A growing trend on social media and, increasingly, internet conversation, is a deep and vicious dislike of being told what to do, think and behave by other people. To some extent this is wholly laudable; on the other it’s one of the most idiotic and perilous facets of modern life. To varying degrees and across the political spectrum hatred, mistrust and frustration are fuelling the successes of Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage and dozens more. And this can all be explained with a short clip from venerable science-fiction show Red Dwarf.
The Mainstream Media (MSM) is one of the banes of our modern existence – the vocal part of the military-inudstrial complex determined to keep us down, tell us lies and advance the wishes of our masters. It wants us to stay in Europe, stay in NATO, get rid of Jeremy Corbyn and feed us messages inimical to our own interests: from climate change to Europe to Donald Trump.
Or is it? The belief that the media is working against our interest through bias, selective reporting and outright lies is one of the prevailing beliefs of our times. Yet the reality of this situation is far more complex that the black-and-white certainties of the modern age. Another prevailing phenomenon is a deep mistrust of those identified as elites, and this is another difficult situation to explain.
Cynicism can be healthy, vital even. But at one extreme it can mean that people are inclined to ignore the advice of scientists, economists, doctors… people who have spent their lives devoted to knowing what they’re talking about. This reached its apotheosis during the Brexit campaign when Michael Gove said these actual words: “People in this country have had enough of experts”.
Had enough of experts. Just consider that phrase for a few moments. In a world where knowledge, experience and judgment have become dirty words we might as well start playing with lead soldiers, take up smoking when we’re 12 and driving without wearing seatbelts again.
Saying that I have a few fantasy scenarios where Michael Gove might ‘ignore the advice of experts:
A sherpa: “I wouldn’t walk out onto that slippy precipice overlooking a 1000-foot drop Mr Gove.”
A fireman: “Your plan to unicycle into that burning building while doused in petrol is an error, in my opinion, Mr Gove.”
A physicist: “Juggling plutonium bars is likely to blast your body in harmful radiation, leading to a painful death, Mr Gove.”
Pshaw. What do these ‘experts’ know anyway?! They are elites so anything they say can be disregarded. It reminds me of an early episode of Red Dwarf, Confidence & Paranoia, where two elements of Dave Lister’s psyche are made real. Confidence, the positive side of the coin, eventually tries to convince him that he doesn’t need oxygen in deep space and anyone who tells him otherwise is a ‘loser always trying to make you feel small’. In an attempt to prove that what he’s saying is true, Confidence takes his own space helmet off – and explodes into a million pieces.
That, in a nutshell, is the modern discourse across politics and the media. Doctors. Teachers. Scientists. Politicians. Anything any of them say can now be ignored, ridiculed or attacked because of anti-intellectualism, inverse snobbery, jealousy or contempt. And in every newspaper, on every TV channel there’s a modern-day Confidence telling us that there are losers around every corner trying to make us feel small.
Donald Trump and the Brexiteers (surely a pub-rock band name) are the most obvious examples of this, despite the fact that they are some of the richest people in the public eye and are demonstrable liars. But their willing accomplices are the newspapers and echo-chmber TV channels. The MSM. So why do I object to the denigration of the mainstream media?
Mainly because it’s a kissing cousin of the same paranoid attitude towards ‘so-called experts’. The media can be a dangerous beast: Fox News, Russia Today, The Sun, The Mail and The Telegraph are all organs of vested interests, compromised to varying degrees and with different editorial lines and standards. And most media in the United Kingdom is shown again and again to be unconsciously biased through the editorial focus they give to certain issues, or choose to present tinfoil-hatted fringe nutters as valid sources.
Mistrust of these media sources – the BBC, Guardian, Times, Economist, Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Channel 4, anyone – means that we’re inclined to instinctively reject anything that we don’t want to hear, because it’s ‘bias’, in modern parlance.
In the news vacuum have sprung up people to promise to give it to us straight, unvarnished and with a distinct lack of political awareness. Unfortunately they tend to be complete crazies, attention-seeking careerists or the sort of people you wouldn’t sit next to on the bus. They are, frankly much less trustworthy than most of the sources they rail against.
What exists in modern distrust of the MSM and those identified as elites (those so-called experts) is a very Marxist critique of the media and bourgeoisie. But it’s something else too: a misdirected, dangerous and fundamentally stupid rejection of advice from very clever people who know exactly what they’re talking about.
Reject it and you risk disaster. You may not literally explode into a million pieces, but a fate just as grisly awaits those who dismiss out-of-hand the messages they don’t want to hear.
Trump image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr