Excerpt of Marshall McLuhan Interview in 1977 — “The Medium is the Message” — Part III

In the last of this little series on Marshall McLuhan, I offer for the curious a video excerpt of a 1977 ABC (Australia) interview with Marshall McLuhan.  It’s about 14 minutes.  Again, his main focus is how the environment created by a medium has more of an effect on us than the content itself.

Bookcase: McLuhan and “The Medium is the Message” — Part II

Marshall McLuhan, 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

What did Marshall McLuhan mean by “The medium is the message?”  I think the idea is clearer today than back in 1962 when he published his landmark book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.  He argued that it was not the content within the media that affects us the most, whether the media be radio, TV, newspapers, or anything else.  Rather, it is the actual medium itself that changes us, that transforms our minds. To try to unpack this concept, just think about your average teenagers today with their smart phones.  (Or yourself!)  Is it mostly the content on that phone that influences them as they ceaselessly tap and slide their fingers across the screen? Are they really looking for the latest news? What’s more addictive — the content or the process? McLuhan would  likely argue that it is the environment of the medium itself that has us transfixed.  It is the technology that is transforming us.

This is a also a theme in Nicholas Carr’s 2011 book The Shallows, in which he posits that the internet actually is changing how we think and even the very structure of our brains as we allow ourselves to get pulled into its clickholes that never seem to end.  As an aside, I’ll add that is why it’s critical that we step back from communications media and re-learn how to connect with people one-on-one and face-to-face.  The forces of these technologies have become way too powerful, as have the tech titans who are controlling social media.

It is the way in which we use a technology that causes it to become an “extension of man,” as McLuhan subtitle implies. Interestingly, he means that he sees technology as extensions of our bodies, extensions of our natural functions.  For example, he has a chapter on clothing as a medium — an extension of our skin.  And transportation such as cars and bicycles are media that are extensions of our feet.  Those that affect our minds in terms of audio-visual media are, likewise, extensions of our central nervous systems.  If you are interested in the development of language — and especially how the phonetic alphabet impacted human society — that’s another reason for extending your eyes to read this amazing book.

By the way, five years later (in 1967) McLuhan coined another phrase: The Medium is the Massage.  This is the idea that a medium –whether TV, radio, the internet, a photograph — actually massages our senses and changes our perceptions in ways we don’t realize. So rather than the content of the message itself, it’s the medium — the presentation of the content, if you will — that affects us most.  I tend to agree.  And I think awareness of this point is key to building self-awareness today.

Bookcase: Looking at “The Medium is the Message” 56 years Later — Part I

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a communications professor in Canada when he published his landmark book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man  in 1962. It is an absolutely fascinating read, though convoluted at times.

You may know that McLuhan coined a lot of well known phrases, such as “The medium is the message” and “global village.” But his theories are amazing and prescient.  Some of what he writes is all over the map and I don’t agree with all of it.  But he predicted with uncanny accuracy that with the information explosion due to hit later in the 20th century, our society would not really experience pluralism.

Quite the contrary.  At the time, he wrote about how the medium of television was affecting us.  His general thesis was that the effect of a medium itself — the environment it creates — is far more vast than the content of any particular program on it. His verdict:  we were actually undergoing an implosion of the Western society.  In other words, television was causing us to regress, to return to tribalism and divisions as opposed to becoming a more cohesive and open society. Consider also how the internet is affecting thought processes — causing a loss of clarity with all the noise and scatter that accompanies the technology. Well, McLuhan seemed to foresee that. He warned that newer communications technologies would only further expedite the implosion.

I’m certain this was very counter-intuitive when he wrote the book.  After all, what could seem more mind-opening than having more avenues of expression that would come with more avenues of information?  And more people chiming in? My personal conclusion is this: Well, it depends on how aware we are of how media plays on our minds. Are we more open to reason and logic, or have people become more emotional?  And it also depends on who controls the media. We as individuals who believe in self-governance? Or power elites directing a media that drive us more into a collective mindset?

