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foxwizard ☾

🧙🏻‍♂️ Moloch media

I have been on a distinctly anti-genocidal bent in recent months, which has been somewhat career-limiting. Instead of using the platform of LinkedIn to humblebrag about my many successes, I have mostly been highlighting the continuing atrocities being committed by Western governments in Gaza, along with the moral depravity of our leaders and media.

I do this in the hope that we might galvanise some courage to act in the best interests of humanity and the planet we share. I’m not sure I believe in my hope, but I do believe there exists a world in which we can coordinate amidst complexity at scale.* A world in which we can work together towards mutual flourishing (or at least towards a future that is not entirely grim). Thus I am of course against the use of unilateral violence as a means to solve problems; always and especially when it sees children, women, journalists, doctors and nurses, aid workers, innocent civilians and non-combatants killed or harmed, violating international human rights law.

* Such is my curse.

So: recently, I did my grumpy wizard thing and posted on LinkedIn something about how “mainstream media is the scourge”. I’ve been witnessing disinformation happen in real time; from direct footage from multiple on-the-ground sources right through to the distorted Official Narratives promulgated by our mainstream media outlets. I’ve seen the pattern play out many, many times.

Fear, disinformation and atrocity propaganda are incredibly effective tools when deployed to an apathetic society that has forgotten its agency.

On that note, I do sense a shift turning. But it requires a few more of us—especially in Western societies—to wake up. Not to become ‘woke’ per se,* but aware enough to question the information in our feeds. What we subsume shapes what we presume, and so on.

* Wokeness is a necessary stage, but not a meta-stable one (nor healthy). Once becoming aware of all of our deep complicity in systemic inequality, suffering and hurt, we must sublimate this into a more mature (albeit grief-laden) ’post-woke‘ stance—lest we regress to the ‘anti-woke’ stance.

A while ago philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that:

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule
is not the convinced Nazi or Communist,
but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction
and the distinction between true and false
no longer exists.”

It can seem that we are on the path to this. But in my recent bemoaning of “mainstream media” my friend Col Fink offered a very useful reframe:

“I call it the Corporate Media, because the views published are not mainstream views, they're the views of corporate entities existing only for the purpose of maximising shareholder value. They are, therefore, almost utterly devoid of ethics.”

I very much appreciate this reframe, as it disentangles and absolves the mainstream audience from the media monopoly that allows for mainstream distribution.

Corporations

But what is the “corporate” behind Corporate Media.

Corporations are bodies. But unlike we living beings embodied in corporeal form, corporations are entities manifested via inter-subjective belief; egregores that have a body yet no corporeal form. They exist, yet they aren’t quite real.

Each of these egregores self-organise around profit maximisation. They have warlocks who oversee their affairs, and thralls who sacrifice time and talent to do their bidding.*

* I am being dramatic for effect here: not all corporations are bad. Many are quite good; they strive and mean well. But the rivalrous dynamics of our current system requires that we compete: for resources, for attention, for market share. It is what it is. The wiser corporations are doing this whilst also positioning themselves for the new paradigms that are emerging—but that’s a tale for another time. Indulge me as I weave something to make my obscure point here.

But there’s something that lies behind these eldritch corporations. Something far more sinister.

Moloch

The god of coordination failure and child sacrifice.

Moloch is the reason why we can’t have nice things. If we all cooperated, we could surmount most of what ails our world—from climate to food to housing to conservation, and more. We could live in relative abundance and generative homeodynamics.

But no. Moloch will ensure we have the tragedy of the commons, a race to the bottom, free-riders, prisoner’s dilemmas, inequality, polarisation and zero-sum game dynamics. This is largely due to perverse incentives that have bodies (from individual to corporate) act in their own self-interest, rather than the collective good.

This largely manifests as multi-polar traps. If making your news item just a little bit more sensational rather than factual translates to more clicks (thanks to A/B split-testing), which in turn translates to more dollars via advertising revenue—then it makes sense for a profit-maximising body to do this.

The result being: every body does this—making it near impossible to decipher fact from fiction amidst the hyperbole and hype.

“As for-profit enterprises, corporate media are beholden to their investors and their advertisers,” Khaled Al Sabawi writes. “While they may claim that their aim is to balance profits with journalistic standards, when push comes to shove, it's profits that take precedence.”

Hence I wonder if all corporate media is ultimately Moloch Media.

Moloch media

—is any media that serves the interest of those producing it at the expense of collective whole.

This isn’t journalism in the service of truth—it’s propaganda in service of those who benefit from the beliefs that are shaped by the stories that are shared.

I posit this not to encourage conspiracy theories. Most conspiracies require significant coordination to pull off effectively—and Moloch sees to it that these too will fail. No, I mean this simply as an observation of emergent phenomena.

Power (like wealth) tends to centralise, creating asymmetry. Once an entity becomes powerful, it is natural that they seek to grow and protect the power they have amassed; thus they use their power to shape laws, opinion, and beliefs.*

* Here’s a tip: read widely, and draw from multiple sources—big and small, conservative and progressive. Strive for independent outlets where possible, and primary sources where possible. Always investigate their source of funding, and what political motives may be behind it. Avoid extreme “left” and “right” (neither frame is helpful)—but don’t fall into the bog of being a “centrist”. Instead, be metamodern: oscillate, contemplate, and develop your own proto-synthesis. Develop your own perspective—but be open to updating your stance as new information comes to light.

Whenever we are presented with a story, we must ask: who does this serve?

It’ll never be purely collective good—there’s always an element of self-interest at play. But if the answer is anything less than “mostly the collective good” then: keep your wits about you. This could be the workings of Moloch media.

// Where to now? //

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