Corporatized Electronic-Media and Collective Consciousness

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media consolidationAnyone who's concerned about the development of human consciousness towards the betterment of society and human civilization as a whole must also be concerned with how the corporate media systematically undermine the conditions for the possibility of this development. Known as the fourth estate, the institutions of the media have a special role in the formation of collective consciousness, acting as a kind of hardware (or brain) to the software (or ideas and values) of culture. It should therefore be understood that how the media goes, so goes the nation and the world. And with the consolidation of the media over the last several decades into the hands of fewer and fewer corporations, it should be no surprise that wealth consolidation has also gone into proportionately fewer hands.

neuronsIt would seem then that whoever controls the collective neurons (media outlets) also controls not only the collective imagination, but the collective feet, hands, and back as well. Indeed, it's my assertion that the production, distribution, and appropriation of collective wealth and power is all done in and through the media (the collective brain). So how then has the media recently stood up to the test of furthering the development of human beings?

The media model of Fox News has been especially important and influential in recent times, and it's the general trend within corporate-media as a whole. As infotainment and right-wing fuel for cultural warfare in order to maximize profits by appealing to the lowest common denominator of the visceral instincts, Fox News is a prime example of how corporate media has seriously distorted, impeded, and degraded public discourse in what is now a mostly electronic media environment. This point is particularly important, since within an electronically mediated society, democratic deliberation is largely played out in and through public opinion that is created and shaped by sound bites, visual manipulation, and dubious facts. This has helped to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood, hyper-glamorized and flattened our aesthetics, made a mockery of consensual participation, and eliminated discussions of justice altogether that aren't punitive or that don't promote the incarceration of 'problematic' populations. Within this kind of degraded and underdeveloped context the prospects for an informed and functional democracy look pretty dim. Again, the quality of culture and society is limited by the form and content of the media.

Although it's sometimes argued that social media provides a counter-influence to some of the aforementioned aspects of the decline of modern civilization, it is by no means apparent that the negative influence and effects of television and talk radio on the discourse of the public sphere has been overcome by the networks of p2p interaction and information exchange. Social media operate largely on the basis of self-selected niches and disembodied communication, and are by no means the antidote to a truth deficit, psychological depthlessness, communal alienation, or social exploitation. Change we can believe in ultimately must come from embodied face to face interaction between living, breathing human beings who have gotten up from sitting behind their screens and on their couches. As anyone who has contentedly surfed the net or dallied on Facebook or Twitter all day long knows, these activities can be addictive, and they are no substitute for tactile conversation and marching down the streets with others shoulder to shoulder.

malcolm xMeanwhile, inventions of the modern enlightenment such as the role of the public intellectual as the voice of reason and the profession of journalism as the investigative instrument of the people have been hollowed out and decimated by the business model of maximizing corporate profits. The role of the public intellectual and journalism had once been to hold the powers that be accountable for their actions, and thus to act as a crucial mediator and shaper of democratic institutions. The success of Fox News as an unabashed corporate mouth piece for cultural conservatives and the economic and military elite has only put pressure on other media organizations to follow suit and join the backlash against the progressive changes of the counter-culture revolution by veering the nation and the world further to the right. Consequently, collective consciousness has taken a turn away from democracy and toward the ideas and values of a global ruling-elite whose interests are primarily in neoliberal economic and political institutions of privatized tyranny and surveillance that have no role for either critical intellectuals or investigative journalists (much less civil protesters or organized labor) in their vision of society.

If you think for a moment of the operating system of society as the grid of media images and signs that spin our daily reality in a way fit for the material interests of the corporate classes, then what you have is a real life Matrix that creates and governs our collective reality as a manufactured delusion, albeit one with very real consequences. Add to this the ruthless and efficient surveillance and killing machine of the military-police-security-state, and what you get is a Terminator meets the Matrix movie pitch, except this one is the real thing, and each of us is acting and staring in it everyday.

patriot actSo what can you do to fight the power and become the hero of this sci-fi horror flick we're all a part of? First of all, I suggest you make use of tactile face to face interactions by educating friends and family about specific instances of media manipulation and corporate-military and/or ruling-class bias when they happen, which requires your own awakening and vigilance to begin with by paying attention to what alternative media sources (e.g., truthdig, truthout, counterpunch, altnet) are saying. Secondly, write letters to the editor, to your local political representative, and to the appropriate government regulatory agencies demanding media accountability and responsibility to the public interest. And perhaps most effective of all would be to get prominent and respected figures like religious leaders, celebrities, and intellectuals to put their money where their mouths are and actively and publicly stand up for the development of collective consciousness by critically demanding that better media programming and responsibility be built into the institutional and legal structure of society.

