Az alábbi dolgozat megjelent: István Berszán (ed.): Orientation in the Occurrence. KORUNK KOMP-PRESS Cluj-Napoca 2009. Rövídített változata elhangzott magyarul Kolozsváron, a Babes-Bolyai Egyetem Orientation in the Occurrence-c konferenciáján, 2008 októberében. (Magyarul itt olvasható.)

Gyula Botond
Translation: Katalin Sarudi

Consciousness, Medium, Media – Reality Constructing

The medium (the means) of comprehension is the consciousness. The effect of occurrences upon consciousness (perception) is the empirical basis of the intellect, which is the authentic element of the products of the consciousness-medium (explanation, conclusion, foresight). However the indirect input channel of the consciousness is communication, which transfers virtual contents and is not an authentic source. The contents of communication could be true or false, and the differentiation between them requires efforts. The past occurrences (history) are not accessible in the present, they need a communication medium (media), the process of which (it’s content of truth) is uncertain. So the comprehension of occurrences could result in a never ending communication (text), which could be analysed, constructed, and deconstructed as you wish. The postmodern philosophical thinking is a sequence of operations on texts like these. However, the nature of reality is quite different.

A very special problem emerges day by day in the professional practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy which demands a solution from the practitioner. The relation between the verbally communicated world and the reality needs examination: we have to decide about the given information which side it belongs to. We must be careful when we determine the dividing line between virtual and objective (‘real’) reality, between the imaginary and the experienced world. The examiner – in this case the psychiatrist – must be aware of the difference, which brings him in a kind of authoritative position. In case the examiner or the therapist is not certain of the difference, he cannot help the person who suffers from the very reason that these two forms of reality have been mixed in his head.

The recently popular philosophical – sociological trend, the so called postmodern society critic, or society interpretation is, to a certain degree, a burden to psychiatric work. According to the postmodern viewpoint, the world consists of narratives above all, stories which we try to join up coherently (Fisher 1987). As a consequence, the experienced and non-verbal reality is pushed into the background, in some extreme cases it is declared as non-existent, thus the events taking place in reality (i.e. our physical, biological state of being) escape the attention. On the other hand mental states are always compared to the given cultural environment which defines whether they are pathological or not – yet, they are not abnormal in sui generis (Foucault 2004). Such opinions which disregard simple reality, contributed to the development and partly to the present survival of the so called anti-psychiatric movements in the second part of the last century (Szasz 1974). But the examination of mental disorders in the clinical practice leads us to disillusionment. The confusion of the imaginary world and the confusion of mind is realised in psychiatric disorders and its manifestation is the pathological behaviour which cannot be tolerated neither by the individual nor the by the society.

Let me give you an example for this which is experienced in clinical practice quite often. John, who was taken to hospital by his relatives because they thought him to be ill, told us that he has been angry with his neighbour because the neighbour in his own garden sprayed with a type of dangerous chemical which destroyed John’s plants and flowers. John reported the neighbour to the police. Later on, he has also got angry with his family, because they took him to a psychiatrist though he did not feel sick at all. However, John’s relatives told us that the neighbour has not sprayed the plants, nothing has been destroyed in the garden, but it is John who has not taken food for days because he was afraid of being poisoned. He has neither been able to sleep at nights and instead he’s been quarrelling with invisible people. Also, he threatened the neighbour that either he stops poisoning him or he would be taken to the police. John told us many more details of his poisoning story which was finally completed as a perfectly coherent whole. But his story fails having real, non-verbal evidence and what we see instead is a worn-out, starved, dried out John. Besides, the likelihood of being poisoned this way nowadays is close to zero. The accompanying non-verbal signals make it possible for the examiner to decide whose story is virtual and whose story is real. Without making such a decision, no-one can work in the field of psychiatry. It should be noticed as well, that psychiatric disorders can only appear in creatures having conscious mind.

Living creatures without human consciousness can orientate themselves in the occurrences autonomously and well, they owe their survival to this. Their behaviour is based on their real, direct experiences. However, living creatures without consciousness are dull. They do not use concepts and they don’t understand anything. Whereas Homo sapiens is wise. He knows and understands everything – at least he intends to. A human being orientates in the occurrences with the help of his brain and is prone to be negligent about his simple experiences. Brain functioning and consciousness needs signals, communication and abstraction, it is not in direct contact with the real occurrences, real events. The signs of communication originate from the consciousness of others, in the form of speech or written material. The formation of consciousness takes place at school, at seminars and in mass media with means of education, interpretation and propaganda. Man tries to orientate in reality through indirect ways, thus becomes defenceless against signals, teachers and media. This hasn’t always been so: in premodern age primary reference was gained by direct experience, mediatory messages had only distant, transcendent interpretations. In our time – which can be called as Postmodern age – technical development of the media has changed everything and the signals became the natural surroundings of our everyday life (Pethő 1992).

