My main interest is seeing what insights religion and religious dynamics can provide to moderately moral systems and institutions. Education is obviously moderately moral. Since the mid 90's, politics has become increasingly moralized. It had a major inflection point during the end of the Bush years when "everything is political" became widely accepted and operationalized as "and anything political is moral" as soon as it affects the right kind of minority.
The inflection point to "the political becoming moral" exposed interesting media dynamics. Exposure occurred due to a confluence of Trump's triggering of the media, twitter's transparency, and digital media's click-bait trap.
Rather than just dealing with something superficial like "fake news", I think the deeper question now hitting us is, is the media now functioning as a priestly class within society?
I think the answer is yes, but let's see.
PRIESTLY CLASSES: FUNCTIONAL ANALYSESGoogle scholar doesn't come up with many articles on the functional roles of priestly classes. The easiest reference is Encyclopedia Britannica's
The function of the priest as the mediator and maintainer of the equilibrium between the sacred and the profane in human society, and as the stabilizer of the social structures and the cultic organizations, determines the various criteria for holding the priestly office.
That's not too big a worry. Most intelligent, well read people not biased by new atheistic evangelism will probably come up with something similar to this. Western priestly class societal roles include:
- communication of moral norms
- norm boundary maintenance
- norm adjustments to direct costly commitment increases so as to expose free-loaders and heighten in-group out-group distinctions
- the embodiment of and perceived control of existential concerns
- societal coherers
- via maintenance of institutions which enable interaction,
- pro-social preaching,
- facilitation of common experiences via rituals and common meta-narratives
- communicating norms in explicit terms
- authority figure heads
- rule of law for less than quasi-criminal offences (i.e. judgement & mediation of social offences)
- maintenance of slow cultural change rates (via cultural conservatism and maintenance of moral code books & meta-narratives)
To generalize, it seems like you end up with the following major roles
- Norm maintenance (especially making norms easy to understand and policing them)
- Costly commitment display direction
- Existential concern expression / embodiment (shamanism)
- Public square hosting
- Common experience & common narrative facilitation
- Social change rate guardian
Now let's test how a couple of different institutional roles perform these functions. The hope is that they'll be some major distinctions between different institutional players.
Let's look at the difference between the old media institution and modern media.
CONCLUSIONIt seems hard not to conclude that modern news media and journalists are potentially fulfilling a societal role akin to that of older priest classes. This certainly doesn't mean that they are leveraging supernaturalness. Rather, it means they have fallen into a natural cultural-evolutionary landscape-well. These wells have certain, reasonably well understood, religious like group dynamics, and certain caste-like roles.
Usually priestly classes were positioned somewhere between merchant classes and nobility. They tended to have very distinct behavioural differentiators. One thing that strikes me about news media is their hubris. They act like the preppy popular kids from high school. As an entity, their politics certainly is not representative of Canada or America as a whole. I've seen estimates that their political orientations are monocultural at the 90%+ level.
The Washington beltway strikes me as class diverse as a 19th century seminary. They also strike me as equally ecumenical and bubble-oriented.
I have no estimates about the extent to which journalists tend to associate with elites versus commoners. But, one thing that does strike me as relevant is their interest in being connected to sources of power in order to get news. The term "ladder climber" comes to mind - sell out a lower class connection for a higher class one. Religion tends to temper these tendencies. But that is probably because religion promotion tends to occur by way of norm adherence. Journalism is much more meritous. And yet, here we see an interesting turn. Merit (good journalism) is no longer provides much of a reward. It is increasingly replaced by activism and, what religious folk tend to call "priest craft", which basically means the concentration of moral messaging to that which is popular and results in the elevation/popularization of the messenger.
So what I think we see is the development of journalists who now leverage the power of moral activism for the growth of their own popularity. While this is probably nothing to be overly concerned about, the landscape of new news media has now changed in ways that are highly resonate with old priest class functional roles. This creates some very interesting superpositions. To me, the most interesting one is the shamanistic role.
ADDENDUMOne of the other big signals that modern news media are tending to priest class functions is aspirant elite dynamics.
If you wanted to move from a position of little power into one of great power you've got a couple of options
-getting really rich
-become a politician
-becomes a narrative shaping journalist
Peter Turchin really focusses on the role of aspiring elites. During elite over-population (such as we now have) elites either get forced down into commoner status due to an inability to field increasingly high consumption costs. Similarly, the fitness advantages of moving out from the commoners become s increasingly significant (commoner exploitation grows exponentially during phases of elite over-production). Of the three options above, becoming a narrative shaping journalist strikes me as the easiest thing to do.
A benefit of activist journalism as a path into aspirant elites is that the process provides a religious-like sense of having helped out.
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