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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.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on The Rationalist Myth That Technology Sets Humanity Free: Two Examples from The Sports World

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Often, in the brave new world we all live in, we hear the praises of technology being sung. Phrases like “technology has brought us closer together”, “technology is shrinking the world”, or even “technology sets us free” have become common place. Unfortunately—for all the praise of technology—few people seem to realize that the world we live in is not the world of a century ago.

There was a time that technology—despite its drawbacks—arguably did more good than bad. Sure, motor vehicles have made travel easier than it was in the days of the horse-drawn carriage. And yes, electricity has certainly made things easier in the home after sundown. But what about the consequences of more modern technological advances? Have they all been as positive?

These days, we see companies embedding their employees with microchips—while a CEO says “it’s the right thing to do”. Is it really “the right thing to do”; is it really a positive development? Is sacrificing humanity in the name of productivity right? Or is it the kind of logic that could only be born out of late stage—extreme—capitalist society?

After a recent conversation with a designer for an American corporation, I started to question whether or not technology—in and of itself—was truly a wholly positive development. The designer told me that while computers have made creating new designs easier, it has meant that skills do not improve; (I paraphrase): “Re-creating designs on the computer is quick and easy while re-drawing designs [by hand] had been time consuming . . . but as I re-did them [by hand] I realized that my designs were better each time I re-drew them”. The designer’s comments made me wonder, when will people realize that technological advancements carry with them numerous undesirable elements and cause numerous undesirable developments as well? To get people thinking I will provide two examples from the sports world.

 

New Development I: 24 Hour News Media on the Internet and Television

It is often believed that continuous news coverage is positive because it provides people with information 24 hours a day and seven days a week (24/7) available at the click of a button. This, granted, would be a very useful service if only the news networks were not as biased as they are. Instead of being helpful, the 24/7 news networks have led us to believe everything we read or see, even if it is not true. This is because—in order to prove the necessity of 24/7 news coverage—content is often manufactured to fill in the gaps; this means that both producers and consumers of the news are not as discriminating as they may have been in the past. This is how fake news has become real news, and how Moldova’s Masal Bugduv (of Olimpia Balti) became a football starlet. In fake news stories the Moldovan footballer (who does not exist) was linked with Arsenal, and the New York Times even published a story about how the hoax of Masal Bugduv went viral. Unfortunately, many main stream news outlets “bought” Bugduv as the real deal long before he was revealed to be a hoax. This case is just one example of how 24/7 news media can lead people down the wrong path.

 

New Development II: Cellular Telephones

 Another popular misconception is that the advent of cellular telephones has made us, somehow, “more free”. We can now be reached at any time not only by friends and families, but also by non-friends and telemarketers. As if this were not enough, we can also be found at any time by the state and businesses through the GPS functions of our phones which track our every move—and even listen to us! (Indeed, while talking to my brother about the Ford Raptor Truck we soon found a Ford Trucks ad pop up on Instagram a moment later!). This is not a positive development, but when will we stand up to it? Recently, a college [American] football coach in the U.S. was forced to resign when a muckraking lawyer and author uncovered phone records that revealed calls to an escort service. While I won’t go into my thoughts on the illegality of prostitution, it is remarkable that—in the media world—a one-minute call made in private, a one-minute poor decision—can cost a man a lifetime of work. The decidedly unremarkable thing is that it can, especially in a world where anything you say and do can and will be held against you at any time. Of course, since this is a sports story, fans of the rival team are overjoyed since they brought down the opposite team. What they may not realize, however, is that the tables could turn at any time and that they too could become the victims on the losing end of this new surveillance society.

This type of society—which actively encourages social media use because it “brings people together”—yet also punishes failures to use it “correctly” (whatever that means)—is a dangerous one. It limits the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. It trains everyone to think in the same one dimensional thought of corporate life: “Talk a lot, about a lot of different things, without ever actually saying anything. And never, ever, say something that ruffles feathers because its one strike and you’re out”. Its that easy because—in the world of late-stage capitalism—workers are easily replaced. The case of a Utah teacher who was almost fired for posting pictures of her own workouts on Instagram and that of a young Belgian girl who was offered a job by L’Oreal before being fired after posting a poorly worded (and imaged) Tweet during the 2014 World Cup in support of her country’s (Belgium) match against the United States are cases in point. Apparently, freedom of expression is only tolerated insofar as it helps the company’s bottom line (just look at how Kim Kardashian has amassed a slew of corporate sponsors despite her lewdness). The private sphere has become intertwined with the public sphere in the world of late stage capitalism: You are free to say or post what you want…unless it hurts the business (or the general sensibilities). This is why—unfortunately—I (as a writer who should have intellectual freedom) must also be aware that every word I write on this blog can—and will—be held against me due to its presence on the internet. This means that I am hardly a free writer, and that in itself hinders my ability to be creative. It is a vicious cycle to say the least.

While the champions of this kind of one dimensional thought make it seem that they are making the world a better place—by getting rid of the “rude” and “bad” and “hurtful” people—the reality is that there will always be “rude” and “bad” and “hurtful” people; there will always be a**holes. They cannot be erased. The only people who lose in the world of one dimensional thought and unchecked technological advances are the creative ones, the outsiders who dare think beyond the boundaries imposed by a so-called “rational” society”.