Streetwise Professor

December 18, 2016

The eReformation: Every Man His Own Editor

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:45 pm

The concept of “fake news” is running neck-and-neck with “Putin Did It!” as the leading explanation for the inexplicable (inexplicable to the self-identified elite, anyways). These explanations sometimes overlap, when the Russians are blamed for disseminating fake news, never mind the fact that what the Russians are primarily blamed for (the DNC and Podesta leaks) was anything but fake: it was all too real. Indeed, perhaps the most egregious example of fake news is the mantra that the leaks are fake news. (A new competitor for this dubious honor is the WaPoo’s and NYT’s repetition of the claim that the FBI and the DNI have endorsed the CIA’s claim that the Russians hacked to help Trump, based solely on the (ironically) leaked ipse dixit of the CIA.)

The idea that fake news is somehow, well, new, is farcical. All that has changed is the means of dissemination. I remember vividly poorly printed flyers distributed in Chicago making lurid accusations about Harold Washington. (Ironically, some of the people bewailing fake news now were quite likely involved in some of those old school Chicago antics.) But go back centuries: American political newspapers and pamphlets in the 18th and 19th centuries contained slanderous falsehoods.

But “fake news” has become a thing because Hillary et al are desperate for some excuse for Trump’s triumph. More sinisterly, they are panicking at the realization that they no longer control the flow of information, which once gave them a decided political advantage. They are all about narratives, and when people depended on traditional media channels for news, it was much easier to control the narrative. Now that control is slipping away, they are desperately trying to regain their dominance by enlisting major social media companies in a campaign to crack down on alleged fake stories on their platforms. In the case of Facebook, this involves employing allegedly independent fact checkers, who are in fact made members of the leftist media establishment.

What has obviously happened is that the Internet has disintermediated traditional news media. There are so many channels through which stories (true and false) can flow that the traditional gatekeepers, and the beneficiaries of a more controlled media environment (namely, the political establishment), have lost control. This is inducing hysteria and a panicked effort to regain it.

This reminds me of the Reformation, which disintermediated the incumbent religious hierarchy, and the rulers who relied on the Church to exert social control. Then, the establishment railed at false theology. Today, the establishment rails at false news. Then, the translation of the Bible into the vulgate allowed individuals to make their own theological judgments outside the authority of the institutional church: today, the ability of people to access myriad stories and opinion pieces allows them to make their own political and social judgments without the authority of media or political mandarins. Then, the phrase was “every man his own priest”: today, it could be “every man (or woman) his (or her) own editor.” In the 16th century, the elite–the Church and many secular rulers–reacted to the popularization of religion in by attempting to reassert their religious and social authority over the masses, at times with violence.  In 2016 what passes for an elite is attempting to reassert its ideological and social authority over the masses. As yet, there has been no violence. But it’s early days yet.

The Counter-Reformation ultimately failed because the underlying technological (e.g., printing) and social forces overwhelmed the ability of traditionalists to restore their authority. I expect that the same will be true in the case of the ongoing eReformation. What Facebook and other social media are attempting to do will likely be little more than a futile rearguard action. It is ironic, and somewhat pathetic, that companies which are themselves the product of the technology that disintermediated information are now trying to impose themselves as the new information intermediaries: they certainly like the profits that the technology has showered upon them (well, not Twitter), but are deeply frightened about how the that technology has liberated the reliance of the masses on the elite for their information. They want their cake, and to eat it to.

But this will fail. The contradictions here are so glaring that I am tempted to resort to Marxian language to describe them. I will resist the temptation, and merely conclude by saying that Facebook and Twitter and all of the other would be intermediaries will not be able to surmount these contradictions. And thank God for that.

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  1. You have a problem with your explanation of biblical translation. The translation was from the Vulgate to the local language. The Vulgate was the Latin or “common” (i.e. the root for the term vulgar and its original meaning) version of the bible having been translated from Hebrew & Greek. During the reformation the Bible was translated into German by Martin Luther and English by William Tyndale (who eventually was burned at the stake for so doing). So the bible went from being only available in Latin to any myriad of local languages. I hesitate to say translated from Latin to local language as Tyndale and others would often work from the original texts in Hebrew and Greek.

    Of course in the process of translating the Bible into local language – people like Luther and Tyndale went a long way to standardizing the language. The irony is that the internet IMO is leading to an acceleration in “non-standard” language. Grammar and usage are not even a suggestion.

    Of course your larger analogy is entirely correct. The “priesthoods” in all their forms are losing authority and authority/power is devolving. In the long term, those cheering this may need to be careful for what they wish. Anarchy isn’t conducive to complex social organizations, either.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — December 19, 2016 @ 1:06 am

  2. 3 posts in 2 days. You are on **fire**, Prof.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours BTW.

    Comment by Green As Grass — December 19, 2016 @ 5:26 am

  3. O/T but I found this article oddly cheering:

    Stuff made by Soviet-era Russians because they couldn’t get proper stuff in their command economy.

    The bath plug and TV aerial cracked me up.

    Comment by Green As Grass — December 19, 2016 @ 5:35 am

  4. Facebook is fine for what it is, a way of keeping in touch with friends, etc. But its popularity has led its founder to think he’s invented the printing press or steam engine and to start strutting around with lame-duck “world leaders” and thinking he has a role to play in how we should all live. The sooner it is cut off at the knees and goes back to thinking it’s a mildly useful communication tool, the better.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 19, 2016 @ 8:14 am

  5. JavelinaTex,
    Most reformation bibles were not translated from the Vulgate, but rather from Erasmus’s new Latin translation of the New Testament from the Greek, and then later translations from Hebrew. There was a dual problem, if you like. First, there was a debate about the reliability of the translation by St. Jerome–the Vulgate–and whether more accurate translations had different doctrinal implications than those of the Church. This is why the Catholic church and its supporters published all those expensive polyglot bibles in the late 16th century, and was why one of the first substantial sessions of the Council of Trent–the fourth Session–dealt with the canonical scriptures and the edition of the work.

