The Worth of the Written Word

Written communication is an artform which – when performed in a certain manner – can be persuasive and compelling. Many of us feel we have ideas, questions and facts worth sharing with others and, with the advent of the internet, it is now incredibly easy for anybody to communicate these ideas to other people all around the world. There are several popular methods for disseminating our information, with videos and podcasts the primary formats I have used during my almost two years active in this scene. Finally the time has come for me to spend more time focusing on the written word, and this progression is something I have been looking forward to for some time.

Those of you with a keen eye and mind will have noticed my use of pronouns in that first paragraph. One of the ongoing inner dialectics I find myself engaged in is the matter of objectivity vs subjectivity, specifically regarding the content I produce for mass consumption via my YouTube channels and podcasts. For one reason or another, I have generally been inclined to put less of myself (figuratively and literally) into the material I have produced than many of my peers are wont to do. Although this may have somewhat hampered my efforts to build an audience in terms of quantity, I would like to think that it has assisted that same effort in terms of quality. When we are dealing with empirical knowledge and objective facts, why should the audience care so much about the personal thoughts of the individual presenting the information? When a solid case has been built upon empirical knowledge and objective facts, why would a presenter want to dilute or delay that case by infusing his own opinions? When the relevant facts are presented well, then the logical, sensible members of the audience will arrive at logical, sensible conclusions – or, at least, that is the ideal.

Of course, we are not mere creatures of logic. Some might argue that this is a good thing and, even if I were interested in disagreeing with them, this particular post shall not be the place for such musings. He who wishes to convey his message must understand those who might receive that message, and the reality is that the people who visit my website, the people who watch my videos and listen to my podcasts, and even the people who read this very post, will be – to varying degrees – affected and directed by aspects of their nature that are not entirely ‘logical’ (at least in the broad sense of the term). We all have our own intuitions, emotions, and preconceived notions which influence the way we perceive information, regardless of presentation. Chief among the factors which sway our interpretation is that same fundamental aspect of our psyche to which I referred earlier: our inner voice.

When we listen to a podcast or watch a video with its own narration, the information comes to us via the voice of somebody else. When we read something, we may ‘listen’ to it in a voice of our own. That voice may ‘sound’ similar to what we hear when we speak, it may sound entirely different, it may not have any ‘sound’ at all. What matters is that we receive written information in a manner that is fundamentally and substantially different to other forms of communication. This fact is obvious, perhaps so much so that we can sometimes become oblivious to it, like the fabled fish who is entirely incognisant of the water in which he swims. Even as you have read the some-500 words up til this point of this very post, you may have been blissfully unaware of the voice (or lack thereof) reading along with you. Whose voice is that? Who is that person?

Our eyes and brain work together somehow to turn an arrangement of discrete pixels on a screen into a discernible image (and, if enough of those images are cycled through in a short enough period of time, we see a discernibly moving image). Our ears and brain work together somehow to turn airwaves from a speaker into discernible sound (and, when the speakers are utilised in a certain way, that sound can be practically indistinguishable from what we hear when we listen to real humans in physical form).  We can and do consciously know that there is no football being played in our living room, and that our favourite podcaster is not walking alongside us as we go for an afternoon stroll – and yet, how many of our internal reactions to these stimuli are no different than if we were just metres from the game, or within listening distance of the podcaster? In our reality, in the moment, we are not just staring at a large, flat, rectangular matrix of pixels, or listening to a tiny piece of coil and plastic inside our ears vibrate at thousands of cycles per second. We are experiencing something more than that, if nowhere else than in our own minds.

What, then, of the written prose we read? Regardless of the medium – be it a plastic screen, a physical book, or a clay tablet – the written word requires us to read. It requires another level or type of subjectivity in the experience that is not apparently necessary when watching videos or listening to podcasts. Official literature on this topic is surprisingly little, but a 2015 study by a psychology professor at New York University suggests that about 80% of people report hearing an ‘inner voice’ when reading to themselves. This finding is of tremendous significance to myself and anybody else in possession of thoughts they would like to share with the world. The audio/visual medium may be more stimulating to the senses, and the audio-only medium may be more portable and personable, but the written media require (or induce) by their very nature an active participation of the very inner voice of the audience with which we are attempting to communicate.

In the ideal world, we like to think that with better information comes better thoughts, and with better thoughts comes better behaviour. For instance, the individual previously unaware of the extremely negative outcomes for transgender individuals (both post-op and no-op), who is then exposed to this information, may first change their opinion on the merits of pro-transgender education for children and then, where their behaviour is discordant with this updated opinion (such as allowing their dependents to consume pro-trans media), modify their behaviour (by disallowing their dependents access to pro-trans media). Of course, things rarely work this way in reality, and in future posts I will go into more detail about the workings of the mind via concepts such as ‘cognitive dissonance’, and explain why so few individuals in modern society can or will change their opinions on social matters. The example I give above may be simplified, but it is typical: one may claim to be concerned for children’s welfare, one may even believe they are concerned for children’s welfare, even when they are actively supporting/condoning programs which can be shown – via inference and/or deduction – to be significantly harmful and detrimental to children’s welfare.

