Silence is Golden!

Bravo, Bryan!

Before going on to address the issue at hand, I think I have a good bead on a standard Richard Hanania article:

1) Focus on a relatively Current Thing.

2) Troll the shit out of it.

3) Punch down at whoever you think can't hurt you (they may or may not deserve it, but that's not important).

4) Try to dodge the best arguments against.

5) Change your mind more or less with the winds.

6) When in doubt add some nihilism. More nihilism never hurts.

The more absurd example of this is his article:

Man Needs Sex and Violence, Not Top-Down "Meaning"

Which reads to me as a long form presentation of his view that the ideal man is the Chechen Warlord Kadyrov.


"What’s the alternative? Most people would have a better Big Picture if they went cold turkey. Read no newspapers. Watch no television news."

Richard seems to consume a great deal more Briebert or whatever than anyone I know. I've been getting my news from blogs and now substack for at least a decade. If he doesn't like right wing tabloids, just stop reading them.

Even something like the Daily Caller at least exposed a huge transgender rape scandal in my school district, got a superintendent fired, got justice for the parent of the girl, and probably helped get Youngkin elected. Is their website droll, I don't really care. I'm not reading it all day like him.


I agree that it goes beyond wokeness, but to everything wokeness can touch (how do you write about education excluding genetics for example?)

Let's also remember that the MSM is generally anti-market and either soft-core or hard-core socialist. Is Paul Krugmen really enlightening the masses on economics?

I'll copy paste my same comment from Hanania's article. I must admit though that Charles Murray basically said the same thing in a Tweet:


But who cares?

My basic question I always ask is "how does this affect me?"

The NYTimes having some interesting articles might entertain me for a few minutes, but it doesn't really help me out in any way.

If the NYTimes is wrong about genetics, race, sex, family, crime, meritocracy, education and economics...that's pretty much everything important. Things the NYTimes advocate for become policy and it affects my life negatively.

My own belief is that without MSM support we would not have had a COVID hysteria, or that at a minimum it would have been severely muted compared to what we got. I watched this happen in real time, they really scared my parents. It took awhile to deprogram them.


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Both this criticism and Hanania's criticism omit the most important and obvious critique of the media: They don't perform their fundamental purpose of speaking truth to power. Perhaps this is because they come from the same social and ideological milieu as power, and in fact are power themselves. Regardless, the media no longer embarrasses power with truth, with few usually ideologically-informed exceptions.

What then is the media's raison d'etre? To entertain? To inform on trivialities? To propandize wittingly or unwittingly?

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I'm grateful to you for this rejoinder to Hanania, whom I also respect a lot. Thoreau correctly described the "news" as "the froth and scum of the eternal sea," and I find it disheartening how many believe the absurd lie that "being informed" is somehow a "civic duty," despite almost everyone being able to admit that if they'd missed *every single news story they'd ever read in their lives*, nothing about the world at large would be different.

Silence is preferable; attending in whatever ways to the themes of "the eternal sea" is preferable; sleep is probably preferable. And even true junkies have to admit that almost all the news they consume is not new; it is, rather, "yet another example of" a trend or phenomenon they already have a complete and settled position on. It is extremely rare for people to change their values or priors in response to news articles, yet everyone pretends like the next dispatch will be decisive. It won't, and you're right: it's all much, much worse than silence (which is, incidentally, what preceded it for most of human history).

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I’m surprised that neither you, nor Hanania, suggested the rationalist blogosphere is a good thing to compare the MSM to. For instance, I used to follow Zvi’s blog to understand what is going on with Covid and was well-informed on the topic.

I’m sure people who dislike the community would scoff at this notion, but I imagine the two of you would consider the rationality space to be better than the MSM, which makes it a real benchmark we can compare to.

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The main problem with Hanania's defense of the media is that he is making a reverse-strawman argument. Few "conservatives" are calling for "burning all the media to the ground", as Hanania claims. What they are complaining about (and rightfully so) is the "liberal bias" of the mainstream media. Even Hanania himself acknowledges this point with respect to media "narratives"!

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Could Mr. Hanania be partial because he's received good media coverage? One is always a liitle partial to good treatment.

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In my early 20’s I quickly noticed the incendiary and disingenuous character of news media. Now in my 30’s I’ve noticed a similar flavor in academia, and perhaps it is because more academics are public figures and have learned to publicize their work. Perhaps there is something about carelessly wielding a megaphone that risks making individuals and institutions a net negative for society. I think more silence on would do us all a lot of good.

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What I find most condemning of modern news media is how inefficient it is at conveying facts. We know this intuitively. But anyone who does modify their media consumption - such as no longer commuting to work listening to the "news" or turning off the TV at home - soon realizes that they are not missing out on "news". What one does miss out on is the slant on the stories the media is telling. But the facts of current events can be gleaned very quickly with a few clicks on the World Wide Web.

There are good journalists and I give points to Hanania for arguing that the MSM supports more good journalism than does alternative media. On the other hand, so much of what the MSM reports is garbage. If you go to the grocery store to buy apples and most of the apples in the bin are rotten, are you really going to spend the effort to pick out the non-rotten apples? I think most people would choose to shop for apples somewhere else.

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Twitter is the modern version of the need public restroom walls served before anti graffiti surfaces came in. I am beginning to think substacks are carnival barkers.

