Our Information Dilemma

What is to be done when the major means of communication with the majority of a nation’s people is under the control of select groups that consistently distort and fabricate the information delivered?

This is the situation that the whole world faces. The major points of contact with the information that the world’s people require in order to make personal and societal decisions are primarily: TV, radio and print media, and internet sources that are driven by these sources; other internet sources are more correctly called propaganda tools regardless of their ideological position.

The primary “news” sources lay claim to some degree of neutrality and veridicality; but, they only pretend “neutrality” on issues that do not directly concern their owners or the self-interest of individual reporters and “news” departments. They use the cheap device of giving “equal time” and authority to positions whether or not there is any valid reason to assume equality; they always distort and ignore news that would negatively impact the economic and political elite.

The consequence is that there is no consistently reliable source for vital, informing descriptions of the conditions of our world. We cannot act with any confidence that the information upon which we must act is accurate. While we know we are being lied to, there is no source that stands as sufficiently honest and unbiased that we can use it as a reference to measure the maelstrom.

Of course, some people with enough time, experience and determination can often piece together descriptions of events in ways that they might reasonable trust as veridical, but there is little or no way that their efforts can be generally disseminated – or for that matter, separated from the propaganda that is boiling up as a substitute for real information. So, regardless of the motives, of which there are many (to be looked at more closely in moment), the result is the almost complete impossibility of the general public having the information that they require to act in response to the actual events and processes going on in the world. This is the loss of a most basic survival tool: accurate information to inform action in the environment.

Insidiously, the non-news part of media acts to set the base-line expectations for the “news” itself. ‘Every’ person in TV dramas carries a gun, drives a Land Rover, uses a satphone and lives in a million dollar house or condo; even if they have a 50K job doing what, in the real world, might be some form of accounting. ‘Everyday-people’ have al Qaeda sleeper cells in the house next door to them. Serial killers roam the streets of every neighborhood. And personal success and satisfaction is never ever seen as a moment of quiet reflection.

If we average the content of the lives we see portrayed on our “home theaters” and compare them to the actual modal lives of American citizens, the disconnect rises to the level of the pathological: the stories that we tell about ourselves have absolutely nothing – nothing – to do with the lives we lead, even as we attempt, as we always have done, to model ourselves after them. For every film like The Remains of the Day, there are hundreds where the moral choices are drawn in crayon and gratuitous blood.

People embrace the entertainment media, giving it 50, 80, even 100 % of their non-working life (and many times part of their working life) not so much to be entertained, but to be part of the common human experience. If people felt fully connected to flesh and blood people, then they would not spend 5 hours a day watching 2-dimensional electronic representations of people that they can’t know, can’t touch or ask a question. If people felt informed and competent in the execution of their lives, then they wouldn’t so desperately seek the slick and phony “competence” of media “heroes.”

The professional news media is now only an extension of this pattern. To a large extend it is competing with fictional stories, with the carefully rehearsed control of emotional content and production values, while at the same time purporting to discover and extract accurate descriptions of events and behaviors that talented and powerful interests wish to remain hidden. My critique in no way is intended to suggest that this social role and responsibility is easy, only that this vital role is being thoroughly mishandled and abused.

The reasons for the abuse run from the most mundane to the most violently draconian. Reporters and editors have often been the targets of the forces who wish not to be reported on. In 2006, 81 journalists were killed (other accounts give the number as 110) and 871 were put in jail worldwide. 2007 saw 86 (95) killed and hundreds more jailed. The assumption is made that the vast majority of the journalists so treated were acted on in response to their reporting things that someone really didn’t want to see made public. A message was being sent: speak and die; this would distort what is reported on.1

But there are many other ways to motivate the distortion of information. Limbaugh is reported to have a 400 million dollar contract! Top TV “news” anchors are all in the 6 to 8 figure range. These amounts of money create organized interest groups deep within the media beast with a disproportionate voice in how stories are framed so that the “news” show can ‘get its story’ day after day. The self-interested corporate ownership of media has its own influence.

