Will fear and media continue to combine as a powerful political tool? It has been very interesting to see how the use of fear resurfaces as a tool for political and economic manipulation through the media. Media has become so pervasive in (invasive of) our lives in this era of ever-expanding technologies that it is interesting to speculate on how much farther it can go. Cellphone-computers in our pockets and cars and the internet everywhere in most of our personal and work lives suggests that we won’t be moving away from the media, but rather closer to them. This is a particular concern as ever more advanced marketing uses this media to manipulate us into buying, voting, or otherwise behaving as someone else wishes.
Media motivators are more powerful as they use more visceral, more gut-level hooks into our minds. Fear is handled at such a low level in the human mind-body system that it has amazing power to motivate and control. This makes the use of fear by special interests (commercial or political) a serious concern.
Future technological developments will probably connect us more closely into the media. Back in the 1970’s, when I first began using the internet for email and then file sharing, I felt that a “terminal implant” would be desirable. “Terminal” referred to the computer terminals we all used to access computers when mainframes the size of houses were the only computing facilities available. I imagined that someday we would have an implant placed in the back of our necks, interfaced directly into our nervous systems, that would allow us to exchange messages, audio, and video by merely thinking about it. Even then some science fiction authors conjectured on the possibility of mass mind control or a “hive-mind” being created among humanity, but the notion has remained in the realm of science fiction. Now that I have seen more of what the media can do with fear, I am not so fond of the notion of the “terminal implant”.
People and corporations will inevitably maximize their use of what works. The use of fear will inevitably continue, as humans will always strive to get what they want even if it means having to manipulate others. Some individuals will always fail to learn the principles of good behavior, or to have the logical skills to derive them, and will drive for power and influence out of their own insecurities and mental illness. Such unscrupulous people will do whatever they can to control and manipulate others, and the media, augmented by ever-advancing technology, will give them increasing power to achieve their ends.
There’s no going back, and the challenge is in controlling our futures. I don’t plan to become a luddite and eschew technology altogether. I’ve been far too addicted to it, for far too long. I enjoy a lot of it and use it to stay in touch with the world as well as friends and family, and I use it to express myself through many different avenues and in many different ways. It is a caution, however, that the media has such power for both good and evil, that so many people seem to understand so little about the power of the media and techn0logy, and how fear, among other forces, can be and is being used to manipulate us. We all need to be very careful of taking what we read, hear, and see too seriously, and separating truth from fiction is difficult even for the most educated among us.
Parallels in the use of fear: Near the end of the 19th century there was much outcry about “yellow journalism”, the sensationalistic news coverage of major newspapers. A huge flap about the sudden sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor was used to incite public concern and outrage against Spain, who then held Cuba as a colony. The Maine added fuel to a media firestorm that was eventually responsible for the Spanish-American war, even though, to this day, there is significant evidence to suggest that the Maine sank due to a boiler explosion and not an attack of some sort. Even if the Maine was blown up by explosives or a torpedo, there is no evidence to prove that Spain was behind the act, and it might have been an act by American political interests, as far as anyone knows. The use of fear by the U.S. media and political interests, however, was key.
Both wars based on false pretenses and the blockage of universal health care have occurred repeatedly. The creation of an all-inclusive public health care system was tried several times in the past century, but each time was put down by special interest groups who incited fear in the public via the media, publicizing statements that the Kaiser’s armies (or the Red Army in the post-WWII period) would soon be marching in the streets of the United States. The same reprehensible tactics are being deployed against the people again today, at a time when our health care system (and especially our health insurance system) is in the worst condition we’ve seen in decades.
Media power has only increased since the advent of newspapers. As technology has developed, however, the media have become ever more pervasive in our lives, and now penetrate most people’s consciousness almost any time except when they are asleep. Is this just a feature of human nature that will continue to repeat itself ad infinitum into the future? I think so. Our only protection is in acquiring knowledge and exercising critical thinking, and we need to promote these skills in our youth as well as in ourselves.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Bill Moyers’ Journal, July 31, 2009, including interview with Wendell Potter