“No man is great enough or wise enough for any of us to surrender our destiny to. The only way in which anyone can lead us is to restore to us the belief in our own guidance.” ― Henry Miller
Granted, there was one a time when media such as printed pamphlets and newspapers were beneficial. In fact, one can reasonably argue that our country’s Declaration of Independence from England would never have happened if not for the influence and information distributed by Thomas Paine is his Common Sense pamphlet. Since 1837, the press has wielded sufficient influence as to be referred to as the fourth estate (a reference to pre-revolution French society divided into the estates: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners). As the reach of the press grew, so did its influence. In 1897, Francis P. Church validated the presence of Santa Claus by telling little Virginia that, “If you see it in the Sun, it must be true.”
As the reach of the press grew, so did its influence. In 1897, Francis P. Church validated the presence of Santa Claus by telling little Virginia that, “If you see it in the Sun, it must be true.” Edward R. Murrow was the voice of all that was true in the 1950s and following him Walter Cronkite became known as “the most trusted man in America.” Not that everything in the field of journalism was always reliable, but there was a basis of trust and expectation of honesty that allowed people to ingest their information with a sense of security.
Thomas Paine said something that I think is poignant:
There are two distinct classes of what are called thoughts: those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord.
Notice what is missing from that definition: external influence. Not that Paine expected people to just automatically know everything, but rather he expected that they would take information, such as what he produced, and use that to think, reflect, and come to a reasonable opinion of one’s accord. There’s not accommodation here for allowing any external party to make our opinions for us. In fact, Paine and his peers would find the degree to which we’ve surrendered our thought process to be quite alarming.
Declaring Independence from media is difficult. One has a need to be reasonably informed and the expectations of today’s society are such that one’s need for information is almost immediate. At the same time, though, we should never allow that media to do our thinking for us. Talking heads spouting opinion rather than fact need to be severed from the public arena and not fed their diet of shares and likes and hashtag mentions. We need to take time to step away, to reflect on what we’ve been told and form our own opinion, then see what thoughts might bolt into our minds of their own accord.