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You Cannot Change the System By Using the System’s Own Logic

You Cannot Change the System By Using the System’s Own Logic

By Dennis Loo (4/22/14)

While there is no shortage worldwide of those who dearly want to see a different system in power, there is an acute shortage of those who understand how to do that.

There are answers but most people are looking in the wrong places.

If you want to change what is, you first have to understand why what is is.

It isn’t enough to see the need for change. It’s definitely not enough to have good intentions. You have to deeply understand why the status quo continues to be the status quo. You have to be, in a word, scientific.

The first thing you need to do in order to be scientific is to understand that it’s a system that we’re dealing with and that systems are not principally a product of the individuals within them.

Most people who recognize that the current system has to go don’t yet realize that this is a system and many of them are still using the same analytical tools and the worldview of those in authority.

This is specifically apparent when they cite that the problem is other people.

In particular, those who think this way believe that too many other people in society are in denial, lazy, apathetic, money-hungry, narcissistic, and/or distractible and that this is why the system continues. They mistakenly think, in other words, that the principle blame is their fellow citizens. They say things like “ignorance is bliss” and that others are willfully ignorant.

This is actually the same logic of those in authority – those in high posts in media, corporations, and public office - who when pressed to explain why they do what they do and present to the public what they present, both in “news” and in entertainment, assert that they are merely mirroring back to the public what the public wants. “We’re merely doing what the people want us to do and expect us to do.” There are variations on this theme, but this is the core theme.

Those who are critical of capitalism who assert that the reason why capitalism continues is because the media and the government are merely telling the people what they want and conspicuous consumption is what fuels capitalism are therefore actually mimicking authorities’ rationales.

“Don’t blame the system,” authorities say, “It’s human frailty. It’s human nature. Everyone’s flawed and this is the best that you can expect.“ In other words, all too many people who would like to see change think the same way about the problem as those who are elites in the current system.

This is incorrect. This is not why things are the way they are and this is not why the media, corporate world, and government treat us as they do. You cannot undo the system and replace it with a new system if you think the same way those who rule the current system do.

This is one of the ways that those who now run things continue to remain in control: they dupe those they rule over into thinking about the world the same way that they do. This ensures that those who try to change the system will never succeed because they are seeing the world fundamentally in the way their oppressors do.

Let me cite a specific example:

In the words of a FOX Tampa Bay WTVT station manager, ordering in 1997 some reporters to keep quiet who wanted to report to viewers that Monsanto’s synthetic growth hormone rBGH was actually in the milk that supermarkets were selling, despite public claims to the contrary:

“We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.”[1]

Fox ended up firing these two reporters for insisting on telling viewers the truth. Imagine that, reporters who thought that their job was to tell viewers the truth!

Does anyone think that the viewing public wanted to not know that they were endangering their own health and that of their children when they bought the milk, thinking that it was wholesome? Do you think that the public would say, please don’t tell us the truth on the news, we want to be deceived and we don’t want to know what’s really going on?

What would most people think if they learned the results of a 2004 Pew Center survey of journalists in which 66% of national journalists and 57% of local journalists regarded bottom-line pressure as “seriously hurting the quality of news coverage”? Would the public say, “Yep. That’s what we wanted the media to do, to focus more on fluff and sensationalism because we really don’t want to know what’s really going on. We just love being distracted with trashy shows and not knowing the truth about the world. Keeping up with the Kardashians is more important than my health and that of my children.”

What would the public say if they heard this statement from an Illinois newspaper reporter? “If a story needs a real investment of time and money, we don’t do it anymore.” Would they say this? “Great. We wanted silly and superficial stories anyway. We love canned stories and we just hate investigative journalism that takes time and money to do. I want my MTV!”

If the owners of media are determining what’s news by fiat because they paid for the privilege and the power to determine what’s news, then why blame the public for the fact that they are being lied to? You can criticize some people for being overly credulous and there are certainly some people in this country who are selfish and philistine (I would estimate about 15-20%), but how many people, especially those who have not gotten a higher education, have ever even been exposed to the idea that being skeptical is a good idea?

