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)

Food for Thought: Today’s Two Political Camps are really just Pro-Thought or Anti-Thought

“The Thinker,” Auguste Rodin, 1904. This cast is in the Palace of the Legion of Honor in (Ha! Today’s Belly of the Anti-Thought Beast!) San Francisco (Wikimedia Commons)

Last month I wrote a Federalist piece in which I elaborate on a conclusion I reached some time ago.  There are really only two political camps:  Pro-Thought and Anti-Thought.  Think about it.  The tired old labels of Left and Right and Conservative and Liberal and so on don’t really mean anything.  It’s time people learn — or re-learn — how to think clearly and for ourselves.  And realize that our basic choices in self-identifying are either as a Free Thinker or a Thought Policer.

Here’s a novel idea:  Let’s teach kids — and everyone else! — how to think independently of what the media and Hollywood and Academics on their high horses tell us to think.  (Those folks aren’t really thinking on their own, anyway.)  Let’s stop being slaves to propaganda.

You can read the article here:  “Today’s Two Main Political Camps are Pro-Thought and Anti-Thought.”  And here’s an excerpt:

“Let’s remember that all of the other First Amendment rights follow in logical order from the first:  freedom of religion/belief/conscience/thought. Freedom of speech is the right to express what you think and believe. Freedom of press means the right to record those expressed thoughts in writing or other media. In this vein, freedom of association would mean being able to deliver your ideas to anyone willing to listen. It means the right to peaceably assemble and have open conversation with other people.

“The heavy hand of the state has no right to cut off or interfere in our ability to spark thoughtful conversations. If the state violates our First Amendment rights, the First Amendment also gives us the right to petition as a means of fighting back against that abuse of power.”

And here’s another:

“Once the Mass State starts manipulating language by legislating everyday expressions, such as forcing every citizen to adhere to unfamiliar pronoun protocols under the guise of anti-discrimination, it builds walls between people. That’s exactly what it’s designed to do.

“We’ve probably all observed how political correctness controls speech and thought by inducing self-censorship. How does this happen? Through manipulating the primal human terror of being socially isolated for non-compliance. People comply with political correctness in order to avoid that perceived isolation. Yet political correctness is designed to isolate us socially through our compliance with it! Heads, they win; tails, you lose.

“The only way to avoid that Catch-22 is to stand up to political correctness before its illusions root too deeply. The First Amendment is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. And it’s all or nothing.

“The only way the bubble of political correctness can pop is if all free thinkers are inclined to follow through with the First Amendment. Thinking will only remain free as long as we express our thoughts by speaking them, recording them, and cross-pollinating them through peaceful assembly. Nothing less can insure against the de-humanizing effects of thought policing.

“Let’s think about that. And talk about it constantly.”

Let’s Build More Awareness of Mob Psychology

Zombies from 1968 horror film “Night of the Living Dead.” (Wikipedia Commons)

The weird thing about mobs is that they tend to be made up of individuals with little or no self-awareness.  Participation in a mob mentality strikes me as a way of compensating for that loss. People tend to lose themselves — and get a false sense of purpose — from taking part in mob action. For example, consider the persona of “social justice warrior.” Those who adopt the SJW persona pretend to be aware of inequality.  Why?  My guess is that’s because they are so unaware of what true inequality is — that it stems from ignorance and a lack of experience in dealing with real people on a real level.  They resist honest interaction, honest relationships.  And nothing could be more self-destructive than that. It’s a zombie-like attitude that actually perpetuates inequality.

Take the case of “Barrett Wilson” — a pseudonym.  He recently wrote a piece for Quillette, entitled “I was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me.”  He provides a chilling picture of mob behavior.  Having been a part of the “social justice industry” Wilson participated in ganging up on others and smearing them as “racists” and “sexists.”  Why?  Because it felt good.  He explained that he got an emotional rush from behaving that way: “For years, I was blind to my own gleeful savagery.”  Of course, at a certain point the savage mob turned on him.  That’s the nature of the beast.  He lost his well paying job because of the accusations and total lack of due process in the social justice industry.  Now he delivers food for a living.  He’ll lose that job too if the mob finds out who he is.

The silver lining is that Wilson realized that getting off the mob train — and doing honest work — has allowed him to recover some sanity in life, and best of all, appreciation for others:   “It’s led me to rediscover how to interact with people in the real world.  I’m a kinder and more respectful person now. . . ”

I wrote up a piece about this in the Federalist last week.  You can read it here:  What to Learn from the Social Justice Warrior Who was Eaten by His Own Mob.”  The more aware we become of mob psychology, the more able we are to think on our own and relate to others.

