Last week, Pope Francis became the first pope in history to do a Google Hangout. He did so, the Vatican explained, because so much of young people’s time is now online that virtual reality becomes their reality.
And it’s not just kids anymore. Man has always been the symbolic animal. We live by and through symbolic representations of reality that create communal identities, direct communal action, and provide communal meaning. No other animal creates a flag, or dies for it. But the newly cheap but profound visual power of video, magnified by the availability of the Internet for mass transmission of cultural productions, is changing power dynamics.
If cultural power is the power to “name reality,” as James Davison Hunter pointed out, bad men are busily learning ways to manipulate our realities. That process, once called “propaganda,” has been amped up into infowars, at a whole new level.
Take Vladimir Putin, just for example. NATO’s chief military commander, General Philip Breedlove, just announced that Russia is waging “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.”
…But consider this, as well, when it comes to the new infowars:
With two Internet videos of two evil deeds in a world of evil deeds, the Islamic State has succeeded in getting inside the heads of the vast majority of American people, creating dramatic new fears among Walmart moms who are among the swing voters in the next election. With two murders and two obscene Internet videos, terrorists prompted a prime-time address by a president who clearly prefers publicly to downplay and downgrade the threat that jihadist terror poses to American national security. (Unlike most of my readers, I am not sure he is entirely wrong about that, even though I think the president was wrong to withdraw from Iraq, and to conduct foreign policy by poll, but that’s a topic for another day). In a different era, there is no way that killing two American journalists, however gruesomely, could potentially affect an American election and change American foreign policy.