Communication, as a fundamental medium which provide circulation of signals, is used in a general sense by every living creature. But there is a basic difference between the conscious, human communication and the biological or instinctive communication. We, conscious beings have reached such a high degree in the ability of abstraction that we can create a private, abstract, imaginary world for ourselves which is built up of nothing else but communicational signals. The virtual world is able to fill up the human mind, overwhelm even the consciousness of groups in great numbers, this way it can make their behaviour uniform. In a lucky case the images and the abstractions are not in contrast with the reality, they can even facilitate the orientation in the real world e.g. knowledge about the laws of physics. But the more complicated and richer in signals the communication is, the easier it moves away from the referent, the reality and the easier it can be used for falsification and cheating.

In psychiatry and also in everyday life we call ‘confused state’ all behaviour-manifestation that does not fit into the actual physical or social environment and the individual cannot give a reasonable explanation for his actions. Since behaviour is directed by the mind, the troubled and confused content of the mind leads to troubled behaviour or speech. Generally the mind contains names, thoughts, memories, interpretations which can be considered epistemologically as signs. These signals may be the own products of the mind e.g. fantasy, intuition, conclusions, hallucinations, but in the highly developed civilisations of our time they are mostly of external origin, they are derived from a communicational medium, they are learnt. The falsified, troubled external (or internal) signals produce confused mind, troubled thinking and as a consequence of this all, troubled behaviour appears especially in those cases when no other information source is available.

Jean Baudrillard conceives postmodernism as an endless circulation of signs from which any sense of reality has fallen away, a world in which there are simulations and only simulations. For Baurillard the post-modern world was a world of simulacra, where we could no longer differentiate between reality and simulation. Simulacra represented nothing themselves: there was no other reality to which they referred (Baudrillard 1994). In consequence Baudrillard could claim that Disneyland and television now constituted America’s reality, and that the Gulf War did not happen, but was merely a simulation (Baudrillard 1995). This was a view that attracted a great deal of criticism for its apparent cynicism and lack of sensitivity to the human dimension involved (Sim 1998).

Baudrillard doesn’t make a difference between true and false signals, and he is wrong when not differentiating between participants of the real event and the viewers. Those thousands of people who participated in the Gulf War had fundamentally different experiences from those many millions who were only watching the events on TV. For the viewers it is really a simulation but it doesn’t affect the event itself, the event which they could not experience. Another example might be the Revolution in Romania in 1989. There were relatively few participants but many people watched it on TV throughout Europe – as a kind of Christmas show. The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 however, was not a simulation for anyone because postmodern television didn’t broadcast it. Unfortunately the majority of people haven’t acknowledged it for many years. The Revolution in 1956 was the first cracking on the thick wall of the communism, but the communist propaganda was able to get the next generation believe a simulacrum – a simulacrum, which said that everything happened inversely as in reality.

Postmodernism (since about 1968) has been a wide-ranging cultural movement which adopts a sceptical attitude to many of the principles and assumptions that have underpinned Western thought and social life for the last few centuries. These assumptions, which constitute the core of what we call modernism, include belief in the inevitability of progress in all areas of human endeavour and in the power of reason, as well as a commitment to originality in both thought and artistic expression. Jean-Francois Lyotard described as Metanarratives (grand récits), theories which claim to provide universal explanations and trade on the authority this gives them (Lyotard 1984). Metanarratives e.g. religion, morality, science, progress, history, identity. Lyotard’s contention is that such schemes are implicitly authoritarian, and that by the late twentieth century they have lost all claim to authority over individual behaviour. The primary example of the decline of Metanarratives is Marxism and the attempt for its realization brought dreadful results. However, the downfall of the Marxism doesn’t mean that other Meta-narratives are to be rejected.

