Wednesday, June 11, 2008


We live in the Age of Goebbels, not Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or any of the men and women who have revolutionized human communications in the last half-century. It was Hitler’s propaganda minister, Josph Goebbels who said, “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.” Think about that. It’s not just the “right” of the State (the capital “S” alone is a little frightening, don’t you think?) – it is the ABSOLUTE right. The meaning should be clear enough. You could look it up.

1. To the very greatest degree possible.
2. Having total power and authority.
3. Not depending on or qualified by anything else.

… unequivocal… total… unconditional… conclusive… complete… unqualified…

When they say, “Power corrupts, and ABSOLUTE power corrupts absolutely,” it’s easy to see what they mean.

The implication too is clear enough. Nobody else shares that “right.” Public truth is illuminated only through the State. We do not live in a 1950s style, science fiction version of a totalitarian state. Do we? We live in a free society; a place where freedom of the press allows for the exchange of all information and the expression of all shades of opinion. Don’t we? Goebbels was talking about an evil empire, Nazi Germany, not an enlightened, freedom loving society like the United States. Wasn’t he?

What exactly is “public opinion?” That’s not a trick question. It’s the collective opinion of a large number of people. And how does a large number – millions, for example – of people reach a collective opinion? Through exposure to information, that’s how. Without information, nobody can form an opinion. Without knowing what you’re talking about, you can’t reach any conclusion – even if you don’t know what you’re talking about. You must be informed. You don’t have to be “well” informed, “substantially” informed and certainly not “completely” informed. After all, a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. But, you must know something, about something, in order to have an opinion.

Where does all this information come from – for most people, most of the time? That’s also not a trick question. Television, that’s where. The things that most people say they “know” are really just things they’ve “heard” or “seen” on television. Think of a subject – any subject at all – and you’ll soon understand that your own understanding of that subject comes from what you’ve seen and heard in the media, especially – often exclusively – on television. The more you examine your own opinions, the more you will see that your own, personal, first hand experiences in life have contributed very little to your reservoir of opinions on public issues. C’mon now, what do you really know about the war in Iraq? Islamic terrorism? Iranian nuclear intentions? The cleanup after Katrina? The earthquake disaster in China? Gay marriage? The condition of infrastructure in America’s major cities? Global warming? Where would you be without your TV?

How reliable is our data base of televised knowledge? And how much influence has the State exerted on that same data base?

Perhaps the sociologist, Neil Postman, gives you pause to think when he writes: “Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

On the so-called Great Issues of the Day, ask yourself: how much of what I think I “know” is only the illusion of knowing and has instead led me in the opposite direction, away from the truth? And how much of my “information” has come to me under the supervision of the State in the exercise of their “absolute right?”

Is Josph Goebbels smiling somewhere?

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