At the other extreme the public must be appealed to to watch and listen. This has become about polling and presentation, personality and production values, matching expectations and desires more than giving the most straightforward accounting of events no matter where the chips may fall – there must be no chips, though sparks are good, i.e., there must be no real consequences, just shiny things to distract attention. If real substantive stories with real consequences that led to human action were presented, people might come to expect, and eventually demand, substantive information…. And then there would be the danger of the numbers a couple of paragraphs above going up – it is a tough decision: package a dishonest product, have sycophantic fame and make lots of money… or tell the greatest truth that can be divined from the muscular digging of evidence and be ignored, rejected, threatened, fired, jailed or killed.

What matters, what gets lost in the wailing over this and that specific crime against the public good, is exactly that, the public good. Just as wind sailors died from the lack of specific vitamins, so societies die from the lack of accurate information on the vital details of life. A social order cannot sustain on lies. It is just so simple: the biophysical world in which we live requires that it be responded to from veridicality. The ‘vascular system’ through which is pumped the information necessary for societal and individual survival is diseased and failing. The informational nutrients of life delivered by it cannot be trusted and we accept them with reluctance even as we must, at some level, accept them.

What hope there is in this model of our informational dilemma comes from those who will not give up trying to organize, out of the cacophony, some bits of the real. So long as this impulse is alive there is always a corner to be turned. Like the creature that collects tiny drops of water, one at a time, from the morning dew in a rainless land, those who have the ability and inclination to organize some more truthful image of our present time must do so to stay mentally alive. As those people spread their efforts and share their methods for making sense of the intentional chaos perhaps, just maybe, a critical mass can demand even more.

  1. For comparison, there are 50 to 100 teachers for every journalist. Teaching can be very dangerous in regions of deep social conflict and tyrannical governments, teachers are jailed and killed for their teaching, but the numbers are generally small and certainly far below the proportional rates for journalists. I couldn’t find a source that totaled the numbers of teachers killed or jailed for their professional activities, but a ‘back of the envelope’ calculation gives me numbers perhaps half those for journalists, almost all in the most troubled places. This would make journalism about a hundred times more dangerous given the smaller numbers. []

James Keye is the nom de plume of a biologist and psychologist who after discovering a mismatch between academe and himself went into private business for many years. His whole post-pubescent life has been focused on understanding at both the intellectual and personal levels what it is to be of the human species; he claims some success. Email him at: jkeye1632@gmail.com. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on November 9th, 2009 at 10:17am #

    In any land where one does not have access to free higher education or right to be informed and formed [rather than deformed] and does not enjoy the basic right to receive medical treatment, life is not as good as when such rights wld be enshrined in constitution-governance and honored by the administrations or as i say, managements.

    I do not know of any people who are as deformed and disinformed as americans. It has its causative factors. Casting a wider look or even the widest, wld reveal also causes for that.
    To be more accurate, it wld reveal to us who are the people who bring that about.
    But, first of all, we may not blame disinformed, deformed, noneducated, deprived of heath care people. To me, these people {?90} are victims.
    But the ancient ruse of praising feudal lords-warlords and blaming the sick, infirm, uneducated, deprived of basic rights still to this day goes on world-wide.

    Root of all evil and good for some people in US is the US constitution on which rests governance and integral parts of that governance: WH, congress, army echelons, cia, judiciary, fbi, city police, media, schooling.
    Constitution is the bole. Its twigs and branches are what i have enumerated above.
    All that acts as one entity! Constitutions, quran, bible, laws, torah or even an utterance in any of these writs are interpretative.
    Natch, US constitution is interpreted by judges appointed by the entity to which they belong.
    And the loop is complete.
    Way out? A political party that one day may rise to power and appoint own interpreters or be able to emend ar add amendments to it!
    Let us recall that even pope is no longer infallible. Of course, some people knew that for millennia just like we now know constitutions, bible, etc., are very much fallible or downright very antihuman. tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on November 9th, 2009 at 10:19am #

    What is to be done when the major means of communication with the majority of a nation’s people is under the control of select groups that consistently distort and fabricate the information delivered?

    “It won’t be very long before we have to start thinking of the Arctic as an open sea. Man has taken the lid off the northern end of his planet and we can’t put that lid back on again”. Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Physics Group

    Spin that one major means of communication, oh that’s right just say nothing.

  3. kalidas said on November 9th, 2009 at 1:20pm #

    Select groups?
    Isn’t this a bit misleading, a tad inaccurate?