As we navigate our way in and out of the corporate matrix, fleeing and dodging the bullets of our oppressors who uphold the authority of the powers that be, each of us must make a choice between living a comfortable life within the delusional world of the matrix and making peace with our termination as human beings, or challenging, resisting, and fighting for what is true, beautiful, good, and just. To choose life as a human being is to choose struggle against the forces that distort, impede, and degrade the development our collective existence, and there's no better place to begin the struggle for our collective development than with the media.

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  • Comment Link James Barrow Monday, 26 March 2012 10:50 posted by James Barrow

    Thanks Joe - I feel this whole dynamic in my daily life on a regular basis and have done for many years. Thank you for doing a great job in expressing it.

    One additional point re. "the prominent and respected figures like religious leaders, celebrities, and intellectuals" that you mention. For me it would be even more effective if, rather than "critically demanding better media" from current structures (which is perhaps unlikely anyway) such prominent figures created their own counterbalance to Fox News by establishing their own large scale conscious media outlets.

    Much easier said than done of course, but my constant (but almost certainly naive) hope is that there will emerge a key group of wealthy celebrities who understand the cultural significance of the ways in which Fox has degraded public discourse, and that they might join forces specifically to take on the task of establishing a cultural counterbalance to the poison that Fox produces....
    Imagine what the likes of George Clooney, Oprah, Jon Stewart, Bono, Amy Goodman, Naom Chomsky .... might create if they pooled their resources and created their own cultural news channel. It would be one step up form Fox to be sure.

  • Comment Link Joe Corbett Monday, 26 March 2012 12:14 posted by Joe Corbett

    james, there already exist alternatives to fox, such as msnbc, current tv, fora tv, grind tv, etc., and i certainly wouldnt be against enlightened individuals starting their own alternative media outlets, like this website.

    however, my point is that the airwaves in particular are a property of the commons, they belong to the people, and any corporation that has been given the privilege of using them needs to be held far more accountable to the public good, and not just to profits for their investors and owners.

    the market model applied to media makes even less sense than applying it to health care, or to police and fire services. that turns the development of culture and the mind over to the money system. and although there are some things that are produced and allocated more efficiently this way, there are some things that should remain firmly in the public trust, with private profit held at a distant secondary concern.

    this would mean not relying on the good will and the (limited) private resources of a relatively few enlightened individuals, but building systemic responsibility and accountability into the legal and institutional apparatus of all mass media outlets as a condition of their charter, and providing adequate public funding to ensure this happens. to serve and protect the public over special private interests surely must be a founding principle of all such media in a democracy of the people.

  • Comment Link Matthew Wesley Monday, 26 March 2012 13:08 posted by Matthew Wesley

    I might suggest that things are more insidious yet. See Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated. It was one of my favorite, if most disturbing, reads of the last year. He would suggest that our very identities are so abstracted from what is "real" that what we consider ourselves is almost wholly mediated. It is a fascinating postmodern view of the creation of identity and the constructed self.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 26 March 2012 18:34 posted by David MacLeod

    Thank you for posting this good and important article. I appreciate your framing in relation to the collective consciousness.

    FOX is an obvious and easy target; It is important to realize the level of corporate control/influence on other major media as well, from the New York Times to NPR.

    For those who havent' yet seen it, I HIGHLY recommend the BBC documentary "The Century of the Self."

    "This series is about how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy." - Producer Adam Curtis

    Special focus on Anna Freud and Freud's newphew Edward Bernays, who was the first to use Freudian psychology in public relations. The film looks at how advertising gave rise to modern consumerism, and how our collective consciousness (though I'm not sure they use this term)has been affected. BBC publicity put it like this:
    "To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?"

