On the rare occasion that I get a moment alone with an old friend, a recurring problem rears its ugly head. Instead of taking a walk, doing a keg-stand or driving down a windy mountain road at night with the headlights off as they might have done in their youth, it seems many of my old pals have taken to the unsavory, hazardous past-time of ingesting lethal quantities of cable news and snarky social commentary. Catching up on what’s been going on turns into a recital of abrupt talking points gleaned from the headlines and endless news feeds that have been scrolling before them.
The most remarkable thing that I have noticed from this trend is just how miserable the experience of consuming mass media leaves the viewer, yet they can’t seem to turn away. It’s like a painful plastic surgery that they just cannot stop subjecting themselves too. It’s a boob job and a rhinoplasty that their suffering self-image must have every chance they get.
News programming of all types seems to exist for the purpose of convincing the viewer that they are somehow ahead of the pack. By watching the same show that millions of others are watching, they are somehow joining an elite. They Know. They Care. Even if they have limited their activities to sitting around and being told what to think by corporate and state-owned media giants, they are somehow in touch with the world. The results of being “in-touch”: They feel angry and isolated. They are actively living less than ever, yet the weight of the world as filtered through the TV set is crushing them.
The experience is mirrored in the university system, where students who could not have graduated fifth grade forty years ago are given the false notion that they are special and intelligent simply by taking on the mass-approved trappings of intelligence. The glasses, the bookshelves full of clever titles by Howard Zinn, Noam Chompsky and Gore Vidal as well as the right bumper stickers are enough to fool themselves into thinking that they have arrived on the dry ground of intellectual competence.
In both cases, the experience of joining this elite non-elite is very disappointing. The faithful must constantly espouse their borrowed beliefs to everyone every chance they get, no matter what. Not only are they to constantly seek the approval of others who agree with them, but they are desperate to find someone to argue with as well so that they may repeat the talking points just like they rehearsed alone in the car on their way to the sushi bar. It is a tiresome existence, and there are no real rewards to be had for the simple reason that the experience is fake; it is a forgery of an intellectual existence. It is a substitute for lived experience, and far too often, it is a substitute for an actual personality.
Adherents to the Information Myth learn the unpleasant personal traits and mannerisms of the pseudo-intellectual. Mockery, snobbishness, and outbursts of indignation become their stock and trade. Virtue signaling becomes a nervous, obsessive habit taking the place of actual virtue.
Taking on the tone and opinions of mass media is the default action of those who are not truly informed, just as watching hours of television daily is the default activity of those who stubbornly refuse to live life to the fullest. It is really nothing more than converting laziness into virtue. Knowing deep down that they are charlatans causes them intense dysphoria and a desperate insecurity. The ever-shifting goal post of post-modern morality exacerbates their rootlessness and the mental athleticism necessary to make their convoluted points is exhausting. The alienation from old friends and family who have not given in to the sad song of their favorite piper drives them only further into despair, leaving the scowling, rat-faced talking heads on their intellectual feeding tube as their only companions.
At the heart of the Information Myth is the need for an identity, a story, a reason for living. The cruel reality is that the dominant media narrative is intended to strip them of these very things. The quest for knowledge is supplanted by a thirst for delusion, just as their quest for identity is replaced by a pundit-prescribed mass hysteria, a hysteria that they must breathlessly spread at the cost of their own dignity and happiness.
-By Robert E. Lieberman