Tyranny of the dull

In the coming days and weeks I am going to write about the important events of my times (I turn 65 this month) with an eye on details. I will write short pieces, as long pieces do not get read. (This piece is 626 words, and too long. I don’t imagine that longer equals better. Quite the opposite.)

I will try to walk and chew gum, including not only our important historical coups d’état, but current events in Ukraine, Yemen, Venezuela, France and Germany. We appear to be on the verge of something big. My focus will be on details, as most of what we are intended to see is a lie, and only details can help us punch through to get at truth.

Americans are encouraged to be incurious about major events. People of a more inquisitive nature have been successfully marginalized, so that we have, in effect, a tyranny of the dull. It’s an effective thought control regime, and is extremely difficult to overcome. Normal exposure to American news and entertainment media offers no incentives towards intelligence or curiosity.

Literacy by AgePNGHere are some elements of the herding effect of our news outlets:

  • FOX News has an older audience who have mostly lost their cognitive skills. Note in the breakdown by age to the left, that 2-3% of senior citizens were proficient in cognitive skills, a serious decline from the 12-13% of younger people. Natural aging might explain this, but it might also reflect years of exposure to a dumbing-down media. There is no avenue in mainstream media for maintaining higher levels of intellectual ability.
  • People who do have higher cognitive levels are more likely to get their news from NPR, PBS, or perhaps the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (which is charged with containing a smart and investment-savvy following). These audiences imagine themselves better informed than their FOX counterparts. They all absorb the same information in different formats, and are only segmented for marketing purposes.

News consumers above are effectively walled off from each other. There’s little travel between the segments.

There is more segmentation:

  • There is an Agitprop media, right-wing talk radio (and a small “left” counterpart). Audiences for these outlets, functionally illiterate and kept in a state of perpetual anger, are used as a bludgeoning force against members of the media and public officials. It’s an enormous echo chamber where people absorb only selected talking points of selected “news” events*
  • On the “left,” among more intellectually curious people, there is a court jester system in place. These are outlets like Daily Show, Bill Maher, John Oliver and the whole of the MSNBC crowd. (Oliver appears to be almost poised to say something important. He won’t, of course. Bill Maher learned that lesson in 2002.) These outlets encourage their self-imagined smart-set followers to focus on the failings of their opposites in the two-party system. (Jon Stewart made a career of ridiculing FOX, whose viewers are barely sentient.) The effect is to mute any energetic organizing by keeping people focused on the wrong targets.
  • Button02The vast majority of Americans are turned off and indifferent, only passively absorbing information in a haphazard manner from primary and secondary education and the entertainment systems. Passive exposure yields a muddled mainstream, but they are strongly encouraged to vote and imagine themselves vigilant citizens.

It is important to break free of this system. I was as much a part of it as any when a few details that did not make sense caused me to look a little deeper.
*Thus do we see leaders of the Republican Party, who need this sector in their voting base, behaving as if they were stupid. That is only an act to satisfy the Limbaugh set. Some, like Ted Cruz, might be genuinely stupid. Most are not.

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