what tends to be widely disseminated by the media will almost certainly not be the most worthy, the most consequent, the most eloquent, most beautiful, but rather whatever provides passing satisfaction to an ideological palate which has lost the ability to distinguish between the true, the trivial and the blatantly manufactured. This might be in the form of political reporting, or celebrity gossip, or whatever is trending on social media, or inspiration porn, or coverage of some calamity, or sound bites from a popular religious figure, or sound bites from a loathed religious figure, for that matter – but they are all accorded the same status within this debauched medium.
Scott Stephens, editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal, has written an excellent piece on the role of the media in the formation of our collective moral mind:
According to Kierkegaard, the role of the popular press is effectively to inoculate the public against serious ethical reflection by peddling a placebo called opinion: a form of irresponsible speech which in no way obliges the speaker to act upon his convictions, but which can nonetheless shown off as a kind of fashion accessory.
“The great mass of people naturally have no opinion but – here it comes! – this deficiency is remedied by the journalists who make their living by renting out opinions … Gradually, as more and more people are wrenched free of the condition of innocence in which they were by no means obliged to have an opinion and are forced into the ‘condition of guilt’ … in which they must have an opinion, what can the unfortunate people do? An opinion becomes a necessary item for every member of the enormous public, so the journalist offers his assistance by renting out opinions.”
It is not surprising, then, that Evgeny Morozov regards Kierkegaard as the first and most perceptive critic of what he calls “slacktivism”: the rather dubious modern practice of incorporating political causes or one’s ethical bona fides into a carefully constructed online persona. As Kierkegaard recognised, not only does this corrupt moral sentiment itself, it also produces inconstant, ultimately exhibitionist forms of quasi-morality.
The piece is scathing, and well worth your time.