I know many individuals are questioning how we are where we are when it comes to society. To me, it is not so shocking where we are today versus where we have been, and the reason why it is not shocking is because of other sources. Francis Schaeffer essentially called all the things we are witnessing today. He, along with CS Lewis, could see the culture, where it was at the time, and where it would lead if it continued on its present course.
Schaeffer, and one would argue Lewis, understood the significance of worldview on a society and culture. This is lost on many today. What one believes about the world will affect how they interact with the world and other people. Until, especially Christians, take into consideration the worldview aspect of their neighbors and society in general they will continue to see much of their efforts be wasted. Christ met people where they were, challenging their understandings of the world, we must do the same through learning about our own worldview and those around us to present the Christian worldview effectively to our culture and society.
Also, there is an increase among Christians to see this time as end times. While it is possible, my personal opinion is that we do not have enough information available to us to know for sure when we have entered such times (I know others disagree, but hear me out). I think truth is just as important to us. To be truth seekers and truth finders. To be individuals who proclaim what is true in society. In this way, even if it is not the end times we should always be engaged with the culture in order to provide truth in a lost world.
Because of this I would like to share something from Schaeffer that I think applies greatly to our world today. I would also like everyone to take note of when this was written (see the end).
Actually, TV manipulates viewers just by its normal way of operating. Many viewers seem to assume that when they have seen something on TV, they have seen it with their own eyes. It makes the viewer think he has actually been on the scene. He knows, because his own eyes have seen. He has the impression of greater direct objective knowledge than ever before. For many, what they see on television becomes more true than what they see with their eyes in the external world.
But this is not so, for one must never forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the event. He sees an edited form of the event. It is not the event which is seen, but an edited symbol or an edited image of the event. An aura and illusion of objectivity and truth is built up, which could not be totally the case even if the people shotting the film were completely neutral. The physical limitations of the camera dictate that only one aspect of the total situation is given. If the camera were aimed ten feet to the left or ten feet to the right, an entirely different “objective story” might come across.
And, on top of that, the people taking the film and those editing it often do have a subjective viewpoint that enters in. When we see a political figure on TV, we are not seeing the person as he necessarily is; we are seeing, rather, the image someone has decided we should see. And if Leni Riefenstahl’s (1902-) Triumph of the Will, a documentary on the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg, could be a terrifyingly effective propaganda vehicle as it was for that authoritarian government, what can a properly managed TV schedule, with its edited illusion of reality, be as it enters every home and is watched for endless hours by both young and old?
With an elite providing the arbitrary absolutes, not just TV but the general apparatus of the mass media can be a vehicle for manipulation. There is no need for collusion or a plot. All that is needed is that the worldview of the elite and the world view of the central news media coincide. One may discuss if planned collusions exists at times, but to be looking only for the possibility of a clandestine plot opens the way for failing to see a much greater danger: that many of those who are in the most prominent places of influence and many of those who decide what is news do have the common, modern, humanist worldview we have described at length in this book. It is natural that they act upon this viewpoint, with varying degrees of consciousness of what they are doing, and even varying degrees of consciousness of who is using whom. Their worldview is the grid which determines their presentation.
A good example is that much of the press (and many diplomats, too) saw and spoke against Hitler’s repressions much sooner (in fact, years sooner) than Stalin’s repressions were acknowledged. This is not because the press was communistic, for most members of the press certainly were not; rather they had a worldview, a set of presuppositions, which caused them to look at what was happening in Hitler’s Germany and what was happening Russia through two entirely different sets of glasses. Edward Behr (1926-) Newsweek’s European regional editor—in reviewing Oliver Todd’s The Ducks of Camau in 1975—sets forth the problem well: “… The liberal dilemma: how to be against injustice….and yet remain lucid enough to combat the authoritarian forms of government that, through the revolutionary process, replace such injustice with tyranny of a different order.”
And not all the media need to be involved in order for manipulation to be effective. In fact, rarely would all the media be involved. It is always unfair to say simply “the press” or “the media” do this or that. They are never to be all lumped together as though they were a monolithic whole. Nonetheless, the media can be a vehicle for manipulation.
There are certain news organizations, newspapers, news magazines, wire services, and news broadcasts which have the ability to generate news. They are the news makers¸ and when an item appears in them it becomes the news. This ability to generate news rests upon a kind of syndrome or psychology or mind-set, not only in the journalistic fraternity but also in influential circles comprised of congressmen, other government officials, and professors. The influence is not necessarily based on circulation, but rather on its reputation with the right people. This is at times consciously cultivated for example, certain news outlets release their big stories tot eh wires and the radio and TV networks before the “big story” hits the newsstands.
