Jordan Greenhall on media and society

He writes,

This is the formal core of the Blue Church: it solves the problem of 20th Century social complexity through the use of mass media to generate manageable social coherence.

He argues that mass media facilitated a form of social management in which an elite communicates to the population at large. What he calls the “Blue Church” thrived within and justified this arrangement.

Read the whole essay. It is hard to choose what to excerpt. Here is one more:

In Blue Church society, to hold and express good opinion means that you are part of the pack, in the tribe, on the team. Holding and expressing good opinion brings social benefit. More importantly, failing to hold and express good opinion can be ruinous.

I’ve been on a Jordan Greenhall kick lately. I like this 18-minute YouTube video also.

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14 Responses to Jordan Greenhall on media and society

  1. collin says:

    And the RNC has put a website of Lyin James Comey to counteract his book release so it appears there is a Red Church media as well. Or just watch Sean Hannity who is directly calling Mueller and Comey Criminal Organizations with charts out of A Beautiful Mind. (At least the Clintons did a scandal stuff for their Criminal Chart.) Or Sinclair media has their anchors read a pro-Trump statement like they out of the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

    I still wondering why Economic Libertarian care so much about church going for the population?

  2. edgar says:

    Excellent essay, gives one very much to think about, as does the video.

    Random thoughts:

    Had an impulsive reaction against the notion that as social animals we must needs strive for status. Don’t believe the anthropological evidence supports this. Need to dig out Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture again as well as Frank Hamilton Cushing on Zuni culture to check. Being an admirer of The Netherlands whose egalitarian culture tends to frown upon social striving, I feel confident in asserting that social status striving is not a uniform phenomenon across societies and cultures.

    The scarlet “P” of populism might best be understood as a reactionary epithet used against the ongoing complex egalitarian challenge to the complicated feudal hierarchy and all its guilds and hierarchies.

    Felt a bit challenged by Greenhall’s “design” approach to ordering decentralization. Need to reexamine my prior preference for “spontaneous ordering” and their compatibility with systems thinking.

    With the American Entomological Society recently abolishing the family classification for termites which are now part of the roach family, I wonder whether the blue church is eusocial (like termites) and the Red Church is merely social (roaches) wondering whether its time to look at the evidence as to whether urban humans are evolving into a eusocial species while rural humans are heading in a merely social direction for social. Eusociality would appear compatible with the complicated world view while the merely social approach would appear compatible with a complex world view. The blue church definitely appears to worship eusociality as a transcendent state.

    Taoist texts suggest that the ideal way for a leader to run their country is by example and with minimal intervention. The Taoist ideal is for a person to take action by changing themselves, and thus becoming an example of the good life to others. This approach seems consistent with what Greenhall was saying about individual experience later in the video.

    • Charles W. Abbott says:

      The problem is that we are not social insects. We cannot become like social insects if we get enough exhortation and consciousness raising.

      Some of the best grappling on this issue was (methinks) to this day done by minds such as William Hamilton, E O Wilson, and Robert Trivers. We are mammals, primates to be more specific. Cooperation beyond the family and the tribe comes hard. Our primate brains don’t work well in this regard–but we have the instinct to “punish” those we perceive as “cheaters.”

      • edgar says:

        Concur that those authors are well worth reading.


        Naked mole rats are eusocial mammals and it would be interesting to explore whether the way in which their brain morphology is controlled by social status also occurs in urban versus rural humans:

        When I see articles entitled “Social Contraception in Naked Mole Rats and Marmosets” (“ “) I have to wonder whether the last word has been said on this issue.

        • Charles W. Abbott says:

          Thanks! You are way ahead of me on this. I am largely ignorant of such studies.

          I think the real challenge is this: Human societies are variable, but not infinitely variable. If we see a human society organized in a particular way, with some durability, that means it is possible. Just because we can imagine something, that does not mean it is possible. Our minds can readily supply models never seen in reality, some of which are never yet seen in real life.

          E. O. Wilson said it way better than I could, mostly in _On human nature_.

          For most of us, we see things at far remove. Robert Conquest has a comment about Aristotle and Machiavelli: Both of them lived during periods, and in geographical settings, where they could observe a variety of actually existing political organizations–such examples were available to them for inspection in real life.

          For many of us, we are simply reading second or third hand descriptions (perhaps garbled or based in part on wishful thinking). That’s certainly my own experience.

