THE GENESIS OF INFOTOXIN*
The myriad and improbable diversity of water-based life has been constantly evolving and experimenting with new forms of biological expression for at least two billion years on our planet the Earth. Mankind, homo sapiens, "man,the wise", came to be only a few million years ago, and has always existed as one integral but miniscule element within the larger nurturing context of the envelope of inter-connecting ecosystems comprising the planetary biosphere: our natural environment.
Throughout our evolution we have experienced the mystery of the unknown, always pressing against the limits of our perception and knowledge in an attempt to see beyond the horizons of space and time; to navigate more effectively the complexities of life as a land-based primate; to increase the resolution of our collective "big picture", our species weltanschauung. Our facilities of symbolic communication, or language, and shared model-building have been extremely important tools in helping us to be more biologically competent, more flexible and adaptive, and have lain the foundation for our ability to experience anything resembling a "consensus reality."
In recent history, with the advent of external technologies of writing, recording, and electronic signal processing and transmission, we have undergone profound transformative accelerations in our cultural processes, scientific methods, technological innovations, and global industrialization. We have experienced an "information revolution", an unimaginable proliferation of diverse forms of knowledge, creativity, and the exchange of messages and images. This matrix of amplified mass-communication, or (m.c.)2, has expanded exponentially in complexity so that we now experience a new environment, or context, of existence within the larger and more ancient living planetary biosphere. This new shared context is known as our information environment.
The information environment is a complex holistic system of both the hardware or media, and the software, or content, of communication (what astronomer Carl Sagan calls our "extrasomatic cultural information.") We ourselves are embedded within this context; we are the mind/brain of the information environment. We have constructed a sort of typographic/electronic cocoon around ourselves; the sum total of our languages and codes; the semiotic and psychological processes by means of which these symbols and images are shared and understood; and the complex synergic…and little understood…inter-relationships between these dimensions.
You, the reader, and I, the writer, are at this moment using the wonders of symbolic language and modern information technology to share meaningful and relevant ideas across time and space. Indeed, the purpose and focus of this message concerns nothing less than our role in the long-term health of life as we know it here on Earth.
The original evolutionary driving force behind our urge to communicate more effectively is the need to inform and assist fellow beings and to facilitate and coordinate cooperative actions which could not be accomplished by individuals acting alone. The adaptive gains of high-quality communication in homo sapiens are self-evident.
Joseph Wood Krutch says that "man is one of those animals which is in danger from its too successul participation in the struggle for existence…from the standpoint of nature as a whole, he is both a threat to every other living thing, and therefore, a threat to himself also…he has become the tyrant of the Earth, the waster of its resources, the creator of the most prodigious imbalance in the natural order which has ever existed…" Our wisdom has not kept pace with our so-called "intelligence." The human enterprise is indisputably wreaking havoc, committing irreversible extinctions, pollutions and degradations on our fellow beings and natural environment.
Before the advent of modern mass-communication, or (m.c.)2, our information environment essentially was our natural environment. We had books, but we lived on the land, climbed the mountains, farmed the valleys, fished in the rivers, took our children for hikes and told them stories, looked to the heavens for inspiration, felt the warmth of the sun, the pull of the moon, the splendor of the Milky Way. Now we watch television.
The ubiquity and pervasiveness of our information environment has tremendously influenced each of us, for better or worse. Our lives and minds have been broadened and enriched; we have learned of things long ago and far away that we could never experience directly. We have been informed, educated and inspired. We have also been exposed to the virulence of politics and the mucus of celebrity. Does seeing Dan Quayle or O.J. Simpson really make a difference in our lives? We know what car to drive, what beer to swill; we know how to look stylish, how to act cool. We think we are tuned into what is happening. We are media-literate, and therefore hip.
The map, however, is not the territory; and cartographers sometimes make mistakes, especially when exploring uncharted regions. The information environment is an actual, or real system of media, images, and symbols, often conveying understandable meaning; but, unlike our natural environment, our information environment is of human creation: a second-order reality. Our natural environment has been functioning in intelligent harmony far longer than has man; the information environment is artificial and unalive. Moreover, the information environment may convey codifications of things which really exist, but these images are only simulations of the real world; it is in fact a media-based virtual reality.
