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Here Be Dragons. Part 2: MGM + MSM = Faux News(peak)

August 24, 2009 2 comments

In case you forgot your secret integral decoder ring:

MGM = the “Mean Green Meme”
MSM = Mainstream Media
Faux News = the brutal disembowelment of journalistic integrity

Brent Simpson has written a great followup to his discussion about conspiracy theory over on Integral Life, and i thought i would post my latest response here.

Brent, you are doing an exquisite job with this, allowing yourself access to so many perspectives–even those teetering precariously on the fringe–while keeping your own approach as grounded as possible, which can be very difficult to do when dealing with this sort of material.  Keep up the great work; you have obviously hit on a topic that i am rabidly fascinated with.

I think that as long as we can keep just a few parameters in mind, this conversation can go a long way toward identifying some of the major obstacles that stand in the path of implementing any of our visions of an “Integral World Federation”  And i personally agree that there is no greater obstacle to this newly-emerging potential than the power elite.

Just a few things i like to keep in mind:

– One of the greatest weaknesses in conspiracy theory is the temptation to wrap over-simplified mythologies around extremely complex realities, often framing the struggle as one between classic conceptions of good vs. evil, oppressed vs. oppressor, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader.  Most conspiracy theory does not take into account the full range of human motivation, even among the power elite themselves.

– Conversely, many conspiracy theorists prefer needlessly complex and convoluted narratives over more straight-forward interpretations, in desperate need of an appointment at Occam’s Barber Shop.  (See, for example, the supposed “moon landing hoax” conspiracies. Much simpler to just go there and simply cover up what you found, than it is to hoax the whole damn thing ^_^)

– A great preponderance of conspiracy theory is fueled by green anti-modernist sentiments, which often undermine both their perceptions and conclusions about life in the 21st century.  These are the people who use the internet to protest anti-globalization, or who fancy themselves revolutionaries because they wear Che Guevera t-shirts that were actually made in China.  It’s important for us to find a way to have a conversation about the New World Order set in a worldview that frames our growth toward globalization in a positive light.  Which brings us to….

– Eros, baby.  Not even the power elite can escape its grasp.  Whether they know it or not, they are part of the story of our mutual becoming, just as much as anyone else.  And they are playing their role precisely as they should be, creating exactly the sort of evolutionary tension we need to propel ourselves to the next level of self-organization.

I have a few comments about the examples you cite of conspiracy within military, economic, industrial, and entertainment complexes, which is exactly where you would want to begin when trying to determine the influence of the power elite on American (and, by effect, global) society.  But unfortunately, i don’t have as much time to respond as i would like, so i will just touch on one piece i have been thinking about lately, which is around the corporate-controlled mainstream media and the 24-hour news cycle.

The other night Chuck Todd was on Bill Maher’s show, and he was expressing his own consternation that he has to share the arena of “media” (i think he was specifically referring to “journalism”) with people like Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, who make a career out of distorting truth, fabricating reality, and espousing traditional values rather than offering an objective view of the facts and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions.  A couple decades ago, these people would have never have even been invited to the grown-up table on Thanksgiving.  But now, it seems, you can use something like Fox News to carpet bomb American society with partial truths and propaganda, leaving it to the other networks to clean up the mess, while knowing that the lies will “stick” with enough of the pre-rational fringe to disrupt our most important media cycles.  This is why when you turn on the TV hoping for a reasonable debate about health care, one that presents the facts on both sides of the argument in a cool and rational way, but instead find images of gun-toting protesters, hanging effigies of congressmen, and posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache (which i imagine must be hideously insulting to holocaust survivors and their decendants…).

Many people point the finger at Rupert Murdoch, and consider him a direct conspirator behind the artificially-stoked culture wars that are preventing any real solutions from being surfaced.  But i think he is just playing his role as a capitalist, following the money wherever it takes him.  Our current journalistic malaise is not (solely) due to corporate conspiracy to keep us down by keeping us dumb, but is an inevitable result of liberal media itself, coupled with the exponential growth of information technology.  Having only three network channels to choose from forced us into a sort of journalistic objectivity, and someone like Walter Cronkite was able to report across ideological lines and be heard by multiple values at once.

But as communications technology continued to accelerate, our viewing options continued to increase, and postmodernist criticism of objectivity itself continued to saturate academia,the entire milieu of journalism began to change right before our eyes until we found ourselves exactly where we are–a plurality of news sources, each uniquely customized to various values propositions up and down the spectrum of development, each catering to its own (usually mutually exclusive) audience demographic.  As a result, it is now almost completely impossible to send a single message to all of America–or for a single lie to be debunked for all of America–a reality that many politicians have already begun using to their advantage (I’m looking at you, Palin…).