Why then do so many people leap to the conclusion that the American public is consciously suppressing the truth and ignoring it when most of the American public doesn’t know what the truth is in the first place because they haven’t yet even been exposed to it? How can you consciously suppress the truth when you don’t even know what the truth is?

If people are buying into lies because they’re not trained in how to spot lies and don’t know that there are alternative sources of information that they should consult, do you blame them for the lies or do you blame those doing the lying in the media, corporations, and the government?

This line of thinking is a variant of and apparently originates from the deeply inculcated perspectives of democratic theory and functionalist theory. If you live in this country you are steeped in these perspectives and most people take these perspectives so much for granted that they are not even aware that they see things this way and even when it’s explicitly pointed out to them, some have a hard time recognizing it.

Democratic theory and functionalist theory dovetail with each other. They both assume that what government and media are doing must be the result of what the majority wants because according to the precepts of democratic theory and functionalism, the people (or conscience collective, according to Emile Durkheim) are the ones in charge. Note the nature of this line of thinking: it assumes that which should be empirically demonstrated. In other words, it asserts what is true by the assumptions it makes. This is known as a circular argument or an argument by assertion rather than through demonstration and proof.

What do empirical analyses demonstrate about the relationship between the public desires and what media and government do? They show that democratic theory and functionalist theory’s assumptions that media coverage and governmental policies are a mirror of the public’s desires are wrong.

The media and government don’t routinely misrepresent to the people what is going on, both in their news and in their most common forms of entertainment, because the public wants them to do that. The media and government do these things in spite of and in opposition to what most people want.

To fully see this and to make a clear break with the flawed assumptions and line of reasoning of democratic theory and functionalism you need to not only pay heed to the empirical data, you also have to recognize that democratic theory and functionalist theory are wrong on a theoretical level. As long as you adhere to those theories you will be as unable to see that your understanding of the world is distorted as if you are wearing a set of prescription glasses that are meant for someone else’s eyes and not yours. If you have ever put on someone else’s glasses you will know what I mean. Or, to put this differently, let me call attention to those of you who are using democratic theory and functionalist theory as your theoretical “lenses” that you are using theories as your glasses that are not allowing you to see reality clearly. They are distorting your perceptions. The problem is not mainly other people. The problem is that you have on a pair of glasses that you need to discard and replace with another pair.

The claim that the main problem is that most people are willfully ignorant is not supported by social science. It is not supported by any reasonably rigorous survey that has ever been done or that you could do today. If you ask twenty people how much they know about any given important political issue today, how many of those people do you think could give you a fully accurate accounting of that issue? How many issues could you give a fully accurate and reasonably comprehensive accounting for yourself?

Insisting that the problem is willful ignorance is like taking a group of people who have never flown an airplane and telling them to get at the controls and start flying an airplane. When those people tell you that they have no experience or knowledge about how to fly an airplane, if you deride them for being willfully ignorant, who is the one being willfully ignorant, you or them? How is knowing what is true and how to reach a wise decision on complicated political and social issues any different than flying an airplane? Don’t they both need extensive training and experience?

Yet democratic theory claims that any and all adults of sound mind can make wise decisions about complicated political and social issues merely by listening to mainstream media and the statements of the two major political parties. Democratic theory does not hold that in order to exercise political power those doing it have to be trained in how to do that. Why should exercising political power and making good decisions about complicated matters be any different than learning how to play a musical instrument? In any other arena outside of politics, everyone recognizes that you need training. Even things that come somewhat naturally to people like having sex, you need training, experience, and study to be good at it. Being lousy at it is easy. Being good at it is hard.

Yet democratic theory and functionalist theory completely overlook this fact that is as simple to understand once it’s pointed out to people as realizing that jumping off a high cliff without a parachute or bungee cord is a bad idea. Functionalists claim that public policy is a result of the shared sentiments and values of the people in society. How do they know this? Because Durkheim, the founder of functionalist theory, asserted that it was so. Why do most people in the US think that the media and the government reflect what the people want? Because democratic theory asserts that it must be so. Note that these are assertions, plausible enough to be sure, but when you examine that assertions with lots of empirical evidence, you find it to be faulty. You find it to not be true when you’re looking at large groups, especially if you look at groups the size of cities, states, and countries. Do you know what theory does hold up under empirical scrutiny? Conflict theory.

