Sensibly Speaking Podcast #81: Making Sense of the Media

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This week we are going to dive deep into a topic that has been hot and heavy on a lot of people’s minds and see if we can’t shine a light in a few dark corners and maybe clarify a few things which previously have been murky and hard to understand. This episode isn’t the ultimate statement on this subject – there’s certainly plenty more to say after this – but my hope is that this will help anyone, liberal or conservative, blue or red, to better understand one of the most influential and powerful forces in our world today.

To what am I referring? The media. Can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em. So what are we gonna do?

There’s a lot of talk about with the media lately. People have all sorts of opinions about what media’s proper role should be or could be, and how we get from here to there. As you know I like to do, I thought it would be a good idea to tackle this head on by going back and looking at where the whole idea of the media and a free press come from, how it developed over the centuries and how people answered these questions at different times and places. Knowing history isn’t worth very much if we don’t try to learn something from it and in this case, there are some amazing and even unbelievable facts about the media which you should know.

First off, what exactly is media? In simplest possible terms, media is a form of communication. It is important to understand that in some ways, media is the exact opposite of biologically evolved human communication. That may sound pretty strange, but stick with me on this.

The biologically evolved mode of human communication is speech, amplified and accentuated by tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. It emerged when humans lived in small collectives of hunter-gatherers. Exactly how small were those collectives? Archeological digs and studies of indigenous peoples suggest relatively small groups of less than a hundred, what most of us would think of as small tribes. Studies of great apes seem to concur. Common chimpanzees live in groups of anywhere between 15 to 150 individuals. Groups of bonobos (or what used to be called pygmy chimps) have been known to split after their headcount exceeded 100. So it’s a pretty good guess that early human tribes would max out at around 100 to 150 people. If you think about that many people trying to get along without a stable and well developed form of verbal communication, it makes even more sense.

So what kind of communication would evolve in this setting? Two things seem pertinent.

First, human communication is interactive. We routinely offer feedback, if only to acknowledge understanding or signal agreement. In fact, this is notably different from common chimps, who don’t watch each other’s facial expressions and actually interpret a direct stare as a form of aggression.

Second, human communication “in the wild” tends to happen on a one-to-one basis; sometimes, it’s one-to-few, but the few is still few enough to maintain a degree of interactivity. Now this is interesting because it suggests that early humans didn’t really have much use for communicating to very large groups of people at one time. There were no military generals assembling the troops, no political rallies or even religious sermons being given back then, much less large public speeches where one person would address hundreds or thousands of individuals in order to relay commands or instructions; there simply weren’t that many people in any one place at one time.

All of that changed with the advent of agriculture, polities, and writing.

Yes, I just said polities, which is not exactly the same thing as politics but it’s kind of related. This was a word that I’d never heard before I was working on this podcast and because I like to project, I think maybe some of you haven’t heard of it either. The word polity means an organized society or the form of a civil government. It’s not the same as politics because it’s a word that describes a group of people who are collectively united around a common identity or goal, who have the capacity to mobilize their resources and are organized into some kind of hierarchy, even if that is just a leader at the top and a bunch of people under him but generally speaking it’s a little more organized than that.

Now there is recent archaeological evidence that suggests that religion may have also had something to do with people settling down into set locations instead of roaming as hunter-gatherers. Starting around 11,000 years ago, a religious monument started being built in southeast part of Turkish Anatolia, near the Syrian border. Monuments in this area were found which far pre-date any other monumental architecture in the world and which also pre-dates the domestication of grains. Archaeologists are re-thinking what it was that motivated hunter-gatherer tribes to settle in one region or location. Earlier they figured that agriculture was the primary reason for settling down, but it may have been that some idea of religious holy sites came first and agriculture and settlements came as a result of people feeling they needed to stay in or near those holy areas. It’s just conjecture at this point, but it’s kind of interesting.