Part II tomorrow . . .

(Book cover above is the MIT Press 30th Anniversary Edition)

An Ides of March Reminder about the Coercive Nature of Socialism

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) Soviet dissident and author of The Gulag Archipelago.

As polls report higher numbers of millennials claiming to be socialist (they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about) and spiking membership for Democratic Socialists of America, let’s try to absorb these words of the late Russian human rights advocate and gulag survivor Alexander Solshenitsyn:

 “In different places over the years I have had to prove that socialism, which to many Western thinkers is a sort of kingdom of justice, was in fact full of coercion, of bureaucratic greed and corruption and avarice, and consistent within itself that socialism cannot be implemented without the aid of coercion.”

Refugees from socialism – Russians, Cubans, Vietnamese – all tell the same story.  Socialism is not what romantics in the West think it is.  The system is coercive, by its very nature.  Give it enough time and enough crises, and socialist states always morph into even more coercive communist states.

College campuses are infested today with a political correctness – and a tragic ignorance of history – that has students singing the praises of socialism, a system that promises free stuff and delivers scarcity.

A year ago — on the Ides of March — I published an essay in the Federalist that explored this phenomenon:  “Socialism’s Bloody History Shows Millennials Should Think Twice Before Supporting It.”  I zeroed in on the case of communist hero Nikolai Bukharin, who was executed in 1937, after the show trials of Soviet strongman Josef Stalin.  It’s a natural progression when a “vanguard” of the people is blindly entrusted with too much power. That’s socialism in a nutshell:  too much power in the hands of too few people.  If you mention this to any pro-Socialist millennial, they are sure to pull out the talking point that theirs is a different brand of socialism, akin to the sort we see in Scandinavian countries.  To them it means social harmony through things like bike-share programs, recycling, free education, and easy housing. I understand, I understand.  The problem is that such freebies are the bait of socialism which cannot help but invite the switch to coercive Borg government.  Which, in the end, means punishment of any dissent and the death of free expression. Forget “resistance” of any sort without Hell to pay.

Prisoners at work in a Soviet gulag camp in the 1930’s.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece, which I hope you’ll read in full:

Socialism and communism both involve ceding to the state control over the distribution of goods and services for the masses. This involves giving up individual rights, and giving the state a good measure of control over our personal lives. This road always leads to tyranny, no matter what you pave it with, and no matter what you name it.

Socialism requires a power clique—or, as Lenin put it, an elite “vanguard”—in order to pretend to function. This means going heavy on executive power and rubber-stamp light on the legislative. Socialism demands that we place blind trust in whoever takes the reins of power to distribute society’s goods and services. This tiny elite, by the way, typically enjoys enormous privileges and a much higher standard of living than the hoi polloi, simply by being a part of the elite “nomenklatura.”

Sure, this oligarchy claims to distribute in the name of “equality.” That’s typically the cover story. The historical fact is that the vanguard, the power clique, eventually takes control of everything that’s produced—medicine, education, housing, food, transportation, etc. Its members then bureaucratically ration out—as they see fit—the means of human survival. In the end, you’ve basically got an elite corps of mobsters with the power to decide which folks are more equal than others.

On Friendship, Faith, and Martyrdom

Faith Abbott McFadden (1931-2011)

October 6 is the feast day of Saint Faith of Agen.  Few people are aware that there is actually a saint named “Faith” in the martyrologies of the Church.  I took the occasion of her feast day to write about my friendship with the late Faith Abbott McFadden, who was senior editor of The Human Life Review until her death in 2011.   The good folks at Review posted my reminiscences on their blog today.

Faith was a champion of the fight for life, and she was a huge influence on me.  She and I had a 20 year correspondence in which we shared our observations on the changing culture and life in general.  Today’s struggle to create a culture that respects and values human life was central to Faith’s work.