Jacques Derrida has become associated with the claim (taken of his work Grammatology): ‘there is no outside text’ (“il n’y a pas de hors texte”) – an ontological absolutism by an author who denies the absolute. Dominick LaCapra, historian, acutely remarks in Soundings in Critical Theory (1998) ’there is no inside-the-text either’. Inside/outside the text: how could you ever decide fundamentally where text ends and reality begins? – a typically post-modern deceiving question. It is not at all difficult to decide; reality doesn’t need text and thinking, it can be experienced and used speechless, and it is always identical with itself. Being without text is an intimate state of being, an untouched pure reality, which is given to all living creatures. At the same time, reality is dissolving in thinking, it seemingly becomes a text, and this is the trap of discursive work. Among many others, Freudian psychologists often fall into this trap when they identify theories of psychoanalysis with true reality.

Let’s have a well-known example when reality is dissolved in discursive work. We can hear in mass media or even at university lectures quite often nowadays that national identity cannot be grasped by primary experience. In this statement ‘national identity’ occurs as a general concept so it is an abstract, virtual formation indeed which is ruled by the laws of the text and of the language, and as a consequence, it’s not within the reach of primary experience. But the sense of identity induced by the environment – similarly to the sense of self – appears already in infancy and it is attached to the body, smell, voice of the mother (and to the mother tongue as well), and later on to the objects around the child: room, house, members of family, street, city, country. This kind of primary experience creates the emotional binding, the ego-state which we can call as ‘national identity’, but it’s not necessary to denominate it because this state exists independently, without naming it. We can observe similar binding to parents and to the environment at young birds (e.g. greylag goose) through imprinting (Lorenz 1994).

Jacques Derrida in the late 1960s offered a mode of reading which is attentive to a test’s multiple meanings, rather than attempting to find a true meaning, a consistent point of view or unified message in a given work. This reading mode is the Deconstruction, a term coined by Derrida. Deconstructive reading however, can be made on texts only, and it is a fatal error to refer it to the reality. This error has also been made by those who falsified history, – and not by accident. Events which have taken place in the past cannot be experienced directly in the present. This way we can get only mediated, written, virtual knowledge about history (Lukacs 1985). Historical events happened in one way only, but it is possible to tell true or false stories about them.

The de/reconstructibility of the text is encapsulated in the biblical phrase ‘in the beginning was the Word (the Logos)’. No, it wasn’t. In the beginning was the Occurrence – and Logos, the naming of the event, and the interpretations came just after it. First a little child experiences objects and occurrences, and then an adult teaches him the names of these things. He learns the ideas and the grouping names of the things later, and he learns the metaphorical speech just after all this. The understanding of complicated messages requires empathy as well: when a statement takes place, the kid observes the emotional state of the adult and he connects the meaning of the statement to the experienced emotional state. The rule of semantics that shows us which linguistic signal or which name is related to a certain object is the basis of the true use of signals (i.e. the truth). One can comply with these rules or one can cheat them – this is called a lie. Ratings do not have a simple semantic rule, they are highly subjective, and they yield free scope for interpretations.

On the level of the simple usage of names there is no possibility for deconstructive text-interpretation. Complying with the basic semantic rules – like the rules of a game – is the pre-condition of true speech. If deconstruction were used on the level of denomination, it would result simple falsification. But someone with a mentally ill way of thinking misinterprets the events on an elementary level; here the deconstructive approach (narrative paradigm) cannot be applied. Dark ideologies of the last century contained basic semantic falsifications as well, and recently the messages of the mass media often hurt simple semantic rules. Determination of the right values is possible in a wide discursive field but whether the bird-flu is dangerous for the people or not, is either true or false.

Baudrillard, in his book Simulations, uses the terms ’simulation’ and ’hyperreality’ to describe the ’mediatisation’ of reality in contemporary society. He argues that with the massive increase in signs and images circulating in post-war media society, the distinction between objects and their representations has disappeared. We are, he alleges, now living in a world of ’simulation’, where media-generated images function independently of any reality external to them.

The technically well-developed mass media recently gives the opportunity for everyone to be informed nearly instantly about any kind of events. The Internet has indeed created a ’global village’ (Marshall McLuhan), and at least 40 million people world-wide surf its electronic waves on a regular basis. Nevertheless Mass media isn’t creating a village but broadcasting false signals globally. To gain true signals, true messages, requires energy and effort, this way it is given only to few people. False messages of the media serve power-purposes, they are deliberate, sophisticated. Communist propaganda is allowed to be called dictatorship nowadays, but is the postmodern media-radiation which is much more effective not allowed to be called the same way. Mass media of our time hasn’t got a democratic structure. Internet however can yet be called a democratic medium, but its censorship and its restriction is growing. There has been no regime in history which tolerated complete freedom of speech. Today we haven’t got such a regime either. If Power doesn’t apply censorship – e.g. in the case of the internet –, the citizens, the dependants do it themselves, when they are reluctant to acknowledge messages they dislike. Truth is often painful, it’s better not knowing about it.

