Authored by Nafeez Ahmed and Andrew Markell via CounterPunch.org,
When a system enters into the final stage of its deterioration – whether that is an institutional system, a state, an empire, or the human body – all the important information flows that support coherent communication breakdown. In this final stage, if this situation is not corrected the system will collapse and die.
It has become obvious to nearly everyone that we have reached this stage on the planet and in our democratic institutions. We see how the absolute dysfunction of the global information architecture?—?represented in the intersection of mainstream media outlets, social technology platforms and giant digital aggregators?—?is generating widespread apathy, despair, insanity and madness at a scale that is terrifying.
And we are right to be terrified, because this situation is paralyzing us from taking the action required to solve global and local challenges. While liberals fight conservatives and conservatives fight liberals we lose precious time.
While progressives fight government, the corporations and the super-rich we drown in despair. While philanthropists, fueled by their own certainty and wealth, fight for justice or equality or for some poor hamlet in Africa we become apathetic and distracted from the real source of the problem. And while the president fights everyone and everyone fights the president, the collective goes mad.
In the background, however, the game of hoarding resources and not redistributing them accelerates; absorbing the sum total of our collective actions and commitments into a singular unacceptable future. There is only one way to avoid this fate; uncover the source of the disease and cure it by mobilizing solutions.
We are about to break down for you the source of this disease of information that is accelerating us to ecological and institutional collapse because once you see it, you will be free to act and build something else.
The Collapse of Democratic Institutions
Industrial civilization is in the throes of a great disruption, a systemic transition which could either lead to regression, crisis and collapse; or a new way of working and living, a new mode of prosperity, a new narrative of success.
The global media industrial complex is not equipped to address this great disruption to civilization-as-we-know-it. To the contrary, it is literally incapable of meaningfully processing information in such a way that it produces, for a significant percentage of the human population, real actionable knowledge? which can render humanity capable of transitioning successfully into the new era.
The global media industrial complex today compounds the problems we are facing.
It does this by providing, despite appearances, no knowledge at all. The prevailing model of media is to monopolize and manipulate information flows to produce beliefs and emotions that will allow giant aggregators to maximize ‘clicks’, to maximize advertising revenues, to maximize profits?—?for a few.
So rather than creating knowledge, the global media industrial complex is designed to generate competing, polarized narratives around which different audiences coalesce into irreconcilable segregated communities; it reinforces beliefs without teaching critical thinking; it blunts an attitude of openness while promoting a banal left-right dichotomy that fuels a global culture of mindless consumerism.
This prevailing media structure constrains the public’s capacity to make intelligent decisions. And that allows global ecological, energy, economic, social and other challenges to accelerate, while we argue amongst ourselves about ideology.
The consequence is that information flows are inexorably linked to dominant processes of profit-maximization for a tiny minority; so much so, that people’s relationship to information is managed as a control mechanism over attention and ideological persuasion.
The Monopolization of Media & Journalism
At the heart of our collapsing democratic institutions sits the global media industrial complex. If you are brave enough to look closely you will see that both ‘free press’ and ‘fake news’ outlets operate as a structural extension of an extreme form of predatory capitalism, using information to capture wealth for the few at the expense of the many, by capturing our minds. They are two sides of one coin that make the same people obscene piles of cash.
We only have to peer under the hood to see this fact staring us in the face.
In the US, six huge transnational conglomerates own the entirety of the mass media, including newspapers, magazines, publishers, TV networks, cable channels, Hollywood studios, music labels and popular websites: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal.
In the UK, 71% of UK national newspapers are owned by just three giant corporations, while 80% of local newspapers are owned by a mere five companies.
Today, the world’s largest media owner is Google, closely followed by Walt Disney, Comcast, 21st Century Fox and Facebook. Together, Google and Facebook monopolize one-fifth of global ad revenue. And all these corporations control the bulk of what we read, watch and hear, including online. They define our understanding of the world and ourselves.
Yet they reflect a tiny number of people who have a very narrow outlook on the world.
That’s because these power structures are part of what one study in the journal PLoS One describes as a “network of global corporate control.” The study authors, a team of systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, found that the world’s most powerful 43,000 transnational corporations are dominated by a core 1,318 companies, further dominated by a “super-entity” of just 147 firms.
So most of what we read, watch and hear through the media is structurally conditioned by a network of special interests that are self-supported and self-sustained. This is why the distinction between fake news and real news is both illusory and dishonest. Due to this structure, virtually everything you encounter as ‘news’ functions a subtle or overt piece of propaganda that distracts you from the real activity that is driving the machinery. It matters little whether it comes from Mother Jones, the New York Times, Breitbart or Fox News – everything coming at you within this structure produces the debilitating effect of confusing your mind and stimulating your emotions into a complex mash-up of anger, resignation apathy and sloth.
