News Media Propagate Emotional & Institutional Theories of Truth
Those who study the philosophy of knowledge are familiar with the coherence and correspondence theories of truth. They state that propositions must pass tests of rational coherence and empirical correspondence to be considered true. In other words, statements must make rational sense and any claims they make about empirical phenomena must have bases in substantial empirical evidence.
Outrage in News Media
Readers and viewers of today’s partisan news media are often exposed daily to barrages of hysterical outrage and umbrage regarding partly real or imagined crimes or offenses, and news media frequently neglect to properly and dispassionately found these purported outrages on solid empirical grounds. These news media expressions of outrage may be based on motives—not only to influence public opinion but also to increase numbers of viewers and readers and perhaps to further distract audiences from other, more objectively important, issues that propagandists don’t want people to be thinking about.
Operation of Propaganda
These media seek to appeal to baser emotions rather than higher intellectual faculties of reasoning and by doing so, in effect, seek to encourage the growth of a mindless mob mentality rather than critical reasoning in their audiences. Of course, propagandists who wish to control mass opinion don’t want people thinking and reflecting very much, so will seek to always keep their audiences as much as possible in states of blind emotional outrage. They will also try to make sure audiences will—as much as possible—automatically mirror propagandists’ opinions while not carefully reflecting at all on what they’re being told.
A great many consumers of news media now completely oblige these motives on a regular basis, often being in daily outrages about whatever the media is outraging them about that day. These media consumers may think they are being concerned about news events, and there are of course things in news stories that warrant concern, but in actuality, news consumers often do no more than reflexively mirror whatever the media is saying on any given day, and mirror whatever emotions the media are broadcasting, without reflecting on what the media may be concealing or omitting, what the real agendas of media are, and what the media may be distracting them from. The now commonplace daily outrages about “news” media (Ministry of Truth) reports remind me of the daily mass Minutes of Hate ritual in Orwell’s 1984.
Who Controls the Media?
Just a little research reveals major media to be part of an ideological state-corporate apparatus controlled by billionaires and power elites who are primarily concerned about their own interests and agendas and who habitually make sure that news stories express these interests and agendas, but too few media consumers are aware of this. Such news media regularly command high degrees of mass public respect because they are questionably considered to be legitimate social institutions by audiences. In the terms of the sociologist Max Weber, such institutions are publicly legitimized by virtue of traditional authority—by being established through time, whether credibly or not, as generally seen as trustworthy.
A great many news consumers have little interest in knowing about mass media deception because, much like many religious believers, have intense desires to believe in the “authorities” who they trust and follow, so may be censorious toward any info contradicting media claims, and if they do see such info, may find ways to deny it or block it out of their minds. Naivete about the media is very common.
Emotional vs. Critical Approaches to Truth
A great many people now are not at all schooled in critical thinking skills, so it may never even occur to them to critically examine what they are being told by media reports. A great many people now seem to feel, in effect, that beliefs can be justified by emotions alone, and might consider evidence to support emotionally-based beliefs to be hardly even relevant. In fact and in practice, it has become common for people with emotionally-based opinions and beliefs to dismiss and/or refuse to hear evidence and reasoning supporting certain views that they feel they don’t agree with on false a priori grounds that the contradicting arguments are not worth listening to, even if the opposing arguments have never been heard. It’s also become common for propagandists to present articles and stories claiming that certain views are “debunked” on flimsy grounds, frequently only addressing the weakest straw man arguments and without ever actually addressing the strongest arguments of those who they say are debunked.
By emphasizing emotion over reason and evidence, the media implicitly propagate an “emotional theory of truth” which purports that a proposition should be considered true by virtue of the emotions they elicit. The emotional theory of truth can also be described as a belief in the truth of statements merely by virtue of verisimilitude, or by vaguely “feeling” or “sounding true” emotionally, at least for the moment.
Institutional Theory of Truth
Many people also assume propositions to have credibility mainly by virtue of the fact that presumably “respectable” media venues report them. This can show that those with such assumptions implicitly subscribe to an “institutional theory of truth” which purports that statements should be considered true if supposed “authorities” report them. The institutional theory of truth may be considered a variation on the philosophical fallacies of the argumentum ad populum and argumentum ad verecundiam which purport, respectively, that statements should be considered true if majorities in groups agree with them or true if the sources of the statements have social prestige or are assumed to be authorities.
The institutional theory of truth resembles the now widely accepted institutional theory of art which purports that objects should be considered art if they are considered to be legitimate art by the gatekeepers of art world establishments such as influential gallery and museum owners and administrators, curators, and critics, no matter how far such works may fall short of traditional standards for art and aesthetics.
Just as the institutional theory of art has degraded standards of art and aesthetics, the emotional and institutional theories of truth degrade abilities of audiences to properly discern which propositions should be considered true and which either fall short of being proved, or which may be blatantly untrue. To recover more sound abilities for such discernment, we should learn to critically examine any propositions as to whether they are grounded in solid reasoning and evidence regardless of the outrage and umbrage with which they are reported and regardless of what “authorities” report them.
When hearing or reading any communications, whether they are through any media or personal conversations, we may rightly be more suspicious of statements the more statements appear to be based on emotions rather than sound reasoning and evidence. So one who wishes to become more immune to being influenced by unsubstantiated emotional statements might best habituate themselves to recognize excessive emotionalism as a red flag of possible deception.
This is not to say that we should express ourselves or wish others to express themselves like unfeeling robots or computers. Friedrich Schiller, in his Letters On Aesthetic Education (1793), points out the best minds balance the “sensual” or emotional faculties of mind with the rational faculties, resulting in an optimum condition that he calls “the spirit of play.” This makes sense to me. The best communications can be rich with feeling and color but should also be mindful to remain consistent with principles of rational coherence and empirical correspondence. And those listening to or reading statements should best be vigilantly cognizant of whether statements do in fact adhere to these principles.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Deniz Tekiner