Friday, January 21, 2022

Media Are a Plural (Noun [So is "Data"]): On Not Making the Job Easier for Right-Wing Propagandists

     In his flawed, old, and still-totally-essential study, The True Believer (1951), Eric Hoffer talks about devils and their ideal number for politics and propaganda.

It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. […] Stalin, too, adheres to the monotheistic principle when picking a devil.  […] (§ 67)

This is a bit of an overstatement, but useful: If your goal is demonization, it's best to have a conglomerate target, where your audience won't get confused and/or resistant with thinking up exceptions. If your target for demonization is "the Jew," the people you want to move aren't tempted to think of Jews (plural) they might know who are not demons. 

    Nowadays, most of us don't talk of "the Jew" or "the Black" or "the White Man" (although you can still hear a Canadian Jew use the last term in THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ — now streaming! — from 1974); and this is progress. We still, though, too often lump together large and disparate groups and talk about "the Americans," for example, in ways too casual for discussing the neighbors as actual people in an actual "the neighborhood."

    And many of us talk and write about "the media ... it," a singular.

    First off, an old, Leftist magazine like The Nation just isn't the respectable Right-wing National Review, much less Fox News or Rupert Murdoch's UK tabloid The Sun; and none of them are Pravda under Stalin or Sports Illustrated — or graffiti or movies or talk-radio.

    More relevant here, keeping "media" a plural makes it just a little bit harder for demagogues and their operatives to lump the media all together, demonize them as an It — and get the demagogues' True Believer followers to believe only the demagogues and their operatives.

    "Data" is more subtle. Hoffer talks about how an effective mass movement in its active phase — think of a very large cult, on the move — takes a potential True Believer and makes him (mostly males at this stage) fanatically loyal to the cause. One technique is "
interposing a fact-proof screen between him and reality
" (§ 43). But this is for the hard-core and usually requires doctrine and indoctrination. 

    For us in the United States in the 2020's, conscious evil doctrines — though serious — may be less of an immediate threat than just a general impatience with facts and impatience with a scientific/critical attitude and approach to the world. This gets complicated, including how cold and alienating the facts of the human condition in the universe. One simple thing, though, is that people would be less pushed toward impatience if they didn't hear about a singular "data" from which "Science" makes clear, consistent, and rarely-changing pronouncements. In the messy real world, workers in various sciences work with varying sets of data to try to make sense of those (plural) data. New and different data: different hypotheses, different advice (and, yes, I'm thinking about CoViD-19 and complaints about inconsistency and changing rules/advice). 

    So plural for "data," please, and let's use "Science" pretty rarely and for one way humans ask questions of the universe — a philosophical sort of thing — and "sciences" when getting to the nitty-gritty of dealing with something as complex and very messy as a pandemic.