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Academic and Journalistic Integrity Disappear in the Age of One Dimensional Thought

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As both an academic and a writer, I have recently become appalled by the irresponsibility I have seen from both academics and journalists in the main (lame) stream media. Indeed, it seems that integrity in both of these professions has gone out the window, replaced by a desire to shape—and indeed manufacture—one dimensional thought. In this respect, both academics and journalists risk becoming no different from corporate advertisers. Like advertisers, who seek to create an image for consumers through rhetoric, so too do professional academics and journalists seek to create a self-image for the consumers of main (lame) stream media.

On 9 July 2018, CNN ran a piece by the academic Robert M. Sapolsky of Stanford University with the headline “Be alarmed when a leader tries to make you think of humans as vermin”. Mr. Sapolsky took offense to U.S. President Donald Trump’s comment that “Democrats ‘want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13’”, because the word “infest” is generally used in relation to subhuman—and often unwanted—creatures like insects or vermin. In support of his argument, Mr. Sapolsky cites academic research (like this) which claims that

 

social conservatives tend toward lower thresholds for disgust than liberals. They’re more likely to be unsettled by wearing someone else’s (clean) clothes, sitting on a chair still warm from a previous occupant, or thinking of someone spitting into a glass of water and then drinking it; show them a disgusting picture (e.g., a wound teeming with maggots) and their autonomic nervous systems tend to lurch more than a liberal’s would (and as an important control, this lower threshold is not found among economic or geopolitical conservatives).

 

Indeed, this research is similar to earlier academic “findings” which claim that disliking body odor is connected to having “rightwing views”. Now, of course, this is fairly absurd; do we not have a right—as individual humans—to value cleanliness? Perhaps this new interpretation is connected to Sociologist Norbert Elias’ view that as society “civilizes” it begins to take on the qualities of the lower classes since, traditionally, those with less access to adequate housing and bathing facilities are more likely to be “unclean”.

Yet the media skewing of perceptions goes far beyond one academic’s defense of a criminal gang like MS-13. It also involves geopolitics as well. After Mr. Trump said, in response to a journalist’s question regarding the United States’ hypothetical defense of Montenegro under NATO’s Article 5 which sees an attack on one member as an attack on all, that “They’re [Montenegrins] very strong people, they’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and, congratulations, you’re in World War Three,” the BBC was beside itself. The BBC’s Balkan correspondent Guy Delauney went so far as to claim that Mr. Trump depicted the Balkan nation as “a nation of conflict-crazy lunatics”. The logical jump here is staggering: While Mr. Trump is merely pointing out the absurdity of connecting the U.S.—through mutual defense treaties—to small nations in geopolitically contentious areas like the Balkans, since it could increase the risk of potentially dangerous conflicts, nowhere does Mr. Trump claim anything about “conflict crazed lunatics”. Unfortunately, the media—these days—will go to great lengths to shape the perceptions of its readers (many of whom are likely grossly uninformed).

Sadly, social media also engages in the same type of opinion formation. Take, for instance, three maps produced on the social media platform Instagram. The first depicts a comparison of voting results in Turkey with the ethnic map of Turkey, the second compares the populations of vast swathes of middle America to New York’s most populous areas, while the third compares the size of various European nations to the size of Ukraine’s ethnic-Russian minority. The subtext of these maps is extremely dangerous.

 

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The Three Maps in Question. Courtesy of Instagram (Specific Accounts at Top).

 

Essentially, the maps of Turkey send viewers the message that Turkey should be divided along ethnic lines—even though we all know that ethnic demarcations based on demographic surveys do not correspond neatly to reality on the ground. One would think that this lesson would have been learned from the disaster of British boundary drawing in the Middle East following World War One. The map of the United States sends the message that Mr. Trump is somehow an illegitimate president, because rural residents in sparsely populated areas voted so differently than urban residents in densely populated areas. According to this logic, it is unimportant that people in such disparate areas as Maine and Texas should think similarly; it is more important that urban residents of New York City think similarly. The map of Europe sends the message that the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine is a sizable one, implying that—somehow—Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory can be justified. These three maps show the dangers of opinion shaping via social media; it makes the world a more dangerous place.

I will close this short essay with a picture of a Mercedes billboard I saw in Istanbul. It depicts three young people with a Mercedes, along with the caption “Very original. Just like you”. Here, we see a corporate entity—in this case Mercedes—looking to shape the perception of consumers. The message being sent says “if you want to be original, then buy a Mercedes”. Since every human being wants something to set themselves apart in an increasingly homogenized world, the message is clear: If you want to confirm what you already think about yourself, then buy our product. The advertisement plays into the individual’s deepest desires, even though—in reality—conforming to corporate advertising will have the exact opposite effect from the one initially desired by the consumer. Buying a Mercedes will not set you apart in reality, but the emotional affirmation offered by the advertisement is more important. Just like the emotional messages sent by CNN and BBC look to confirm their readers’ own senses of moral superiority and “tolerance” vis-à-vis the masses’ “intolerance”.

 

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“Very Original. Just Like You”. Image Courtesy of the Author.
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Why One Dimensional Thought in the Modern World Hinders Our Ability to Actually Have Conversations, and Why It Might Lead to a Very Dangerous Future

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Sociologist Jurgen Habermas wrote a lot about his theory of communicative action, where individuals could exchange in discussion with the purpose of, among other things, “a mutual search for understanding”. Unfortunately, in the context of the increasingly intolerant world we live in, Habermas’ ideal may be becoming more and more elusive.

This is because too many people are more than ready to dismiss the “other” outright, without even engaging in communicative action in the first place. Recently, three members of the newly-crowned NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles announced that they would reject any invitation to the White House, should U.S. President Donald Trump extend one, as U.S. Presidents typically do to championship winning squads in U.S. sports. Torrey Smith said clearly that “It’s not about politics; I just don’t think the president is a good person. I don’t want to go out of my way to go see someone who isn’t even welcoming the men in this locker room and our different cultures”. Despite Mr. Smith’s claim that its “not about politics” something tells me it is; after all, he “thinks” the president is not a “good person” without having, most likely, ever even spoken with him. And here is where communicative action becomes impossible: When we refuse to acknowledge another person and write them off before even speaking with them, instead choosing to judge them based off of portrayals in the media or—even worse—based off of personal opinions that are being projected onto the “other”, we get into dangerous waters.

That the media “paints” pictures of individuals with their words is undeniable; in the modern world corporate mass media has become a master of propaganda, even though they are often very wrong. Take a recent Foreign Policy article, for instance, which mistakenly reports that Mosul is in Syria. Why should anyone—in their right minds—trust a media outlet that does not know the difference between Syria and Iraq? Perhaps it is because Foreign Policy sees both as being “shithole countries”, but I digress.

 

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Apparently, Foreign Policy Needs a Little Lesson on Middle Eastern Geography. Image Courtesy Of: http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/02/06/the-storm-before-the-storm-trump-middle-east/

 

What is remarkable is that it is not just main(lame?) stream media that is guilty of such heinous propaganda. The Jacobin, a publication that calls itself “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture” and boasts of 30,000 print subscribers and a monthly web audience of one million is—despite its self professed “left” perspective—just as guilty of propaganda as the ostensibly “mainstream” outlets. Of course, given the “left’s” proclivity for propaganda—think Pravda in the USSR—this should not, necessarily, be surprising.

The magazine recently published a piece written by Harrison Fluss, a lecturer in philosophy at St. John’s University and Manhattan College, entitled “Jordan Peterson’s Bullshit”. Since I find Jordan Peterson’s perspective to be vital in the current climate characterized by a growing tendency towards one dimensional thought, I decided to take a look at just how one could characterize it as “bullshit”. After reading, however, it became clear that the article should have been entitled “Harrison Fluss’ Bullshit” because the writer seemed to lack even a basic knowledge of Marxist thought, despite being a self-professed “leftist”. Indeed, if this is the caliber of lecturers at St. John’s University and Manhattan College American college students are being severely short changed and must certainly begin to take their educations back. Judging by his piece, Mr. Fluss has no place teaching at any institute of higher learning.

Mr. Fluss casually dismisses the growth of one dimensional thought (“the Left allegedly has turned authoritarian”) while himself taking a very authoritarian perspective while imputing views on Mr. Peterson that were never expressed in his half hour interview with Channel 4. The number of Mr. Fluss’ errors in this article are too numerous to note here, but—as a marginal sociologist myself—I cannot forgive this particular line:

“In response to Newman’s statistics about the wage gap, Peterson argued that this inequality was a necessary part of the capitalist dynamic.”

