The Role of Media/Newspapers in Community Dynamics

Underlying democratic process where policies and programs are developed/installed by majority vote is [more often than not], ‘social Darwinism’, wherein those who can rally the most power prevail in having their preferred policies and programs backed by the full economic [and military] force of the overall community.   As evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin observes.

“It is one of the contradictions of a democratic society in a highly advanced technological world, … to make rational political decisions, you have to have a knowledge which is accessible only to a very few people.”  [Lewontin continues by noting;] “that different people have different interests, and therefore the struggle is not a moral one, it’s a political one.  It’s always a political one, and that’s the most important thing you have to recognize… that you may be struggling to make the world go in one direction, … [while] somebody else is struggling to make it go in another direction, and the question is; who has power?  And if there’s a differential in power, and if you haven’t got it and they have, then you have to do something to gain power, which is to organize. “  – Richard Lewontin

Newspapers and the media in general have always played an important part in this social Darwinist dynamic which is otherwise known as ‘democratic process’.

In a blog entitled “Why I quit my job”, CTV’s Quebec Bureau Chief, Kai Nagata, reviews his disillusionment with the media.   Nagata’s point is that media is nourished by readership/ and in the end that tends to dictate content; i.e. the reporting that is going to deliver the most readers/listeners.   Rupert Murdoch founded Fox News (1986) with the understanding the balanced factual coverage was not necessary, what delivered the most listeners was a certain ‘point of view’ and that point of view could be determined by ‘what delivered the most readers’.  It didn’t hurt Fox News commentator Ann Coulter when she was interviewed on CBC’s Fifth Estate and claimed insistently that Canadians had joined with the US in the Vietnamese war, it helped her popularity; e.g. see for example;

“Coulter has described herself as a polemicist who likes to “stir up the pot” and does not “pretend to be impartial or balanced, as broadcasters do.”

The media is problematic in that the point of view of a particular media instrument such as a newspaper tends to be reverse-engineered by whatever resonates with the reader community.

Social Darwinism, as Lewontin observes, underpins the surges of reader interest and the rallying of activism;

“different people have different interests, and therefore the struggle is not a moral one, its a political one.  … if there’s a differential in power, and if you haven’t got it and they have, then you have to do something to gain power, which is to organize.”

Newspapers can fan the flames of social Darwinism.  Look what a good job they did during the colonizing of North America.  The colonized First Nations people, who thought they understood ‘democratic process’, found that they had erred when they got bashed over the head with it after being caricatured in the media as worthless savages.

Is ‘giving reporting coverage’ to ‘public viewpoints’ and thus becoming the tool of ‘social Darwinism’, the only way that ‘communications instruments’ such as newspapers can ‘serve’ the local community dynamic?

Clearly not.

Communications is a complex technology that has been explored by bright minds like Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innes.   Communications as a concept has been revised in light of quantum physics and the work of Dennis Gabor (The Theory of Communications; 1946).

What does quantum physics-compliant communications theory offer us over and above the standard newtonian communications theory of Shannon and Wiener, that has practical application in serving a local community dynamic, in the sense of helping to cultivate balance and harmony therein?

First of all, there is the question of ‘medium’.  When the sun rises on the Gulf Islands, ‘communications’ happens and the beauty of nature becomes apparent.  As Mcluhan said;

“light is the purest form of information, having no content itself, it enables others to see.”

A communications instrument can thus be “a merchant of light”, penetrating everywhere, even darkness, so as to enable us to see without it imbuing any message of its own.

As McLuhan said, what we need to study is ‘the medium’ rather than the ‘content’.  And Gabor’s finding was the same, although it came from the interdependence of time and frequency; i.e. from Wolfgang Pauli’s formulation of the Uncertainty Principle in terms of ‘time’ and ‘frequency’.

The inquiry into ‘communications’ of both of them pointed out that it was a mistake to split apart ‘content’ and ‘context’ which is what happens when we ignore the ‘medium’.   To avoid letting the ‘medium’ fall out of the picture, one must acknowledge a conjugate context-content relationship.  Psychologically, this is the ‘figure-ground-gestalt’ problem; i.e. we tend to focus on the foreground figures and lose track of the fact that ‘informationally’, the figures derive their meaning from ‘ground’ and that there is a conjugate ground-figure relation.  The medium is the ‘third term’ in what is called the ‘logic of the included third’.    Normally [in our Western culture] we employ ‘the logic of the excluded third’ which splits apart ‘content’ and ‘context’ and/or ‘figure’ and ‘ground’. [For more on the ‘logic of the included third’ see; ]

For example, we look at a the ‘figure’ of a hurricane as a ‘rotating pinwheel’ and we forget about the ‘ground’, the atmospheric flow which is not only animating the ‘figure’ but which has engendered it.   This the dynamo-like example used by Gabor to describe his quantum-physics compliant communications theory; i.e. what our visual sense is attracted to is the dynamic-figure (the rotating pinwheel) and we tend to ignore the rotating flow or ‘dynamic ground’ that is the ultimate animating source of the ‘dynamic figure’ and which is the engendering medium as well.