At all levels of existence and manifestation, from the atomic/molecular to the cellular/organismic to the planetary/galactic, the communication and exchange of energy/information is a fundamental process of physical reality. The universe is patterns of information on various levels, probability aggregates vibrating in mathematical harmony, the "music of the spheres." Living organisms are functions of the information contained within the genetic codes which specify their development and control their health and growth. The flow and balance of this cosmic dance is constant, dynamic, homeostatic and self-regulating.
When the natural harmony of energy/information is disrupted in a living organism or system, a state or condition of unhealth, or disease, occurs. As our information environment has expanded, as more and more people are sending more and more messages for increasingly less life-oriented purposes, human and planetary health has declined.
Are we really communicating? Do limits exist as to how much information we can handle? And how much of the information is truly useful, meaningful or relevant? Is it possible for information to become unhealthful or harmful? Are we being inundated with mega-bytes of information which is of no possible value, that we would be better off not knowing or experiencing? Is the navigational function of our information environment being subverted by unconscious power ploys, naked ape control games, and id-driven marketing imperatives? The answer seems to be in the affirmative.
In biochemistry a toxin is a substance which impedes the proper function or degrades the health of an organism or living system: a poison. Many of the hundreds of thousand of chemicals utilized in medicine and industry are toxic to some degree. Moreover, many substances which at certain levels of concentration are useful or essential for health may become toxic at higher levels of concentration.
At current levels of (m.c.)2 we seem to have entered a state or condition of toxicity in our information environment, or infotoxin. The genesis of infotoxin is both quantitative and qualitative; we have unprecedented numbers of people putting out unprecedented numbers of messages which overall are neither true nor false but wholly irrelevant. And the toxicity and degradation of our natural environment is increasing in direct proportion to the toxicity of our information environment. Infotoxin is driving the forces of ecocide.
Infotoxin is a form of informaion disorder at the level of human mass-communication; cancer is an information disorder at the cellular/genetic level in the human body; a virus becomes an information disorder when its nucleic acids subvert the proper, healthy functions of its host organism’s genetic code.
The parallels are striking. In many ways the human enterprise has become so widespread and so malignantly destructive to itself and to other life-forms that it could be termed the homo sapiens macro virus, or HSMV.
Has our information environment become infected with some kind of alien consumer virus? Is Gaia herself sending invisible invaders like something out of Koyaanisqatsi of The Andromeda Strain to assist the naked ape in thinning himself out? Or are we generating the virus-effect ourselves…"internally arising metabiological and sociometabiological pathogenic influences", in the words of biologist Jonas Salk…through the summation of non-health oriented messages, images and information? Can we somehow seize the reins of this amplifying feedback loop and redirect the impulse-momentum being created by existing tendencies in (m.c.)2 towards more holistic, cooperative and life-sustaining ways of living? This may well be the question of the millenium; from an extraterrestrial perspective, a true measure of the overall intelligence of a sentient species may be the quality and coherence of its highest orders of communication and information transfer,
Interestingly, the Greek root of toxin is "toxon" which means a "bow and arrow." Etymologically, a toxin is both poison and weapon; this reflects both the alpha, or active/intentional, and beta, or unintended/systemic, dimensions of infotoxin.
Infotoxin is not a label or category for specific artifacts of (m.c.)2 but is both an attitude or orientation towards the use of these systems for purposes which run counter to the positive evolutionary forces which led us to develop symbolic communication, as well as a state or condition of disease in the information environment. Censors in totalitarian regimes would label "dangerous" or "disturbing" or "subversive" "left-wing" facts or ideas as "infotoxin.; au contraire, to value, protect, implement and enhance total freedom and quality of communication and expression is paramount in our salient and strategic agenda as passengers/crew of Spaceship Earth.
The perception of truth and the experience of meaning are of course relative across the expanses of cultural diversity and individual uniqueness. Our ability to communicate is based on a common ground of sharing and agreement; at this critical point in our role as the dominant species of Earth we need desperately to analyze and reevaluate the fundamental, implicit and unconscious values and beliefs which are driving present trends in the control and utilization of mass-communication; we must strive for an enhanced understanding of the complex inter-relationships between ourselves, our information environment, and the long-term health and well-being of all the life-forms who share our planet.
