Media Make Our Brains Want More Government [Marshall McLuhan Monday]

“WOW,” I proclaimed one evening. “This explains so much!”

“What?” my husband inquired, wondering why I looked so moved.

“This explains why people want more government, why they voted in Obama, and why they won’t embrace Romney!” I exclaimed.

The “this” was a Marshall McLuhan 1978 essay called “A Last Look at the Tube.” With all the hullabaloo about elections bubbling over this week, I thought it appropriate to highlight a short bit from this impressive essay.

I’ll preface it by reminding you of McLuhan’s very Catholic term: discarnate man. It describes a humanity entrenched in electric media, which project and transmit his image, voice, and thoughts over airwaves and across oceans. Electric media leave us feeling a certain identity loss, due to separation of mind, spirit, and body from one another. Now, on to the genius of McLuhan. (The subtitles are my own.)

Step One: Explain the Brain.

Whereas the left hemisphere is sequential and logical, verbally connected and syntactic, the right hemisphere is simultaneous and acoustic, emotional and intuitive. The electric environment tends to give a lot of stress and power to the right hemisphere […] The left hemisphere had been favored by the worlds of literacy, and of market organization with its quantitative goals and specialist structure. These worlds have been increasingly obsolesced by the instant environment and instant replays that enhance the simultaneous character of the right hemisphere.

Step Two: How Do Media Affect Your Brain?

Electronic or discarnate man is automatically committed to the primacy of the right hemisphere. In political terms the instant mask, a mythic structure, gives sudden prominence to the charismatic image of the political leader. He must evoke nostalgic memories of many figures that have been admired in the past. Policies and parties yield to the magic of the leader’s image. The arguments in the Ford-Carter debates were as insignificant as the fact of their party affiliation.

Step Three: Why Does Discarnate Man Prefer More Government?

If discarnate man has a very weak awareness of the private identity and has been relieved of all commitments to law and morals, he has also moved steadily toward involvement in the occult, on one hand, and loyalty to the superstate as a substitute for the supernatural on the other hand. For discarnate man the only political regime that is reasonable or in touch with him is totalitarian — the state becomes religion. When loyalty to Natural Law declines, the supernatural remains as an anchorage for discarnate man; and the supernatural can even take the form of the sort of megamachines of the state that Mumford talks about as existing in Mesopotamia and Egypt some five thousand years ago. [..]

BINGO! I thought after reading this bit. Why does the charismatic figure touting big government win polls & votes? Because our brains now prefer emotion and instantaneous gratification. Our media-massaged brains want the hero and the champion, NOT the numbers-crunching businessman who doesn’t remind us of past socio/political champions!

And when we’ve lost “loyalty to Natural Law,” we need something to fill that vacuum.

What say you?


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