Through the Google Glass
To understand the power of these special interests to monopolize information in service to their own vested ends, we need look no further than the story of world’s largest media owner of all.
In January 2015, INSURGE broke the exclusive story of how Google was founded and evolved under the wing of the US intelligence community.
The report revealed that during his development of the core code behind the Google search engine as a Stanford University postgraduate student, Sergey Brin received seed-funding from a CIA and NSA-run research program, the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS). The confirmation came from a former manager of the MDDS, Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, who is now the Louis A. Beecherl distinguished professor and executive director of the Cyber Security Research Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas.
This was not necessarily unusual?—?the intelligence community has long been involved in Silicon Valley for all sorts of obvious reasons. What’s interesting is that you probably never knew about how this worked in relation to Google. And that says a great deal about the way the global media industrial complex operates. Her claims are corroborated by a reference to the MDDS programme in a paper co-authored by Brin and fellow Google co-founder Larry Page while at Stanford.
How the Media – All Media – Handles the Truth
This story was totally blacked out in the English-language media: except the US tech news site Gigaom, which recommended our investigation as follows:
“An interesting, if extremely dense, account of Google’s longstanding interactions with US military and intelligence was published on Medium last week.”
This has very important implications that deserve careful scrutiny: In short, the inside story of Google’s seed-funding and founding by the CIA and NSA breaks into the open?—?but not a single English-language newspaper wants to cover or even acknowledge the story. Yet what could be bigger news, than one of the world’s biggest ‘news-facilitators’ being so closely aligned with the US intelligence community at birth?
The lack of interest is not the result of a conspiracy. It’s the predictable outcome of the fact that the global media industrial complex represents a highly centralized institutional structure that perpetuates a culture of slavish obedience to power.
The global media industrial complex largely obscures important knowledge about the very structure and nature of power. That’s why this is probably the first time you’ve seen direct evidence that the most powerful media owner in the world, Google, was conceived with the support of the US intelligence community.
Power and Control Over Your Mind & Your Resources
This is not about whether Google is uniquely ‘evil’. It’s about a wider pattern of unacceptable ownership patterns and social networks across the media landscape.
Consider William Kennard. He served on the board of the New York Times, then became US Federal Communications Commission chairman. He then joined the Carlyle Group as Managing Director. Carlyle majority-owns Booz Allen Hamilton, the defense contractor managing NSA mass surveillance. After Kennard joined the Obama administration as US Ambassador to the EU, he pushed for the secretive, pro-corporate Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Consider John Bryson, Obama’s Secretary of Commerce until 2012. In the preceding decade he sat on the board of the Walt Disney Company, which owns the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). He was simultaneously on the board of US defense contractor Boeing. Despite resigning from those positions after joining government, he held lucrative stock, option assets, and deferred-compensation plans with both Disney and Boeing.
Consider Aylwin Lewis, another Walt Disney Company director and simultaneous longtime director at Halliburton, one of the largest transnational oil services firms, formerly run by Dick Cheney. A Halliburton subsidiary, Houston-based KBR Inc., received $39.5 billion in Iraq related contracts over the last decade?—?many of which were no-bid deals.
Consider Douglas McCorkindale, a director of giant media conglomerate Gannett for decades, and head of various Gannet subsidiary spin-offs. Gannett is the largest US newspaper publisher measured by daily circulation, and owns major US TV stations, regional cable news networks, and radio stations. Yet for about a decade, McCorkindale also served as a director at the US defence giant, Lockhead Martin, resigning in April 2014.
Consider that these individuals, through their media and defense industry interests, profited directly from devastating wars enabled, effectively, by their own propaganda.
And notice that this is a bipartisan game, lavishly benefitting liberals and conservatives alike.
So the global crisis of information and the global Crisis of Civilization? – where we see an escalating convergence of political extremism, ecological destruction, and economic volatility, unravelling our societies and families, decapitating the hopes of our youth? – are clearly one and the same reality.
The commodification of information is part and parcel of the commodification of the planet.
This is a game where your mind, your attention and future are reduced to a worthless asset, traded through the markets until there is nothing left. But there is no need to accept this fate. All that is required is that you see it for what it is.
Once seen, new information and ideas can flow into your mind, new emotions can flow into your body, and you will be empowered to take action. If you see you can act. It becomes obvious that the only solution is to redesign the journalistic format such that new ideas and information lead to constructive action. It becomes obvious that to enliven the public sphere and restore our democratic institutions, we should facilitate the flow of money in media back to where it belongs; into the hands of both journalists and reader-participants committed to the creation of a just and sane future.