The following article from the Brownstone Institute
In a recent piece, we argued that two complementary reforms are needed to make Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 vision of “government by the people” a reality in Western countries. To restore power to the people, we proposed a first reform that would assign ordinary people the role of appointing the leaders of our government bureaucracies and QuaNGOs, often collectively referred to as the ‘deep state,’ via citizen juries. In this piece, we describe the second part of our two-part reform agenda.
The goal of this second reform is to involve ordinary people in the production of news, information, and analysis, all of which is currently under the purview of ‘the media’ in its various guises. The various entities comprising the modern media sector are in a race to the bottom in which they barely even keep up the pretence of sharing information that educates people in order to help them make good decisions. Instead, media has become a means for the wealthy to manipulate decisions around voting, purchasing, lifestyle, health, and everything else.
Newspapers, television, internet sites and social media have become merely instruments of manipulation at the service of elite interests. We have seen Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and other commercial information companies which started out a mere decade or two ago with promises of independence and open media, end up as our censors in the past two years, enthusiastically adding their contributions to the long and bleak history of totalitarian deletions.
How do we push against further misuse and towards the dissemination of high-quality information that genuinely helps ordinary people? Just as with citizen juries, the people themselves should assume responsibility for the production of information, in a system separate from commercial media. ‘Media by the people’ must happen in order to prevent ‘media for the people,’ which in turn becomes ‘manipulation of the people by elites.’
Our ‘media by the people’ reform proposal is also a means of arming us to fight on what has become the principal global battlefield: the battlefield of information. ‘We’ are constantly being manipulated not just by our own governments and homegrown interest groups, but also by foreign interest groups, including governments and international organisations that do not have our best interests at heart and may in fact wish us ill.
Just think of the WHO or the Chinese propagandists. These onslaughts are relentless. ‘We’ also wage media wars in other countries for our own benefit, so a savvy media army is required for both offense and defence. Whether we like it or not, we are now in a constant state of undeclared war in which words and images are the new tanks and artillery.
Functional communities in the US today, such as the Amish, the Mormons, and the Hasidic Jewish communities, produce their own media and this is one mechanism through which they have resisted the covid madness of the last 2.5 years. An example closer to home is the authors of Brownstone Institute, who have formed our own media community.
Yet, such communities and their media are small in reach compared to the mass media. Our concern is how to scale up community media production and put it to work for the great mass of the population that has not managed to escape the clutches of informational slavery: the many who today are well and truly divided and ruled.
We first sketch what we think would work, and then tackle the tricky issue of how it can be organised while maximising personal autonomy.
We have in mind a community media generation system, at either the national level or the level of states or provinces. Via participation in this system, ‘the people’ will learn how to produce media and will embed their personal expertise into the effort. By tapping the awesome reservoir of knowledge contained within the population, our envisaged system provides a channel through which everyone can benefit from the people’s own collective expertise. Much of this expertise is presently inaccessible due to elite media control.
The community media generation system can also raise the awareness of the population about manipulation techniques employed on both traditional and social media platforms. Training in what it takes to create information empowers the population to recognise and defend itself against malicious manipulation, and to be able to respond appropriately to our enemies.
Operational implementation: Communities in practice
What would this look like in practice? We envision a pilot of the basic operational outline below, initially in a single region or American state that democratically chooses to try it out, such as via a referendum.
On reaching a certain age (say, 20), every member of the population would decide whether to contribute to his or her community of choice via media generation, or via a contribution of time to some area nominated as an important public good by that community. Some communities might nominate public park clean-ups, some road repair, some domestic violence support, some the building of public housing – any public good perceived by the community to be presently underserviced by public structures could be nominated. Such ‘social service,’ to which jury duty also belongs, is normal in many European countries and also in many schooling systems, such as the International Baccalaureate system in which all students engage in community service.
If a person opted to fulfil the community service requirement via media generation, he or she would first undertake a few months of general technical training. Each person would receive training in the production and sifting of information, manipulation techniques and historical examples of them, the practical side of running media channels, and so on.
Like training with actual weapons in earlier times, this universal training should be technical rather than oriented towards a single ‘truth’ that everyone is supposed to absorb. The goal should be to give people the basic toolkit of media combat: to understand how ‘truth’ is produced in the media via the dissemination of articles, videos, infotainment, surveys, and research reports.
Because vigilance must be perennial, citizens who initially undertook basic training would periodically spend short chunks of time (say, one month every five years) on the production and sifting through of news and information. This mirrors the system of military conscription in several countries, such as Switzerland, in which conscripts were required to use their guns every now and then to keep their skills fresh. Those who declined to participate in media generation would spend this month every five years contributing to some other public good nominated by their community of choice.
What do we think this would achieve?
Diversity as strength
In social matters, we do not believe in a thing called ‘the unbiased truth,’ and the sooner we can rid our societies of the fantasy that such a thing exists, the better. Rather, a person’s sense of reality comes from exposure to a large set of different perspectives, all biased from the point of view of other perspectives, but each sincerely championed. The different perspectives produced within our community production system staffed by citizens would therefore need to be available to the whole population.
We envision many media groups, reflecting the diversity of opinions, religions, and ideologies in society. For any recognised group mustering enough supporters at the time of a major election (say, 1% of the population as a whole or 10% of some region), a separate public media organisation is set up and publicly funded for the duration of that election cycle (e.g., 4 years), with leadership appointed by citizen juries drawn from that part of the population.
That organisation could accept newcomers, somewhat like a traditional militia system. People just coming of age could choose which group to serve in, and could serve locally, whether in media generation or in other public goods production.
A community could also set up its own media organisation rather than have its ‘media arm’ initiated as a public entity, but to tap into the community system, its leadership must be chosen via citizen jury, for otherwise it could serve as a shell for private interests. (If its leadership were selected by a citizen jury drawn from people who have self-identified as subscribing to its values, then Brownstone Institute itself, under our system, would qualify to receive and help train a stream of young people.)
Information about current affairs, sports, culture, science, or any other topics deemed newsworthy would be produced by these groups via news, in-depth reports, and research papers. Rather than hoping vainly for an ultimate arbiter of the illusory ‘unbiased truth’ to save us from the constant manipulation attempts of elites, our system would rely on different information presented from different sincerely held viewpoints, each vying for more contributors and therefore each subject to competitive pressure.
Young people opting to serve a community of their choosing via media generation would complete their basic training and then try their hands for a few weeks at the practical side of news production and the sifting-through of information within that community. The sifting process would involve judging (through a voting or certification system, for example) the quality of the information brought to the attention of their media group on the topic of their expertise, whether that is knitting patterns, fashion, health, or foreign affairs.
In later years, returning contributors would contribute their expertise directly to news production as well as to the winnowing of information. Drawing on this diverse expertise, most media groups would probably begin covering all major news topics after a few years. The community media generation system would thereby tap into the combined expert knowledge of the entire population, as it moves through the lifecycle, to produce news and to evaluate it for the benefit of the whole population, akin to a mass research-production and peer-review system.
Aggregating the opinions of its ‘members’ via information-sifting activities is a way for each community to draw on the weighted expertise within the part of the population it services to recognise what is good and what is garbage. The First Amendment would apply in the ecology of media groups. While individuals must choose the groups with which they serve, no barriers would bar anyone from consuming media from anywhere and thereby accessing a nearly infinite variety of ‘distilled truths.’