The main source of information in our age is still television. But the values that TV broadcasts are not respectable, they are not part of the high culture, they are not for children. Radical criticism of the thousand-year-old human values emerged for the first time in the works of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud which contributed – not in a small degree – to the sad outcome of the 20th century. Neither the World War II., nor the downfall of the communism resulted in a kind of revival or purification; we experience the continuation of value-destroying propaganda instead, in the form of a dictatorship, which is disguised as entertainment.

Orientation in the occurrence is very problematic in our days because of the mass media. The entertaining capacity of the media attracts people, the messages keep on running while entertaining. The passive viewer while enjoying himself gets under the influence of suggestions, whose major part is false. Propaganda, which is disguised as entertainment is a typical postmodern technique of the media, – in the professional language it is called ‘infotainment’. News revues broadcast serious, often tragic news and messages, which are placed in a pleasant textual and pictorial environment and the commentaries are more or less false. Television and cheap, yellow journalism can be considered completely as infotainment media. Baudrillard’s simulacra are innocent in case they are not false. Revealing of the falsification, finding the true signals requires much labour, but a ‘heavy viewer’ has a lazy character. This way media messages constitute the true reality for him, the real world where he lives in. Media environment is the primary surrounding of the postmodern man; he has to adapt himself to this for the sake of social adaptation. But ‘not knowing something’ is less dangerous than ‘knowing something falsely’, so we can claim that mass media is not a useful but a dangerous source of information, it’s better to stay away from it.

Postmodern mass media as an entertaining manipulation started its carrier with the US elections in 1960 (Lukacs 1984). From this time on, television has become the ‘most authentic’ source of information for American people. It has been playing a similar role in the entire civilised world today, so we can deservedly refer to the post-modern societies with the ‘people of the media’ expression. Where the ‘most authentic’ source of information has been improved until recently, are shown in US (media)war events, where the media (television) took its positions sooner than the soldiers: Grenada 1983, Panama 1989, Gulf War 1991, Somalia and Haiti 1994, and New York 09-11-2001.

Let me recall some remarkable and world threatening media-products (media contagion) from the latest years: Mad-Cow Disease, SARS pandemic, computer bug on the millennium, the invasion of killer bees, meteorite rushes towards the Earth, Osama Bin Laden, terrorism, white anthrax powder, nuclear threat of Iran, bird flu. The majority of these media products originate from the USA. Smaller media productions which (de)form local consciousness are not widely-known, but surely everyone is able to recall some of his home country repertoire. In Hungary we are overwhelmed by media manipulations and the majority of us can’t see out of them. There is another remarkable example of the distorting effect of the media: the referendum held in December 05, 2004 in Hungary about the citizenship of ethnic Hungarians living outside the borders which had a shameful outcome. The slogan ‘liberty of the media’ and the old concept ‘freedom of speech’ should not be mixed up. ‘Liberty of the media’ means that anyone can lie about anything in the media.

But who or what organisation is interested in sending false messages into the World, deceiving masses of people and destroying cultural values? I’m not trying to answer this question now, but names of many people and many powerful organisations could have been mentioned. They are not the majority though, concerning their proportion they represent only an insignificant minority. Values of our age are not in the Book, or in a Grand narrative, still they are unified, global, dogmatic and dictatorial. These values are nothing else than the rule of the liberalism and of the free market. Those who have interests in the market-economy will proclaim and enforce its values. Those who are less interested, can join as a consumer, they can enjoy shopping and media-radiance. But not everyone is satisfied with this all, there are some of us who have independent views, independent needs. Still who is driven out of the media, is driven out of the world.

What is the connection between psychiatry and mass media? – you may ask. The answer is simple: both have the same central part, the communication. Psychiatry as well as mass media is oscillating around the dividing line of virtual and true reality. Media, possessing the power of information, broadcasts false signals which have a ‘hallucination-like’ effect on a recipient’s mind that cannot have a primary experience on the given subject. When reality-distant messages are broadcast by the only source, an ‘insanity-like’ state evolves in the mind of the recipient. If all this has a mass confirmation as well, the false belief, the delusion becomes absolute certainty. Let’s recall the events a year ago when media-generated false beliefs of ‘Bird flu’ made some people stand at the frontiers and shoot the birds flying into the country.

