Blogs and Rage: What are the Consequences of Greater Access to Knowledge

Wretchard at Belmont Club has a post on the impact of the blogosphere on trends in world opinion, somewhat misleadingly entitled:

The tree of knowledge of good and evil.

He begins with a discussion that bounces off of a post from Blogcritics.org, Disruptions in The Fourth Estate, on how the blogosphere has become increasingly competitive with the MSM, even on the MSM’s own terms, as in the in-depth report published by The Politics of CP on the Jamaat ul-Fuqra Training Compound inside the US. Daniel Harrison’s point at Blogcritics is about the blogosphere as a disruptive technology that undermines what seems like a solid hold on an important area of economic activity (in this case the Fourth Estate, or journalism). Such new trends destabilize expectations and open up radically new possibilites for the future. (This is precisely what happened (although far more slowly) with the advent of printing).

Wretchard then segues to the long term impact of the blogosphere and an essay by David Ignatius in the Washington Post:

So why does the world feel so chaotic? Why is there a growing sense that, as Francis Fukuyama put it in a provocative essay in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism”? …

There are lots of reasons why the world seems (and may well be) more chaotic.

  • in part because we know more about chaotic events that have been happening all the time. (If a raid happens somewhere in the world and the media doesn’t report it, did it happen?)
  • in part because of globalization and the intense cultural encounter it brings.
  • in part because the kinds of paradigms that we have been working with (in particular the media and academia) which gave us a false sense of security as well as an enormous sense of guilt, are all of a sudden not working… even worse, they are backfiring.
  • in part because modernity is based on a hubris that replaces nature/God/chance with our will, and when we gain the kinds of powers that technology brings us to make choices, we begin to worry about the unintended consequences of playing with the forces of the universe.

Some of this is related to the role of the media which has played a critical role in the emergence of the modern world. Very little of it is related directly to the blogosphere which has only just begun to play a role.

Charles M. McLean, who runs a trend-analysis company called Denver Research Group Inc. (I wrote a 2004 column called “Google With Judgment” that explained how his company samples thousands of online sources to assess where global opinion is heading.) I asked McLean last week if he could explain the latest explosion of rage in our connected world — namely the violent Islamic reaction to Danish cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad.

McLean argues that the Internet is a “rage enabler.” By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude.” I think McLean is right.

It’s not clear how much of a leading question Harrison asked McLean, but McLean’s answer is jumps right to the wrong conclusion, showing very little knowledge of the dynamics and even less sense of history. What triggered the riots was Imams with phony pictures who went around parts of the third world arousing fury among populations who do not surf the internet. It was just the kind of fury that the Mufti of Jerusalem aroused in 1929 with faked pictures of a Jewish flag flying over the Dome of the Rock; or Peter the Hermit incited among Christians in 1095-6 with tales of Muslims molesting Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem. This kind of rumor-induced mob violence is as old as civilization.

If anything the violent reactions of the Muslim street, although unquestionably fueled by cyberspace Jihad, was far more likely to have been whipped up by TV reports of flushed Qurans and Abu Graibh. And behind that lies the very process of globalization which, in bringing everyone into a “global village” has hurt the self image of many a culture that, in its splendid isolation, could continue to imagine itself supreme. When the millennial celebration of December 31, 1999 circled the globe, the Arab and Muslim world looked in the global mirror and did not like what it saw. Justifiably.

So why would McLean jump to a cheap McLuhanism about the blogosphere to explain things? As a number of commenters at Belmont Club noted, it’s partly motivated by the radical insecurity that the blogosphere inspires in the MSM. While their insecurity is understandable, it’s not very pretty. And given their arrogance when they thought themselves invulnerable, and the damage that they have been doing — especially since 2000 — it’s hard to be sympathetic.

But the issue goes still farther. Like some person in denial, who doesn’t want to admit something, the MSM will readily project what they refuse to acknowledge in one place onto someone or something else. Actually, if we want to do a McLuhanesque analysis, TV is far hotter medium, a much greater inciter than the blogosphere. It takes no intelligence, no training, no will to channel surf, and the appeal of pictures well chosen and spliced is far more compelling than reading the writing at blogs and responding.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the MSM do an analysis of, say, the Palestinian media that was as relentlessly critical. Let’s just use McLean’s language substituting Palestinian MSM for the blogosphere.

By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, Palestinian telelvision takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The electronic MSM provides the Palestinian leadership with the opportunity to provide an instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye to their people. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can watch together and then gather in the street and make themselves even angrier. The monopoly on the technology of TV and radio, and the failure of the Western press to challenge their propagandistic journalism, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating alernative communications to intrude.”

But, alas, that is the kind of analysis you’ll have to go to the cyberspace and the blogosphere to get.

I mentioned that Wretchard’s post was somewhat misleading. He primarily addressed the “fruit of the tree of knowledge.” In fact it’s the MSM’s deep moral confusion — their inability to see evil when it comes in exotic forms and their readiness to see evil when it comes in the form of the narcissism of small differences — that lies at the heart of both the MSM’s massive failures and the challenge the blogosphere poses.

The misogynist reading of the story of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is that Eve sinned first by eating the fruit. But as anyone who believes in free will and God knows, God wishes us to be autonomous moral beings. So eating the fruit of moral knowledge is a no-brainer. Of course God wanted Adam and Eve to eat of that fruit. It’s part of maturing into an independent adult. The sin was pointing the finger, using the knowledge of good and evil for evil, to blame someone else; and that Adam did first. By telling the tale as Eve’s fault we replicate that primordial sin.

Now, in our world of post-modern political correctness, we do the opposite. We go fall for the Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome of self criticism. Our MSM points the finger of blame at the very culture whose dedication to freedom makes them possible, and protects a misogynist culture of hatred and oppression whose merciless leaders would use every piece of technology we generate to enslave the human spirit.

So if there’s a source of rage out there in the media world, it’s the disgraceful combination of abuse of the technology of communication to communicate hatred, and the determination to jump on the bandwagon, or look the other way, or blame the whistle-blower on the part of the supposed professionals of our MSM.

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