I know that posting like I do on Twitter, I’m very likely trapped in a Matrix of my own creation and volition. But there’s enough outside posting of mainstream media feeds that I can guess that I’m likely seeing maybe not reality, but certainly media reality.
And there’s no question that the media reality has changed over the last 30 years. I profiled William Greider’s writings (one of my personal journalistic heroes) in this piece in discussing that shift. Short version, in the past 80 years, we’ve seen the mainstream press go from a Power axis (those in power should expect to be scrutinized) to a political axis (perceived-by-the-press Right Wing views now are subject to scrutiny and ridicule.)
Why this matters from a v-Memetic perspective is that now we have a good hunk of our societal observational neurosystem (that’s what journalists are!) failing in their very important jobs. Instead of urging us upward in social evolution (more freedom, more empathy, more understanding of individuality and circumstance,) we have a random, mostly status-driven walk through the various popular and chic authorities-du-jour.
And it’s not very empathetic. Cultural sidebars in journalism used to proscribe picking on poor people, regardless of their viewpoint. All that’s gone out the window. Mores the pity.
An example –a particular thing that gripes me in the current COVID debate over vaccination is the endless replay of the media attacking people with extreme views on vaccine side-effects. Yes – I’m talking about the folks who believe that the vaccine will change the magnetic fields in their body, or some such icks. The media pounces on these poor folks, borrowing reasons from ostensibly higher communitarianism, saying “well we should give these folks an audience, because we certainly don’t want anyone to think that WE (the press corps) think we’re better than them.” But then they proceed to ridicule them precisely for their ignorance.
What this does is prevent society from climbing out of the Dichotomizer, that I discuss in this piece. There are real concerns with vaccines, and who should take them — and in the case of children, whether they should take them at all. Martin Kuldorff, the famous/notorious epidemiologist at Harvard, who has stood up to tremendous social pressure to have the larger discussion, has written extensively about what are the cost-benefit calculations that should be observed — and been censored by Twitter for this. I’m pretty pro-vax — when vaccines came to my age group, I got the J&J, even though I had likely had COVID in March, 2020. But I’m big, healthy, and vaccine-robust.
But the lack of discussion around children getting a vaccine that will demand in the USA an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) flows from this kind of dichotomous thinking. And dichotomous thinking almost always leads to status-based characterization. The end result is that the low-status people in our society, our kids, get thrown under the bus. Our children are in our care. And they deserve better.
One of the standard tools that the media trot out when discussing the “key stuck to the forehead” crowd is what’s known as the Dunning-Kruger phenomenon. I’ve written a thorough discussion of Dunning-Kruger here — it’s actually one of the better things I’ve written, and I highly recommend it. (Those that follow my blog do know I rate and rank some of my stuff, and sometimes not very highly!) The short explanation that resonates with most people regarding Dunning-Kruger is “you’re so dumb, you don’t know how dumb you are.” This interpretation gets folded into all sorts of varying ridicule — “mansplaining” is a great example — of targeted audiences. It’s not that the audiences aren’t actually demonstrating the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s more that in a reflective, civilized society, we used to be more aware of intellectual and educational privilege, and not want to beat the hell out of people who might not have as much as we do.
But that’s not the sum total of Dunning-Kruger. The phenomenon also shows up in expert-level testimony, with folks being so well-informed, they don’t know how well-informed they are, and project expertise onto various audiences that the audiences simply don’t possess. Both sides of the Dunning-Kruger coin are classic examples of thinking from the limbic brain, with some degree of self-absorption, and very little empathy.
The problem is that a lack of awareness of both sides of Dunning-Kruger turn it into a handy weapon for status-based denigration. Folks find it fun to finger-poke and say “they shouldn’t be so stupid (or something.)” But if someone is truly informed and doing this, they’re actually showing that they’re doing some serious Dunning-Kruger themselves.
Which brings us to the press corps. When you shift the cultural value set of the press from a Power axis, to a Political axis, it’s inevitable that you end up calling people who disagree with you stupid. A Power axis forces you to think potentially past an individual’s personal development, as power dynamics are embedded (even with advanced thinkers) in everything that one does.
But the Political axis mindset throws you into defending your In-Group. And without cultural sidebars that generalize to others outside, those people become non-beings. And in that group of non-beings, trust me that there are always folks on the tails of the distribution that are ripe for ridicule.
To make things worse, some of the media have the Dunning-Kruger thing on the poorly-informed side going on themselves in spades. They hardly know much about the subjects that they’re writing about, and that drives them even more into the Authority-driven camp. As I’ve discussed before, being in the Authority-driven v-Meme also means you suspend your own judgment coming in from your personal sensory channels (e.g. how would someone feel if you were ridiculing them in person?) And things just go downhill from there.
That combination of shame, guilt and ridicule is simply toxic to a society. Not surprisingly, it keeps the conflict alive. And worse, it also shapes the neural programming/v-Meme set of the press corps as well. More moderate/evolved press-people just get tired of filtering the idea that the other side is stupid. They then self-filter out. But that leaves a more distilled press corps even less inclined to either exercise critical thought, or compassion and discernment, on why someone with a position averse to their own might think the way they do. It is the literal death of empathy.
As we continue to break down the old edicts of culture, recasting our opinion of what creates power, we might consider a new paradigm, that hopefully will drive alignment of evolution of society. For me it is the contrast between what I call the “hierarchy of status” vs. the “hierarchy of responsibility.” Though this is indeed a dichotomy, there is great potential. If you view yourself high up in any hierarchy — money, intellect, taste, and so on — that implies a far lighter touch in criticizing those who obviously are not. Equivalently, it also makes you, to varying degrees, responsible for bringing the rest of the unwashed along.
That means you’re going to actually understand them. And that involves developing your own empathy. It will make the ones that don’t have that empathy stand out like a sore thumb. And that is likely a path toward more complete identification of the relational disruptors in our midst, which in my assessment of our current problems, one of the biggest.
Easy? Absolutely not. I call it the Burden of Enlightenment. Don’t expect much praise for doing it. But that self-awareness is the most certain way of beating the Dunning-Kruger imps in your own psyche.