Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Revolution Will Be Televised

In an opinion column published in the February 4th edition of the Dallas Morning News, Rod Dreher invokes the theories of Marshall McLuhan in a discussion of our military failures in the war on terrorism:

“Mr. McLuhan, who came to prominence in the 1960s and died in 1980, was one of the first to understand how radically the electronic media stood to change culture and society. His best-known aphorism – "The medium is the message" – encapsulated his most important insight: that what is said matters less than how it is said. The information environment we live in shapes our thought processes in ways we only dimly perceive.

Cultures shaped by the printed word prized logic, reason and dispassion. But a global culture conditioned by television – which is to say, by the power of sound and image – to process information a certain way, Mr. McLuhan taught, will revert to pre-modern modes of thought. It will be more emotional, more tribal, less trusting of traditional authority and more inclined to privilege individual judgment. And it will have more political and religious extremism.”

Dreher goes on to state that we are losing the war on terror because it is an information war, not a military one:

“Some at the State Department understand the dire situation we're in. Strategist David Kilcullen explained in The New Yorker that the global war on terror is 'fundamentally an information fight. The enemy gets that, and we don't yet get that. And I think that's why we're losing.’ Terrorists, he said, blow up Humvees more for the sake of the video. The images are distributed on the Internet, where they spread virally and are used to win supporters and donations. ‘Perception truly now is reality, and our enemies know it," said Steve Fondocaro, a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq. ‘We have to fight on the information battlefield.’ "

It may be true that the Bush administration have been amateurs in terms of managing international opinion, but maybe that was never their goal. Up until the last election, they have been masters at managing American public opinion, and perhaps, in their minds, that is all that matters. As long as they could control domestic public opinion, get Republicans elected and suppress significant criticism, it didn't really matter what the various overseas publics thought. And remember, their election successes nationally have been at just above the 50% level.

Bush's recent PR problems domestically have been the result of the manifest failure of his policies in Iraq. This points to a problem not really touched in Dreher's article. Control of just 51% of public opinion (or less if there is a significant third party candidate) provides complete control of the assets and weaponry of the only global superpower. This imperial president has been remarkably effective in hobbling the "checks and balances" capabilities of the other two branches of government. With some neocons seriously discussing the use of nuclear weaponry in their war on terror, this becomes a truly frightening situation.

By bringing a true Media Ecology perspective to public debate do we merely provide another tool to the current administration's propaganda machine? Do we really want them to be more effective in information warfare in pursuit of their imperialistic goals in the Middle East?

Does Media Ecology have a public voice? What is our message, and by which media do we disseminate it? Do we have a nationally recognized spokesperson or a PR operation that could address these issues effectively within the sound bite forums of televised debate? If McLuhan was right, it is the nature of public consciousness to be numb to the effects of the current media. How do we break through this barrier to engage in the type of discussion merely hinted at in Dreher's column?

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