Noam Chomsky stopped just one rung shy of perfection with his illuminating book, Manufacturing Consent, about how commercial media work as extensions of government and corporate power to manufacture the consent of the masses. Likewise, Matt Taibbi’s title, Hate, Inc. is a near-perfect indictment of cable and digital news profit models that manufacture and prioritize enmity to the exclusion of the truth and the common good.
Both works fall just one rung shy of perfection, however, not because they aren’t impressive examples of applied critical thought and insight, but because neither consent nor hate are the primary products of commercial media. Rather, they are toxic byproducts of a commercial mass media whose primary product is addiction…
“The effect of mass media is not to elicit belief but to maintain the apparatus of addiction.” — Christopher Lasch
In the early 21st century, we turned the corner from a society in which addiction was the exception to the rule to a society in which addiction became the rule. By 2004, still some years before social media, the smartphone, and streaming media secured their reputations as history’s most perfect narcotics, the average American — according to the Ball State University Middletown Media Studies report (the first large-scale observational study of American media consumption habits) — was already consuming more than eleven hours of media each and every day.
Concurrently, TV Everywhere, the commercial imperative behind the trillion-dollar campaigns for high-speed bandwidth and streaming HDTV, was ordained as the latest media industry mantra — part of an all-hands-on-deck digital blitzkrieg to normalize late-stage addiction.
Since then, hundreds of studies, articles, books, and documentaries have confirmed what anyone with a smartphone, social media account or a teenager already knows or suspects: we are a nation of media addicts — by design. We are, per Stanford addiction researcher Dr. Anna Lembke, a Dopamine Nation. The scientific, theological, and lay juries are in: smartphones, streaming HDTV, and social media are now — by far — the primary narcotics of choice in what I call the Great Age of Addiction.
“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” — Carl Jung
What Carl Jung failed to mention at the time was the practical reason why all addictions are bad: because all addictions — regardless of the narcotics — are manifestations of behavioral excess. As such, they all steal our time and money and freedom — none more ruthlessly or efficiently than our default meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital.
Needless to say, we didn’t just suddenly wake up one morning to discover that we had become a society of media addicts overnight. We became a society of media addicts the same way we became a society of institutions too big to fail. What happened to us (and what we allowed to happen), happened gradually over decades. Like too big to fail it happened not as an unintended consequence of a failure to plan, or the unfortunate fallout from a lousy plan. Like too big to fail, state-sponsored default addiction is the plan.
“The model of ownership, in a society built round mass consumption, is addiction.”
— Christopher Lasch
In the Great Age of Addiction, the meta-message we hear most is always the same binge-worthy call to action: “Eat all you want,” our digital overlords tell us over and over again. “We’ll make more.” Everything else, like the manufacture of consent and hate, follows…
Of course, commercial mass media’s essential job in a culture of mass consumption is to promote and protect the narrow interests of the ruling elite, who now control virtually all of institutional America, including the corporate media, the technomedia cartel (with the current exception of Twitter), finance, the entertainment industry, academia and public education, all major surveillance and law enforcement agencies, all other major government agencies, and all major NGOs. Institutional dissenters are few and far between in the Great Age of Addiction.
The manufacture of default addiction in the 21st century is a compliance mechanism borrowed straight from the pages of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World — the story of a dystopian society controlled by state-sponsored addiction to soma, sex, and endless entertainment…
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it.” — Aldous Huxley
Our own descent into the grips of state-sponsored default addiction was much accelerated in the early 21st century by the algorithmic tools of digital scale — behavioral targeting, Big Data, and AI — deployed en masse against foreign and domestic populations for the past generation by massive institutions in a classically fascist union of private and government interests.
“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini
Predictably, addiction is now a cradle-to-grave relationship for the children of the 21st century, an endless parade of state-sanctioned psychotropics, sexualization, and numerous other substance and behavioral addictions — not least our meta-addiction to all things media and all things digital. Our lives as addicts begin these days in early childhood, usually well before we can read — by design. Understandable, therefore, that the most compelling and intimate relationships in our lives as mass consumers of mass commercial media and just about everything else are the relationships we cultivate with our own narcotics — the same relationships designed to breed compliance, complacency, and consent.
In recent years we have witnessed the addition of yet another dystopian vision to the American cultural stew. Unlike the Huxleyan model, this one is concerned far less with the bemused manufacture of addicted consent, already fait accompli in the Great Age of Addiction, and far more with the iron-fist mechanics of totalitarian enforcement.
After all, even societies like ours, societies whose citizens have been duly converted into passive addicts in order to manufacture compliance and consent on behalf of a ruling elite — must deal with outliers and the occasional rise of populist movements. What is the ruling elite to do with those who refuse or fail to comply?
What, American elites have asked us in recent years, are we to do with the tens of millions of Donald Trump voters, the populist MAGA movement, January 6th rioters, and angry parents who suddenly show up uninvited to school board meetings? What, ask blue-state governors, blue-city mayors, and the W.H.O. are we to do with anti-vax monsters who refuse to comply with covid lockdown, vaccine, and mask mandates? What, the Canadian oligarchs ask, are we to do with all these Nazi rogue truckers? What, ask the movers and shakers of civil society as they step off their private jets in Davos, are we to do with those who deny the science of climate change? What, ask the academicians and public school policy makers are we to do with those who deny gender-affirming care? What, ask the politicians, are we to do with those who deny election results? What, ask the global elite, are we to do with the anti-war Putin sympathizers who threaten the Liberal World Order, refuse to support the battle for democracy and freedom, and casually imperil so many Ukrainian lives?
What happens when the Huxleyan model of manufactured consent and compliance via state-sanctioned addiction fails to keep them all in check? To properly manage these and future populist miscreants, the ruling elite have borrowed from the 20th century’s other great literary dystopia: George Orwell’s 1984. In it, Orwell describes a society ruled and controlled not by state-sponsored default addiction, but by 24/7 surveillance, linguistic thought control, the wholesale manufacture of abject hatred, and jackboot-enforced fear — all state-sponsored and manufactured.
In Orwell’s classic dystopian vision, state-sanctioned violence is converted from something we fear into something we cheer. Each and every morning members of the Outer Party of Oceania are required by the elite Inner Party to participate in the daily Two Minutes Hate — 120 seconds of publicly expressed mob contempt and disgust for fabricated public enemy and terrorist, Emmanuel Goldstein…