The Altruism Industry – Part II

In Part I we described salient cultural developments of the 1960s, particularly the civil rights and anti-war movements. Some of us still alive can take pride in our roles, but by now they seem quaint. What follows outlines the devolution of our societal discourse since then.

As in other entertainments, so it is in politics: something has to replace the last thing before it gets stale. Soon Negroes (using the word then current) were pushed off the screen to make room for Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, then anti-war protests drove him off the screen and out of office. There followed a succession of new competitors, making their claims against society. They said in effect, “What about me? I too deserve redress.” And, “I deserve it more than those others do.” Professional activists promoted themselves, claiming to have uncovered suffering the rest of us were too thickheaded to notice, too insensitive to care about, or too slow to fix. “Great” in Great Society became a sneer. It became commonplace to say injustice was endemic to our polity, our economy, our culture, and our very psychology. Eventually the power game swamped whatever good will was left among us.

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The Idol Disease

A recent post touched upon the power of television advertising. The industry analyzes and divides viewers into demographic categories based on age, race, economic class, gender, and more. People think the entertainment is the product, and the ads are only momentary annoyances. The fact is, the viewers are the product, and there is not a moment when the tube is not selling. The viewers are not free; they are products created by media so that their attention, the time in their lives, can be subdivided and sold for money to advertisers. The genius of our culture is this: Market trumps everything. Market absorbs everything. Market turns everything to Market’s use. Market defines us to ourselves in lockstep with what we buy. Some of the dynamics behind this are technological. After all, we still do not have a very good understanding of the effects of television in our culture. We are just now able to look back the length of a generation.

The personal-psychological cost of this transaction—or to say it straight out, its spiritually destructive effect—is hidden from view. It takes its toll from all of us whether we watch or not. Whatever is broadcast becomes the reality, and whoever does not see him or herself there is lost to view, in effect dehumanized.

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