Let me quote some lines from the essay Insanity and psychology by Michael Foucault, 1954. Though he writes about the mentally disturbed states, his description fits the media consumer as well:

The individual having lost the denotations and the essential chronology of the Universe becomes estranged from living in the world in which his freedom begins. Since he cannot grasp its sense, he relies on the events. In this scattered, futureless time, in this incoherent space we can see the ill omen of collapse, which passes the individual to the world as to some external Fate… The focal point of the (mental) disorder is in the contradictory unity of the internal world and of being pushed into an unauthorised world. Or, to put it in another way, illness is a withdrawal into the worst subjectivity, and at the same time, falling into the worst objectivity. (Foucault 1954)

But is global mass media really able to get human race ill? Isn’t it an exaggeration to contribute such a baleful power to it? In my opinion media has already been able to do this in the last century, today it operates much more efficiently, and the symptoms of the illness can be perceived (Botond 2004).

Mass illness which is caused by the mass-communication is called ideology. We refer to ideology as a highly reality-distant but in itself coherent system of ideas, in which there is a uniform answer to each question. Ideology is spread via communication, and just like an infection, it soaks in the mind and directs the behaviour. Notorious infectious ideologies in the last century are communism and national socialism, but we should also mention totalitarian religion, and sects. Outside the human mind, in the Nature, there are no ideologies. The more effective a communicational technique is the more capable it is of diffusing an ideology. Mass media of our age is the most developed system of communication ever existed. The primary limit of the ideology diffusion is freedom of speech. Dictatorship is always ideological; it can’t stand freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is not legally limited in the post-modern age, but technically and financially. This is the new form of dictatorship in which just those can succeed who own the media. The result is the globally uniformized way of thinking. A paranoid mental patient is not able to consider his own ideas critically, and similarly, a person whose mind has been developed by the mass media cannot find fault in his own convictions because he does not use other sources of information. Unfortunately, messages of the mass media are supported by books, schoolbooks and school more and more often. But can we call the media suggestions of our days an ideology? Yes, since they are of unified, consistent, wide-spread, authoritative, suggestive propaganda character. The result of the arisen one-sided, pseudo-liberal interpretative force (Bogár 2003) is similar to the result of the insane behaviour: the capacity of adaptation to the Nature and to each other decreases, in the worst case it perishes. A spectacular manifestation of the present-time ideology is the global consumer idiotism.

The danger however is not ahead for all of us. Teenagers, defenceless groups and lowly-educated people have been exposed to the highest risk. In civilised societies a citizen has been watching TV for 4 hours daily on the average, but children may have been doing it for much longer time. Mass media has primarily a value-transmitting effect on the minds of teenagers. What media presents as being important, youngsters will care for it, they will make an effort to copy the presented way of living. This would not have been a problem, when mass media transmitted a way of living in which peaceful coexistence and ecology-protection was in the first place. Instead of this, programs in the media teach us to enjoy low-quality entertainment, tempt us to prodigal and lazy way of living, and news paint a false picture of the events in the world. There is an often asked, misleading question: what values can be called right? Well, if the written history of the past three thousand years is not a sufficient directing indicator for someone to find the answer, it would be a futile attempt to explain him.

Well, what should we do in order to orientate in true reality, in order to obtain true signals in the ocean of lies? First of all, we must keep our consciousness clean. We must know that communicational signs, the names, pictures and interpretations belong to the virtual reality and they are not identical with their contents, with the referent, with the objective reality. We must know that the main stream of the mass media is calibrated for the mentally retarded. We must know that the more sensational a news broadcast is, the more likely it’s a lie. We must know that the access to true signals requires effort and we mustn’t save this work because our lives depend on it. We must tell our children about the nature of the media the sooner the better and we have to defend them against the media effects. We must organise small thinking and teaching communities where only a few things are dealt with, and where we only use true signals. In these communities we must explore the true information, and we must spread them on channels external to mass media. We should realise from the history of the past hundred years that the real threat to mankind doesn’t come from natural disasters but from the human character, the malevolent intention, the stupidity and the immorality. We should defend ourselves against ourselves, us humans against humans, for the defence of human culture.

Botond Gyula
Budapest 2008-09-14


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