27 July, 2017

Mass Media Supported Myths & Fallacies – A Modern Scourge

By Lasantha Pethiyagoda

Lasantha Pethiyagoda

Lasantha Pethiyagoda

Our contemporary cyber-scientific age is riddled with intriguing contradictions and human-made follies that belie the advances in technology. The mass-media-driven consumer culture and entertainment industry has fueled the growth of primitive superstitions, myths and new age beliefs that are the very antithesis of science.

The dire need to promote a rational discussion on science, technology and equitable social development in a market-capitalist environment has never been so pressing. One must assiduously guard against trends that promote myth and be aware of the subtle persuasive techniques, marketing strategies and advertisement gimmicks that make us increasingly helpless consumers.

Strongly emotive words that appeal to one’s core values and grossly false analogies are drawn to promote free market ideology by depicting the consumer as king and the market as his empire. Subtle ideas that promote agendas and values that support consumption are ingrained through clever visual imagery, tantalizing graphics and sound effects.

Wholly unworthy products are embedded in popular entertainment, movies and general advertising. Innocent children are highly susceptible to propaganda and become soft targets for ruthless mind control. No wonder that children want things that are advertised in television commercials. They are made brand conscious from a tender age and grow up as trained and loyal customers.

The unconcealed and shameless motto for many brand managers is to hook them young. They often hire the best psychologists and designers to invent ways that entice kids to buy their products using peer pressure while fostering a life time allegiance to their brand.

The increasing numbers of television channels are willing to cater to anything that will amuse people until their death. The largely unethical lucrative entertainment business thrives on sensational soap operas, family “tele”dramas, tele-shopping, sponsor-paid news, subliminal advertising, propagating doomsday theories, fake reality shows, mythological story serials, fear and uncertainty mongering, superstitious themes, faith preaching and dedicated time slots for highly paid bogus-astrology, feng-shui, varsthu and yoga exponents.

Useless products are hawked with scientific sounding words and serious labels to fool people who are not familiar with their precise meaning. This way, books written on quantum healing, thought waves, precious-stone power, subtle energy fields, scientific astrology and trans-dimensional energy are popular even among highly educated people who want to be experts in other areas.

Man’s relentless struggle to understand his environment also created a basis for supernatural beliefs, cultural taboos, superstitions and ritual practices to please while appeasing the powerful and bad-tempered gods who allegedly controlled the destiny of earthly beings. So, most civilizations around the world have developed their own fascinating stories resembling myths about the universe. These primitive belief systems were eventually transformed into organized and powerful religions forcing people into dogmatic conformity and eternal servitude.

The scientific approach and rational thinking have largely triumphed in understanding several aspects of our physical universe. The meteoric rise of science has altered the very landscape of human existence. Basic research and gradual advancement in technology have thus far exceeded the capacity of ordinary minds.

Science has not disappointed those few who know how to harness its latent power. Despite many remarkable achievements, some ‘modern’ societies are also deeply mired in contradictions, absurdities, propaganda and irrational belief systems.

Due to lack of better skills, we fail to make independent and critical evaluations of what we see, read and hear.

It is worse when the information is deliberately distorted to mislead the recipient in some predetermined and insidious way. The distinction between beneficial and useless, genuine and fraudulent, just and wrongful, factual and fictitious, true and false thus becomes blurred. Someone else then enters, who can take control over our mental faculties.

Fear of critical and independent thinking, for example, makes people extremely vulnerable. It compels them to seek guidance and personal cure from sources that are hardly benign and authentic but opportunistic and vile.

The definition of “proof” is corrupted by parasites who feed on gullibility. Traditionally, the burden of proof lay with those who made the claim in the first place. For example, there is hardly a shred of scientific evidence to support intelligent design. However, science does not completely explain all phenomena. So far, evidences (genetics, DNA sequencing, fossil records) exist, which independently prove that life has indeed evolved on Earth.

