In 1978, ex-advertising executive Jerry Mander wrote an insider's book, entitled Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. It became a slow-growth classic. It is still in print, and still reaching a limited, but aware audience.
I have a feeling and a thesis that the arguments that Mander makes against television are also valid for all the other venues of media "entertainment," including books and other fantasy.
The overall argument also pertains to the artificial world that most people live in the artificial values, goal, products and nutrients. It pertains to television, movies, magazines, music, fiction, and automobiles.
It pertains to the Matrix.
For most Americans, reality is not real. Everything that they see and experience is filtered by them, according to their culture. It is mediated by others. The actual real world is selectively interpreted to fit cultural beliefs, political myths, economic dreams, and technological fantasies.
When I say "mediated," I mean a reality that is filtered through the media and accepted as real, but I extend this meaning to all socially and culturally generated stories about our values, our nations, our lifestyle and our ethics.
I include all the supposed counter-cultural contributions, as well, because they are no different in their essential component of misrepresenting reality in order to tell a different story. It is a fantasy in either case. The fantasy may make a good point, politically, philosophically, or ethically, but the anecdote, fairy tale or parable is a form, itself, that is designed to pander, please, entertain, and manipulate our views. If it were not made of this "stuff," it would not be functional. It would not entrap, distort, deceive and addict. Moreover, if it weren't entertaining, who would bother viewing it at all?
However, that is getting ahead of the thesis.
In all collectivized societies, "social reality" has primacy of value and meaning. It is the population's primary context. Their values and actions are geared to the framework of social priorities.
This social priority is not unusual, nor, even, bad. It is typical for the species that we, as social beings in a social context, will value those qualities and commodities that have social currency.
Where is goes sour, is when the balance is lost and everything becomes socially artificially defined. Some people turn to religion as a "base" to fix themselves solidly in reality in matters that they regard as important, such as ethics, morality, and character.
The religious base is a worthy attempt, but the religious organizations available to this end have all been corrupted by social priorities and are characterized by hypocrisy. Real human values are mocked and degraded by most tenets of religion, and by all religious institutions. Religion, as organized, is old-time collectivism, and is the original reality-denier. Trying to root ourselves in religion, as a firm base in bedrock reality, only ends up cutting our ties to reality and then we are completely adrift.
In his book on tyranny, 1984, George Orwell portrayed a totalitarian government that monitored it's citizens through two-way televisions sets, and that drugged them with a mild narcotic, to make them passive, docile, obedient slaves of the state.
George got it partly right, but wrong in the details.
The danger is not that the television "watches" or monitors us, but that we watch it. By this activity, we are drugged and controlled. The content is almost irrelevant. What is important is that we watch it. That we enjoy watching it. That we are entertained, titillated, amused, or informed by it.
By this activity, alone, we are controlled. Again, regardless of content. The very fact that we think anything we perceive therein has human significance, meaning, or value, is a function of our addiction and our stupefaction.
The medium of television is not neutral. The totalitarian, collectivized social state is pre-determined by the use of this medium, regardless of who "controls" it or the content of it.
It is pre-determined in part and mostly by the affect it has on our minds, shifting us into an "alpha" state staring at a flickering white light. After that hypnotic stage is set, it does not matter what the content is. The experience is mind numbing and pleasant.
The technology of television editing the quick-cuts, constant movement, chronic change (of perspective, colors, images, subjects) satiates our visual senses with a blur of imagery that induces passivity, docility and a willingness to be led.
But this "willingness to be led" is not limited to television alone. It is culturally imbibed in all the forms of storytelling and yarn-spinning. It is also part of our religious sophistry and sermonizing to induce passivity, trust and obedience; i.e., to tame us; i.e., to bind us; i.e., to enslave us.
Every movie, book, and parable, is a fairy tale designed to drug us. No, not to teach us, demonstrate a truth, illustrate a point, help us to see more clearly but to dull our wits and manipulate us into agreeing with the view of the storyteller. This is true of all films, of all literature.
It is also true of most music, sculpture, paintings and other forms of "art." It is not always true that the artist is doing anything other than expressing his own enjoyment of and view of life, for his own sake alone. When "art" is a personal, private expression of a person's metaphysical sense of life, then the rest of us can ignore it, or appreciate it in passing, but in neither case are we expected to shell-out, subordinate our view to his, or be "entertained." The personal, private natural artist is not a prostitute, and does not pander.
But we are not living in such an age. The technology of broadcast and reproduction has made many of us into to prostitutes, and most of us into mindless zombies, dependent upon the panderings of others for a secondhand sense of self-esteem, which we can no longer generate for ourselves (and which we no longer feel we should "have to" provide for ourselves all we need to do is turn on the tube, the radio, or pick up a book).
The unreality of these lives, barren, sterile, driven for a content they lack within themselves, breeds many further scams upon them, as they strive to find health and reality and "content" in their lives in other venues.
Into these other areas come a rash of flim-flam men with quick fixes. The products may (rarely) be healthy and beneficial, as with Norfed's Liberty Dollars or various brands of whole food vitamins or other alternative healing programs, such as colon cleanses, homeopathy or Essiac. These days, in virtually any of these cases, the sales pitch is enough to make any ethical person run in the opposite direction, regardless of the potential value of the product.
Not only are most marketed products of any description unnecessary and usually harmful to health, but the typical marketing pitch is designed to reach these dissatisfied, empty people playing upon their greed, their envy, their need for self-esteem, their desire for health and friendship and meaning in their lives.
