Today’s Guest Post comes from Cassie Phillips of Culture Coverage:
There’s a war for your mind. While this statement can be cast aside as hyperbolic fearmongering, there is no denial that media, art, words and publishing have had a massive impact in molding our social mindset throughout history. From the playwrights of ancient Greece to our modern media culture, all the information we absorb has an incredible effect on our belief system in some way or another.
The question is no longer about whether the war is happening. Now we have to look at how it’s happening. How much of a problem is it? What can we do to become more aware of what’s going on and combat misinformation?
The History Of Storytelling
The power of the story is something that has been discussed at length over time. It’s undeniable that our ability to tell tales and share information in this way has significantly contributed to our success as a species. Shared anecdotes allowed our prehistoric forefathers to protect themselves from wild animals. Religious texts give people a moral compass to work from. Plays, movies and novels allow us to empathize with experiences we have never even had.
The part of our brain responsible for this, the frontal cortex, has allowed us to rationalize our instincts, use foresight and be reflective of our actions and their social impact. So, in essence, the sharing of media and published work isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. The real problem, in my opinion, arises when imposing powers try and control and censor these shared stories.
The Dawn of Censorship
The English Civil War saw the dawn of mass-censorship and, with it, the first consideration of its subsequent impact. John Milton, a scholarly and inspirational Cambridge student, wrote an incredible speech in response to the 1643 parliamentary decision, which stated all publications must be approved by authorities before printing.
Aptly named “Areopagitica” in reference to a famous Athenian work that addressed the reduction of powers for the public council of the time, Milton’s critique of the censorship order is still alarmingly relevant in today’s world. His poignant statement that he “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God” highlights the importance of freedom of expression.
To me, this quote speaks of the human tendency to play god. In order words, believing that one man (the censor) has more authority than the other (the creator) to decide what material should be censored, is raising themselves to a position of divinity. In the same speech, his talk of the “search for truth” has provided us with a basis for the understanding that freedom of information and expression is paramount for the progression of humanity.
The Current Political/Social Climate
2016 is already set to be a pivotal year in politics regarding these issues. Considering the threat of international terror, the birth of controversial US electoral campaigns and the rise of worldwide political extremism, there seems to be more talk than ever of media control and the censorship of ideology.
Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric has already had an incredibly destructive impact on the public opinion of a major world religion. The socialist views of Bernie Sanders have been regularly misinterpreted and slandered by mainstream media. All over the world, websites are being blocked before they’re even been seen by the public.
Through marketing, newspapers and TV reports, we are bombarded everyday by the idea that we need more: more comfort, more security, more safety, more things. We are taught that there is always a reason to be scared and have created a society of fear as a result. We have given up our privacy and freedom under the guise of protection. To add to this, as Noam Chomsky attests to, we have given our consent to all of these ideas and cultural shifts.
The Chomsky Theory
“Propaganda is to democracy, as violence is to dictatorship.” This statement is a fantastic summary of Chomsky’s 1988 book release and the related documentary. He talks about how, in lieu of force, indoctrination is all that’s left to control society. Whether this is done intentionally or not, it’s undeniable that the mainstream media monopolizes our views of every event on which it reports.
While I’m not going to claim that a higher power is purposefully manipulating us to think a certain way, the very nature of modern information distribution means this is most definitely the result. The rich and elite run most media outlets and, with giants such as News Corp, are responsible for such a large amount of information published worldwide. It soon becomes obvious that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways of possible perspectives and ways of thinking.
The Age of the Internet
Fortunately, not all hope is lost, and the fact that you’re here and reading this article proves that the problem can be still be conquered. The creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee was conceived on truly egalitarian principles. It was developed in order to allow equality in the distribution of information.
The news sources we now have access to are varied and numerous, and can be visited from all over the globe. We can read the thoughts of people we’ve never met and balance contrasting ideals by researching different viewpoints. While some alternative online media outlets are still being blocked by governments, even this can easily be overcome by installing a installing a Virtual Private Network, which allows people to easily bypass these geographical restrictions.
The Self-Publishing Revolution
Alongside this, online publishing sources mean that writers can now self-distribute their work. This gives rise to a whole myriad of opinions and ideas that would be stringently banned from mainstream outlets. Similarly, the recent rise of blogging culture has created a basis for the discussion and sharing of information, which means this generation will possibly never have the need to pick up a newspaper or watch network news.
Our virtual world has given a voice to even the most oppressed of people. It stands as the most powerful tool in our arsenal for a revolution of thought. While it’s true that the progressive commercialization of the platform is beginning to pose a problem, it will never take away the true freedom of press that is provides.
To summarize, take advantage of the age we live in and share your ideas! The war for your mind has existed since the dawn of civilization and isn’t going to end soon, so all that’s left is to join the battle yourself. It’s long been stated that the pen is mightier than the sword. That burden has now shifted to the keyboard.
And in the spirit of freedom of thought, we’d love to hear what you think about this article. Be sure to leave a comment below and continue the discussion!
Cassie Phillips is a culture and technology writer who enjoys ruminating on topics such as the flow of information and how our culture affects our ability to think critically. She hopes that you’ve enjoyed and learned something from this piece.
cover image by JD Hancock