Hey Hey, We're the Monkeys! Evolving and Adapting in Cyberspace
As I mentioned the other day, the news is not just the news, but the appropriation of an institution for the promulgation of a particular worldview. Although the left makes a big deal out of the existence of Fox Cable News, I frankly find little difference between Fox and the liberal media with regard to their implicit views on the nature of reality. Based on their allocation of resources, both think that the Foley scandal is of earth shattering significance. So too was the story of the nut who falsely confessed to the Jon Benet Ramsey murder.
Somehow, all the major newspapers and TV stations end up covering the same stories. The Foley and Ramsey stories would have been noted only in passing in the blogosphere, except perhaps by some people with very peculiar interests. (We are not discussing the left wing blogosphere here, as it is simply the MSM with profanity.) Likewise, Abu Ghraib would have been a one day story, in contrast to the New York Times, which had dozens of front page stories on it in order to mislead the public and advance their leftist agenda.
My father used to wonder how it was possible that all the gas stations sold gas at roughly the same price, within pennies of each other. How was this possible? Was there some kind of collusion, some kind of gentlemen’s agreement to set a certain price and not go any lower than that?
This occurred to me while reading the new book on the philosopher Michael Polanyi. Prior to officially becoming a philosopher at the age of 58 in 1947, Polanyi had been a very successful scientist, publishing some 200 or more papers. But his scientific background formed the basis of his emerging philosophy, because it was through his own scientific experimentation that he realized that the nature of knowing is not what people--especially scientists--believe it to be.
That is, Polanyi understood that the caricature of the detached and dispassionate scientific observer was all wrong. Rather, the creative scientist was “passionate in his quest to make contact with a reality that he necessarily believes is real and knowable” (Mitchell). Furthermore, he recognized long prior to the elite economists of his day that, just as a planned economy results in hunger and privation, a planned science would destroy science.
Rather, science could only be grounded in liberty, not just any liberty, but within a teleological liberty aimed at disclosing transcendent truth. One must be committed to truth while, at the same time, refrain from explicitly defining that truth at the outset. One of the reasons why Polanyi was such a creative scientist was that he came to science as an outsider, and was therefore not committed to certain widely held "truths" that had stymied other scientists. One can say the same thing for his philosophy, as he approached problems in an entirely fresh way, not knowing that he was “wasting his time.” In so doing, he avoided the institutionalized errors of professional philosophers.
Polanyi was fascinated by the paradox of how we can know truth before we know it, in the form of tacit presuppositions that guide our quest for knowledge. That is, 90% of the battle in science is identifying a deep and fruitful problem, one that can be solved. But how does one know ahead of time what is a good problem? One doesn’t actually begin with a random hypothesis, for if the scientist “were required to make a list of every possible solution and then test each one systematically, he would spend a lifetime on one or at most two very simple problems. In reality, the scientist eliminates the vast majority of possible solutions without testing them. How does he do this?”
In other words, a good--or bad--hypothesis is already a deep statement about one’s unarticulated beliefs about the nature of reality. Mitchell puts it this way: “When we seek understanding, we either know what we are seeking or not. If we know what we are looking for, we need look no further, for we already possess understanding. On the other hand, if we do not know what we are looking for, how can we proceed? It is impossible to pursue what we do not know, and it is unnecessary to pursue what we already possess.”
One may think that this is an arcane philosophical point, but many civilizations have been shipwrecked on its rocks. The Muslim world, for example, decided long ago that science was unnecessary, because if it discovered something that contradicted the Koran, then it was false, whereas if it discovered something that confirmed the Koran, it was unnecessary. With this tautology, Muslims said ta-ta ta' modernity.
In fact, I believe this epistemological problem is at the heart of the three-headed civilizational battle we are currently waging between leftism, Islamism, and classical American liberalism. The problem of Islam speaks for itself. But the same problem applies to the left, for it too attempts to seal the book of knowledge and prevent thought from straying into forbidden areas. Just as it believes in a topdown command economy, it believes in a “command intelligentsia” that enforces a particular view of reality from on high. Its means is the takeover of the elite media and of academia from preschool through graduate school, and its method is political correctness. And the higher you move up through the system, the greater the pressure to conform to a certain tacit worldview.
For example, as a psychologist, I feel this pressure acutely, as my professional organization has been taken over by leftist activists who determine everything from the nature of mental illness to the ethics that must inform our practice--even if it means that illness must be called health and morality must be called unethical.
Back to our original question of why the mass media is so blandly uniform. Clearly, in order to move up the ranks of the liberal media machine, one must internalize a certain view of the world at each and every step of the way. This is why you can turn on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and it’s all the same--the same as the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, et al.
But this is also why these institutions are slowly dying, whereas talk radio and the internet will continue to grow and gain in influence. With regard to the internet, it will eventually bring down the liberal media because it mirrors the practice of science in obeying the laws of how our understanding of reality is deepened.
That is, just like science--and unlike the liberal media--the blogosphere is polycentric, made up of hundreds and thousands of individual minds, each with its own view of reality. However, a spontaneous order emerges due to the constant horizontal feedback between individual practitioners. Unlike the liberal media, no one is “calling the shots” and deferring to some ultimate arbiter of reality like the New York Times. While it is a very messy process, it is in the end a much more accurate one, since it will quickly evolve, adjust and adapt in ways that the rigid liberal media cannot possibly do.
It is well understood in complexity theory that rigid order produces disorder, while spontaneous order emerges from chaos. Just as an infinitely complex and ordered economy emerges from the chaotic free market, the same principle applies to the internet. The attempt of the liberal media to impose its view of reality on the rest of us leaves all sorts of interesting and critically important interstices and niches that are completely ignored by the MSM. People such as Charles Johnson at LGF have jumped in to fill those niches. And this is why Err America is such a dismal failure, because they are attempting to fill a niche that does not exist, as it is already filled to the brim with the bland and predictable views of the liberal MSM.
Rule One in evolution: if you want to evolve, identify a new niche that no one else inhabits. This is what pre-human monkeys did when they came down from the trees and began wandering around the savannah. As little blogging monkeys, we can look behind us and see our empty-eyed and slack-jawed big media furbears contentedly sitting up in their sky-scraping trees. But that is the past. They are like our present day monkeys and apes whose ancestors made that fateful decision to play it safe and scoff at the hairless little upright bipeds scurrying about chaotically below.