A belief (even of science being credible) should come from positive evidence supporting claims and not from the lack of evidence for or against it. Therefore, one cannot disprove the existence of aliens, invisible beings or other life forms. It does not mean they exist; neither does it imply that they don’t exist.

The forces of propaganda create impossible odds, but we can certainly take some discrete steps to stay immune from it. Most people have an apathetic attitude towards propaganda. While we do not ridicule or scorn human motivations, we must understand them before attempting to influence them.

We must learn how to identify various forms and means of propaganda and understand how human thinking can work against them.

The underlying causes of mythical or misguided beliefs and attendant propaganda machinery which reinforce and exploit human fallibility for communal, political and financial purposes cannot be completely eradicated.

However, we can confront this by cultivating certain habits of the mind that promote critical thinking and sound reasoning. An acquaintance and understanding of various kinds of myths, superstitions and propaganda tactics can reduce the likelihood of deception and entrapment.

The habit of raising doubts and asking questions can prevent the formation of dubious beliefs. The authenticity of claims should be checked from credible and independent resources. Unfortunately, we cannot expect to get a fair coverage of an event or a breaking story, if the reporters are given patronage by interested lobby groups who want only one side of the matter exposed.

Making realistic and informed choices is the essence of democratic principles. Just as it is imperative to combat the menace of superstitions, pseudoscience and irrational practices in society, we must recognize and resist the sophisticated ploys used by the entertainment industry, marketers and mass media that reduce people to helpless and passive consumers.

The struggle for reliance on science and rationality has to overcome many obstacles. In doing so, let me recall the inspiring words of George Orwell, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Lasantha,

    You write:”The increasing numbers of television channels are willing to cater to anything that will amuse people until their death. The largely unethical lucrative entertainment business thrives on sensational soap operas, family “tele”dramas, tele-shopping, sponsor-paid news, subliminal advertising, propagating doomsday theories, fake reality shows, mythological story serials, fear and uncertainty mongering, superstitious themes, faith preaching and dedicated time slots for highly paid bogus-astrology, feng-shui, varsthu and yoga exponents.”

    Absolutely true. The TV channels are competing with each other to spread mindless superstitions among the population. The aim seems to be, to reinforce what the dummies believe, such as feng-shui and astrology , rather than to educate them out of their stupidity.
    CT recently reported that Karnataka has decided to ban astrological programs . We should do the same.
    I used to live in Saudi Arabia, but I did not see even there so much religious preaching as goes on here 24/7.

    • 7
      0

      Buddhist preaching on TV, the preponderance of Buddha statues by the roadside, every Bo tree being made into a place of worship, etc has made Buddhism in Sri Lanka a mockery.

      More the outward veneration of this noble religion, more the deterioration of our values and moral standing. There seems to be a direct correlation between the level preaching and the immorality in the society.

      Like the corrupt and useless politicians trying to cover their corruption and thievery with spotless white national dresses, the public too is trying to cover their moral failures with an outward expression of Buddhist icons, festivals, and incessant Bana preaching in the TV and from temple loudspeakers.

  • 5
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    Dumbing down a society is an essential requirement for politicians. More corrupt the politician, more the need to make his or her constituency stupid. We see this with many politicians and their parties. So much so, that they, eventually, believe in the same bullshit they were feeding their constituencies.

    Good example is Mahinda Rajapakse. The man, like one of his predecessors, Premadasa, believes in the occult practices or quasi occult practices, had yards of pirith and other multi-coloured “holy” noolas tied on his wrist, wore “auspicious” gem studded gold rings on all his fingers and several amulets in necklaces, and whatever else, unseen to the public, he had tied on to his private parts. He went to all the devalas, here and in India, had his partly naked body anointed with oils, leaves placed on his head, and seated on the floor with the “holy” men chanting their blessings. And finally, based on the advice of his chief astrologer, called an election early, and lost.