Not only do these news makers make certain things news—in contrast to that which gets ”lost”—but the color they put on the news tends to be picked up as well. Often this tone is set by starting off with what is called a “hard lead,” the first sentence of a news article which his supposed to sum up the story in an eye-catching way. If this is subtly slanted, the tone of the whole story tends to be set, and it becomes the stained-glass window through which that story and perhaps even related stories are comprehended.
To put this in terms we have used before, just as we now tend to have sociological science and sociological law, we tend to have sociological news. Here, too, objectivity tends to be lost. One of the old ideals of journalism was objectivity, but, as White House correspondent Forrest Boyd (1921-) of Mutual Broadcasting remarked to me, “Objectivity has taken a beating in recent years.” The distinction between the news columns and the editorial page has, in many of the most influential papers, become much less clear. An ideological position that has nothing to do with the item under review can even be dragged into the society section or into the movie reviews. The news makers obviously have tremendous power, and if either the elite captures them or if because of their worldview they and the elite coincide, then the media is a ready vehicle for manipulative authoritarianism.
Finally we must not forget the manipulative capacity of the high-speed computer. As a tool it is useful but neutral. It can be used for good purposes or equally for harm. It is not only helpful in scientific and business procedures but even now is useful in medicine to make more rapid diagnoses.
Yet the possibility of information storage, beyond what men and governments ever had before, can make available at the touch of a button a man’s total history (including remarks put on his record by his kindergarten teacher about his ability and character). And with the computer must be placed the modern scientific technical capability which exists for wholesale monitoring of telephone, cable, Telex, and microwave transmissions which carry much of today’s spoken and written communications. The combined use of the technical capability of listening in on all these forms of communications with high-speed computer literally leaves no place to hide and little room for any privacy.
And as in the case with subliminal TVV, what will happen as the pressures on society mount? What will protect us from computer control? To say it another way, what use will the present totalitarian countries make of the high-speed computers being made available to them at the present time?
The question, however, is not limited to the use to which present totalitarian regimes will put the computer. The question is what will all these available manipulating techniques mean in our own countries? We must not think of an overnight change, but rather of a subtle trend by the leadership toward greater control and manipulation of the individual. Of course, some might feel uncomfortable about this increased control and manipulation in a relativistic age, but where would they draw a line? Many who talk of civil liberties are also committed to the concept of the state’s responsibility to solve all problems; so in a time of overwhelming pressures (and with the modern loss of any qualitative distinction between man and non-man) at some point the feeling of uncomfortableness will be submerged.
What of tomorrow? In the United States, for example, a manipulating authoritarian government could come from the administrative side or from the legislative side. A public official in the United States serving at the highest level has wisely said, “Legislative dictatorship is no better than executive tyranny.” And one would have to add that with the concept of carriable law and with eh courts making law, it could come from the judicial side as well. The Supreme Court has the final voice in regard to both administrative and legislative actions, and with the concept of variable law the judicial side could become more and more the center of power. This could well be called “the imperial judiciary.” Cut away from its true foundation, the power of the Court is nothing more than the instrument of unlimited power. This is especially so when it is tied into what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “the dominant forces of the community” (see page 217).
Or control could come from a semi-official organization such has been suggested both in Britain and in the United States to meet the threat of civil chaos, or even from an international institution. And as a thinkable possibility, control could be imposed by a foreign power in the “right” mix of strength on their side and weakness on the other.
Of course, the makeup of the government in other countries is different. But that is only a minor detail and does not change the basic thrust of the possibility of a manipulative, authoritarian government arising from some part of the government in that particular country. As the memory of the Christian consensus which gave us freedom within the biblical form increasingly is forgotten, a manipulating authoritarianism will tend to fill the vacuum.
The central message of biblical Christianity is the possibility of men and women approaching God through the work of Christ. But the message also has secondary results, among them the unusual and wide freedoms which biblical Christianity gave to countries where it supplied the consensus. When these freedoms are separated from the Christian base, however, they become a force of destruction leading to chaos. When this happens, as it has today, then, to quote Eric Hoffer (1902-), “When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order will destroy freedom.”
At that point the words left or right will make no difference. They are only two roads to the same end. There is no difference between an authoritarian government from the right or the left: the results are the same. An elite, an authoritarianism as such, will gradually force form on society so that it will not go on to chaos. And most people will accept it—from the desire for personal peace and affluence, from apathy, and from the yearning for order to assure the functioning of some political system, business, and affairs of daily life. That is just what Rome did with Caesar Augustus.
-Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?, Pages 240-245, 1976.