    For the purpose of truth and accuracy I believe this should read “select group” as in “the usual suspects.”
    Hey, if THEY can brag about it why can’t WE say it?

    Why beat around the bush. We all know just who owns 95% of every type of consumer media, practically everywhere on this earth.

    Maybe there are a few token “others” in the misinformation/propaganda/conditioning business, but that’s exactly what they are.

  4. Don Hawkins said on November 9th, 2009 at 2:42pm #

    And nobody in the level below knows what the levels above are doing well sort of one up who writes the paycheck and so on and so forth. At the top level what is that like?

    I think the root of our predicament lies in the psyches of certain individuals. While most people would be content with sufficiency in all material possessions, and being freed from the life sentence on the treadmill of ‘employment’, with time freed thus to cultivate their spirits and their connections with others and the natural world, there exists the opposite type. The insatiably greedy individual from whose discontents, appetites, lack of scruples and antipathy to others market capitalism is formed, and who that system advantages and promotes in a deadly circle of re-inforcement.
    This type, and they number in the few millions, dominate the planet. They control the rest through money power, life-long indoctrination and violence. They hire a few million more individuals, without any inhibitions on inflicting violence, to suppress any attempts to overturn their dominance. If they saw eco-villages as a real threat to their power, they would destroy them. However, at present they are content to use their total dominance of the means of mass communication merely to denigrate and belittle such communities as the dwelling-places of ‘hippies’ and ‘Greenies’, both despised types, tolerated in the West, but often dealt with more harshly in the imperial outlands like Colombia, Central America and the Philippines.
    Our masters are, of course, insane, morally and psychologically. They have been warned for decades of the coming ecological collapse, but have ignored then abused the scientists who brought the bad news. They have, instead of acting to avert disaster, erected a vast industry of denialism, where every crisis is methodically misrepresented and lied about, and these untruths relentlessly propagated by the hordes of spiritually bankrupt hate and fear-mongers they employ to brainwash the public. So great is their appetite for profit that they cannot look beyond next quarter’s profits and bonuses. Mulga Mumblebrain

    So great is their appetite for profit that they cannot look beyond next quarter’s profits and bonuses. So how to fight insane, morally and psychologically so called masters? Don’t fight but calm at peace use the knowledge for defense never for attack and remember no trespassing on this type the so called masters and they number in the few millions and still dominate the planet. I can see it now two million in front of the Capital as the Sun set’s singing “Tomorrow tomorrow it’s only a day away” then off to New York in front of Wall Street and Goldman and Fox New’s different song this time all together we love you we love you very very much. In your wildest dreams can you imagine what the few million would think? How would the media handle that one. Calm at peace use the knowledge for defense never for attack and remember no trespassing.

  5. Don Hawkins said on November 9th, 2009 at 3:08pm #

    Then this type the so called masters and they number in the few millions and still dominate the planet would say what do you want and we say not what we want but what we need and we want our minds back. We don’t need your product to be human we need a planet to live on nice game of checkers good cup of coffee. Then the few million would say oh how could we ever go on. Here’s were we break-out into song again, Tomorrow tomorrow it’s only a day away. Calm at peace use the knowledge for defense never for attack and remember no trespassing. If this could work in maybe a thousand years we will get the fine points down. Am going back to my home planet now calm at peace.

  6. liz burbank said on November 9th, 2009 at 6:08pm #

    hey folks, the state controls information to secure it’s capitalist state rule. ‘information warfare’ isn’t a ‘conspiracy theory, it’s central to u.s. global domination agenda – here’s a few links to whet your appetites and encourage your spreading this urgent news:

    THIS ‘SECURE TRUSTED COMPUTING’ PROJECT IS WELL UNDERWAY AND UNDER STATE MOUTHPIECE MEDIA’S RADAR BUT THERE’S IMPORTANT MATERIAL HERE:
    http://www.burbankdigest.com/node/153

    Meanwhile here’s a comprehensive and heartfelt analysis plus a few hopefully tantalizing links:
    The Dangers of Digital Imprimatur
    http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/digital-imprimatur/
    by John Walker
    September 13, 2003, Revision November 4th, 2003