    • Hopaulius says:

      @Edgar “Felt a bit challenged by Greenhall’s “design” approach to ordering decentralization.” I noticed this too, especially in the linked video. Here we have a tech entrepreneur describing the existing Blue Church order as having evolved more or less spontaneously but unexpectedly disrupted by advances in technology. Now “we”, presumably the tech elite, must design a new system to shape meaning to counter the disruption. As others have noted, this was the point of Zuckerberg’s pilgrimage to Congress: to apply for a position from the commanding heights to help save Blue Church. Yet if the analysis of the current situation is correct, this is not going to work, because disruption is the basis for everything tech does.
      I also noticed in the video, more than in the written articles, that Greenhall is something of a peacock. He loves standing in front of a crowd disseminating his elite understanding to a passive audience and offering solutions, which is exactly the model he deconstructs in his writing.

  3. Charles W. Abbott says:

    I read that at Medium and it was interesting and provocative–it seemed to lack both data and examples. An idealtype (sp?) along the lines of what Weber did might have helped. Perhaps I need to keep thinking about it.

    I can imagine how “don’t be racist” would be something the Blue Church could promote. “Prove you are not racist by sending your nice, slightly effete, middle class white children to school with rambunctious inner city kids reading 5 years below grade” would be harder for the Blue Church to promote–thus our schools are not better racially integrated than they were 30 years ago, if I recall the data correctly.

    The Blue church seems to promote “These are the opinions you should profess publicly, and adhere to with your rhetoric.” How does it go deeper? It is claimed that French elites tend to “Think Left, Live Right.”

    The concept of “The Inner Ring” (from C S Lewis) and status competition is obviously useful. The Blue Church tells you “this way to the inner ring.”

    Part of the challenge in the theory seems to be that society is not a boat or ship rowed by human muscle power. Society involves endless transactions with people we don’t know or hardly know.

    • Charles W. Abbott says:

      Alan Taylor in _How to think_ mentions C S Lewis’ concept of “The Inner Ring.”

      A society of 327 million people cannot have an “inner ring.” I suppose it can have a gradient with “Inner Ring” on one end and “Maximum Deplorability” on the other end.

  4. konshtok says:

    The guy independently discovered M9ldbugs Cathedral concept
    I really thought Moldbug and his ideas are better known

  5. Jeff R says:

    A couple of points I’d make:

    1. Look at the intolerance for diversity of opinion on college campuses and tell me the blue church is finished. If you dominate these important institutions to such a degree, I dunno…the other guy can still have a lot of great Facebook memes and Twitter hashtags, but to me the situation is basically akin to a chess match where one guy still has his queen and the other guy’s best remaining piece is a knight.

    2. Demographic trends still favor the Blue Church, so they may not need mass media to maintain a psychic hold any longer.

    3. And then there is the question of complexity. The Blue Church emerged in response to the explosion of complexity of the 20th Century and the capacity of mass media to form a control structure that was adequate to that complexity.

    I’m not sure I agree with this at all. Do I think mass media influences people by manipulating what ideas people are exposed to and how often? Yes, but I would stop far short of calling this a societal “control structure.” It may help get somebody elected and prevent some other bodies from getting elected by policing the Overton Window, but that’s a real step below what this guy seems to be saying. All the subsequent talk about managing complexity seems off to me. The nice thing about humans is how they can form their own spontaneous hierarchies and most adults are able to take responsibility for their own actions and do not require much in the way of active “control” or management, so I’m not at all on board with his “we need a whole new system of governance for the 21st century” talk.

    All that said, I still liked the essay.

  6. Matthew Young says:

    Why not the multi color model? Let us hypothesize that each tribe constructs an order book from which they sell, go from there.

    The tribes trade across order books. With that model I count five or six tribes via geographical economy in USA. But I would conjecture that three tribes remain dominant. In the USA I look for a tribes dominated by Florida, Texas and California. Trumpism is the last hurrah for New York.

  7. Taimyoboi says:

    I’m not sure if I found his discussion grounded in reality, but his argument about the new social media eroding the foundation for the old, Blue Church media was interesting in light of the Congressional hearings on Facebook and similar soul-searching among the commanding heights of social media.

    Would new government regulation of social media be the Blue Church reasserting itself? Or is social media reorganizing itself to align with the Blue Church with all of the reports—if true—about Twitter, Facebook, and the like self-censoring unapproved messages?

    Trump may very well have been the pinnacle of the symmetric effect of new social media against the Blue Church, and from here on out it will be back to your regularly scheduled programming.

  8. Darf Ferrara says:

    Exponent made the case that snapchat is the competitor to facebook. It is orthogonal to facebook on privacy, and can expand from that beachhead. I think that is an interesting business strategy.

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