Mass media is a fully autonomous institution that plays by similar rules as other institutions. It has its own patriarchs, its own deans, its own protocols, and its own utopian teleology/bottom-lines. Firstly, the institution must be maintained before any other commitments can be obliged. An institution that can’t even be said to have a monopoly on the source from which its strength is drawn is an institution that will crumble. Mass media requires not “the truth,” but the capacity of the masses to accept an ideal of truth, and to understand that truth requires highly qualified interpreters.

We can now be said to live in a kind of Armageddon as regards journalistic eschatology, where “news,” God forbid, has returned to its primordial form; it is discussed between people who have little claim to the rigorous standards and rules the Institution administrates and to which it responds. Veracity loses all meaning. Truth is not an excavation or cloistered refuge, it turns out, but an intuitive measure of the average social response to a certain tidbit or event. Unfortunately, tidbits and events behave more like quantum particles than Platonic forms. The tidbit of truth either reinforces an institutional narrative or it pulls the rug out from under. So, because even the tidbit is hotly contested, the average social response lands at a dead zero difference in sample means. People will kill and die on either side of an issue because the institution’s survival lies in the black box’s output.

Pagan wisdom flourishes. I can find a locked Wikipedia page on inconclusive U.N. fact-finding missions to Syria. I can watch a YouTube video called “Assad Executing Reporters Compilation.” I can read Twitter posts written by vitriolic Turkish nationalists, conveniently translated into English by Bing. I can watch videos of kids choking on their own tears and spit after a gas attack. I can watch videos that appear to show similar kids being trained to choke on their own spit and tears. Choices, choices. But I will never, ever, truly know if Assad gassed those kids. Worse, some forum posts might lead the untrained truth seeker to the conclusion that there are vested interests in confirmed displays of brutality, and entire families of concomitant institutions developed to categorize such displays as casus bellum.

People love discussing the news; in fact, they love it so much they tell one another that politics and sports are the only things that men cannot discuss with civility. But nobody even likes to discuss things with civility. Civility is for administration. That’s why Congresses demand civility and news media demands rancor. Civility and the lack of it complement each other like jigsaw pieces. People like getting pissed almost as much as they like being reigned in. This is an axiom, or it may as well be for as much mileage of cannibalistic outrage can be wrung from the wet towel of American news. Hence all the referees, politicians and cops.

Let’s pretend your opinions were not formed by this machine. Your political beliefs somehow existed independent of the now generations-old spectacle. Try stepping online. Sign up, follow some people you like. The content-attention-advertising complex is a shapeless leviathan that germinates and incubates neuroticism, and guess what? You just got your ticket to ride. Much has been said about the dopamine feedback loop, but one cannot understand the compulsion felt to uphold recognizable brands by semi-autonomous users otherwise. “Semi” is the operative term here. Recommendation algorithms learn by process of elimination (natural selection by any other name would be as pernicious) to shed you of anything except total time investment in the information dromodome. The sheer speed of information divests the user of vestigial ideologies. Engagement is a dirty word. Check your Twitter page in a year. You’ve been enlisted into the guerrilla arm of a cyber-evangelical holy war, and you won’t like what you’re fighting for.