    Had he learned a lesson? No. He now frequents dubious temples, make speeches under the cover of Buddha statues and Bo trees (denigrating that noble religion and its founder). A new tactic as the occult failed him?

    To the eternal shame, Dinesh Gunawardena, son of a much respected leftist legend, has taken to breaking coconuts in devalas!

    All this shows that the attempts at dumbing down the public had finally visited upon them, making them idiotic and these corrupt and bogus politicians believing the rubbish they themselves peddled upon their hapless constituents.

  • 1
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    True that the TV channels try to outdo each other in Teledramas and other mindless productions that hook the watchers into daily segments of trashy behavior and violence through what goes for “entertainment” these days. This is a striking example of where prized Freedoms have become a questionable commodity that is exploited by the competing channels for viewer statistics. With more and more ‘devices’ available for children to access these airings, one cannot be but appalled and worried about the future of human society so dominated by the lowest common denominators of behavior and mind altering advertisements.
    The problem is that Wealth/Money has become the only measure of success even in majority Buddhist societies like Sri Lanka which have clearly flung the “Middle Path” out the window in the pursuit of money and power and an insensitivity to the disparities that result.
    Sri Lanka is a microcosm of what goes on in the West, and in particular the USA, with both being models of democratic countries in the throes of decay, a disintegrative process enhanced by the societal influences of the mass media.

    • 2
      0

      CountryFarce

      Tamil Anthem not ultra-vires – says Gonapola Sugatha Mahavihare Prelate Ven. Sasanaloka Thera in an intervenient petition to the Supreme Court states that is not inconsistent with the Constitution to sing the National Anthem in Tamil.

      He argues on two issues:

      the Constitution gives equal recognition to Sinhala and Tamil languages as National Languages and therefore the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil does not violate the Constitution and this development enhances ethnic amity in the country.

      The Constitution very specially states that the tune of the Anthem cannot be changed but makes no reference to a prohibition against it being sung in Tamil.

      Would you kindly let the super patriot Rear Admiral (Dr.) Sarath Weerasekera know about these latest development.

      Here is the link to the story:
      http://www.ceylontoday.lk/
      51-121402-news-detail-tamil
      -anthem-not-ultra-vires.html

      Would you object to Tamils/Sinhalese/Muslims who chose to sing the Anthem in Tamil with gusto? Or does it have to be Sinhala only anthem that brings people the joy and enthusiasm?

  • 0
    3

    I would like to provide an Islamic dimension to the times we live in. The companion of the Prophet Hudhaifa ibn Yaman reported that Allah’s Messenger Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (peace be upon him ) said, “By Him Who has my soul in His hand, the Last Hour will not come before you kill your leaders, kill each other with your swords and the worst of you inherit your world (becoming leaders).” [Tirmidhi 2177, Ibn Majah 4043]

  • 1
    0

    Dear Pethiya
    Excellent article. I can’t disagree with anything you have written. However, the fact that you, for that matter even I, cannot give concrete examples of deceit in this forum without risking receiving letters from high end legal firms tells us how difficult the situation is.
    All this is done for money and control. I read some comments as well, and the next comment is on one of those. It is easy to attack politicians (especially the defeated and the dead, and an effective ‘red herring’ as well) but give a try at a private establishment and see!
    All roads lead to Rome ( I don’t know as I have never been there). But the ownership of the channels and their sponsors and masters of the sponsors decide what to be given out as information. And the thread ultimately lead us to you know where and this is not fear mongering.
    Thanks for the Orwellian quote. Mark Twain had also said “if you read newspapers, you are misinformed, if you don’t you are uninformed”. I’d like to see more concrete examples in the future if possible. Manufacturing consent, as Chomsky writes, is the way forward for the rulers of the world now and whole commercial establishment is geared to help that process, which includes using their so called “Community Social Responsibility”.
    Thanks

  • 0
    0

    I believe that everything I find on the internet is true

    if it were not so, then it would not be on the internet

    • 1
      0

      Maalumiris,
      ?? ??? ?????

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