    All 4 episodes available online, both on Youtube and Google video.

    Also somewhat related, PRI's Bob Edwards Weekend radio show this last weekend had an interview with Clay Johnson, "who says we not only suffer from information overload, but we have lost the ability to filter the average eleven hours of data we ingest every day. He describes the problem and offers some advice in a new book, The Information Diet: a Case for Conscious Consumption."

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 26 March 2012 18:41 posted by David MacLeod


    Your reply reminded me of Hakim Bey's "Immediatism" from 1992. The recording is even more potent, but the text is online.

    It begins like this...

    All experience is mediated—by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc.—& certainly all art consists of some further mediation of experience.

    However, mediation takes place by degrees. Some experiences (smell, taste, sexual pleasure, etc.) are less mediated than others (reading a book, looking through a telescope, listening to a record). Some media, especially “live” arts such as dance, theater, musical or bardic performance, are less mediated than others such as TV, CDs, Virtual Reality. Even among the media usually called “media,” some are more & others are less mediated, according to the intensity of imaginative participation they demand. Print & radio demand more of the imagination, film less, TV even less, VR the least of all—so far.

    For art, the intervention of Capital always signals a further degree of mediation. To say that art is commodified is to say that a mediation, or standing-in-between, has occurred, & that this betweenness amounts to a split, & that this split amounts to “alienation.” Improv music played by friends at home is less “alienated” than music played “live” at the Met, or music played through media (whether PBS or MTV or Walkman). In fact, an argument could be made that music distributed free or at cost on cassette via mail is LESS alienated than live music played at some huge We Are The World spectacle or Las Vegas niteclub, even though the latter is live music played to a live audience (or at least so it appears), while the former is recorded music consumed by distant & even anonymous listeners..."

    Entire text here:

  • Comment Link Joe Corbett Tuesday, 27 March 2012 04:14 posted by Joe Corbett

    thanks for that david. as 'the century of the self' says, psychological manipulation is deeply embedded in media, and of course at the heart of the way mass media works is advertising, corporate sponsorship of corporate media, capitalist interests all the way up and down. for a short history of that i recommend the classic by stuart ewen, 'captains of consciousness'.

    and speaking of fair and balanced integralism, im all for the promotion of an american libertarian socialist party.

  • Comment Link James Barrow Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:10 posted by James Barrow

    Hi Joe

    While appreciating most of what you say in your article, I was in addition suggesting "relying on the resources of a few enlightened individuals" as a way of bypassing the grip on the money/media system that you describe so well, especially in your comments beneath one of your other articles on B&S:

    "the conservative moderns are ruthless strategic-instrumentalists who will try by any means necessary to achieve their own goals, even if that means lying and cheating and stealing and corruption of every conceivable sort.

    this leaves the progressives, who tend to hold democratic principles above the strategic goal of winning by any means necessary, at a disadvantage.
    and because the corporate media are complicit with conservative contempt for factual truth, progressives cannot rely on reason alone to further their position. they must win the hearts and souls of the people by appealing to the intrinsic spiritual message of the collective good, which is genuine compassion and care for the environment and for the basic needs of all citizens. we might call this the progressive version of the 'family values' platform.

    In other words, the task at hand is not a technical one that can be won through negotiation and compromise with the opposition by appealing to the better argument, but rather it must be an ideological battle of vision and spirit that can lift the collective interest beyond the material interests of the few."

    This is so well put and I agree 100%. My only question is with the way one might go about changing it. I appreciate your suggestions re. making face to face contact with friends, family etc, and also writing letters to editors, political reps etc. But given this dreadful state of affairs you describe above, your recommendation of "building systemic responsibility and accountability into the legal and institutional apparatus of all mass media outlets as a condition of their charter, and providing adequate public funding to ensure this happens" while laudable, also seems highly unlikely and even slightly naïve. You say the airwaves are a commons and belong to the public. I agree they should belong to the public but right now they’ve been hijacked. We need to take them back, but not try to do so just via the current standard mechanisms since the “conservative moderns” have those channels all sown up. We need to #Occupy the Corporatized Electronic-Media, hence my suggestion of bypassing the system and setting up one's own media, which as you point out, B&S have done here - Go B&S!