Soviet Defector Yuri Bezmenov’s Love Letter to America

In 1970 a Soviet KGB agent stationed in India disguised himself as a hippie and blended in with a crowd. He managed to escape detection and found his way to the West where he defected.  Yuri Bezmenov took the name Tomas Schuman, and wrote a short book entitled “Love Letter to America.”  In it he describes how he fell in love with the goodness of America and couldn’t go on promoting the deceptions and inhumane tactics that poisoned so many lives.  Below is a 1984 interview with him “Deception was my Job” in which Bezmenov tries to warn Americans about the ideological subversion that is practiced on them by totalitarian actors, such as the Soviet KGB:

It’s a fascinating interview in so many ways.  Bezmenov was a member of the privileged elite in the Soviet Union.  He had nothing to gain materially by defecting, and certainly nothing to gain in terms of prestige.  It was the weight of conscience that caused him to break free of a life of practicing deception — and to take the great risks involved in making a break for freedom.  In his new life he resolved to do the best he could to help us understand how totalitarians play the game of ideological subversion, in which they push open societies to become closed societies.  You should look at his book in the link above to get the full story.  On page 22 of his book, he includes a chart to show the four stages of Soviet ideological subversion:  1.) Demoralization, which takes about a generation’s time, 15-20 years; 2.) Destabilization, which takes about 2-5 years; 3.) Crisis, which is a matter of months; and finally 4.) Normalization, basically the mopping up operation once an authoritarian system is in place.

It’s interesting that the demoralization phase in America began a whole lot longer ago than 20 years. I would guess at least 50 years or so.  If Bezmenov’s theory is correct, I think there are several reasons why America would still be standing as a free nation with an intact — though much threatened — Constitution. A lot of unpredicted forces seem to have disrupted the demoralization and destabilization processes. The election of Ronald Reagan would be one disruption, especially with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  Many would also put the election of Donald Trump into this category of an unpredictable black swan event.  And there are a whole lot of cross currents in a free society that can foil the plans of even the most calculating totalitarians.  Chief among them, in my opinion, are freedom of association and freedom of speech that serve to cross pollinate ideas and feed a ripple effect of freedom.

The Link between Mass Schooling and Mental Instability in Kids

High School Hallway. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The other day I wrote a piece for the Federalist in which I explore the ways mass public schooling actually cultivates mental instability in children.  You can read it here:  “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids.”

In the wake of another school shooting – and now the ways children are being used to serve as mouthpieces for PC agendas, including (but not limited to) gun control — I think it’s high time we take a good hard look at the institutions that are shaping them for most of  their waking hours. The schools teach abject conformity in so many ways, that I believe they are literally making kids ill.  In my piece I list 13 ways this happens in today’s government mega-schools. They include the hierarchy of cliques, status anxiety, relational aggression, hostility towards family and faith, politicization, and enforced conformity.

I’m sure you can add many more ways today’s schools feel oppressive, and even prison-like.  And yet there are now places called “school refusal clinics” for children to be psychologically “treated” if school becomes so alienating and lonely for children that it literally makes them sick.

Below is an excerpt on just one of those 13 points.  In it, I reflect on how the sheer size of today’s schools have grown exponentially.  I think this in itself promotes an alienating environment that’s not conducive to mental health.

Back in 1929-30, there were about 248,000 public schools in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. How many today? Far less than half that. By 2013-14, the number had shrunk to 98,000.

When you consider that the U.S. population nearly tripled in that timeframe, there’s no question this factory model of schooling has grown exponentially. The numbers speak to the intense bureaucratization of a public school system that is becoming more centralized with less local control, packing ever-larger numbers of students in one place.

The natural effect for a young human being is an emotional malaise that fuels a sense of confusion and detachment. I believe the sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “anomie” to describe this state of isolation. Even the physical architecture of public schools is getting more estranging. They tend to be larger and more looming, almost blade-runner-like in their effect of shrinking and sequestering individuals to irrelevance.