In order to make this criticism, it means that either Mr. Fluss has never actually read Karl Marx—despite his, apparent, “red” political stance (pardon the pun)—or that he is just ignorant. I’m not sure which would would be better in order for him to save face amongst his “comrades”! This is because—as all my students of sociology know, “Marx believed that the capitalist system is inherently unequal. The capitalists automatically benefit more from the capitalist system, while the workers are automatically disadvantaged. Under capitalism, those who own the means of production, those with capital, make more money from their money” (From George Ritzer’s Sociological Theory, Eighth Edition: Page 69). This was a quote from the textbook that my students read. Either Mr. Fluss has never taken an introductory Sociology course, or he is just a left-wing nut-jub ideologue masquerading as a scholar, since one of Marx’s main arguments was that capitalism is based on an unequal system. Clearly, Mr. Fluss is a product of the failing cesspool that is American academia at the moment.

 

Yet while I might be able to excuse pure ignorance, I cannot excuse calls for fascism. Mr. Fluss argues that

“When we theoretically confront Peterson, we need to do more than refute his pseudo-scientific claims, his bad pop psychology, and his Cold War–inflected version of history. The real challenge is overcoming his fundamental irrationalism” [Emphasis Mine].

Mr. Fluss seems to forget that we are all human beings. We are all, to some extent, irrational. This is because we are individuals.  And, if that is a problem, then there could only be one solution: Fascism. The drive to make us all “rational” would mean making us act with one and the same motive at all times; it would mean  erasing our individuality once and for all. Of course, given the history of Stalinism, it is not surprising that the someone writing for a “leftist” magazine should encourage fascism; it is par for the course since it has been attempted before.

This makes Mr. Fluss’ subsequent criticisms of Mr. Peterson even more comical:

Peterson does not speak for what is “normal.” His jargon of authenticity — that he is just a simple academic fighting for truth amid so much political correctness and censorship — masks his authoritarian ideas. He calls Marxism a “murderous ideology,” but his paranoid and conspiratorial politics are hard to distinguish from the alt-right’s denunciations of cultural Marxism. Indeed, the line between Peterson’s authoritarianism and Richard Spencer’s paleo-Nazism is a blurry one.

Here Mr. Fluss resorts to a common tactic that has become popular in the progressive era; label anyone that does not agree with you a “Nazi” or “Fascist”. No, society cannot continue to work under the assumption of an assumed dichotomy like this, especially when people are not even willing to talk with one another and instead prefer labeling people based on tropes popularized by the main(lame) stream media.

The only solution to this state of affairs is communicative action; that is people talking with one another not with the preconceived purpose of disagreement but with the purpose of mutual understanding. Otherwise, we kill off the logic of Hegel’s dialectic and risk a dark future indeed. I leave you with some images I took in the bustling working class district of Karakoy in Istanbul. Monday through Saturday it is bustling with a variety of businesses, on Sundays it is quiet without a soul on the streets; it is eerie to see what the area looks like when it is so chillingly empty. If we refuse to even talk with one another based on—in the case of the Eagles players mentioned above—images proffered by the media, or, in the case of Mr. Fluss, factually incorrect information, then we will only destroy the societies we live in. We can still avoid such a grim and dystopian future, it just requires an escape from one dimensional thought.

 

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A Dystopian Future of Empty Streets is Not What We Should be Aiming For. Images Courtesy of the Author.

The Grammys and the Pro Bowl: Two Cultural Spectacles Amidst the Attempted (Re)education of America

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Sometimes it feels as if the whole of American society is going through a sort of attempted re-education. I have already written about the sad state of American academia, yet the attempts at re-education are visible elsewhere as well. They are evident in attempts to re-write American history (also here), and they are apparent in the demonization of police and the rule of law. The common denominator in these attempts at re-education is their focus on division, rather than unity. Unfortunately, the culture industry is a major tool in this divisive re-education.

