Re: MD Hurricanes, earthquakes and genocide

From: Arlo J. Bensinger (
Date: Tue May 03 2005 - 04:14:57 BST

  • Next message: Mark Steven Heyman: "Re: MD Access to Quality"

    MSH had submitted a short article by Sam Smith for consideration.

    Arlo replies:

    What a good launching board! Without getting into specifics off the bat, it's
    basic question is very similar to one Peirce had asked, namely, "How do we fix
    our beliefs" (reprinted here:

    Briefly, Peirce outlined four fundamental ways we fix (or assign) our beliefs:
    (1) tenacity, (2) authority, (3) a priori reasoning and (4) scientific
    methodology. Peirce also proposed that "doubt" was an "uneasy and dissatisfied
    state from which we struggle to free ourselves". The mind abhors doubt. Thus we
    are driven into the four "fixations" to escape a state of displeasure (doubt),
    which Peirce called "inquiry".

    It's fairly evident that tenacity and authority are the "quickest" fixes. Either
    to stubbornly believe what we want to believe to be true, or to turn the
    "doubt" over to others and rest our belief on their proclamations have also
    historically been the most "used" fixations. Of tenacity, he writes: "the
    instinctive dislike of an undecided state of mind, exaggerated into a vague
    dread of doubt, makes men cling spasmodically to the views they already take".
    Tenacity, in Peirce's analysis collapses (ideally) when the individual finds
    him/herself exposed to others who hold different beliefs, and "in saner
    moments" ask "why".

    Authority, then, as a fixer of beliefs emerges to homogenize "belief" among the
    popultion. Peirce states: "Let an institution be created which shall have for
    its object to keep correct doctrines before the attention of the people, to
    reiterate them perpetually, and to teach them to the young; having at the same
    time power to prevent contrary doctrines from being taught, advocated, or
    expressed. Let all possible causes of a change of mind be removed from men's
    apprehensions. Let them be kept ignorant, lest they should learn of some reason
    to think otherwise than they do. Let their passions be enlisted, so that they
    may regard private and unusual opinions with hatred and horror. Then, let all
    men who reject the established belief be terrified into silence. Let the people
    turn out and tar-and-feather such men, or let inquisitions be made into the
    manner of thinking of suspected persons, and when they are found guilty of
    forbidden beliefs, let them be subjected to some signal punishment."

    Sound familiar? Here is where I will pause in Peirce's analysis and state that
    my opinion is that the media is an extension (or force) of authority. It's job
    is twofold, one is to convince people to look "outside themselves" for "belief"
    and the second is that should in turn look to an "external authority", usually
    serindipidously supplied BY the media.

    Back to Peirce, for the time being. Peirce believed that those for whom a given
    authority was not able to subjugate, would rebel against authority upon
    exposure to other authority systems. At this point Peirce believe that the
    natural impulse in man was towards "reasoning". He states: "The willful
    adherence to a belief, and the arbitrary forcing of it upon others, must,
    therefore, both be given up. A different new method of settling opinions must
    be adopted, that shall not only produce an impulse to believe, but shall also
    decide what proposition it is which is to be believed. Let the action of
    natural preferences be unimpeded, then, and under their influence let men,
    conversing together and regarding matters in different lights, gradually
    develop beliefs in harmony with natural causes. This method resembles that by
    which conceptions of art have been brought to maturity. The most perfect
    example of it is to be found in the history of metaphysical philosophy."

    The final step, however, would be to resolve our doubts by moving from "internal
    reasoning" to "external analysis": "To satisfy our doubts, therefore, it is
    necessary that a method should be found by which our beliefs may be determined
    by nothing human, but by some external permanency -- by something upon which
    our thinking has no effect."

    OK. Done with Peirce. Suffice it to say that the last two "fixations" require
    some amount of (1) exposure to diverse opinions, and (2) practice in critical

    With the media functioning as a sublime homogenizer, and an educational system
    and culture that devalues critical inquiry (and promotes acceptance of
    authority), its easy to see why most people in this country turn to the "media
    as Authority" to outsource the fixation of their beliefs. The problem is not,
    as Platt has indicated this criticism seemed to be, that "people are stupid",
    only at worst that "people are lazy (in how they fix their beliefs)", but not
    inherently so, they are made to be that way by an enculturation process that
    emphasizes homogeneity and authority.

    Back to the Smith essay. Anyone who gives it enough thought, I think, would
    agree that the two-party system is mostly a false distinction. While there are
    minimal "party platform" differneces, they both represent about 1 degree of
    separation on the political-philosophical scale. The bitter "feud" makes good
    theatre, but it should be seen, as I agree with Smith, it is a ficticious
    distinction "not one which exists".

    Although Smith only eludes to the power-reification aspect of the media in
    supporting elite capital interests in this particular article, it is a theatre
    Marx would call "opiating". By keeping us distracted from asking relevant
    questions, and focused on creating an atmosphere akin to a high-school football
    game, people will spend their time "cheering for the home team", rather than
    examining policies that always benefit the wealthy and privileged. It is, as I
    have called it, manipulated xenophobia. By playing to (perhaps natural) fear
    tendencies, authority can solidify its power and keep people focused on the

    Platt had asked an interesting question a while back, and that is "can the media
    ever be objective?" Foucault suggested that "all history is fiction", in that
    it is written to support ideologies. Obviously, there is bias in Fox and in
    CNN. Peirce would say that while individual bias may never be defeated,
    exposure to hetereogeniety and getting people involved in thinking the issues
    through themselves is as close as we can come to a "media" that is not merely

    This is why I like NPR. On the news the other day, about oil drilling on an
    island inhabited by eskimo fishermen communities, the report gave equal time
    (over 2 minutes) to both the eskimos who feel oil interests have decimated
    their fish populations, to oil interests who argue that the majority of
    pollution was caused by Soviet oil drilling on the northern coast that occured
    with no pollution safeguards; from voices urging protection of indiginous
    peoples to voices urging bring indiginous peoples into modern activity systems.
    In the end, it was merely a presentation of various opinions and the listener
    was left to begin to formulate an opinion on his/her own.

    Now, whether or not this is 100% indicative of NPR reports, I can't say. But it
    is representative of my listening experience. However, Fox News would have
    reported "Energy Production Threatened By Communist Environmentalists", while
    CNN may have said "Oil Companies Destroy Fishing Villages". It's not that "only
    NPR" can do this, but they are the only ones who I have found to be currently
    doing it.

    Well, so much more to say, but I will end it here for now.


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