When I started The Experientialist my aim was to post a new article every week. Last week was the first time I didn’t, and here's why.
My writing has to have a purpose and I have to think it's worth your time reading it. I'm not interested in robotically churning out words just to tick a box. My respect for you the reader demands better.
I actually had something written and ready to go, but after looking at it again I decided it wasn't good enough, I know you’ll understand.
Anyway, I think this article will be worth 5 minutes of your time. I hope you’ll think I was right, do let me know.
Most of us are paying close attention to the news right now. There’s a lot going on in the world this year. The Black Lives Matter movement, Political riots in Hong Kong and India, Trump and Biden, wildfires, hurricanes and cyclones. Who’d have believed that stories like these would struggle to make headlines? But 2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid-19, and none of us have been unaffected. It’s a strange new world we’re living in, so much has changed, so much is changing, so much is yet to change.
Now more than ever it seems important to make sure we have the information necessary to keep us safe and to guide our actions.
Getting that information should be simple. One thing we’re not short of in this modern world is ways to get it. Sometimes the hardest decision seems to be which 24/7 rolling news channel or website to use.
Everything we could ever want to know is literally at our fingertips. It’s easy to be lazy.
But that laziness can extend to our thinking, and that’s dangerous. Because lazy thinking leaves us vulnerable to misinformation. Gone are the days when we could be sure what we’re being told is right. We’re living in a post-truth world. There are people out there with a plan, they want to control your thinking, they want to direct your actions, they want to play you. Does that sound farfetched? Ridiculous even? Read on.
Remember when Kellyanne Conway, Trump's Press Secretary, coined the phrase 'Alternative Facts' a couple of years ago? Those of us with an inbuilt B.S. detector weren't fooled. Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods, untruths and delusions. Truth is getting harder to come by these days, and here's why.
It all started in 2005/2006. It’s taken just fifteen years for the world of news, media and information to become unrecognisable from what went before. Over the next few weeks I want to take a closer look at what's happened, what it means to us, and what we should do about it.
Pre-2007 most of us got our news and information from just a few long-trusted sources. The oldest of these was the newspaper.
For many, the morning paper was their primary source of news. Newspapers have been embedded in society for centuries. To some extent they still are. Today there would have been folks in Scotland reading their copy of ‘The Glasgow Herald’. It was first published in 1783 and it’s still going, amazing though that is I somehow doubt it will last another 200 years.
In 2006, the total daily newspaper circulation in the UK was around 25 million.
Radio was another major source of news, and the first vehicle capable of disseminating information to the masses. The first BBC radio broadcast was made in 1920 and by the 1940s most households listened regularly.
Television came next. TV really took off after the war and by the 1970s the BBC evening news was watched by around 10 million people every night. When Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in 1979 26 million tuned in to find out what had happened.
Generally radio and TV news sources were trusted. The BBC in particular became a global authoritative source. Folks were more sceptical about newspapers. Mistrust in printed media have been around almost as long as the product itself.
If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
― Mark Twain
"The Yellow Press", by L. M. Glackens, portrays newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst as a jester distributing sensational stories in 1910. (Library of Congress/Public Domain)
People were right to be mistrustful. In 1937 Lords Beaverbrook, Rothermere, Camrose and Kemsley owned nearly one in every two national and local daily papers sold in Britain, as well as one in every three Sunday papers. The combined circulation of all their newspapers amounted to over thirteen million, almost 30% of the population at the time.
The rich and powerful have long used newspapers to their own ends. The tradition continues.
Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch, The Barclay Twins, Silvio Berlusconi, the list goes on.
In the UK today two billionaire press barons now own half of the top 10 daily newspapers. Today's 4th Viscount Rothermere is carrying on just as the 2nd Viscount did in 1937. Back then his great-grandfather owned the Daily Mail newspaper. It printed enthusiastic support for fascism and Hitler. Ownership of the Mail has passed down through the family, and today it prints jingoistic anti-european propaganda. On the bright side they used to sell 3 million copies per day, now it’s only about 1 million. With luck, this toxic rag will soon be consigned to history.
To be fair radio and TV don’t have a flawless track record either.
Lord Haw-Haw was a well-known example of using the radio to misinform. Lord Haw-Haw was the nickname given to the US-born Briton who broadcast Nazi propaganda to the UK from Germany during the Second World War. The broadcasts opened with "Germany calling, Germany calling" spoken in an affected upper-class English accent.
As for TV, my eyes were opened when, as a young man, I went out to South Africa to work. This was in 1978. Steve Biko had been killed by police the year before. Anti-apartheid pressure was building on the country. In the UK the BBC regularly reported on the violence in places like Soweto, and how the brutal SA government was using unwarranted force to subdue it. Back home IRA terrorists were planting bombs in Bristol, Coventry, Liverpool and Manchester. In Northern Ireland there was daily bombing, shooting and rioting. On my first night in South Africa, sitting in my hotel room near Johannesburg, I switched on the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) evening news. Images of an angry crowd on a Belfast street throwing stones and petrol bombs at soldiers appeared. The commentary said, “In Ireland today the British Occupation Forces once again fired live rounds at unarmed Republican Freedom Fighters”.
At that moment it dawned on me that millions of people, thousands of miles apart, were watching two entirely different views of what was actually happening in the world. They were forming opinions and making judgements based entirely on information that one organisation chose to present. Both were to an extent telling the truth. But both were also giving inaccurate information with a biased opinion. Kellyanne Conway was by no means the first to present 'alternative facts'.
From that day forth I vowed never to trust one single source of information again. It's a promise that's served me well.
As I said earlier, I think most of us have an inbuilt BS detector, I think most of us have sound morals and judgement. Our personal experiences give us a feeling in our guts when something isn’t right.
The problem is that those morals and judgements can get drowned out under the tide of ‘popular opinion’ and ‘media’ exposure.
We see information being spread that goes against what we know. We see stuff that’s wrong being pushed as right. We see truth being trashed. But we shrug our shoulders and do nothing.
Why is that?
Next week I’ll try and find out.
I hope you’ll join me.