I don’t actually think all of this unfolded according to some secret Illuminati plan, as the technologies involved (especially the internet) were largely disruptive technologies–meaning they were innovations no one could have really seen coming, with consequences no one could have fully predicted.  But it did create fresh and fertile soil for corporate opportunism, especially as the expansion of news media became more and more dependent upon Neilson ratings and advertising sponsorships.

Of course, news media now has way too much span for way too little depth, and has already begun collapsing under its own weight.  Journalism is beginning to eat itself–anchormen are being replaced by entertainers, journalists replaced by commentators, and investigative reporters replaced by stay-at-home bloggers.  We no longer report facts, we report values.  We no longer search for objective truth, we search for ways to reinforce the things we already believe.  As a result, the power elite now has an entirely new place to hide their skeletons: right in plain sight for all to see (and none to notice).

Anyway, i think it is a delicious twist of irony that the only reason that people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck can find a spotlight in the mainstream media is because of the high-minded pluralistic values that have emerged in the past 50 years, which has simultaneously raised the bar for journalistic sophistication, while almost entirely deconstructing our collective need for journalistic objectivity (or even integrity).

“There is no objective truth, just endless interpretations of truth. And no single interpretation can be any better or any worse than any other interpretation.  Therefore, there is no essential difference between Sean Hannity’s truth and Rachel Maddow’s truth.” -Extreme Postmodern Strawman

“Take your aperspectival nihilism and shove it up your mean green ass.” -Extreme Integral Strawman

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Here Be Dragons: Conspiracy Theory and the Power Elite

Here Be Dragons: Conspiracy Theory and the Power Elite

August 21, 2009 8 comments

Someone recently posted a blog in the Integral Life community titled “Perhaps There is a Big Elephant in the Integral Room,” in which Brent Simpson asks:

“Over the last few months I have come across Alex Jones. His views to say the least are radical. He is positing that the government (at the highest levels)… is already non-left/right (Something Wilber pushes for & I believe could be wonderfully powerful if just people run the show). Jones’ view is that however, the left/right paradigm is a hoax it is used as a means to rile people into partisan thought. Where in reality the control is really coming from banking elite. Wacky right? I agree… it sounds/is far out. But, the far out-ness of it does not on its own negate its possibility of truth. As truth claims must be empirically looked into right?

Here’s the scary thing… he in my view provides some real suggestive evidence that there may well be some real truths to what he has to say. The stuff is far out no doubt… but it requires personal inquiry to ascertain if such important info is or isn’t true.

Look for yourself: http://www.infowars.com & http://www.prisonplanet.com”

Brian Oconnell responded by saying:

“Too much reality might make Integral’s and Ken’s Vision have to be revised. The LR would look much different with the truths your pointing to…. Integral thinks it has a grasp of the LR. But does not understanding banking 101. Integral needs a LR awakening and quick before the Elite blob takes over Integral hopes.”

Here was my response.

As a life-long enthusiast of conspiracy theory, i’ve kept an eye on everything from Alex Jones to the Masons, to the Bilderbergers, and all the way to glass domes on the moon, structures on Mars, ancient astronauts, and various forms of (occasionally illicit) extraterrestrial liaison.  Not only is it wildly entertaining to wrap interesting mythologies around the complexity of modern life, it’s also a great way to remind myself of everything i don’t know—and i personally think that it is extremely important for even our best maps of reality to acknowledge the mind boggling mystery at the periphery of understanding, dark seas of incomprehension scribed with warnings that plainly read: “Here Be Dragons.”

The problem with most conspiracy theory is that, when followed through to the end with a critical eye, any particular theory ends up appearing hopelessly naive.  However, it is equally naive to think that, in a world with as dramatically imbalanced a distribution of wealth as ours, there are no conspiracy theories at all.  American and European history has been decidedly influenced by a plethora of secret societies, each with its own sphere of influence, control, and power.  Let’s be clear—those with the most wealth and power will almost always manipulate the system so they can maintain that power.  And they use tactics that have been in play since at least the Roman Empire—even the Babylonian, if you listen to Alex Jones.  But, outside the world of comic books and caped crusaders (the Guild of Calamitous Intent notwithstanding), it is hard to imagine any single room of people powerful enough (or competent enough with their power) to successfully manipulate and control the thoughts and values of over six billion individual agents around the world.

Conspiracies certainly exist, but no prison is strong enough to confine Eros.