Why then if this is true do democratic theory and functionalist theory occupy the most dominant position? Because they suit the interests of the rich and powerful in this country and the rich and powerful constantly propagate these views. By virtue of the fact that they are the dominant class in society, their dominance allows them to make their view of the world the most popular. You cannot change systems if you are using the logic of the existing system to try to change that system. You will merely reinforce the existing system that way.

[1] David Croteau and William Hoynes, The Business of Media, 2nd edition, p. 182.


0 # James Dewey 2014-04-23 17:53
I can see how the argument that the Media networks use news coverage for their own agenda setting, and that there is an overall lack of coverage for important political movements and issues. However, to say that functionalism in the mass media is completely absent and "wrong", isn't quite so.
One huge source of revenue for these media networks is from advertisements. In order to ensure that the advertiser's product is going to the appropriate consumer, the advertiser would look at different ratings and viewer count of certain programs and networks. the more popular the program or network, the more expensive the airtime. Therefore in order for the network to maximize revenue from the advertiser, it would behoove the network to maximize ratings and viewer count, and to do that they would have to pander to the Conscience Collective that Durkheim is talking about.
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0 # James Dewey 2014-04-23 18:03
Continued from previous comment:

Therefore, i don't think it is correct to say Functionalism is wrong in Describing mass media, however i can see how the news network executives subscribe to conflict theory in their agenda setting.

One question that this article raised for me was; couldn't executives subscribe to two separate paradigms? If a media executive were smart, couldn't he use conflict theory in order to use the media as an agenda setting tool for other companies to rent,and then use the functionalist theory in order to maximize revenue from advertisers?
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-23 18:30
Functionalism's conscience collective works indirectly through the mechanism that you cite of trying to sell ad space to advertisers. I say indirectly because media are not directly trying to draw maximal audience but are juggling the cost/benefit of their production costs vs. the return on investment. Shows that have larger audiences but cost more are less likely to be made now which is why reality-TV as a format is so popular for the networks and why celebrity/fluff is so popular for the 'zines etc. because they're so cheap to produce and yet return reasonable amounts of audience share. In addition, advertisers are interested not in mass marketing as much as targeting specific demographics so even if a show is inexpensive (e.g., Phil Donahue's MSNBC show) AND has the very largest audience, they can still be cancelled for political reasons. So again it's not exclusively about popularity.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-23 18:32
To elaborate on niche audiences: media seek the audience that will spend a lot of money so it's not directly about public appeal. It's about finding those in the public who will spend the most.
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0 # deltoro 2014-04-25 04:41
soc 302. i think that we need to blame the system and the people on the power.i stronger believe that Goverment control the news or in others words what the news should be. i feel that we us people in the world or the U.S. we want to know the truth.
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0 # deltoro 2014-04-25 05:04
soc 302. i feel that the media put on tv stupid shows to keep us distracted or away from the real issues in our society. the lower education is a fact on that many people are dont understant political issues. we assume that politicians are telling the true. because we voted for them.this structure in which we feel that keep our society solidary.
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0 # vices 2014-04-25 07:39
The problem I see when trying to teach others how to think is that they already have their own perspectives and values that are not so easily molded. When teaching someone how to play an instrument, they don't have any prior knowledge conflicting with their ability to learn. People having sex may not ever think they are bad at it even if someone were to tell them, considering all you do is go in and out. Facetiousness aside, I find that it would be difficult for individuals to learn unless they were to unlearn what they already think they know about society and the government. I feel this would be necessary because I agree that people cannot change the system with the same logic the system is already running on because they would only replace the system with the same exact thing. It would seem that the government can easily distract us with entertainment. Even intellectuals know about Kim Kardashian's sex tape. I would say the governments tactics are strong.
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0 # Sadiez Moreno 2014-04-25 20:56
I agree with you in that it wouldn't be the easiest task for people to learn the truth behind the media and government. However, it would be difficult - not impossible. Individuals could take a one-step-at-a-t ime approach and take their time in reading, researching and digesting the tactics of the media and all of they ways they are distorting our thoughts.