    Also, I personally wouldn’t describe CNN et al as real alternatives to Fox – they operate in a similar way and are as under the thumb of the Corporatocracy as Fox, just with less vitriol.

    Anyway, all this now sounds like I’m disagreeing with your main point more than I actually do - I just wanted to clarify some of the finer points that I didn’t make very well in my first post. So to finish I just want to say how profoundly this last sentence of yours resonates with me:
    “To choose life as a human being is to choose struggle against the forces that distort, impede, and degrade the development our collective existence, and there's no better place to begin the struggle for our collective development than with the media.”

  • Comment Link Joe Corbett Friday, 30 March 2012 17:34 posted by Joe Corbett

    thanks james, perhaps i am a bit idealistic in suggesting a personal education campaign involving self, friends and family, in addition to writing letters to the editor, political reps and government agencies to hold the media accountable to truth and justice as well as collective consciousness. however, i see these efforts more as a civic duty rather than as an organizational tactic for systemic social change.

    on the other hand, getting influential individuals such as religious leaders, celebrities and public intellectuals (particularly intellectuals such as ken wilber who are concerned with issues of consciousness development and spirituality) to actively and publicly advocate for responsible media in the name of collective consciousness, is an important point for the possibility of social transformation. they provide the influence of many thousands of voices combined, and utilizing this as leverage to move the system towards media accountability could be a crucial contribution.

    strategic positioning of the nodal parts of a system are the key to tilting it in one direction or another, and influential figures (including corporations), for better and worse, are the nodes of any social system. so i think collective consciousness can (and must) be instituted (hardwired) into the legal structure (public form) of all media because the alternative would be to allow the strategic manipulations of private tyrannies (individuals and corporations) within markets to predominate in the formation of collective consciousness, which is what we have today with corporate media.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Saturday, 31 March 2012 16:08 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Joe,

    Really enjoyed your piece. Wondered if you've heard of Duane Elgin (The Living Universe) and his passion for the public to reclaim the airwaves, which do, I gather belong to the people. He says that the problem is, yes, Fox News, etc., but more with public apathy. He claims that there is nothing stopping us from from Occupying the Airwaves:

  • Comment Link Joe Corbett Sunday, 01 April 2012 18:45 posted by Joe Corbett

    bruce, i would say you and duane are right-on about occupying the airwaves. however i still think his solution tends to fall back on methodological individualism, finding individual community solutions (or alternatives) to what is a collective national problem, which is all good as far as it goes. we need alternative voices and organization at the individual community level to capitalist self-interest, but that doesnt go far enough. the corporate media have tremendous resources, and they use those resources to gain the widest possible audiences by manipulating the base instincts (fear, anger, hatred, lust, etc.), which in turn washes-out the voices of reason and participation that assist in the development of collective consciousness.

    therefore the kind of alternative i have in mind is built into the existing programming schedule of mainstream media institutions that reach the multi-millions, not just as separate appendages at the edges of the bandwidth that increases the access and choices of people, and not just as a one-off or occasional broadcast, but as legal and binding requirements of both local and national prime-time programming in the public trust.

    moreover, regulation of so-called 'news' programming in particular must be held to high factual and in-depth standards by having broadcast licenses enforcibly tied to such standards. we dont allow ourselves to eat candy and junk food all the time because its pleasurable, so why do we let corporate media do this to our culture and mind in the name of free-speech and the wisdom of profits and markets without considering the long-term collective consequences?

    its time for legislatures to enact controls in the public interest on what we feed our collective body-mind and, yes, for publics to occupy what is rightfully theirs by demanding that politicians and corporations do this in consultation with public forums (electronic town hall meetings) for a healthy democracy.

    the only question left unanswered is how (exactly) to mobilize a public to take back something that is theirs, and then to make of it what they will. given the current state of public discourse driven by idol worship and celebrity, i think influential public figures must be used as leverage points to tip the tide of public and legislative opinion in favor of the development of collective consciousness.

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