We both understood that to openly identify as pro-life is an act that will get you socially rejected in most social and academic circles. And to persist in doing so – to refuse to trade in the Truth for the shiny objects of worldly “rewards” no matter the price — is where true martyrdom begins. Martyrs who hold that fast to the Faith are willing to shed blood if it comes to that.  That’s the story of Saint Faith of Agen.  Though mention of that saint never came up in our correspondence — I only discovered Saint Faith recently — today I seek to link the devotions of both women.

And so I offer this excerpt from the Review’s blog on the feast day of Saint Faith:

Saint Faith’s refusal to renounce Christ and sacrifice to pagan gods got her tortured and killed. And that’s what true martyrdom is about, really:  refusing to bow down to idolatry under pain of punishment, and even death.  It means holding fast to Faith.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and an old French adage rings truer than ever:  “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”  My favorite translation of that is this: “The more things ‘change,’ the more you get same old, same old, same old.”  Indeed, as we witness the lightening erosion of religious liberty in today’s transformed America, we are increasingly facing the same choice as Saint Faith and all the saints: true worship or idolatry? God or mammon?

Such are the things my friend Faith and I reflected on.  And I can hear Faith adding a stoic “Natch” to all of the above.  I believe her outreach to me — and to everyone — was built on her understanding that God leads us to do his work through friendship, through one-on-one personal relationships, influencing the lives of others as well as our own lives.

I still fall short whenever I try to express the impact her letters had—and continue to have—on my life. And why wouldn’t I fall short? Why wouldn’t anyone who ponders the influence of another person on their life fall short in sizing it up?

I think the answer lies in the eternal mystery of love and the limitless trajectories a life can take. It lies in the fact that every human life is an entire universe of God’s making. There is just no way that the effect of one life upon another can be measured or predicted.

You can read the whole post here:  http://www.humanlifereview.com/9184-2/

 

 

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” RIP, Yogi Berra

Rest in Peace, Yogi Berra.  From the day I launched this blog, I’ve kept a Yogi Berra quote permanently up on the right sidebar: “You can observe a lot by watching.”  I analyzed this “yogism” in my previous post: “A Yogi Berra Translation.”  But now that Yogi has passed from this world, I want to write a few words to honor him on this blog.  And post this video:

And this one:

Even if Yogi was not famous — and even if he was not a ball player —  his goodness and humor would have still made an enormous difference in the lives of those whose paths he crossed.  But luckily for the rest of us, he was a rare sort of celebrity.  Which means that we are all enriched by the memories he built for us not only in the ballpark, but through the strength of his unassuming and cheerful personality. And his loyalty to family and country:  He was married to his wife Carmen for 65 years; and he fought on D-Day at Normandy in WWII.

But it’s likely Yogi Berra will be remembered by most folks for those “yogisms,” his unique and pithy expressions that make us laugh and think a bit harder about life and language.  No doubt you’ve heard several, including:  “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  That rings so true these days, doesn’t it?  But perhaps that’s because: “It’s deja vu all over again.”  Here’s another beaut: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

A few folks dismiss yogisms, and think Berra should be remembered primarily for his incredible record as catcher for the New York Yankees.  Well, if yogisms upstage his statistics, that’s not such a bad thing. Because Yogi was so much bigger than baseball.  Sure, his amazing stats will live on in the record books.  In fact I’ll bet his yogisms will actually help keep them alive in more conversations. But it is Yogi’s personality and his words that will have far greater staying power in real life all across America.  And on another level, that is the case for each and every one of us.  We may accomplish great things, but how we treat others and give of ourselves is what makes the biggest impact in the lives of others.

You can read my tribute published last Friday at The Federalist: “Yogisms: Essential to Yogi Berra’s Legacy.”  Here’s an excerpt:

Ultimately, good legacies are always about how people have touched others’ lives. Their accomplishments and skills are part of that picture, to be sure, but how someone connects with others—as in the case of Berra—is an even bigger piece of that picture.

In the same vein, I think for most our connection with Berra as a legend has to do more with how we relate to him as a human being through the power of his personality than through the power of his swing. That makes his legacy all the bigger and brighter.