Nonetheless, this reminds me of the Beckett/Sasson text. They explain that the media are inaccurately reporting crimes and constantly imply that crime is on the rise. By relying on the entertainment aspects of violent crimes and MTV reality shows, it's no wonder why our society has no idea that they are being corrupted. The majority of people possess the preconceived notion that everything relayed in the media is what the general population wish to fill their minds and lives with.
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0 # Princess Peach 2014-04-28 04:56
I agree with you. I think that it is hard for people to try to incorporate new information into their existing schema of that certain information. Thus, no you cannot change the system by using the system’s own logic. This would be pointless and it would not actually change the system. As discussed in the Barkan text, the media distorts information in order to grab the attention of the public. The government encourages this distortion of information in order to distract the public from the real issues that are at hand.
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0 # cutemeow 2014-04-28 05:04
Your point about unlearning previous perspectives and values is key to changing the system with new logic. Trying to replace the system with the same logic is redundant, and it won't work. I think in order to unlearn previous perspectives, people need to first be aware. If the media is only telling us what they want, then many people are not choosing to be ignorant, but rather have NO choice but to be ignorant based off the fact that they haven't reached for truth elsewhere. By opening up to new perspectives, people will be able to form their own opinions of the government system, independent of the mainstream media's points of view.
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0 # marcam 2014-05-05 19:56
I agree. I think that the problem would be making people understand that what they are being told is not facts but that they are being told junk in order to keep their minds wandering instead of trying to fix the problems of our society. I also think that it’s hard to change ones opinions because they feel they are heavily influenced by the media. And also people think they are correct all the time and don’t like to listen other points of views because they see them as inaccurate.
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0 # deltoro 2014-04-25 16:06
soc 302. I feel that the media put on TV stupid shows to keep us distracted and away from the real issues, issues that affect all of us. In fact, one of the biggest issues is the cost for higher education. How can we learn about political issues when we cannot get our education? Lower education is equal to working class and minorities. The government has a strong say in our education and the way we run out lives. They want to keep uneducated in order to keep themselves in power and running the system as they wish.
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0 # deltoro 2014-04-25 20:36
Soc 302. I believe that we need to blame the system and the people in power. I strongly believe that government controls the news and what the news is about. In fact, the news tells us what it is important and what is not. But whose points of views are they showing? Moreover, there are interest groups that keep controlling the news and some politicians under control by these groups. I feel that we, the people in the U.S., have the right to know the truth.
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0 # Heng Chang 2014-06-11 23:16
I agree with you. The government will not let us know what is going on because it won't do them any good if we know. They know that preventing us from knowing what's actually happening inside the White House can give them benefits, not us.
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0 # zzchi 2014-04-27 06:22
This is an interesting topic to analyze. The government and the media are known to distort stories and perhaps the truth. However, look behind the scenes and through a different perspective and clarity sets in. The media are only allowed to say so much. There is no truth in the media, because we the people are not entitled to it. It is important to understand that everything we hear is not the whole truth, so if one yearns for truth it must be sought out. Emile Durkheim pointed out that the working class as a whole should not be educated, because if they knew more than they did, they would not go back to their working class jobs. Therefore, inequality plays quite a big role. The news and the media fulfill the entertainment side of things it is not news anymore, nor has it been for a while. What transpires in the news is distorted to the public. We only hear what they want us to hear unless we have different means of finding out the truth in the news.
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0 # Marisol Parra 2014-04-27 18:49
soc 305- The government pushes the media to promote an untrue message. Most wealthy political figures in office run the media which give them the authority to feed untrue stories. The government doesn’t want educated people because the nation will then uncover their own system. Durkheim described it as a conscience collective, the norm of what society has been accustomed to; we are given a message to believe so we think it is ok to accept such message from a creditable source. Dr. Loo gave a great analogy that we must take out our old pair of glasses that we have been accustomed to and wear new one’s to change in order to see how such system is operating, but first we need understand why there must be change.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-27 19:12
Quoting Marisol Parra:
Most wealthy political figures in office run the media which give them the authority to feed untrue stories.