The earliest places we know that had communities whose population exceeded 1,000 people existed around 7,000 BC in the areas we now call Jordan, Palestine and Turkey. The oldest remains of a city that we could actually call a city with permanent housing, storage areas and a clear distinction between an urban core and a rural periphery is Catalhoyuk in Turkey. There are some interesting features to that place, such as the fact that streets hadn’t been invented yet; people walked around on the roofs and there weren’t common temples; instead each house had its own symbolic/religious idol. Then there’s Byblos, founded around the same time in modern day Lebanon on the coast of the Mediterranean. It has the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

Anyway, it took a while to build up, but by 3,000 BC we know that large cities had come into existence whose population was in the 20 to 40 thousand range, such as Abydos and Memphis in Egypt or Uruk in Sumer. The rulers of those cities also exercised control over rural populations that were significantly greater than the urban populations, with outlying farms and agriculture. In addition to commerce and crafts, the cities were also home to armies, bureaucracies and organized religion. This is how the city-system and the whole ecosystem that developed around it evolved and formed in the first place: for mutual protection and support. This is pretty much the way civilization has evolved and continues to this very day.

Speaking of protection, the ancient military played two important roles: oppression and protection. It served as a means of oppression by acting as enforcers for the city rulers, ensuring that grain continued to flow into the ruler’s granary for example. Despite our civilized and social evolution, the old adage that might is right was true then and is just as true now. But the military also played protection, ensuring that no other ruler or warlord wannabe collected from the farmers. To the degree that the city-state rulers and the military balanced these two factors of oppression and protection, those who were being ruled put up with it and didn’t raise too much of a fuss because they benefited more than they were harmed by the arrangement. Revolutions only spark off when the balance of those factors gets too destructive for people to deal with.

Now getting back to communication, for any military force to operate successfully, it has to have a mass-scale, one-to-many communication system. In other words, the generals and colonels and sergeants have to receive and relay orders down the line so their troops get it. But military communication has to actually go both ways; commanders give orders, but they also have to hear back. They need to know where their troops are, whether the enemy has been spotted, what its strength is, and a million other things that help them navigate battles and campaigns.

And there was a lot more to mass communication than just military matters. The relationship between the urban elites and rural farmers didn’t have to be adversarial all the time. They often, but not always, shared a common language, culture and beliefs. The successful rulers realized that these shared values had to be developed and emphasized. As I said, might is right may be true, but it’s not all there is to ruling. Indeed, a truly successful government cannot be sustained by force alone. Just ask any tin-pot dictator or despotic king how safe they feel hiding away in their palaces. To create societies that last requires social cohesion, an affinity between the governors and the governed.

One way to develop this affinity is to promote the message of exceptionalism, to endlessly harp on the idea that our country is the best, ruled in the best way possible by the people best suited for the job. But how do you do that in, say, 2500 BC, when your population is geographically dispersed over tens or even hundreds of miles and most of them can’t read or write? Well, there are ways.

One of the earliest and most obvious was an extension of the voice of the ruler. His voice couldn’t be heard by everyone, but he could have his messages duplicated by a corps of criers, who proclaimed royal edicts on the street corners and in the village squares in booming voices with an air of authority. A variation of this approach is to have local officials or religious leaders act as criers since they could receive written messages, read them and then announce them in the town squares or markets.

Another possibility is to build impressive monuments, complete with inscriptions and pictorial representations of the might of the powers-that-be. Old Hammurabi sure knew this one. Those who are literate can read the inscriptions; those who are not can still follow the graphic narrative expressed in colorful murals or literally set in stone in the form of statues or reliefs. One reason old rulers would commission statuary and art was so they could relay their messages of state exceptionalism. It was in their best interest to support artists who would support them and forward their messages to the masses through art works.

These approaches have two things in common: they indiscriminately target large groups of people, and the communication is completely one-way under normal circumstances. Feedback, such as a crier getting heckled or a defaced monument, would be a sure sign of things getting really bad really fast.

