“THE AGE OF INFOTOXIN” Ad-busters, Winter 1995
“Jeff Phillips has coined the name of a new discipline – information toxicology – that deals with the pollution of the mental environment.”
Beneath the polished images of manufactured "reality," behind the insidious faces of the glitz-glam celebrity-icons, within the non-stop facade of mindless entertainment, we sense a storm brewing, an impending vortex of psychological upheaval, a mental maelstrom of unprecedented magnitude. Something's got to give. We each feel the coming cataclysm in the depths of our being because each one of us is a living, breathing being. What we are sensing is an inner battle, the struggle for the survival of life as we know it, against the forces of entropy, inertia, and extinction. That this battle is not so much in the external world as it is taking place within each of our minds makes the situation less abstract and closer to home. A lot is at stake here on the brink of the unknown, and every cell in our bodies is pulsing with uncertainty. Literally, we are standing at the edge of history.
Yet few of us have much of a sense of urgency as we go about the ordinary routines of our day-to-day lives; but it is literally the summation of these day-to-day acts over the expanse of hundreds of millions of people that is generating the profoundly brutal ecological consequences which are the legacy of existing generations. Indeed, a sense of urgency is difficult to maintain in the wake of seven hours a day of televised mind-clot; even when you catch a harsh glimpse of a denuded rain forest, a beached whale, an oil-covered bird, a blackened middle-eastern sky, a glowing waste dump, Aussie melanoma, or a starving child, within seconds your mind is emblazoned with rapid-fire sequences of a new car high on a desert plateau, animated tooth-paste and toilet-bowl cleaner, affluent-looking yuppies playing volleyball on a beach drinking caramel-colored sugar water, a "public service" announcement from an oil company on how they are doing magnificent super-human things to preserve biodiversity.
We are each a part of Mother Nature, and she is not happy at all. "Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the sons of the Earth. The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to Earth. All things are interconnected like the blood which unites one family. All things are inter-connected... Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." All around the world her myriad species of florae and faunae, her mountains, plains, forests, oceans, atmosphere, and ecosystems are suffering immense degradation at the hands of only one of her children: homo sapiens, "man, the wise." How is it that we have gotten so far out of balance? If we're really so wise, why is our stupidity so incredibly salient?
Mankind is unique among the kingdoms of terrestrial life-forms (but in many ways not quite as unique as we like to think!) in that, because of the expanded neurocomputational capacity of our brains, we have been able to create a wide spectrum of tools, or external hardware, as well as very flexible and adaptable systems of communications technology, or symbolic language. Our ability to perceive, model, and communicate about our world has enabled us to modify and control many dimensions of our physical environment; and the evolution of writing, printing, electronic communication, and the digital computer, as hand-maidens to the scientific and industrial revolutions, have accelerated our cultural evolution and enabled us to make giant leaps towards complete dominion of the Earth and her inhabitants. The reason. and the irony is that our space-age machines and futuristic technologies are being operated by beings... naked apes .who have been running on the same "wired-in" instinctual behavioral programs for the last 100,000. Old habits die hard, and us with them!
We have become masters of information-processing and model-building. High quality information and clarity, meaning, and relevance in communication have always been the primary tools we use to navigate our lives, individually and collectively. What we learn, what we are taught, what we come to hold as true, what we see, experience, and remember the knowledge we possess and have access to... form the substrate from which we make every choice, every decision, at every level and at every instant of our lives. And out entire human socio-cultural "reality" is created by the sum total of these choices, decisions, and actions/inactions. Our "reality" is a very dynamic and complex matrix of interacting processes; and we have enormous access to an incredible array of educational tools and an almost infinite reservoir of assorted information. But most of us here in the western world are chronically exposed to and influenced by the same limited subset of the totality of available knowledge and information: that delivered to us by the vehicles of global mass-communication.
Abuse of mass-communication and the concentration of its control, coupled with the persuasiveness and ubiquity of its technologies, messages, and implicit value structures, operates in conjunction with unconscious, instinctive processes within the human mind to generate an overall psychological condition of unreality, denial, and paralysis. This syndrome prevents us from facing honestly and directly the profound complexities of life today and from implementing and acting on the best and most valid knowledge we possess, and compromises our own mental and physical health as well as exacerbating the already-critical ecological problems in every corner of the globe.
When communication breaks down, meaning fails, and quality disappears; when public discourse is reduced to trivial banter-bites and dogmatic recitation ; when 70% of the news is fabricated by public relations firms ; when the average American sees approximately 21,000 commercials a year on TV ; when malignancy and violence are continuously shoved down our throats...because it sells!...we are living in the Age of Infotoxin!