I think we need to parse this one out more. Public officials, while most of them are rich, are not mostly the owners of media. There are some notable exceptions such as ex-NY Mayor Bloomberg who was and is an owner of Bloomberg News. The outlooks of those who serve in public office and those who run and those who own the media, however, ARE very similar and that is more why we see so much that is distorted in news and entertainment to serve those interests and the blindspots that come from their shared perspective rather than that office holders are all the owners of media.
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0 # Sarah Heitz 2014-04-27 22:22
"The first thing you need to do in order to be scientific is to understand that it’s a system that we’re dealing with and that systems are not principally a product of the individuals within them." This quote grabbed my attention because this is the main thing you need to comprehend in order to become a revolutionist or just understand how societies can be studied. The fact that society is something in and of itself is crucial to understanding why and how to change a system. This goes along with learning that the government doesn't listen to what the people want. That is a misconception that naïve people have and with this kind of thinking as the majority, it will be a long time before there is drastic change.
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0 # LA305302 2014-04-28 02:33
the moral beliefs of capitalism is all over. now more than ever, televisions at home are turned on, and for longer periods of time. television is a great way to distract people from the world, and create them into zombies. watching the news, one believes that they are getting accurate information, when in fact we only get what they want us to hear. we watch shows that we have nothing in common with, but its only a tool to reflect how people are being distracted from the governments wrongful doing. i bet half of america does not know we are still at war, that the military is stationed in almost all countries, that drones are killing people and children daily. the people in power control our media, and by a huge monopoly. The whole idea that people do not understand that we live in system that is not due to peoples flaws, is a huge disappointment. instead of attacking the real issue of how to dismantle the systems that oppress us, we blame groups (e.g. immigration) for current disparity
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0 # Guy 2014-04-28 03:33
I would not blame people for not knowing because everything we know is learned. But there is clearly a way to know all about it but people just tend to not want to know. It is not because they are lazy but because the government has stacked the truth so high that the mountain is too high to climb with the amount of time we have to do so. The media has become garbage but when did it exactly happen? Like an end of a good relationship the couple asks themselves what went wrong and when did it all go wrong. It is probably the wrong glasses that was worn as explained in the article. But when do we know it is not the right glasses when the wrong one seemed the right fit? Is it when it totally ruins our vision when we finally figure out the glasses we wore were wrong?
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-28 03:51
Quoting Guy:
I would not blame people for not knowing because everything we know is learned. But there is clearly a way to know all about it but people just tend to not want to know.