And thus, the media was born: non-interactive one-to-many communication, sponsored and controlled by authority figures in order to plant narratives into the minds of the governed. And this does not imply that planting messages is necessarily a form of bizarre mind control which takes away people’s power of choice or self-determinism. It’s simply a fact rulers and governments do what they do and communicate about it because they need the support of those they rule to get their jobs done. Education, indoctrination, propaganda, advertising, promotion and similar words all have as their common denominator the communication of narratives. There are different shades and nuances to this kind of communication and it can be used for positive or nefarious purposes depending on who is doing the communicating, what they are saying and how they are saying it. We can find plenty of examples of honest and dishonest narratives being planted into people’s minds throughout history, including any of you listening right now who went to school anywhere at any time.

Now whether the communication came from a person like a village crier or a thing like an obelisk, we use the word media because these acted as conduits or agencies by which communications could be relayed. This was so important in the various ancient civilizations from Mesopotamia to Egypt to China and even to the Mayans in South America that each of these cultures independently developed the means and methods of writing.

In the ancient world, they didn’t have books as we think of them, but used clay tablets, animal hides or papyrus to write on. The first author of literature in the world that we know by name was the high-priestess of Ur, Enheduanna back around 2260 BC who wrote hymns in praise of the Sumerian goddess Inanna.

As literacy became common among the ruling classes and the better-off part of the populace, literature, too, was conscripted into service. Today, there are so many books, articles, blogs, newspapers, magazines and everything else that we don’t really think about literature as something that can be used to influence societal attitudes, but this is actually a fairly recent way of thinking.

People think of the various books in The Bible as some of the oldest stories we have but there are much earlier ones. For example, we have the Sumerian/Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh which dates back to around 2150 BC. This is not just an adventure story; it deals with themes of heroism, pride, nationality, friendship, disappointment, death, and the quest for eternal life. A good story with the right message could remain a staple of culture for centuries, carefully copied by royal scribes, read in schools, and even quoted in funerary inscriptions.

Jumping ahead in time, we find one of the most popular literary works of ancient Egypt was the Story of Sinuhe. We know it was popular because there have been many copies of the story found in various fragments of manuscripts. The earliest of these are dated approximately 1800 BC, but the events of the book (mostly fictitious, as far as we can tell) unfold against the historical background of the preceding century, during the reign of the first and second kings of the Twelfth Dynasty. A simple version of the story is this: A successful royal official named Sinuhe, while on a mission away from the royal court, learns of the death of the king. Having been favored by the king while the king was alive, he fears that his enemies at court would poison the new king against him to the point of him losing his position, his wealth, and possibly his life. He flees north, into the land we now know as Canaan, narrowly escaping death by heat stroke on the perilous journey through the desert. While in exile, he marries a powerful chief’s daughter, has some sons, becomes a chief in his own right, and with time, so do his sons. But as he gets older, he begins to fear that since he no longer serves the king of Egypt, his soul will not be granted passage into the afterlife when he dies. Eventually, all is sorted out; Sinuhe, now an old man, receives a royal pardon, returns to his homeland, and lives out the remainder of his days in peace and comfort under royal protection. When he dies, he is laid to rest in a tomb that befits his rank.

There are a lot of interesting things in this old story. For example, living in a foreign country doesn’t bother Sinuhe in the least; what really creeps him out is the prospect of losing his ticket to eternity by dying in a foreign country, away from the true religion, the true divine king, and the sacred burial rites. The message is simple: loyalty will have its reward, if not in this world, then definitely in the next one. This is how ancient Egyptians were conditioned to think. It was part of the narrative implanted in them by Egyptian rulers through their education and the other media they used to communicate to their citizens.