    US Plans to ‘Fight the Net’ Revealed
    by Adam Brookes
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4655196.stm
    January 27, 2006 BBC
    WASHINGTON – Pentagon’s 2003 “Information Operations Roadmap”, newly declassified, gives a glimpse into the US military’s plans for “information operations” […]

    A Fresh Start for the Internet
    Stanford University researchers aren’t just dreaming of a new Internet: they’re building it.
    By Rachel Ross March 19, 2007 http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/18397/

    DARPA, Microsoft, Lockheed team up to reinvent TCP/IP http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/16/darpa_microsoft_reinvent_internet/

    Technology Leaders Favor Online ID Card Over Passwords
    Michael B. Jones, Microsoft’s director of identity partnerships, said… http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/technology/24card.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print

    Microsoft Palladium: Next Generation Secure Computing Base
    http://epic.org/news/2003.html

    Microsoft and the National Security Agency
    April 6, 2007 http://www.techweb.com/wire/29110640

  7. Rehmat said on November 9th, 2009 at 8:22pm #

    The information provided by the western mainstream media is a one-way street: “Either you tell how we want you to tell – otherwise you’re not a reliable source”. Foe example, to protect the official Zionist story of Holocaust – On July 8, 1981, Zionist entity became the first UN member state to outlaw any challenge to its interpretation of the events in Germany under the Nazi regime (though 150,000 German Jews and the Zionist terrorist group Irgun were part of Nazi regime). As of November 2006 – 12 European ZOG countries have followed Israeli lead – Spain, Romania, Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Poland, France, Switzerland, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Czech Republic. The Jewish Lobby is in the process of adding the US, Canada, and Britain to that list.

    “The Holocaust is an ideological club, used to hold Germany in a vice like grip. In the early nineties these organizations discovered an opportunity to shake down European governments and now they have run amok. They are pursuing blackmail and therefore, they should be indicted and tried as criminals before the courts,” – Dr. Norman Finkelstein……

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/freedom-of-speech-one-way-z-street/

  8. Annie Ladysmith said on November 10th, 2009 at 12:49am #

    As DAVID ROCKEFELLER said, and i paraphrase, they never could have gotten the good ship “New World Order” out of the dock without the explicit work of the media, and TimeWarner was specifically mentioned. That work entailed keeping important secrets from the public, blatant coverup lies, telling half-truths, and bits and peices of Follywood trallop as diversionary mind pollution. This was a well put together plan that has taken YEARS to develope to the place we are now. It has been a highly effective tool to keep the masses in a state of perpetual confusion and helplessness. Another Rockefeller stated that the internet was the worst thing ever invented, yeah, FOR THEM.

    ‘Were there is no vision, the people perish’.

    PLEASE, PLEASE,PLEASE, NO MORE CUT AND PASTES!

  9. Don Hawkins said on November 10th, 2009 at 3:19am #

    Here is a news story out of England. In the States did you happen to hear of this or see it anywhere on the news? Well no and is it the truth it sure is and probably why we didn’t see this wrong kind of information on the new’s here in freedom land. If you read this article the people doing the research are some of the best minds we have and another reason why you don’t hear about this. 10 years sea ice gone and in twenty years or there about’s because of minor little changes taking place on the home planet then what.

    “Be well this is the people’s radio station. First reports this morning are saying more troops are massing on the Southern boarder of Russia. China has called for calm and trying to get food and water to the estimated 200 million people now on the Northern boarded. Reports out of India are hard to get and the best we know today July 2029 India is still under Marshall law. The fires in California have stopped for now and the central valley is almost uninhabitable and LA still under Marshall law gas in short supply. Temperatures in Southern California are expected to reach records again today. The government is asking for calm in Texas and promising more water and food and gas as people move North. Flooding again in the Northeast and more new settlements on the border with Canada. The government and NASA again in talk’s to see if aerosol injection into Earth’s atmosphere can be used. All for now and temperature updates in one hour save energy be well”.

    Again I wrote that after seeing Earth 2100 on TV and was done by some of the best minds we have. Long forgotten it’s been almost a year and of course now the media is concentrating on what they think we need to know about hate and I guess what to do about it. Last night on Fox New’s the Glenn Beck show this person named Eric Bolling was hosting the show with a baseball bat in hand. That’s it Fox we love you keep up the good work on hate and what do about it. Calm at peace

    Let’s watch the Senate in a few months on the climate bill and what was it that a Senator just said. “The climate bill is as dead as a door nail”. “All for now and temperature updates in one hour save energy be well”.

