Thursday, February 27, 2014

News: A User's Manual

Alain De Botton, author of the book "News: A User's Manual" was on NPR "On Point" talking about how consumers can get more out of the news.  

De Botton assure us that news isn't a conspiracy with a few white men in a room somewhere pulling all the levers.  However, he does confess the news system is much more "sinister" than that. De Botton says that if he were a monarch in control of information, he would not practice censorship but do as the system does now by hiding the truth under a mountain of other distracting information and differing opinions.

De Botton recommends that news consumers be educated and infomed about the news process that it is not organic but very much artificial and manufactured. And, he says, that an informed consumer in our current media environment will better be able to self-select, evaluate, and internalize that news that is most important and impactful.

De Botton recommends that news reporters be open about their bias and advocates hearing the news from more points of view. He says it is disingenuous for a reporter to claim their reporting is unbiased.  Also, that the news should report from more perspectives and points of view than just a far right and far left bias.  

Finally, he says news isn't just to "hold power to account" but also for the benefit and advancement of society.  De Botton also says that our news fascination with death, murder, and accidents is not a bad thing but reminds us of our mortality.

First, the media IS a conspiracy controlled by a few mega-corporations. The control of the media has been consolidated into the hands of just a few individuals.  These few use both censorship and distraction to hide the truth.  Also, the media uses software systems that allow editors to monitor, skew and censor information at the very moment the stories are being written.  

However,  it is not true that education alone will help.  In this age were we can now self-select our information, knowing is only half the battle.  It is NOT true that an informed public will necessarily care about the truth.  If the public has been demoralized, then the demoralized people will look for illusion and dillusion to explain the facts which reinforce and validate their immoral, self-serving behavior. The darkness does not comprehend the light. Americans must be a moral people and not just an educated people.

It is true that a free press is an important check and balance on the Government.  Democracy is not just about having a vote but also having accurate information and a vote.  It is NOT true that the purpose of news is for the betterment, advancement and improvement of society.  Who determines what is advanced, better, or improved?  A better focus of news is to create a moral society based on the Bible's "golden rule" to do unto others what you would have them do unto you.  Government leaders should also be chosen based on their morality and not merit.

Finally, De Bottom equated the media with religion.  However, media's purpose should not be to constantly remind man of his mortality. This fear-based programing can lead to a "You-only-live-once" and "eat drink and be merry" attitude.  Instead, religion's purpose is a faith-based message to get individuals to develop an eternal perspective.  The true perspective is that this life is a test to see if man can delay immediate gratification in return for a better, infinite and eternal reward in the next life.

We all know about the famous psychological test with kids and marshmallows where children are given amarshmallow  and told they can have 5 more if they just wait 5 minutes.  Some kids for whatever can't wait and immediately devour their marshmellow. Researchers have tracked these children and found those with impulse control generally do poorly in nearly every aspect of their lives. Religion simply explains life as a huge eternal and infinite marshmellow experiment. If we can just learn to delay immediate gratification, develop impulse control, self-restraint and self-mastery, we are promised infinite blessings in the next life.

It really is disturbing that there are many institutions and organizations out there set up to promote fear, a focus on death, and in a real way, encourage people to just eat their marshmallow.

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