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I am curious about the human - in fact animal - fact of selective attention. Perhaps it is that I have been reading Ed Yong's wonderful IMMENSE WORLD.

You could lie on a lawn recording the angles and length of grass-blades. You would be there a while, but each one of your observations could be quite true.

We wouldn't, though. We don't have time or attention. These true facts largely do not matter to us. What matters is...

Ah, there's the rub. "What matters" is formed by our needs, sensory abilities, preconceptions. It makes a preprocessor that rejects grass-angle reports and cricket scores. And crucially it rejects much of what gets through the preprocessor of those who do not agree with us, right? There are people world-wide who think cricket scores are important.

Is there any chance of bypassing this filtering? Do we want to?

And if not, is there a way of optimizing (balancing, making more just or more revelatory) these preprocessors?

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>apolitical substitutes like sports, cooking, and the like.

Apolitical?! Everything is political, you fascist, Koch-funded, Atlas Shrugger!

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I would add that the point made here intersects with Bryan's ideas in 'The Myth of the Rational Voter'. If one of the motivations to stay informed is that you then cast your vote and engage in any other political activity in a more rational manner, this goes out of the window if you realise your vote has no bearing on the result. You are then free to indulge your own irrationality.

Media consumption is in this argument nothing to do with staying informed to make good rational decisions, but to indulge your pre-existing ideas. Which is somewhat comforting but it doesn't really matter how biased or useless the media is, it isn't really changing many people's minds anyway.

As someone else already said, just use substack or other blogs for your understanding of the world, and avoid the rest of the news altogether, much healthier.....

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This is a great response to Hanania's article, but it omits the most crucial question of all: Why is the media so intent on warping the public's perception of the Big Picture?

The implication from Caplan that the media is promoting a warped Big Picture because of either a nefarious agenda or incompetence is simply untrue. The media is merely operating in a free market and responding to demand incentives. The public's demand for warped Big Picture thinking, then, is the issue here, not the media itself.

This situation is similar to the War on Drugs. The U.S. government believed for decades that the key to winning this war was to attack the supply - arrest drug dealers, shore up border security, and work with international authorities on drug smuggling and production operations. The supply, however, was never the root driver of the problem, and for every supplier eliminated, another three, like a hydra, would take its place to continue to meet demand. In this case, demand drives supply, not the other way around.

Likewise, the American public's demand for "Warped Big Picture" viewpoints drives the supply of news coverage provided by the media. The American public, then, is to blame. If the media were truly pushing endless complaints, rampant innumeracy, and warped Big Picture thinking to a public who didn't want it, then alternative media sources would simply replace the old media.

The sustained power of the media today despite the warped Big Picture narratives they provide is proof of either (1) massive market inefficiencies, or (2) strong demand for the Warped Big Picture worldview.

The claim that the media industry is inefficient doesn't hold any water in light of the low barriers to entry introduced by the rise of alternative news and social media, so there must be strong public demand for the Warped Big Picture.

Why do so many people continue to believe the media is at fault here? Because we are terrible at recognizing at our own biases, and specifically our negativity bias. Our propensity to seek out and consume endlessly the most negative news available is universal, and yet is rarely recognized on an individual basis.

Until we focus on the demand, i.e., ourselves, and recognize and refrain from our psychological need to consume negativity, we'll never fix the Warped Big Picture issue that so many incorrectly attribute to the work of a nefarious media monolith. As with so many other issues, the problem (and the solution) is not to be found in a nefarious "other", but instead can be found by looking ourselves in the mirror and recognizing our own role in pathologically consuming negative media.

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I like this a lot. The MSM is bad for the average person, in the ways you describe. But it's still useful for intelligent people who can think critically and "de-bias" articles as they read them.

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I agree with your point about the big picture issues, but I think both you and Hanania are too forgiving of the individual pieces. About the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, Crichton writes that the paper is full of the "Wet Streets Cause Rain" type of story: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/65213-briefly-stated-the-gell-mann-amnesia-effect-is-as-follows-you. Hanania implies that we need media to make us smarter, but if experts generally see their topics misrepresented to the point where cause and effect is reversed, I think what we have now does the opposite.

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I'm not sure that without very significant cultural changes, a world without some sort of MSM is plausible, I think ppl basc enjoy the hate, the tribalism and general sense of misery that the MSM sells, interesting to see workable ways of changing this whilst preventing a neo MSM. I basc agree with the point about academia being better than MSM, usually the arguments and evidence and interpretation of stuff presented in the MSM is pretty bad to the point where reading some blogs summary of academic research with a degree of skepticism usually provides a much more accurate model of the world, dismissing of course some of the wordcel type fields. The Gell-Mann Effect might be of interest here for further examples of MSM being bad. But I think all of this is really besides the point, that is I think most ppl are too deeply irrational and uninterested in truth even in a pragmatic sense that attempting to enlighten them is a futile exercise, too the extent that you can get them to hold reasonable beliefs is to the extent that you rely on rhetorical sleight of hand, I think this explains the kind of ideas that become culturally relevant eg Veganism vs AI Alignment, you can easily imagine a teary eyed woman complaining about animal suffering or recently AI ethics, not so much about AI Alignment. I also think ppl like Singer are well aware of this. Prehaps taking a page out of his playbook would prove to be pragmatically fruitful, if intellectually dubious, or prehaps it makes sense to concern oneself with personally forming more accurate models of the world as opposed to teaching pigs to fly.

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