Much of the confusion, i believe, is due to an unnecessary personification of the “nexus-agency” of the lower right quadrant—e.g. Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”—there is a very real “intelligence” to the LR quadrant, a self-organizing force that we have begun to intuit, but have found difficult to account for (at least before Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant map made it explicit)—and while looking for some way to “ground” this LR intelligence in the real world, we naturally project it onto the power elite.  After all, if there anyone who could influence the political, industrial, military, and entertainment worlds, it would certainly be the top .0001% of the wealthiest people in the world.  But to think that any of them would be capable of subverting more than 500 years of individual liberty, enslaving the free-thinkers of the world under some sort of monolithic New World Order aegis of global totalitarianism (as Alex Jones suggests) is hopelessly naive, and radically overestimates our own sway on the forces of evolution in this lonely pocket of the galaxy.

It reminds me of my favorite argument against those who believe the Bush administration was responsible for 9/11*—do you really think that those responsible for the FEMA, Guantanamo Bay, and Iraqi WMD fiascos could really carry out an operation as incomprehensibly complex as a 9/11 coverup?**

As to Brian’s comment that “the LR would look much different with the truths you’re pointing to”—would it really?  Isn’t this thirst for wealth and power pretty much covered by the “Red” stage of development?  And isn’t it made pretty explicit that any level of cognition can be hijacked by ego-centric values, and that these power-hungry values can even be dressed up (double-speak style) with the language of pretty much any other stage of values?  While i agree that the integral treatment of political science has remained highly abstract and conceptual, and its real-world implementation needs to take into account the fact that the power elite and the developmental elite seem to share almost no overlap whatsoever, i don’t think our distribution of wealth and power does anything to “break” the integral model.  I also think it can accommodate the concept of “esoteric” and “exoteric” power dynamics as they exist today and throughout history, which is what most political conspiracy theory concerns itself with.

Again, i think it is foolish to believe any given conspiracy theory, on it’s own merit.  The truth is too big, too complex, and most likely too compartmentalized for even the conspirators themselves to fully understand.  And it is easy to become seduced by the sorts of generalizations people like Alex Jones throw around so easily, such as the idea that distinctions between the American Right and Left are mere Illuminati illusions—one only needs to look at the deeply-embedded culture wars of America to see that, on an ideological level, the Left and the Right represent some very real distinctions of modern political thought.  That is, even if the American political system has been manipulated on a structural level by the power elite, it is still inhabited by a plurality of different perspectives—some red, some amber, some orange, some green, some teal, and some turquoise.  Some valuing individualist libertarianism, some collectivist socialism.  Some emphasizing interior values, some emphasizing exterior conditions.  Some socially liberal, some socially conservative; some fiscally liberal, some fiscally conservative.  Again, although i agree that the integral community still needs to find more pragmatic interpretations of real-world power dynamics, we already have all the conceptual tools we need to do so—we just need to continue unfolding the map and unpacking some of these insights.

Personally, i have noticed that i have grown far less interested in conspiracies of imprisonment, and more interested in conspiracies of jailbreak—that is, if any one of the thousands of possible conspiracies was actually true, it would be extraterrestrial contact that would have the potential of radically reconfiguring our integral maps.  Nothing would stretch our definitions of the word “integral” more than interplanetary contact.  Just a couple weeks ago at Ken’s loft, he said something along the lines of “right now in history, we have the biggest opportunity we will ever have to integrate all the world’s knowledge and to get a real sense of the universal—until we make extraterrestrial contact, when we will have to compare our integrated world-truth with all the other integrated world-truths that are out there.”  But we don’t even need to be so visionary—i think that even finding a single microorganism in the seas of Europa would be enough to galvanize a massive upswell of human consciousness, as we would have a new symbolic “other” by which to contrast a new global sense of “us.”

You can almost smell the pot fumes with this sort of dorm-room philosophizing ^_^

* Which is an entirely different group of people than those who believe the Bush administration wasn’t directly responsible for executing the 9/11 attacks, but knew it was going to happen and allowed it to, precipitated by Cheney’s confession that we “need” a “new Pearl Harbor”—which i find to be a far more believable accusation.

** Just so i don’t come off as a typical liberal Bush-basher (though it can sometimes seem like shooting whales in a barrel) i will say in self-defense that i am horribly disappointed that the media has been ignoring the admirable success of his AIDS work in Africa, as it’s been recently estimated that his actions are responsible for saving the lives of over one million people.  It was a shining diamond in the eight-year rough that should receive far more acknowledgment than it does.  For some reason i doubt very much that Dick Cheney was closely involved in that one.  (Yes, i am a typical liberal Cheney basher.)

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