The appeals are designed to make the individual feel like he is deficient and is missing out by not getting with the program immediately. Indeed, if the victims do not feel themselves to be deficient, the message will seek to make them feel that they are, compared to some fantasy super being, or by impugning the healthiness of commercial products. This last is not hard to do, but the intent of these messages is not to inform, but to instill dissatisfaction in order to motivate the victims to shell-out for a different commercial product like water purifiers which may be necessary, but only because of other very similar marketeers perhaps the same ones, reborn as "health saviors" have led people to pollute the natural water supplies.
It may be true that these products are beneficial to many individuals. It is definitely true that most products marketed thusly are not beneficial to anyone but the marketeers.
When a good, healthy product is presented with a hyped sales pitch the same used for snake oil, toxic pharmaceuticals, and chlorinated, fluoridated water supplies then the value of the products are undercut.
The apologists argue that it works. That people are desperately unhappy and desire fulfillment, but don't know who to trust. They can no longer "trust" their own judgment, so they must rely on the sophistication of the sales pitch to convince them that this company selling promises of health, salvation, and/or self-fulfillment will deliver the goods don't wait! limited time offer! act now! get in on the ground floor! you'll regret it, if you don't try our product!
Advertising is the fine art of manipulation, but the prostitution of art and the elevation of public consumption of art has distorted people's grasp of reality to such a degree that they have only minimal capacity to apply common sense to reality. They rarely touch base with reality (and then it is usually a painful experience). They do a lot of running away from unpleasantness and from reality generally. They desire guaranteed, controlled-outcome, moderated, artificial, mediated experiences and relationships, and children, and parents, and jobs.
What they desire also affects their political condition, because these people are not seeking responsibility or reality, but to avoid both. They are seeking slavery, and they are very adamant in pursuit of this zombie existence. They do not want health, they want to feel good; they do not want a demanding career, they want job satisfaction; they do not want to make their own decisions, they want someone else to tell them what to do; they do not want to be left to their own devices, they want to be entertained; they do not want political liberty, they want to be taken care of; they do not want to think ....
This is a condensed, simplified construction, linking the mediated, artificial world of entertainment and art, to a break with reality with common sense, with self-responsibility, with poor judgment and low self-esteem.
It is a catch-all argument that does not take all the causative factors, nor all the resulting conditions into account. I have not considered education, or government indoctrination camps that disenfranchise reason, reality and responsibility. I have not considered the affect of government funds that subsidize art on the values that are now the common subtext of all commercial art.
Once you buy into the program of any form of art, which is the greatest mind-controller in the hands of the corporate government, then you are susceptible to their version of reality, to enslavement, and to a totalitarian world.
To say that a little won't hurt, or that there is good stuff out there too, gives up the principle over issues of quantity or quality of a drug that is warping your capacity to apprehend and deal efficaciously with reality.
This argument is too short and too broad to be very helpful. Aside from Mander's book, which is specific in regard to television, and my own book, The Libido of Liberty, which offers more detail in the philosophical underpinnings, there is not very much information available to help wean you from the debilitation of culture and the opposite is reinforced upon you in every venue imaginable, from every known culture in history.
Is there a way out of the Matrix? Yes, undoubtedly, and a simple one, at that. But there is no philosophical shortcut. There is no compromise solution that will allow you to eat your cake and still have it. And that is why most people stay in the Matrix it is easier, it feels good that is, it validates your conditioning and it does not require that you exercise your feeble, incapacitated judgment. Guided by your feelings, you will wander around in the Matrix for your entire life.
But it's not a real world nor a real life.
And the loss of human potential is mind-blowing.
Would I give up "all this" for liberty? No, that is not even necessary. I give it up for life my life a real life.
Liberty is a political option that achieves the same thing for a group of people, by means of protecting the sovereignty of the individual.
The goal of liberty is actually the same: to disentangle oneself from the Matrix, but without the need of doing all the work oneself, upon one's personal responsibility. It is the desire for an easy, group reinforced solution, without having to make those nasty decisions and choices for yourself.
Liberty as a group agenda is a feel-good, collectivist program for daydreamers.
It is not that I wouldn't give the Matrix up for Liberty, but that this is not the actual choice. The actual choice you are confronted with when you are in the context of the Matrix is to give it up for Reality.
These are hard times, with much of the population dependent upon the Matrix for their reality. But a real life, even in the context of being surrounded by zombies, is much better than being a zombie yourself. Yeah, it is lonely. And, yeah, as an individual effort, it is not a group-supported endeavor. About the only thing you can do is to tell other people about it, smile at their disbelieving dismay, and move on. You can't argue with zombies, especially not about the nature of their drugs they believe, by their Matrix values, that they are having valuable and significant lives. They cannot hear that they are not alive at all. It does not register. And the alternative reality without drugs, illusions, entertainment, support groups, social context that's just so ... so, well, so bleak, barren, hard, cold, unforgiving.
That is the view of reality to any drug addict, and the most across-the-board view to the folks in the Matrix.
Liberty is just another board game, another club, another support group, another intellectual entertainment, another simulated reality, another feel-good illusion.
There is no point in raining on anyone's pleasant little daydream. Unless, of course, you wanted to wake up, and set yourself free. But I'm not saying you have to. I'm not saying you need to. Your life is not mine. Your addiction is not mine.
I have no argument against addiction, except ethically; against self-enslavement, except politically; against collectivism, except metaphysically; against prostitution, except aesthetically; against stupefaction, except rationality; or against auto-intoxication, except life.
If you want liberty, choose reality first and you'll be nine-tenths of the way there. Of course, you'll also be alone. And that's probably not what you had in mind.