    Voice of America
    The results of a new Arctic survey shows that North Pole ice is melting faster than previously projected and scientists at Cambridge University predict the Arctic ocean will be largely ice-free during the summer within the next ten years. The findings are expected to add to the debate at the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

    Arctic explorer Pen Hadow displays a section of drill that will be used during the expedition to penetrate through the ice, at a press conference in London, 22 Jan 2009
    Earlier this year, British explorer Pen Hadow and his team trekked for three months across the frozen Arctic Ocean, taking measurements and recording observations about the ice.

    “We’d been led to believe that we would encounter a good proportion, of this older, thicker, technically multi-year ice that’s been around for a few years and just gets thicker and thicker,” he said. “We actually found there wasn’t any multi-year ice at all.”

    Satellite observation and submarine surveys over the past few years had shown less ice in the polar region, but the recent measurements show the loss is more pronounced than previously thought.

    “We’re looking at 80 percent roughly loss of ice cover on the Arctic Ocean in 10 years, and 100 percent loss in nearer 20 years,” said Hadow.

    Cambridge scientist Peter Wadhams, who’s been measuring and monitoring the Arctic since 1971 says the decline is irreversible.

    “The more you lose, the more open water is created, the more warming goes on in that open water during the summer, the less ice forms in the winter, the more melt there is the following summer,” he said. “It becomes a breakdown process where everything ends up accelerating until it’s all gone.”

    Martin Sommerkorn runs the Arctic program for the environmental charity the World Wildlife Fund.

    NASA satellite data shows the maximum Arctic sea ice cover for 2008-09 as the fifth lowest in six years
    “The Arctic sea ice holds a central position in the Earth’s climate system and it’s deteriorating faster than expected,” he said. “Actually directly has to translate into more urgency to deal with the climate change problem and reduce emissions.”

    Summerkorn says a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming needs to come out of the Copenhagen Climate change summit in December.

    “We have to basically achieve there the commitment to deal with the problem now,” he said. “That’s the minimum. We have to do that equitably and we have to find a commitment that is quick.”

    Wadhams echoes the need for urgency.

    “The carbon that we’ve put into the atmosphere keeps having a warming effect for 100 years, so we have to cut back rapidly now, because it will take a long time, there’s a flywheel effect, it will take a long time to work its way through into a response by the atmosphere. We can’t switch off global warming by being good in the future, we have to start being good now,” he said.

    Wadhams says there is no easy techno-fix to climate change. He and other scientists say there are basically two options to replacing fossil fuels, generate energy with renewables, or embrace nuclear power. VOA

  10. Michael Kenny said on November 10th, 2009 at 6:55am #

    I don’t think the effect of all of this is that people are misinformed, at least not outside the US. What has happened is that people no longer believe what they see in the media. By dint of almost systematic lying, the media, and that includes the internet, have destroyed their own credibility. Incidentally, it is slightly amusing to see an article on this subject written under a pseudonym, even though (for once!) that fact is not concealed.

  11. James Keye said on November 10th, 2009 at 7:19am #

    I considered carefully the implications of writing under a pseudonym, ultimately choosing to do so because I am a very private person. My associations often involve working with people that would not understand many of the views I present in these essays. I never lie to them, but I would rather not have to have my relationship be shifted to large distances of difference. This is a matter of only personal and very local concern — Mr. Keye is as real a name beyond my home range as Mr. ______

  12. bozh said on November 10th, 2009 at 9:36am #

    We’ve heard the expression: selfmade millionaire, but not selfmade pauper, dummy, cancer patient, hobo, house person, etc.
    The reason that people don’t say that a person is selfmade ‘idiot’ is, of course, that such a person is not selfmade.
    So, nobody’s selfmade. Both an ‘idiot’ and a ‘genius’ are indeed made. But the making of an ‘idiot’, bush, clinton and many other such dummies is not studied!
    In the beginings, there were wigglers swimming-wriggling to score first. And that’s how bush got his start. And the wiggler that started bush was not that stupid.
    The problems for bush arose later as the ‘smartest’ people began to teach him and another 300mn people. tnx