Talking Heads and the Matrix
In a recent article by Paul Joseph Watson, we are told that a former army psy-ops officer has authored a scathing commentary on the firing of Tucker Carlson. While it is not clear to this or possibly any reader why an army psy-ops officer should have more credibility than anyone else, the article praises Carlson and portrays him as a victim of Democrat malice. This article is a thoughtful assessment of Tucker’s important place in the realm of public commentary. Nevertheless, we should be striving for some perspective on the issue of Carlson’s termination from Fox News.
We have come a long way from Walter Cranky Cronkite, Tom Broken Brokaw, Dan Rather Not, and a few other news pontificators from my younger days. At that time, there were only a few “talking heads” when compared to today’s bombardment of news and views in the public square.
During that earlier period reporting had a distinct partisan slant. The commentators were generally center-left or “liberal” and were post-New Deal Democrat consensus builders. They would not be challenging Pres. Johnson’s Great Society as creating dependency and as a giant step towards socialism, but with classic liberal naivete would see the Great Society as merely an extension of American compassion. However, the inherent leftism of our major network newscasters of an earlier era would be revealed by their anti-McCarthyism and their bias against Richard Nixon because of his work on the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigations. (Nixon later would try to redeem himself in the eyes of the “liberals” by recognizing Communist China and by surrender -- oops I meant “pulling out” -- of Vietnam. But it was too late. The progressive “center” had already determined that Nixon -- that right-wing fanatic -- had to go!!)
At the same time, the United Nations has over the decades moved from being a defender of rights (in the American and Western tradition) as seen in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1946) to wanting to become the new world government based on the 17 principles of sustainability (and “meeting needs”) presented in its boring prose in the UN Agenda 2030 (approved unanimously in 2015). Yet, despite its peacekeeping powers and its stated goal of being at least a rudimentary world government by 2030, the UN has said little and done nothing regarding restoring peace in the Russia-Ukraine war. The UN voted in March of 2022 and February of this year against Russian aggression. What a farce for an organization that clearly aspires to be our world government. The UN has shown itself to be a pathetic bystander in this war. Nobody -- left, right, or center -- including Tucker C., seems to be inquiring about that.
The verbal gymnastics of the talking heads that have proliferated with the multiplication of TV channels, with the creation of social media, and with communications connecting us with countries around the world has opened the door to mass hypnosis. There are too many articulate, pretty, handsome, and charming persons talking with apparent intelligence for the viewers to be able to discriminate who and to what extent each is telling the truth. Historical facts or the foundational analysis behind the talking heads’ opinions are rarely discussed and, as Marshall McLuhan noted decades ago -- albeit with more than a little obscurantism -- the “medium is the message.” We all become passive sluggards listening for those words that “sound right” to our often uninformed, and sometimes intoxicated brains. Then we say “I’m a Reid guy or girl” or “I’m a Carlson guy or girl.” Their words resonate with us; they trigger a plus or minus response in our brains. Then we defend one or the other of hundreds of possible internet or tv oracles, and believe we have chosen a correct point of view. Actually, we are not working to promote communication nor, ultimately, consensus as we might tell ourselves. Rather, we are participating in what I would call a New Chaos. It is a media and electronic generated chaos in which we are only too happy to “take sides.”
But insofar as every “side” (expressed point of view) is driven by the speaker’s desire to get viewers and thereby increase revenues and get fame and riches for oneself, that side is distorted. More than 500 years ago, the father of scientific induction, Sir Francis Bacon, wrote about and criticized the proliferation of opinions claiming to be facts as biases. For Bacon, there were four different types of biases, or what he called “idols.” The opinions of the talking heads nowadays who call themselves commentators would be examples of “idols of the marketplace.” Being clever, the present-day idol presenters would admit that the persuasive comments they put forth are only opinions; yet they are offered more authoritatively than opinions to the passive screen watchers. Owing to the fact that they are paid to present those opinions, and have large numbers listening to those opinions, those opinions are pridefully asserted as being more than opinion.
Carlson, his supporters, and those who oppose Carlson are all caught up in the matrix. But if we don’t take sides in the matrix, we are anti-social nobodies. It’s a Catch-22 scenario. In the matrix we are helping one mere opinion to be more authoritative (with an authority that it does not inherently possess) over another mere opinion (that is, deeply subjective yet trying to present itself as objective). If we do not have preferences, then we have relegated ourselves to irrelevancy and being mere unthinking drones.
The answer is not to take our preference for one talking head rather than another too seriously, but to remain sufficiently detached by loving “the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). If we take this command from Almighty God seriously, we shall be freed from the binding corruption of the matrix. The only deep question remaining is: what does obedience to Deuteronomy 6:5 entail?
E. Jeffrey Ludwig teaches philosophy at a major urban university, and is a guest preacher in various pulpits.