For the purposes at hand, information is defined as the meaning or understandable content of communication. Communication is generally construed to convey useful, valid, or true information. Although we may use a variety of external hardware/technologies, in the words of Dr. John C. Lilly, "communication is between minds." Because of the centralized nature of mass-communication we have a relatively small number of minds speaking to a vastly larger number of minds who function more or less as passive receivers of messages and images. The fundamental questions to ask about assimilating any artifact of (m.c.)2 are "Why is someone taking the trouble to send this particular message?" and "What difference will this message (artifact, image, program) make in how I think or live?"
Historically our motivations for communication were adaptive and oriented towards helping and educating each other. The inner wisdom of this is that "two heads are better than one." Recently, with the advent of (m.c.)2 , the primary motivations for communication have shifted to reflect the values and requirements of a fully-developed capitalistic economy, a sort of high-tech predator-prey relationship; the majority of messages in our information environment are messages of manipulation of persuasion, overt or disguised, designed to sell a product, service, or belief and to voice the needs of the largest corporate and bureaucratic entities who control the media. Corporations consist of people; and nobody is forcing us to watch television or to buy their products. It’s a free world, right? Well, not exactly…
The structure and dynamics of infotoxin are complex, and are inextricably interwoven with the very nature of the human brain/mind and planetary ecology; but several trends or tendencies in (m.c.)2 can be identified which interact to create a field effect of negative synergisms in our information environment. These include
In a series of future articles I plan to share an interdisciplinary exposition and synthesis of the work of several leading minds in the fields of ecology, linguistics, psychology, media analysis and communications theory. The study of the pollution of the information environment could properly be called information toxicology; the larger endeavor this relates to could be called biomedical noo-ecology (pronounced "NO-oh-ecology"): the science of healing and understanding the living and mental systems of man and the Earth and their complex and dynamic inter-relationships (including how our mind/brains work, how and why we create and are susceptible to infotoxin, how we can improve our cognitional immune response, more fully actualize our potential as spiritual beings, and take more responsibility in our role as guardians of the the Earth). Such an endeavor is of urgent necessity here on the brink of…the unknown!
In the immediate present ("im-media-te" could mean that you don’t know what’s on TV!) the major constructive differences that make a difference are going to be made by critically-thinking minds making conscious decisions to be fully responsible for what enters their heads, to seek out and to share the most relevant and highest quality knowledge and information, to boldy create a new harmonious and synergic paradigm of thinking and relating which reflects a horizon of identity expanded to include all living beings, and most importantly, actually to implement, to live these ideas.
One of the most powerful images of modern times is that of the Earth rising over the moon as photographed by Apollo astronauts. This surreal vision of cosmic beauty…from a perspective never before attained by homo sapiens…was experienced by millions of people through the wonders of modern mass-communication. Let us hold this image in our minds, a symbol of the singular awesomeness of life on Earth and the unknowable immensity of the cosmic context we live within. We are not alone. In the words of R. Buckminster Fuller, "On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers: everyone is crew."
*INFOTOXIN: "Misinformation, negative propaganda, most forms of advertising, as well as the sheer abundance of mediocrity and consumption persuasion which assault the mind from the face of the tube or the glossy pages of the high-glam magazine. It is not necessarily a conspiracy to subvert or enslave the global mind, but a systemic effect resulting from the net actions of many groups of like-minded people motivated by the same sets of values, and attempting to proliferate these values/beliefs through a vast array of modern mass-communication techniques." Infotoxin is the reciprocal of quality, meaning, clarity, and relevance, and is not intended as a category or label but as a conceptual onto-noonic ("ON-toe no-ON-ic") bio-psychiatric instrument for psychological and ecological healing.
NOTE: This article is the sequel to the introduction to infotoxin published in Adbusters (Winter 1995); see www.adbusters.org/oldwebsite/Articles/ageinfotoxin.html for "The Age of Infotoxin" by Jeff Phillips
*** see also the Media Foundation website at www.adbusters.org and
"the ultimate technology" at www.geocities.com/tutbrains
(a spacecraft control panel/mandala for your brain!)
"Ignorance isn't bliss...ignorance is stupid." J. Paul Serengeti