The following is inscribed above the entry hall of the once-venerable Chicago Tribune:
Give Me But The Liberty Of The Press
And I Will Give To The Minister A Venal House Of Peers.
I Will Give Him A Corrupt And Service House Of Commons.
I Will Give Him The Full Swing Of The Patronage Of Office.
I Will Give Him All The Power That Place Can Confer Upon Him
To Purchase Up Submission And Overawe Resistance:
And Yet, Armed With The Liberty Of The Press,
I Will Go Forth To Meet Him Undismayed.
I Will Attack The Mighty Fabric Of That Mightier Engine.
I Will Shake Down From Its Height Corruption
And Bury It Beneath The Ruins Of
The Abuses It Was Meant To Shelter.
–Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s words once captured an industry’s ethos. Today, the inscription is more like a monument to the dead. You see, the corporate media has mutated. Instead of tracking truth, it summons grotesque psychic entities.
The Rise of Media Egregores
The concept of an egregore originates from occult traditions. The term is derived from the Greek word egrégoroi, which means “watchers.” But it’s also used to describe a collective thoughtform that gets summoned when enough people concentrate on the same pattern of ideas.
The resulting collective consciousness resembles a psychic entity, that is, a creature with a life of its own. Egregores influence—and are influenced by—the thoughts of those participating in their creation. If we were to relate the concept of an egregore to media manipulation, perhaps we can see the latter in a different light.
In its many forms, media can be seen as a means of directing collective attention. For example, a sensational news story or a viral campaign can focus public attention and emotional energy on a specific idea or cause. These coalesce and strengthen a resultant set of thought patterns: an egregore. When enough people hold such patterns in place of truth, they become dangerous.
The resulting mass belief has a kind of agency.
Manipulators and their Monsters
Media manipulation can be understood as an attempt to shape our collective sensemaking. The manipulators conjure their egregores to push a pliant public in a direction the manipulators desire. This might be done for any number of reasons—for instance, to influence public opinion, sell products, or gain political power.
But it is not journalism.
When enough people think, talk, and act a certain way, perhaps in some mimetic thrall, they are not using their minds. They are, instead, submitting their agency and cognition to a groupthink monster of a manipulator’s design.
In a broader sense, our shared understanding of the world—our collective intelligence—might be viewed as a vast network of overlapping egregores constantly being shaped and reshaped by ideologues.
We once called these manipulators journalists.
I say “once” because a rough equivalent of the Sheridan epigraph used to define the industry. Consider the following principles, which he would surely have welcomed:
- Seek the truth come what may.
- Speak the truth come what may.
- Let the truth be a check on power in all its forms.
Oh my, say the activists staffing the J-schools, journalistic principles are just warmed over modernism. Social justice cum critical theory recommends a very different approach to the enterprise.
Somewhere along the way, journalists, and those training them, abandoned these journalistic principles, and replaced them with their dark mirrors:
- Ignore truths that challenge one’s ideological priors.
- Distort reality through narrative and spin.
- Let your work serve power in all its forms.
The process is both conscious and unconscious, as ideological mind viruses animate journalists, making them into zombies. Still, by applying those latter three anti-principles—even unwittingly—journalists become media manipulators.
And manipulators make monsters.
Because we’re dealing in the currency of metaphor, it might be meaningful to imagine good egregores, as Mark Stavish describes at the Theosophical Society:
Imagine that an intelligent and well-disposed man, who is able to concentrate, is thinking about a good idea, giving it a certain form. He may then find others, who have the same or similar ideas, and so a circle of men may come into being, who are all thinking along the same lines but in a different form. It is as if every one of them is repeating the drawing of a plan, placing a pencil again and again along the same contours. The thing grows in strength, develops an astrosome [astral body] and becomes an “Egregor” or collective entity.
Stavish adds that the concept was revived thanks to a Russian esotericist and freemason named Grigorii Osipovich Mebes, whose acolytes wrote about the idea in various books that penetrated the Western mind.
If, in addition to truth tracking, we are making good egregores—so be it. The point is to find language that motivates us to serve truth and justice.
Truth Slays Egregores
Armed with the liberty of the press
I will go forth to meet him undismayed.
The independent media offer hope. Legions of new anti-authoritarians are giving expression to the spirit of inquiry. The mainstream zombies know this at some level, and so attempt to paint all independent media outlets as run by unlearned, benighted hucksters prone to conspiracy theories. We know better.
But we have a weapon capable of combating the vaporous lies of the corporate media: truth. The egregores of ideology and falsehood have a first-mover advantage, of course. But happily—over time—truth’s flaming sword dispels the foul sorcery of media manipulation.
The key to ultimate victory will be to develop truth-tracking technologies capable of arresting media mind viruses before they do too much damage. Decentralized media and independent media will continue to improve and supplant the corporate media. And if we can create new sense-making systems with incentives to track truth, the j-school activists will have to scurry back to the academy.