Sunday 28 January 2018 is a good example of how this divisive form of re-education takes place. On this Sunday there were two major events vying for airtime in the United States: the first was the NFL Pro Bowl, the all star celebration between the AFC and NFC; the second was the 60th annual Grammy awards. The solution was . . . playing the Pro Bowl in the afternoon so as to not compete with the prime time Grammys. Of course, that also meant playing the football game in conditions which, at times, bordered on monsoon level. Despite the hiccups, I can say that Pro Bowl 2018 was definitely a nice experience; I have no doubt that it was much more pleasant than the Grammys (to be discussed later).

The Pro Bowl is, admittedly, a manufactured experience, as SB Nation notes. It is, of course, a great example of the kind of commercialization of sport that the United States is famous for. Ironically, the Pro Bowl is American football without the violence that is so often criticized . . . which means that, in the end, no one watches it. The situation is emblematic of what might be American English’s few proverbs: you’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t. Despite the rampant commercialization, it was still a human experience. Like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ display of proper parenting on national TV (something that is usually missing in the United States, due to the demise of the concept of “family”), the Pro Bowl offered me many opportunities to interact with some amazing people.

 

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The Pro Bowl had its Human Side As Well at Camping World Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

It was nice to see fans from all over the United States, donning the jerseys of their favorite teams, who had come to one stadium to quite literally hang out. I met a few Manchester United fans visiting from England who were able to point out the absurdities of the US: “So…the drinking age is 21 but you can go off to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan at 18?” . . . “Yep” . . . “Wait . . . you can’t bet on sports in the United States?” . . . “Nope” . . . and I had to add that, yes, few American football stadiums have covered stands when most top level European football stadiums—even lower tier stadiums—have at least one covered stand. It is the absurdity of America, it is also the uniqueness of America—uncouth and immature as it may be. I met a Denver Broncos fan from Cleveland who lamented the financial mismanagement of some NFL players, who manage to blow through millions of dollars without realizing that their careers are, quite dependent, on their own ability to stay healthy. Despite the over-commodified nature of the Pro Bowl, it was clear that—in American society—we can come together when we need to in the name of sports. As my British friends pointed out, in Britain the site of so many different jerseys would be enough to start a brawl.

What is shocking is that Sunday’s second event, The Grammys, was so different. It started with U.S. President’s Twitter spat with rap artist Jay-Z, whose criticism of Mr. Trump was met with a response that the unemployment rate for black workers is the lowest in 45 years. Unfortunately for Jay-Z, this was not his only embarrassment—despite being the most nominated artist at the Grammys he went home empty handed. Yet this feud was just a prelude to what the Grammys would become—a political s***(side?) show as music artists gave their political opinions one after another (a run down, which I will not deign go into here, can be found here).

 

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A Pretty Funny Tweet; Also Interesting That a U.S. President is Actually Interacting with a Citizen. Sadly, such Alternative Interpretations are Missing From Mainstream Media Since They Don’t Fit the Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/01/28/trump-rips-jay-z-for-remarks-on-african-american-unemployment.html

 

The irony of it all was, of course, that hyper-commodified music had become hyper-politicized. This is one reason I do not listen to new music; in a bid to follow the logic of late stage capitalism—where profit is king—most music has come to sound the same. It is emblematic of a society that has killed creativity. But it also begs the question: Why do we care what billionaire celebrities in a music business, that is less art and more money, think about politics? The last time I checked, neither Jay Z or Bono had been reading the latest theories in political science or sociology. They are not “left” in any traditional sense of the word; indeed Karl Marx is likely spinning in his grave after Hillary Clinton’s appearance on stage.  And that is why a technocratic government, propped up by the propaganda of the culture industry, is a very dangerous thing indeed. We are swiftly becoming two Americas: One that cares about mass culture, and another that does not. In order to bridge this growing gap, however, we will need new minds that can transcend the one dimensional thought emanating from the culture industry and academia. We are still human beings with an ability to think independently; I would say it is high time we recognize it in order to resist this cultural (re)education.