Greeks were far less preoccupied with death than Egyptians: their favorite obsession was with virtue and glory in life. Spartans, for example, spent literally their entire lives working to achieve virtue and glory on the field of battle. You probably heard the story of King Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans or, at the very least, saw the movie based on the comic book, which in turn was very loosely based on historical events. Anyway, some time after the war against Persia ended, a monument was raised at the location of the battle in which the three hundred died and inscribed with a poem written by a Spartan poet named Tyrtaeus. The poem, written on behalf of the fallen Spartans, urged the reader to travel to Sparta and tell the Spartans of the fate that befell those who remained true to the Spartan law. This was by no means the only poem Tyrtaeus had written; The Cambridge History of Classical Literature describes the body of his work as “the martial hymn-book of discipline and devotion to the state.” No big surprise for Spartans, who were what you might call big on nationalism since they were raised with those ideals from literally the moment they were born. Their media consisted of not just edicts and laws communicated to their people, but a state-run education system that started at age 7 with both girls and boys separated from their families and trained in groups which emphasized discipline, toughness and wit. As far as we know, Sparta was the only Greek city-state which had formal education for young women. If there is one thing that has survived the centuries, it is the legendary discipline and toughness of the Spartans and this was not an accident on the part of Spartan rulers.

And so it goes, not only in Europe and the Middle East, but also in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Media, such as it was, remained the servant of the ruling elites to push religious or nationalistic themes on those who read or listened. But every now and then, something would change ever so slightly. This one time, those crafty Athenians invented this crazy thing called democracy. This was around the fifth century BC and as far as we know, was the first democracy ever. It provided that land-owning adult males had a direct voice in legislation and executive bills. Out of a total population of about 250-300,000 people, this was around 30-50,000 men and they had all the same problems we have today including the wealthiest of those voters assuming more power because of their wealth, gerrymandering and all the rest. However, while it wasn’t perfect it was a significant historical achievement and with it came the need to get a lot more information to and from those tens of thousands of voting citizens than had ever been called for before.

Suddenly, there were things that had to be decided in citizens’ meetings, officials to be elected, reports to be made public, and all that. The emphasis of the media shifted accordingly; the monuments were still there to commemorate and impress, but the ancient broadcasting in the form of criers, as well as the written media, were now striving to inform. It was no longer about what the king has ordered or how great he was, but about the date and agenda of the next public meeting.

But leave it to the Romans to borrow an idea from the Greeks and take it one step further. Starting around 130 BC, the Roman Republic started producing a daily account of its various doings. It was called Acta Diurna (literally, “The Daily Acts”, but loosely and perhaps more correctly, “The Daily Record”). Initially, the Acta was for official use only, but Julius Caesar (not yet emperor, but already a consul) ordered that the record be made public. So daily notices of court decisions, Senate rulings, prominent births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths were on display in the Forum, carved into soft stone or metal. Many Romans started their day with the perusal of the Acta; most did so by traveling to the Forum, but those who could afford a literate slave would send one down with a roll of papyrus or a wax tablet to jot down the most important stuff and read it to the master over breakfast. Later rulers occasionally censored the Acta, but it continued to be published until early 300s, when the imperial capital was moved to Constantinople.

But what about those staples of modern media: gossip columns and advertising? Until relatively recently, we only had bits and pieces of information about them. The high-minded ancient writers whose contributions survived and reached us made occasional references to them, but their true extent didn’t become apparent until the discovery of Pompeii. A Roman town with a population over 10,000, Pompeii was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash that got up to 20 feet deep in some places when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. So a lot of things that normally would be subjected to destruction by moisture, oxidation, barbarian hordes, or medieval Christians survived, some nearly intact. It turns out that the entire Roman life was literally written (or drawn) on walls. The walls of Pompeii bore advertising for almost anything you can think of, from sex to political candidates. There’s actually an inscription that could well be both: an endorsement of a local political candidate by sex workers. What makes this one doubly interesting is that the named endorsers were female and thus were not entitled to vote under Roman law. Apparently, inability to vote didn’t mean inability to campaign.

Children drew stick-figure pictures of their favorite gladiators since Pompeii had its own arena, and wrote their names in shaky hand to explain whose likeness the pictures are supposed to be. Teenagers posted nasty anonymous comments about people they didn’t particularly like. How’s that for a first-century Facebook wall?