 

 

 

 

 

Rationing Love — Another Modest Proposal from Another Swift

“Mother’s Goodnight Kiss,” Mary Cassatt.

There has been plenty of academic literature over the years that views the intact family as the main culprit in promoting “inequality.” Marxists have long called for the abolition of the family.  Clearly that’s because families — and the strong personal relationships that families spawn and broadcast across societies — turn out to be a thorn in the side of State power.  So it should be no surprise that as government grows, attacks on the family become more and more direct. We saw this when MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry flat out declared that children “belong to their communities,” not to their families.  (I wrote about this a while back in an American Thinker piece, “The War on the Family Enters a New Stage.“)

Today we have a new and bigger trial balloon. It was launched by two philosophy academics. One Adam Swift and the other Harry Bridghouse, are peddling the death of families — Jonathan Swift style but without tongue-in-cheek — at the expense of children. Of course they claim they are simply trying to “save” the family by helping us all understand how the family confers unfair advantages. They “only” propose to eliminate private schooling and inheritance, for example, and they question the default right to raise one’s own biological children.  But (so far) they say it’s okay to have a personal relationship with them.

Anyway, Swift and Bridghouse’s work was discussed in Australian public radio, and written up with the headline: “Is Having a Loving Family an Unfair Advantage?” by Joe Gelonesi.  And Jayme Metzgar discusses it in her Federalist article: “The Power Grab Behind Obama’s Support for Parenting Equality.”  Ultimately, it all looks like a proposal to separate and deprive ever more children of parental love and attention.

Here’s a quote by Swift to unpack:

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”

By stating this, Swift suggests the following to us:  Think of bedtime stories as a source of “inequality.”  Feel guilty for loving and attending to your child.

There are so many distortions in Swift’s picture that we can’t even begin to count the ways.  First off, it assumes that love is something we should all quantify and ration as a society.  It assumes that children are cogs in a machine. Worst of all, it assumes that children who are not getting attention and love from their parents don’t really deserve it.  Leveling down in the name of equality always leads to more leveling down and impoverishment.  And yet Swift’s proposal means leveling down not just the tangibles of money and material resources, but of the intangibles of love and attention. He suggests we provide less of it in a world starving for it.

Whether they know it or not (though I suspect they know it), Swift and company are conducting a war on personal relationships — starting with children and families.  That’s because I suspect they know, as I have noted in the theme of this blog, that most power comes from personal relationships. Strong relationships — especially from the start of life with one-on-one family bonds — are the primary source of knowledge, and therefore of power and of freedom.  They give children the stability and security to gain confidence and freedom.  They give children an accurate moral and emotional compass by which to navigate the world.  To suggest more children should be deprived of such things is essentially an act of violence.

Some Books I Recommend for 2015 Reading

For those who have been checking this blog for updates: My apologies.  The hustle and bustle of the holidays — such as they’ve been — were a major distraction.  But another distraction is the constant machinations of power politics around us.  Just witnessing the dysfunction and delusion feels paralyzing at times.  Take a quick gander back at 2014 and you’ll see: Rioting is replacing the rule of law.  The transgender project is replacing the physical reality of sex distinctions by legally erasing those distinctions from your identity. Communism is making a comeback in the world, including in Eastern Europe.

These are just a few of the trends, but they comprise just the tip of a very deep iceberg.  On the surface these agendas are all about freedom, blah blah blah. But dip below and you’ll hear loud and clear Orwell’s 1984 proclamations that “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength.”

I’m going to attempt a running list of secular books that I hope can help level headed folks piece together what exactly is going on in our brains and in our relationships that seem to be producing the delusional state our society is in.  The books are mostly about understanding how propaganda — and political correctness — affects us, divides us, and destroys us.   Some of the questions I grapple with are these:  Why does there seem to be a blockade on cohesive and independent thought?  Why are we so susceptible to propaganda and political correctness?  Why do we never learn?  Why do we keep falling for promises of utopia? Is there a way to stem the tide?  (In the future, I also hope to offer some titles from a specifically Christian perspective.)

