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    For an Anthropological Study of Trump and FoxNews

    The USA (not all of it but a good chunk of it) is a nation that has a passion for a) reality shows and b) religious cults. Let's include conspiracy theories, UFO theories and so on in the category of religious cults. Neither of these phenomena is grounded in reality but instead aims at creating an alternative reality. Fox News has wed the two and created Trump, whose presidency is both a reality show and a religious cult.

    There is something about the USA that fosters the rise of religious cults, and Fox News (just like senator McCarthy before them), wed that element to politics.

    Trump is the savior, and socialism is Satan. Facts don't matter. Facts can be invented at will, just like the "facts" of the Bible, of the Quran and of many other religious texts. Never mind that Trump is a crook and a traitor. Never mind that socialist China staged the biggest economic miracle of the last few centuries. Trump is good, and socialism is evil. The attacks on socialism and on "liberals" have an incredibly mystical power for the Fox News audience.

    Fox News is also an indirect consequence of the demise of the local newspapers. We underestimate how good the journalists running those newspapers were. They were mostly passionate about discovering and reporting the truth. When the local newspapers started dying, the only thing left was the tabloids, and Fox News is simply the modern version of the tabloid. Fox News hosts do not do the job of the old-fashioned journalist, don't research and don't investigate: they aim for the sensationalist headline. So there is also quite a bit of the tabloid subculture with the reality-show subculture and the religious-cult subculture in Fox News' recipe of dogmatic misinformation.

    The mainstream media (Fox News, which is the #1 cable TV station, and Rush Limbaugh, which is the #1 radio host) create an alternative reality, and then social media (which in theory are neutral) create echo chambers inside which people only share that alternative reality and are rarely exposed to the real reality. Reality becomes something that is neither reality nor an opinion: an opinion implies that there is another opinion, whereas the echo chambers only allow for one opinion to exist, and that opinion is not the reality. So what is it if it is neither reality nor an opinion? We haven't invented the term yet, but it is very similar to the old religious dogmas.

    The number of opinion makers and influencers has simply increased stratospherically with the invention of cable TV and of social media. Opinions used to be shaped by a limited number of politicians, journalists, philosophers, scientists, economists, and... priests. Each of these categories were relying on data, except the priests, who were relying on medieval superstitions. Starting with the scientific revolution, the priests were outnumbered, and the world has been increasingly run by data-driven professions. (The data are not infallible, and especially the people who read them are not infallible, but that's another story). That has given the world the age of prosperity, democracy and much longer life expectancy (also of pollution, climate change, lung cancer, AIDS, drug addiction, etc but that's another story). Those experts on analyzing data were the creators of knowledge. The role of journalists was particularly important in steering public opinion towards the data-driven professions. Journalists became less and less interested in discussing miracles and more and more interested in investigating real events. But the advent of cable TV and social media has slowly created a new category of "priests", of people who peddle not supernatural miracles but equally imaginary events to a public that (we are discovering) is as gullible as the medieval public. These new "priests" are not rewarded by the hierarchy of the Church or by the promise of paradise: they are rewarded by a lucrative business model. As they get an audience, they make money by exposing that audience to paid advertisements. Therefore the motivation for these new "priests" is not to tell the stories that are supported by the data but to tell the stories that maximize their audience. If you simply tell your audience that Rome is the capital of Italy. you lose to all the encyclopedias that already say that; but you imply that Rome is actually not the capital of Italy but the capital of Russia, and that a conspiracy theory by evil powers wants you to believe that Rome is the capital of Italy for evil purposes, then you have an audience that noone else has. All you need to do is to keep telling stories, and interview purported "experts", and your audience may expand to all gullible people out there. In a 2004 television interview with Chris Matthews, talking about someone who just told a colossal lie, Donald Trump stated: "It's a terrible statement unless he gets away with it". Trump was wrong. The correct statement should be: "It's a terrible statement unless he makes money out of it". It was only a matter of time before politicians (who always relied on some degree of lying to the public) became "priests" themselves. Eventually one of these "priests" got elected president of the USA (more or less legitimately). Jonathan Rauch called it "a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood". Isn't this precisely what organized religion did for centuries? Religion claims that there are miracles, heretics, witches... the divine power of the Pope, Religion aims at making you disbelieve the data so that you can start believing the myths. George Orwell missed an important point when he wrote that only "Big Brother" could create alternative facts. He thought that the Soviet Union was the problem with its vast and efficient bureaucracy of disinformation. Orwell forgot that religion had always been more powerful than dictatorships like the Soviet Union (whose behavior was largely a preview of the software algorithms employed today): billions of people believe that Jesus was the son of God and that Mohammed was a prophet. Those religions were eventually enforced by states with violence but were born and spread thanks to priests who peddled them to the public. In the age of superfast software algorithms, the propagation of superstition is much faster than it was in Jesus' or Mohammed's times. Note that this rise of the new "priests" is a side-effect of democracy, of free speech, of the elimination of censorship: the top dictatorship of the world, China, where censorship is highly effective, does not suffer from disinformation other than the one coming straight from the ruling elite, and, for the most part, the elite sticks to the data coming from scientists, economists, etc. There are no "priests" in China that can disseminate superstition.

    Continues here: You can't prove Trump guilty anymore. But also read: Who invented fake news (or: A brief history of the Left in the West)









    TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.