Another surprising discovery was the abundance of sexually explicit imagery, which caused quite a stir in the more recent times. When Francis I, king of Naples, visited the excavation of Pompeii in 1819, he was so shocked by it that he directed all sexually explicit finds to be locked away in a special secret gallery. Over the years, the gallery was briefly opened to the public several times, but every time quickly closed up again. In 1848, proposals were put forward to destroy the sacrilegious collection, but thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and in 1851, the gallery was merely walled off in hopes that it would be forgotten. That didn’t last long though; in 1860, Guiseppe Garibaldi ordered the gallery open to the public. The open-close cycle repeated multiple times; the gallery finally opened for good only in the year 2000 as a part of the National Archeological Museum in Naples and you can now see the sexual shenanigans those old Pompeiists liked to write about.

It is becoming a tradition on this show to say that all things come to an end, and so did the Roman Empire. But it did, and the period that followed, starting in the sixth century and ending in the fourteenth, used to be called the Dark Ages. The reasons for that are interesting and relevant to this discussion. For a long time, it was thought that very little of note happened during this period. The reality, however, was somewhat more complicated. It is true that very little evidence of intellectual life has survived, but it wasn’t because intellectual life didn’t happen. Rather, it was because the passions were flying way too high. Intellectual discourse happened all the time, and it was not uncommon for debates to end in book burnings, banishments, prison terms, and even executions. Sound familiar? It should because those Dark Ages mentalities are still going strong in some places in this world today including right here in the modern day United States of America.

One of the most notorious medieval debates was the debate of jurists and prelates or, in modern terms, of lawyers and priests. It lasted about 150 years, between approximately 1150 and 1300 (think of that next time you have an “epic” debate on Twitter). The primary, although not the only, venue was University of Paris, at the time also known as the Sorbonne. Topics were numerous, but centered mostly on how the French law should work. Should it be based on Roman laws that have been continuously applied since the time France was called Gaul and was a Roman province, or was it to be more closely aligned with the teachings of the Catholic church? Regardless of that, what limits, if any, can the law impose on the king of France or on the church? How should royal government and church go about their disagreements? Needless to say, both kings and popes had a stake in the outcome of this debate and interfered from time to time. A scholar whose position displeased the king could end up in exile, in prison, or even on death row. The pope and his local right hand, the bishop of Paris, also had some leverage; a wayward scholar could be excommunicated, which sometimes led to being burned at the stake. Numerous books and pamphlets were written, speeches delivered, public debates held, but most of this outpouring was lost, not so much to time as to the fires stoked by those who were on the winning side of the debate in a particular year. The following year, tables might well be turned, and the former winners would have their papers burned. Almost all we have left is satire from later times, laughing up the cases when debates became so narrowly technical that neither party remembered what they were arguing about anymore.

An even bigger debate was that between the popes and the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Never mind that name by the way; the empire was more of a soft confederation, its primary spoken language was German, and the imperial seat was located in Vienna most of the time; historians like to joke that the Holy Roman Empire was none of those things. This one resulted in numerous wars fought over centuries, with both parties actively trying to persuade the public and the potential allies that they were in the right. Imagine being in the middle of that media war.

As an aside, the media toolbox first developed by the Catholic church at that time is still in use today. To this day, the Vatican continues to push out “apostolic constitutions”, “papal bulls”, “encyclicals”, and “apostolic letters” in Latin.

Note that so far, we’ve been dealing with decidedly partisan media. Media, whether it existed in the form of criers, monuments, hand-copied books, or circular letters, wasn’t a standalone entity. Rather, it was in the employ of those whose views it communicated. But with the invention of the printing press and the movable type, that changed. For the first time ever, mass production of perishable written content (meaning news) had become feasible as a business. The early 1600s saw the advent of the newsbook, which very quickly, literally in the span of a few years, evolved into the newspaper, although for a while, the two formats coexisted.