    Then there was the issue of vernacular translations. Apart from areas where Hussitism or Wycliffe had made vernacular translations synonymous with heresy, there had been late medieval vernacular bibles. Of course, the new Reformation bibles did have a greater impact than others, but the new suspicion of Bibles in the vernacular as being tinged Protestantism might actually have reduced the access to Biblical texts in Catholic areas–and since there were more areas that remained Catholic, might actually have reduced the number of areas where the Bible was available in a local language. Without debating the importance of Luther’s or the King James Bible on German or English, I wonder whether vernacular standarization didn’t have its own momentum, as lots of languages without a dominant vernacular Bible also started to receive a more standard written form, at least, in the 16th and early 17th centuries.

    Comment by E Thomson — December 19, 2016 @ 8:44 am

  6. The comparison to Luther’s efforts regarding the Bible is absolutely delicious.

    Luther (and Tyndale) committed a “crime” – translating the Bible.

    But what was Luther trying to do? He was trying to point out the excesses and corruption of the Church, and trying to eliminate those.

    In translating the Bible, Luther also committed another “crime” – illustrations were added making fun of the Pope.

    Luther blew up the Church.

    Social media has blown up the Mainstream Leftie Media, in a similar fashion, because they are corrupt.

    The Church had the doctrine of infallibility, and it was a “sin” to question Church teachings.

    The Mainstream Leftie Media is no different – one is not to question their self-righteous pronouncements, including the secular religion of “climate change,” which has several High Priests and adherents who profit big time from government money which is spread around to make people such as the AlGore and his buddies very wealthy.

    Wycliffe also committed the “sin” of translation, so much so that after he was dead, his body was dug up, and burned, and his ashes cast into the River Swift in 1428.

    That’ll learn ’em.

    Why should anyone trust Carlos Slim and the New York Slimes (“all the news that fits we print”) or Bezos and WaPoop, etc., any longer?

    “Heretics” these days are labeled as fake news, and Killery Pandersuit is still shrieking that we should trust only what she says, and that she is protecting us from Rooshans.

    Except that she and Podesta and the rest are the ones putting out fake news.

    Comment by elmer — December 19, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

  7. @JavelinaTex . . . speed kills. Meant to write “vernacular” but in this context “vulgate” was what popped into my head.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2016 @ 7:03 pm

  8. @JavelinaTex. Your last sentence brings to mind Martin Luther, who was aghast at the social revolution that he unleashed.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2016 @ 7:04 pm

  9. @Green-Thanks. Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

    Re 3 posts in 2 days. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin (yes, a leftist!), I try to be cynical but it’s hard to keep up, especially now with so much absurdity!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 19, 2016 @ 7:05 pm

  10. Shrug. For all its ills, the Republican problem at least tried to figure out what they did wrong after 2012. There’s no such soul searching from the Democrats, unfortunately.

    Comment by FTR — December 19, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

  11. You wrote they use “independent fact checkers, who are in fact made members of the leftist media establishment.”

    Enter Germany. They use among others the Amadeo Antonio Foundation to combat so-called hate speech. The Leader of that foundation is the ex Stasi member Ms. Kahane. Oh, and the foundation is partly funded bt the Ministry of Family Affairs!

    Comment by Hans — December 20, 2016 @ 12:48 am

  12. Or perhaps there’s no such soul searching from the Democrats, thank God.

    Comment by dearieme — December 20, 2016 @ 9:11 am

  13. @FTR & @dearieme: Perhaps one should only use the phrase “soul searching” as applied to Democrats to mean that they are trying to find one, not examining one they have 😉

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 20, 2016 @ 1:58 pm

  14. The Orthodox Church always translated the bible into the local language. There are Georgian translations dating back to the 4th Century. Which was a major reason the reformation didn’t take hold in the Orthodox world, it wasn’t really needed.

    Comment by Andrew — December 21, 2016 @ 12:39 am

  15. You love yourself some Zerohedge, don’t you?

    Comment by job23_12 — December 21, 2016 @ 9:44 am

  16. @job23_12. You’re new here, aren’t you? You might want to dig a little deeper before saying that. It’s kind of amusing, actually.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 21, 2016 @ 6:17 pm

  17. @SWP. Forgive me for only alluding to my point facetiously. I’ve been reading off and on and understand your view of ZH. I guess I’m still trying to work through how you view ZH / Russian misinformation operations in light of the whole ‘fake news’/Russian hacking uproar (which I agree is being used for political ends). I’m curious what you think of ZH given the narrative changes (on both sides of the aisle) that have occurred since the election. I’d be interested in what you think of the below:

    IF: (1) the disintermediation of traditional news media is a good thing, even if it means every reader is left to his/her own devices to figure out ‘fake’ news from ‘real’ news; (2) the Russian hacking thing is totally overblown and is more or less meh, not good, not bad, but basically just realpolitik and we need to move on; and (3) the ZH echo chamber is a Russian ‘misinformation’ (i.e. fake news) operation…

    THEN: maybe ZH isn’t so bad?

    On a separate topic, you have to hand it to Vlad. The whole hacking / Wikileaks thing covers two contingencies: if Trump wins it gives his opponents the opportunity to try to delegitimize him. If Hillary wins it gives her opponents the opportunity to try to delegitimize her. Either way it’s win win as a tool to ‘create’ delegitimization of the presidency for a large portion of the populace. Brilliant tactic.

    Comment by job23_12 — December 22, 2016 @ 3:27 pm

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