We tend to be mesmerized in this same way by informational ‘content’.

So, every two weeks, when our local newspapers arrive, is it like the sun, the merchant-of-light, allowing the Gulf Islands to rise up, truthfully, out of the darkness and enabling us to see them and us are they/we really are?

No.  Newspapers are not ‘merchants of light’.

We have to go one more step in our inquiry to be able to describe what is going on here.  We have noted that ‘light’ informs without a message of its own, and that, in nature, there is a conjugate relation between ‘content’ and ‘context’ or between ‘figure’ and ‘ground’, that we tend to ‘drop out’, and speak in terms of content and the ‘dynamics of content’.

Howard Zinn, in ‘A People’s History of the United States’, observed that we can present historical narratives in two opposite ways which he described as ‘executioner’ and ‘victim’ historical narratives.  That is, the  ‘colonizers’ of North America will write up their historical narratives very differently from the colonized indigenous peoples.  In the first case, the historical narrative of the colonizers portrays the unfolding story in terms of the people constructing a new civilization/world while the historical narrative of the colonized indigenous peoples makes portrays the same unfolding in terms of the destruction of the old civilization/world.

The communications theory of Gabor and Mcluhan would note that these two points of view [genesis and degeneration] are in conjugate relation and there is just one dynamic, which is beyond description in terms of historical (time-sequential) narrative, and can only be understood in terms of the transformation of the medium.

For example, consider the historical narrative of the European colonizers who emigrated West to the Americas.   Now consider the historical narrative of indigenous peoples of the Americas who were witness to immigrants coming from the East.  Now consider the spherical space [as relativity demands] of the biosphere;

the health of the apple-skin and biosphere is one thing (not the sum the health of the parts).

The Earth’s biosphere is a spherical shell-space on the surface of the sphere of the earth.  Apart from ‘framing conventions’ which are not ‘real physical things’, there is no ‘direction’ within a spherical space such as the biosphere.  Things move relative to one another, which means that the spatial-relational patterns are the only ‘truly physical’ reference for motion.  Thus the ‘emigratory’ flow of people from Europe to the Americas and the ‘immigratory’ flow of people into the Americas from Europe are TWO VIEWS OF THE SAME PHYSICAL PHENOMENA.  The physical phenomena we are talking about is the ‘transformation of the spatial-biosphere-plenum’.

We are not in control of this transformation since we are included in it.  We should not only be suspicious of historical narratives that imply the construction of a new world, we should be suspicious of historical narratives of political viewpoints as in ‘what we as a people-collective that we call ‘community’ are going to do.  However, promising these grand projects are (e.g. ‘what WE are going to do with OUR land’), we can look at the biosphere (as above) as we can monitor it from space over a thousand human generations if we like, and understand that ‘genesis’ and ‘degeneration’, the endorsed projects of the ‘winners’ and the failed initiatives of the ‘losers’, are unreal sub-realities.  What is really going on is ‘transformation’ of the natural habitat we all share inclusion in.  The space inhabitated by colonizers and colonized is a common ‘medium’ that undergoes continual transformation.  Man is NOT IN CONTROL and his historical account of construction is, as Nietzsche would say, ‘total Fiktion’.


By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,  Who said–“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone   Stand in the desart….Near them, on the sand,   Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,  And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,   Tell that its sculptor well those passions read   Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,   The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;   And on the pedestal, these words appear:  My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,   Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!   Nothing beside remains. Round the decay   Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare   The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

If a continuing monitor is kept on the earth’s biosphere for a thousand generations or even for one or two, will we be able to confirm the value of the land management approaches that we are choosing today?  What control do we have over the transformation of the biosphere that has been unfolding, and continues to unfold, this web-of-life in which humans share inclusion, that animates our behaviour with its diurnal, menstrual and annual periodic influences, and which in fact engendered and continues [so far] to engender us?

We don’t have control. The power to destroy is not ‘control’.

As Frédéric Neyrat observes in ‘Biopolitics of Catastrophe;

“In extending his living space in a manner that destroys the space of others, he destroys his own space. Not initially his inside space, his ‘self’, but his outside space, this real outside-of-self which nourishes his ‘inside-of-self’. The protection of this outside space now becomes the condition without which he is unable to pursue the growth of his own powers of being.”