Below are a random mix of a few non-fiction titles I recommend as reading in 2015.   I plan to present short reviews of and/or excerpts from each in the weeks and months to come, and I will add more books and essays to the list.  I wish we could all be in a book club together to discuss them!

The Undiscovered Self, by Carl Jung (1956) (discussed in an earlier blog post)

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, (1986) by Doris Lessing.

The Rape of the Mind, (1956) by Joost Meerloo.

The Power of the Powerless, (1978) by Vaclav Havel

The Hidden Persuaders, (1957) by Vance Packard.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, (2010) by Nicholas Carr

Propaganda, (1928) by Edward Bernays

May the year ahead be illuminating for us all.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communism always means too much power in the hands of too few people. Always.

Cathy Young just published a sterling rebuttal to an all-too-recent apology for communism, the ideology responsible for the brutal murders of over 100 million people.  Please read her article in today’s Real Clear Politics.  You can also read the breathtakingly mindless — or soulless — article to which she responds, which appeared last week in Salon.com.  The latter is a bit less mind-numbing to read once you’ve digested Young’s excellent essay.

When I was studying the realities of communism, especially the crimes of Stalin, I concluded that cruelty and terror are inevitable under that system.   Not just probable or possible.  Inevitable.  Built-in.  It leads to the kind of barbarism that’s probably impossible to grasp even if you’ve lived in it.

As with all totalitarian systems, communism relies on driving people apart by isolating and atomizing them so that they are not able to trust their neighbors or even their family.  It relies on a spiral of silence — the fear of speaking truth.    Just ponder this observation by Pascal Fontaine who wrote about Cuba in the Black Book of Communism:  “The surveillance and denunciation system is so rigorous that family intimacy is almost nonexistent.”

The communist system absolutely requires the centralization of power.  And since personal relationships get in the way of that power, the State meddles ceaselessly, sowing distrust and ill will, often through enforced scarcity of goods and services,.  Think of it as misery with little if any hope for company.

And since the people most driven to raw power are also the most ruthless, in a system without checks and balances power usually ends up concentrated into the hands of one strongman.  Terror is a given because it’s just too much power in the hands of too few people who are invested in perpetuating their power.  Even passive resistance is viewed as a threat.

One can only wonder why there has been a revisiting of communism in recent times.  Why the apologies?  Is it ignorance?  Or is it something else?  Is there a drive for power, a sense of investment in that system that makes it attractive to some?  I’ll explore those questions in future posts.

In the meantime, please visit the Global Museum of Communism, a project of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.  It’s an amazing interactive website that helps us to never forget the those who died and suffered so much under communist regimes.

Woody Allen, Nietzsche, and a Spider the Size of a Buick

The Federalist just published my article about Dylan Farrow’s open letter reporting that her father, the acclaimed director Woody Allen, sexually assaulted her when she was seven years old.  This is the first time she’s told her story publicly on a scandal that broke in 1992.

We ought to pay special attention to Dylan’s statement:  “Imagine a world that celebrates your tormentor.”  Because it’s really all about the fallout from our culture of idolatry and celebrity worship.   Whether or not guilt can be established in this case, we can be sure of one thing:  a system that allows elites to control the lives of others is a system that punishes the innocent.  It’s an amoral system that allows some humans to act as gods who may use and abuse others with impunity:

If nothing else, Dylan Farrow’s letter is a wake-up call. It’s time for us to pour a lot of cold water on the notion that the elites   those controlling the media, Hollywood, politics, and academia — are entitled to a separate standard of behavior or a separate moral code from everybody else. The biggest equality gap today is really one of accountability and personal responsibility.”

You can read it in The Federalist here:  http://thefederalist.com/2014/02/05/god-complex-why-hollywood-thinks-sex-crimes-are-no-big-deal/