic “solution”, whatever that might be, with general examples being “just vote for candidate X, party Y” or “just buy this wonder product“.
None of that makes anything better, really, and then, to repeat this, another simplistic grouping that’s a different kind of useless is what tends to be more of a fringe thing, of people who we might think of as the waiting for Doomsday crowd. As I’ve mentioned in past notes, writer John Michael Greer has been doing a nice job of putting that kind of fatalistic mindset culture into proper perspective in essays in his weekly blog over the last couple of years or so. Greer has articulated problems with that very well, so I won’t try to do a condensed rehash of what he has written. Speaking very generally, though, that kind of attitude generates a couple of different kinds of dysfunctional mindsets, either a kind of “fuck it” attitude of apathy and abandonment, a notion that nothing matters anyway because everything and everybody is doomed anyway, or a general opposite kind of passive attitude of abandonment that revolves around simply waiting for some miracle solution magical event that will change everything and just resolve it all, whatever that might be. Either route takes people to a useless oblivion. What good is that?
Right here is probably a good stopping point, not because this is really anywhere close to finished, but because I realize that this can go on and on and on. Basically, that’s digging into all the varied ways people are avoiding calling things what they are, and all the distractions and diversions that come out of that.