I really would like to know why this line keeps coming up constantly. I've spoken in opposition to it so many times I can't even count them. Why do you argue that "people just tend to not want to know"? Where does that statement come from? How many people do you know that that statement fits? When you say "people" you must mean everyone or at least most people, so it can't be simply because you think that there are a few people that you have encountered who are in denial consciously, otherwise the correct way to word this assertion is that "some people rather not know."
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0 # Guy 2014-04-28 09:57
What I'm trying to say is that there isn't enough time in a day for the average person to try and find out what the real truth is. We either have to work, support the family, go to school and study, or all the above for some. But of course if someone gets paid to find the truth it would be a lot easier to do so. Society keeps us all on a tight schedule where at the end of the day most of us just want to be at least a bit happy. It just takes too much time and effort to go through all the false positives. It goes for everything but when we have a government trying to hide everything from their citizens, it is going to be like paddling themselves across the pacific ocean. Not impossible but pretty challenging to say the least. I think for an average person themselves to find out what is real seems a bit too much unless they sacrifice their whole life chasing truth and again it would not be too much if they are paid to do so. If we team up then it is more than possible to concur.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-29 04:29
Thank you for the further elaboration and clarification. There's a big difference between saying that people have time and other contradictions and saying that they don't "want to know." People would really appreciate knowing the truth. Knowing the truth would make a gigantic difference in their lives.
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0 # Christine Lopez 2014-04-28 03:59
Some news media outlets are said to have different political views. I have heard that Fox News Network shared republican and conservative views. While the ABC, CBS and Disney networks share more main stream political views.
Comment from the quotes that Marisol Parra and Dr. Loo mentioned, that "Most wealthy political figures in office run the media’. Which gives them authority to feed untrue stories.Dr. Loo mentioned, that they are not all owners of television station. In my opinion these political figures often donate a large amount of money to the media stations in order for them air their political views.
According to the democratic theory and functionalist theory assumptions states that media coverage and government policies are a mirror of public desire. Some people often do not know what information they are being fed. So they cannot distinguish from right or wrong views.
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0 # Sherlock 2014-04-28 05:33
Suppose you're able to look at the individual systems from an objective point of view? What is the main goal of these systems? Are we looking for security, liberty, righteousness? We should not try to change things for the sake of changing them. We should first look at what we want for ourselves before we can decide what we want from a government.
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0 # Viceless 2014-04-28 06:13
The majority of the articles I read on here have to do in some way with the media. It would seem that if the media was doing what it was supposed to be doing the public would be much more informed than they currently are. Now would this lead to the wholesale changes that need to happen? That it something that cannot be stated for certain. But it would give people one of the tools they would need to begin changing the system. So how do we go about changing the media? The way I see it the only way would be to end large corporation ownership of the large media outlets. But then could these news outlets sustain themselves without the influx of money from corporate America? Unfortunately we have created a system dependent on large corporate institutions that would make weaning ourselves off of it very difficult.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-29 04:26
If you go back two decades there were scores of media companies. Today there are only the Big Six. So media certainly doesn't need megacorporation s to function. On the other hand, the reason for this shift in media ownership is not isolated from the rise of neoliberal policies; it is part and parcel of that. The increasing concentration of ownership of business and other matters in smaller and smaller hands is neoliberalism's trajectory. We - as in the people - didn't create this. Capitalism-impe rialism without any socialist rivals created this. But you're right about the role of media.
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0 # WOW 2014-05-03 22:09
There is no training to be in government. There are no real qualifications. However, having money and being popular helps you get elected. The people in power control society. Power is even used in schools as a way to make a population docile and manageable. Power holders control many aspects of society and sometimes just show one view of the “truth” to the general public. I don’t feel the people in power want to change things. If the “average” citizen were to take over the power that would disrupt how things have been “working”. Favors are done for one another and it is mainly beneficial to only an extremely small group.
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0 # Bbalty 2014-05-04 02:36
In response to Dr. Loo's question, "how many issues could you give a fully accurate and reasonably comprehensive accounting for yourself," I realized upon consideration that my comprehension of political issues is very minimal despite being a third-year college student majoring in sociology. Given my knowledge of social theory and controversial political issues, I am still not capable of making fully informed political decisions. Who is to say that the average American citizen without higher education is capable of making such decisions? Who is to say that anybody without extensive government and political training is qualified to make complex political decisions? Therefore, labeling average Americans as willfully ignorant for their lack of political knowledge is extremely unfair especially when they derive their information from news media outlets, which are biased towards their owners' and contributors' political views.
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0 # Brandon Vildosola 2014-05-05 07:00
When i took my philosophy class there was something that i was taught that was similar to this. It was something along the lines of to find out the truth in something, you first have to "unlearn" everything you've been taught before. So to discover the truth behind what the American media is telling us, you first have to learn how to not link yourself to the same techniques that you have been taught by the media in the first place. Its like you have to teach yourself how to spot the lie or have someone you sincerely trust to teach you.
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0 # marcam 2014-05-05 20:01
I think that a system cannot be changed unless an entirely new system with new or no elites is formed. If a system changes because that’s what the people want but the elites remain the same will not work. Things might change at first just to please everyone that change is actually being made but later it would be the same with the elites ruling like they used to. As time passes, those elites are going to want to have a similar control of society as they ones did and I believe that policies would be made slowly so they can have their control.
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0 # Heng Chang 2014-06-11 23:14
Whenever we want to know something about our government or what's going on in our society, the first thing we turn to is media. We believe and rely on media and social networks to update us about what is happening. Therefore, even the things we want to change may not be what we actually want "changed" because we don't actually understand what's going on. Our knowledge depends on what other people tells us, It is a combination of other people's thoughts instead of it actually being our own.
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12