Early newspapers were read mostly by merchants who bought them to get information useful for commercial decision making. Merchants paid good money for news because better information allowed them to avoid merchandise losses by altering shipping routes away from areas affected by war or civil unrest. They needed this information to do their business. Perhaps for the first time in history, the media was expected to report on facts without regard of how or whom the publication might affect. The readers demanded it, since their fortunes depended on the quality of information at their disposal.

One of the most successful early newspapers was the Courante published in Amsterdam since 1618. Originally published in Dutch, it had a sister English publication, also based in Amsterdam, by 1620.

As technology improved, the cost of printing newspapers plummeted. Within decades, newspapers became affordable for a much wider audience. Topics of coverage, accordingly, shifted somewhat, away from what we would call shipping news to things that were closer to home and that had some interesting consequences.

The first American newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, was published in Boston in 1690. It was a disaster; the colonial administration shut the paper down after the very first issue. The reason? Along with “Reflections of a very high nature”, the paper contained “sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports”. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds an awful lot like “fake news” to me…) Something in these “Reports” offended the colonial government so much that they not only suppressed the paper, but required that any future newspapers obtain a license before publishing the first issue.

This was a sign of things to come. Colonial governors repeatedly censored and suppressed the newspapers. The open censorship and suppression eventually went away along with the colonial governors, but the desire to control what gets published and especially what doesn’t get published remained strong in certain circles.

Something else happened, too. Newspapers began to publish advertisements. By the time Benjamin Franklin started publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, newspaper advertising was already commonplace. This made newspapers more affordable to the readers, but it also made newspapers dependent on advertising revenues. In theory, an advertiser could influence the editorial policy by threatening to withdraw their advertising. For a very long time, this wasn’t a problem; no single advertiser was large enough to matter. This began to change as businesses have grown progressively larger and some of them started investing in media outlets or even buying them outright. Thus emerged the problem of editorial independence: advertisers and corporate owners could influence what gets covered and what, if any, spin is put on this coverage. This problem became especially acute in the broadcast media (radio and, later, television).

A response to this problem has been tried, with some success, in one of the oldest media markets, Britain. During the 1920s, the British government has set up an independent broadcasting organization, which was named simply British Broadcasting Corporation, or BBC. Originally, the BBC was financed by tax imposed on sales of radio receivers. No advertising was allowed. Special care was taken to insulate the BBC leadership from pressure by political figures, not unlike the measures that are used to ensure the independence of judges. For-profit advertising-supported radio stations were still allowed to operate regionally, but BBC was the only broadcaster with national presence. For a while, this approach seemed to work, but eventually, it became clear that the BBC can’t be everything to everyone. Today, the BBC still exists, is still financed by special-purpose taxes (these days, they take the form of TV license fees, payable annually; the current going rate is, in U.S. terms, about 180 dollars), and is still considered a first-rate media organization, but it no longer has the monopoly it once enjoyed.

Perhaps more importantly, many countries tried to emulate the BBC, but more often than not, failed (or didn’t even try) to build a wall reliably separating the government from the publicly-owned national media and thus ended up with zero-integrity propaganda machines.

Another possibility for the truly independent media, it seems, is to go back to its roots, eschew advertising altogether, and live off subscriptions and one-time contributions by readers or viewers. This approach is in wide use in today’s Internet-based media, but it is not without its flaws, either. Production costs today are sufficiently low to make it feasible to produce media for fairly small audiences. As a result, readers and viewers have a very wide choice and tend to gravitate to media outlets that tell them what they want to hear in a way they find pleasant. This creates a media landscape that looks like a series of semi-isolated echo chambers. You can hear loud and clear what’s going on in the one you’re in, you get muffled clips from the ones yours is connected to, but try hearing from those that are three or four connections away… Eventually, unless you make a deliberate effort to diversify away from your echo chamber of choice, you might simply conclude that you possess the sum total of human knowledge when in fact you are sitting in a basement surrounding by people telling you only what you already think is true and you aren’t bothered by anything like critical thinking.