So, how can we summarize all of this, and tie in ‘media’ and ‘newspapers’ in the process.

1. Our communications instruments (e.g. ‘newspapers’, ‘television’) are relatively far from ‘merchants of light’ that ‘inform without content of their own’.  Because they let their point of view develop from the people collective (‘community’ that doesn’t start with nature), they easily become the tools of ‘social Darwinism’, the rallying tool that attempts to garner ‘order’ from the chaos of people that want to move in different directions;

“different people have different interests, and therefore the struggle is not a moral one, its a political one.  … if there’s a differential in power, and if you haven’t got it and they have, then you have to do something to gain power, which is to organize.” – Richard Lewontin

2. If we want our communications instruments to be FIRSTLY ‘merchants of light’ and only secondly ‘organizing tools for social Darwinism’, then the focus needs to re-orient to ‘spatial transformation’ as that is the ‘real dynamic’ that cannot be captured by ‘historical narratives’ which include ‘official community plans’.   It is not what we ‘do’ as a people collective but, as Frédéric Neyrat observes, how we let our behaviours be orchestrated by the dynamics of habitat that we are included so that our conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation is ‘resonant’; i.e. where we let our individual and collective behaviours serve the cultivating and sustaining of balance and harmony in our conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation.  That is, we can’t control biosphere transformation but we can cultivate resonance in our conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation.  But our communications tools must then be firstly focused on spatial transformation in the manner of ‘merchants of light’, informing without content of their own.  But media instruments have been evolving in the other direction, to become organizing tools for social Darwinism.

3. Where we stand right now is that we, the occupants of the land, are putting development (construction of community) first, and we are trying to come up with developmental approaches which ‘moderate’ adverse affects on the ‘habitat’.  This is the intention of the Official Community Plan (OCP).  This plan is in the form of a ‘historical narrative’ in ‘constructivist terms’ that has not yet played out.  It is a ‘guideline’ and it is no substitute for an individual and collective approach of cultivating and sustaining resonance in our conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation.  We speak as if we know what impacts our development initiatives are going to have on the habitat but we don’t really know [some therefore argue for a ‘precautionary principle’ based approach].  As McLuhan observed, it is not what our development projects do that matters [whether it is a Cadillac or cornflakes factory], it is how they transform our relations with one another and with the habitat.   This is another reason why we need ‘merchants of light’-tending communications services.

* * *

In conclusion, in spite of ‘spatial transformation’ predominating in its influence on the lives of inhabitants and habitat, we tend to focus on “the struggle to make the world go in one direction … while others are struggling to make it go in another direction”, and our cultural way of settling this is to ask ‘who has the power’ and if one’s own group hasn’t got it, then it must organize to garner the power, and this, as Lewontin notes, reduces all struggles (over moral/ethical issues etc.) to ‘political struggles’.  Our communications instruments become the bullhorn for this political struggle.  Whomever can blow the most impressive riffs through the ‘in the public’s service’ bullhorn will rally more people to the political struggle so that ‘social Darwinism’ can continue to be the organizing principle of our local community.

The transformation of our living space in terms of our relations with one another and with the habitat will of course transcend the results of political initiatives that the winners may succeed in pushing through.  The political divisions between the ‘big-enders’ and the ‘little enders’ in the kingdoms of Lilliput and Blefuscu transformed their relations such that they become an internally polarized and antagonistic people.  Apparently, their loyalty to their political faction, they saw as deserving priority over sustaining balance and harmony with one another and with the habitat.

A communications instrument (e.g. newspaper) that ‘presents both sides of the story’ is not in the ‘merchant-of-light’ category, but rather in that category of instrument that would give itself up in service to social Darwinism as the primary organizing approach in the social dynamic.  ‘What is happening to us’ (to the biosphere and to us) cannot be ‘told’ in terms of a time-sequential historical narrative orienting to ‘genesis’ of material structures [our development plans] or ‘degeneration’ [destruction of what we have].  We are not in control; i.e. the people who hold the political power are not in control, transformation always wins because it transcends anything that can be captured in historical narratives and plans [‘plans’ being historical narratives notionally playing out along the not-yet portion of the notional axis of absolute time].

Transformation of the natural sort that sustains balance and harmony in our relations with one another and with the habitat must be the orchestrator of our social dynamic.  Communications instruments that aspire to ‘merchant of light’ status must orient first to ‘actually unfolding transformation of people and habitat’ and beware of the pitfall of becoming instruments in the service of social Darwinism.

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