PNM & 4GW: PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE AND THE MEDIA ENVIRONMENT IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION [ UPDATED]
Earlier this week, on his blog, Dr. Barnett commented on 4GW theory and propaganda:"We are told by Fourth Generation Warfare adherents that what is real and what is perceived are two different things, with the latter almost always trumping the former's impact on the 4GW battlefield. Much as with cyberwar, however, 4GW's theory of conflict often seems overwhelmed by the sheer mass of stuff that goes on accidentally in the global environment, such as the recent journalistic snafu by Newsweek.Point being: as globalization grows and complexity takes root over more and more of the planet, the ability of any 4GW-waging warrior to have his attacks rise above the level of "white noise" in the system gets harder and harder. "Critt Jarvis
suggested to me and a few others that this topic bears further examination and I agree. Information and perception are critical aspects of connectivity and the media has become a dynamic feedback loop that helps shapes how people, individually and collectively, will frame and interpret
events. This of course depends on what information succeeds in capturing their attention. Those of us in the Core live not only in the era of " White Noise" but also in the age of Mass Distraction.
Some background to consider:
First, while we face an ever increasing onrush of information the format by which " news" content is sorted before we receive remains primarily "Pulitzerian", regardless of the source. That is to say in the journalistic " what, where, who, why, when - lead paragraph " frame
invented by the 19th century newspaper titan Joseph Pulitzer
, whose method was swiftly copied by all his rivals and later adopted by both Radio and Television news broadcasters essentially unchanged. It is so ubiquitous a method of organizing information
that its implications are virtually invisible. It is ironic, but al Jazeera
is an unwitting conduit of Westernization. Their broadcast content
may be critical of America and sympathetic to Islamism but the broadcast format
itself is teaching their Arab audience to process information like Westerners. The medium here, as McLuhan wrote, is the message
. No indigenous Arab or Chinese or Indian or other cultural-epistemological model of news information processing will be likely to develop because the triumph of the Pulitzerian frame has preempted such an evolution.
Secondly, the twentieth century was an era of top-down, centralized, communications. In free press America, until the 1990's, our access to information was effectively determined by a narrow Oligopoly of the broadcast Networks and the New York Times which set a tone of corporate liberalism for the media. While the occasional cranky voice might appear on the Right (Col. McCormick's Chicago Tribune
, William Loeb's Manchester-Union Leader
) or Left (The Village Voice
, The Nation
) it was a fairly monotonous political consensus. The totalitarian states, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan, the USSR, Red China took message control to the nth degree - so much so that Russians and Germans became more adept at reading what information was made conspicuous by its absence ( or finely graded nuance) in the state media organs than by what was actually published.
The overall effect was that globally, societies operated " on message" to a relatively low ratio of " White Noise"; public attention was directed to subjects and opinions within a set of defined societal parameters and then to only a few subjects at a given time.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the repeal of the" Fairness Doctrine" and the rise of alternative media, the power of the gatekeepers, if not broken, has been badly battered. From an elite perspective, the barbarians are past the gates, in the city and setting up shop. This diversification of media voices has brought a much higher degree of potential transparency to government and media operations.
It is far harder now, whether you are interrogating al Qaida captives in Afghanistan
or making editorial decisions on the slant of a CBS news segment
to keep the information process secret from the information consumer. It is also the case that the sheer volume of information transmission, the number of mediums and the esoteric variety of content is subdividing mass audiences into networks of niche subcultures - the " demassification"
predicted by Alvin
and Heidi Toffler
. It is harder and harder to command mass attention because an event that once might command global or at least national attention is often merely a needle in a haystack of media choices and goes undigested by vast swaths of the population. Even for those who do see and react to an event find that the " news cycle" has accelerated
and devalues the significance of any event, on average, the way inflation devalues a dollar.
How can this situation be manipulated in a 4GW sense ?
Deception, misdirection and camouflage are naturally easier to achieve necause it takes advantage on the increase in media " White Noise" to which Dr. Barnett has referred. Occasionally, a mega-story will develop by chance that manages to capture the imagination of the masses and dominate various mediums for varying lengths of time - the Tsunami, the OJ Simpson Trial, the death of a revered world-historical figure - and so on. These are periods in which to initiate operations that must fly under the radar.
Since a a grave natural disaster does not happen on a weekly basis - Weapons of Mass Distraction
can be employed, essentially psychological warfare
conducted by hyping psuedo-issues in the media, a technique that relies upon the same cognitive principles as does negative advertising
in political campaigns. It doesn't really matter intrinsically what side " wins" on such issues as Terry Schiavo, steroids in professional sports and the " appearance of impropriety " ethical scandal of the week - the real win is moving the media attention away from a subject you'd rather not have them notice. " Feeding the Beast" makes for a more docile pet and regular " feeders" are recruiting journalists and through them, their editors and producers.
As Dr. Barnett suggested, those clamoring for attention in the fractured, global, mediasphere have their work cut out for them. Not only do they face the structural problems mentioned above but events are perceived through different cultural-linguistic frames in a way that prejudices against a complexity of message. Such groups will have to rely upon two primary tactics:Archetype imaging
to hit the lowest common psychological denominator but the widest cross-cultural appeal. The grotesque beheadings carried out by Zarqawi's al Qaida offshoot
in Iraq exhibited a lurid fascination in the global media. The shelf-life of this stunt was relatively short.
Magnitude. Staging an event on a scale that cannot be ignored such as 3/11 or 9/11 - some of these are full fledged System Perturbations
The media is a dynamic feedback loop. It can be prompted, shaken, fed, distracted, manipulated, intimidated or engaged but outside of a few isolated, totally disconnected Gap hellholes like North Korea, it cannot be controlled. It is part of the environment for the players on the global stage, shaping them and being shaped by them.UPDATE:Critt Jarvis
, posting on Dr. Barnett's blog, develops the discussion further
bringing in the ideas two thinkers I now feel I need to learn more about - John Robb
and Dan Gillmor. Critt
is also recommending von Hayek's
classic The Road to Serfdom.
I concur - though if readers have a bent toward more technical economic explanations I would recommend Hayek's underappreciated mentor Ludwig von Mises
, particularly his Socialism
and Human Action.
( Note this is NOT
a recommendation or endorsement of some of the kooky, Rothbardian, anarcho-capitalist followers on the internet who misrepresent themselves as serious students of von Mises. These folks, who once published the most bizarre review of PNM on record, are IMHO, a gang of crypto-Trotskyite crackpots. I'm not sure if even Murray Rothbard- who was way out there himself- would have endorsed all of their internet antics.)