So it would seem that there is no single foolproof solution to the media bias problem. But then, there is no single foolproof solution to the bias problem in general. Even if writers, editors, producers, and anchors were completely free from outside influence, they are still human, with all the imperfections it implies. So what are we to do as readers, listeners, and viewers?

For starters, we need to understand what we want from the media. Sheer entertainment aside, there are at least two possible answers, and they are not mutually exclusive. We need the media to inform us of what is happening; we also want, at least some of the time, to understand what the implications are, how this thing that just happened ties into a broader picture of reality. So the media necessarily blends into a single presentation two distinct functions: reporting the facts and commenting on them. In this situation, the first thing to do, it appears, is to make an effort to understand where the line between fact and commentary lies. Facts, then, can be checked, and commentary is, well, commentary; do what you will with it.

In the end, when it comes to how you find out what is going on in the world, how they are going to affect you directly or indirectly and what you think about those things, there is no substitute for your own critical thinking. Our time is at a premium and we only have so many minutes or hours in the day or week to devote to finding out what is going on in the world beyond our immediate purview. That’s why our ability to perceive fact from fiction has to be more than up to scratch; in this age of information overload, mainstream media and thousands of alternative media news sources, we don’t really have any choice but to get really good at this. Not if we want to make smart and informed decisions about our future and the world our children and grandchildren are going to inherit.

I’ve thought about and advocated briefly for regulations on fake news and vicious lies being propagated on media channels, but regulations are not really the answer. It would be nice to see my social media feeds uncluttered by what I know are totally made-up nonsense by political hacks and pundits, woo peddlers and alternative medicine gurus who I wouldn’t trust to give me a cough drop. But you know what, I’d rather be inundated by that in a free society that endorses free speech then go to the opposite extreme. I mean, who polices the police? What agency out there has your best interest at heart and is without their own agenda or their own influencers? I don’t think we’ve come this far only to have to take a giant step backwards to the more repressive times when our news and information was spoon fed to us by governmental rulers or monied elite who want us docile, working for their interests and not thinking too much.

Not to mention that the advantages we have now of almost anyone anywhere being able to speak out and be heard by the world at large are better than anything we’ve ever had in history. Do you think I’d have been able to publish my work about Scientology if I had to wait for some editor at Random House or Harper Collins to bother to read my manuscript and hopefully give me a publishing deal? Without YouTube and WordPress, none of you would even know my name. So having a panoply of voices out there allows us to hear things that thirty years ago we never would have had any access to. This is a tremendous boon for all of us and not something we should hand over to Big Government to decide what is best for our tender ears and eyes. We don’t have to wonder what will happen when we give up our rights. We know what happens. Every single time we end up having those rights abused by those in power. It’s just part of the human condition.
So instead, our solution to fake news, bad news reports, the National Enquirer, lies from our politicians and all the rest is to man up (or woman up) and just learn to deal with it by using our own critical thinking skills to the hilt. You know, I give conspiracy theorists a bad time almost all the time for their lack of critical thinking skills but I really shouldn’t because the fact is that at least they are questioning what they are hearing and they are trying to make sense of a lot of the blather and nonsense out there. That’s a lot more than some people are doing, even if the conspiracy guys are connecting dots that don’t really connect or are coming to illogical conclusions. I wish more of us out there were that curious and challenging of some of the narratives we are being fed.

I hope that this little trip down History Lane and some of my conclusions here have been interesting, informative and of use to you. I want to thank my friend Nick again for his fantastic assistance to me in putting all this together for you. If you are enjoying this podcast, please do share it far and wide and get your friends and family subscribing. There’s a lot more coming and I could really use your support in keeping this going. Join me on Patreon or use that blue PayPal button on my YouTube channel or whatever you can do. It’s all helpful.

Leave me any comments or feedback, good, bad or sideways and thanks for listening.

The post Sensibly Speaking Podcast #81: Making Sense of the Media appeared first on The Sensibly Speaking Podcast.

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