 

 

My FRC talk about Social and Emotional Programming, the latest fad in Education

I recently spoke at the Family Research Council about a new fad in mass public schooling called “social and emotional learning” (SEL.) Those who advocate for SEL claim the program will give children critical life skills, such as empathy, getting along with others, and making good decisions. An organization called the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) wants a government mandate that will bring this program into every school. You can watch my FRC policy lecture here:

In this talk I give my perspective on SEL.  While good teachers are always a godsend, bureaucrats can never achieve what they promise in such programs. Especially since their framework is mass schooling. Such values and attitudes need to be taught in intimate settings of trust, such as families.  Not in hyper-bureaucratized mega-schools.  I see the SEL program as a bait-and-switch operation, because it demands universal compliance with its methods, with its content, and with its monopoly.  By its very monolithic nature as program driven by a government monopoly, it is coercive. In the video, you’ll see a clip in which a representative for SEL tells us that they “need the WHOLE child.” And if you delve into this more, you can see that the SEL program is really all about enforcing conformity: Conformity of feelings, attitudes, emotions, speech, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.  When such things are directed by a centralized State mandate, rather than by de-centralized mediating institutions —  institutions of family, faith, and voluntary associations — there can be no freedom, nor can there be real diversity.

Staged Hate in Charlottesville? In War, Perception is Everything.

“All the world’s a stage; And all the men and women merely players . . . ” — Shakespeare, As You Like It

Below is an excerpt from my latest Federalist piece:  “America’s Post-Charlottesville Nervous Breakdown was Deliberately Induced.” I hope you’ll have a chance to read it in full.

“Wars are won or lost based mostly on perceptions of events, not on what actually happens. This is true for any given battlefield, whether it’s the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam or the ideological battlefield over the future of the First Amendment as played out in Charlottesville in 2017. The reality of what takes place in the public arena is always secondary to any projected illusion.

So let’s never forget this: Whoever has the power to dictate public perceptions of reality is in a position to dictate public opinion and behavior. Abusing language and images to stir up emotions is an ancient trick of power-mongers. And once journalism turns into unchecked propaganda, we become trapped in its dangerous illusions.”

The social turmoil we are witnessing today has largely been manufactured through the combination of three elements: 1. the manipulation of our language; 2. the deliberate use of such loaded language to cultivate extreme emotions in people, particularly anger and resentment; and 3. the role of mass media as a nuclear device to impose those perceptions on a mass scale.

Here’s another interesting sidelight to consider.  Public Relations firms such as Crowds on Demand provide actors for protests and rallies and run ads on Craigslist to recruit and pay for that purpose. So it’s very easy to create illusions of riots if you can rent a mob for it.  The blog Gates of Vienna ran an interview recently with an eyewitness who was in Charlottesville on the day of the riots and reports that protesters from both sides — attired both in “counter-protester” clothing such as Antifa or BLM shirts AND neo-Nazi/KKK shirts — were dropped off from the same bus.  And this happened with a line of chartered buses, both sides apparently sharing the same vehicles. The story is here:  “All the World’s a Stage.”  Whether or not you believe this, the fact that politicized officials ordered police to stand down lends credence to the scenario of a staged riot.

Gratitude for the Devotion and Labor of Fathers

Saint Joseph, patron of fathers and workers. Guido Reni c. 1640. (19th c. photograph by James or Domenico Anderson, Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Father’s Day piece at the Federalist is a meditation on the contributions of fathers to the labor of their households.  You can read it here: “Rather than Judging Fathers’ Household Labor, Let’s Appreciate It.”

One of the recent feminist complaints is that men should contribute more to  housework — as in laundry, dishes, and child care.  Rarely do we hear anything about “gender equity” when it comes to the sort of household labor that is traditionally masculine.  But Dads who take on projects to add sweat equity contribute a lot to their families, though those things are little noted in the culture.  When I think of all my husband  has done to promote the little homestead, I’m grateful. And I’ve always preferred doing the housework if it frees him up for such big ticket projects.

And when I think back on my own father who actually did a lot of housework, grocery shopping, and caregiving, I am very grateful for all he contributed both as a breadwinner and on the homefront.  He was an amazing man who had a hard life. But he always appreciated his blessings, especially his family. He was cheerful,, and truly a delight to be around.  Remarkable. In my Federalist piece, I reflect on the many things he did for his family, quietly and without complaint.

I think trying to keep score in household chores is a lose-lose situation in any relationship, assuming both are contributing according to their gifts. Fathers in particular should be more appreciated for their efforts, whether the labor is “gendered” or not. Everyone has something to offer, and it’s up to the team to work out a system without fixating on 50-50.

On this Father’s Day, let’s appreciate the devotion of fathers and their unique gifts, whatever they might be.