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.”
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.
 David Croteau and William Hoynes, The Business of Media, 2nd edition, p. 182.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)