Football Fans Vs. The Bureaucratic Modern State: Debate Over Road Signs in Britain Both Geometrical and Sociological

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Author’s Note: As a marginal Sociologist I will support Mathematician Matt Parker from the perspective of my own discipline. In the spirit of C. Wright Mills, it is a Sociologist’s job to point out the difference between “personal troubles” and wider “public/social issues”: One person’s unemployment is a personal trouble; but if that person can transcend their individuality and see that others are unemployed as well the personal trouble becomes a wider social issue, like an economic recession. In this case, what may at first seem like a small personal “trouble” (people upset at a minor detail on highway signage) could actually be part of a wider public/social issue (the inflexibility of the modern bureaucratic state or the dumbing down of modern society in the context of one-dimensional thought). This is why it is important to move away from our own individualism and start thinking outside of ourselves.

Yesterday, on 31 October 2017, the BBC ran a piece focused on the incorrect depiction of footballs on British roadways. The piece notes that “Currently, the image on the sign is made entirely of hexagons but a ball like that would be geometrically impossible to make. Instead, a real football has a mixture of hexagons and pentagons . . .”. Mathematician Matt Parker has started a petition—and gathered 20,000 signatures from football fans supporting him—to get the signs changed. Even though UK law stipulates that the hexagon pattern is the only one that can depict stadiums, Mr. Parker rightly points out that this incorrect depiction of footballs is “embarrassing” due to the UK’s national tradition in sport and “very proud” tradition in math and science.

 

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Does This Really Look Like a Football Without the Iconic Pentagon? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41813720

 

Of course, the bureaucrats in the British government are not amused, and their argument is that traffic signs are merely a “general representation” of the activity they are supposed to depict. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation (DfT) claimed that since these signs have been in use since 1994, “drivers have become ‘accustomed’” to the design. The spokesman goes onto explain that any new details would not be visible from the distance drivers typically see them from while on the roadway, while adding that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”

Mr. Parker’s response points out the odd contradictions in the DfT’s response:

I’m not sure what the DfT thinks a football looks like but they say both: the change would be too small to be noticed and that the correct geometry would be so distracting to drivers it would increase the risk of accidents. I’m not asking for angles and measurements on the sign, just for it to look more like a football.”

Mr. Parker does well to point out the contradictions inherent in the response, and while the signs should certainly be made to look more like a football there is also a worrying condescension that comes out of the DfT’s response: the bureaucratic state seems to be assuming that its citizens are morons. To say that a new design will not work since drivers have become “accustomed” to the current one suggests that British drivers suffer from a sort of mental atrophy. Has the modern world become so one-dimensional in its thought that the modern mind is no longer flexible enough to comprehend any changes to what it is accustomed to?

It is certainly ironic, since—in other areas of the modern world—it seems that the bureaucratic state is all too willing to force change on its citizens in the name of “progressive” politics: In the United States the name of the first President, George Washington, can be removed from the church he worshiped at while statues of prominent figures from American history can be removed to white-wash the history of slavery in the United States, yet British drivers cannot deal with a “change” to their highway signs? It would seem—to me at least—that this is an insult to the intelligence of British drivers.

Similarly, the argument that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary” and thus increase the risk of an “incident” seems to ignore the fact that—in the modern world—we are already distracted by much more than the correct depiction of footballs on a highway sign. I—like anyone who has ever driven on a highway—am quite certain that the millions of people taking selfies in their cars, texting in their cars, stuffing their faces with fast food burgers in their cars, or even doing make up in their cars are much more likely to cause an “incident” on a roadway than someone “distracted” by a geometrically correct depiction of a football on a highway sign. To argue otherwise—as the DfT did—is merely to insult the intelligence of British citizens.

In fact, if modern society were not as dumbed down as it has become, it is likely that this incorrect depiction of a football would be more likely to cause an incident than a correct depiction would be! (Of course, that would hinge on people actually knowing what a football should actually look like…or knowing that “Bluetiful” is not a word, as I have argued before). The football sign row shows that the bureaucratic state in Britain is more willing to insult its national traditions and history—as well as the intelligence of its citizenry—than attempt to rectify an oversight in graphic design. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok—we are human after all (for now at least). But it is pretty embarrassing for the government to give excuses that are—for lack of a better word—just lame.

 

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In Italy, Signs That Actually Look Like Footballs Are Not Causing Massive Pile-Ups On The Autostrada (At Least, Not As Far As I Know). So If They Can Do It In Italy, Why Not In Britain? Image Courtesy Of: https://footballtripper.com/san-siro-stadium-guide-milan/