Despite the realities evident on the macro scale, the notion of a linear information -> thoughts -> behaviour pattern remains the ideal on the micro scale, and it is the schema against which I produce my content. I know from personal experience that my own thoughts have changed upon exposure to new information, and these new thoughts have yielded new behaviour. To keep with the previous example, once I was exposed to the fact that Australian children today are indeed being taught that transgenderism is normal, and found for myself empirical studies which show conclusively that transgender individuals suffer from horrendous health outcomes (such as significantly higher levels of suicide, early death, and psychiatric hospitalisation), my thoughts (which were previously ignorance-based indifference) changed to genuine concern, and my behaviour (which was previously inaction) changed to self-directed activism (via the most efficient means available to me i.e. my online operation). Another example can be found in my eating habits: once I was exposed to the fact that factory meat is not necessary – or even desirable – for human health, my thoughts changed, and then so did my behaviour, such that my conscious factory meat intake now sits at nil.

The above are only my personal experiences, and I am well aware of the fact that my own reactions to the new information were largely driven and/or influenced by other factors. The topic of morals (not mere ‘morality’ as espoused by evangelical types, but genuine morals i.e. fundamental personal values which form our core framework for analysing and evaluating our role within this realm of existence) deserves a post all of its own; suffice for now to say that after two years active in this scene, it is blatantly obvious to me that my own morals are significantly different to most – if not all – people who consume the content I produce. Indeed, it seems few people alive in our society today can be genuinely described as holding or living by what I term morals. Put simply, we have all been utterly demoralised as individuals and as a society, via a process so methodical and even mechanical that the tiny few of us who can see it for what it is must, from time to time, pause to admire the strategic and operational beauty of the system. It is natural, then, that some of us may be further along in the process of remoralisation than others, and it may well be that many people out there, no matter how ostensibly well-meaning they may seem to be, shall never regain a basic sense of right and wrong of the type which governs my own reactions to the new information I become exposed to.

These realities laid bare, it remains the case that I maintain in my mind an ideal regarding human thought and behaviour, one which my own anecdotal experience proves to be valid not only in theory but also in practice. Clearly I am required to share my own subjective account of the information -> thoughts -> behaviour schema in order justify what may otherwise be described as impractically idealistic. The cynic has every right to point out that in my two years active in this scene, which has entailed the production of approximately 200 videos and 100 podcasts, my own work has not ultimately encouraged (to the best of my knowledge) even one other person to produce their own widely-disseminated, similarly-themed content.  Clearly, then, I have not succeeded in influencing behaviour to the degree I had hoped or intended. It is undoubtedly true, however, that I have exposed many thousands of people to new information: at the time of writing, the subscriber count of my primary YouTube channel sits at over 3,300, and combined views across the two channels (JLB and JLBExtra) sits above half a million. Evidently there is something amiss in between the information and the behaviour.

Now what might that be?

If you have been following this post closely, you may have just spoken the answer yourself, in your own mind: Thought. Information can be objective, behaviour cannot. You and I can share the exact same objective information, but even if our behaviours are ‘identical’, they cannot be the same, for it takes a subject to engage in behaviour, and we are different subjects. This is obvious, just as it is obvious that our thoughts, even when the ‘same’, cannot really be the same, as we are not the same people engaged in thinking those thoughts – no ontological or epistemological argument is required to understand this basic notion. The corollaries which follow are simple, straightforward, and profound: if one seeks to assist another improve their behaviour via new information, one ought to intend that it be the other who derives the appropriate thoughts from that information themselves. This concept has already been promoted by men long dead, such as Dale Carnegie of How To Win Friends and Influence People fame. One of Carnegie’s fundamental teachings was that the most effective method for an individual to influence others is to assist them to think of good ideas for themselves, in order that they buy into and take charge of the actions which follow.

Although the audio/visual and audio-only formats have many important advantages over the written word, they do not easily lend themselves to the one simple goal my content has at its root: encouraging others to think for themselves. A single one-hour podcast may contain dozens of discrete and important points, each one masking all which came before it, not allowing the listener any time to properly consider what they have just heard. A single 10-minute video may contain dozens of discrete pictures, on top of the audio with which it is paired. Content in either format runs at its own pace, resulting in a one-size-fits-all product; few and far between are the individuals who regularly pause a podcast or 10-minute video to contemplate what is being claimed or shown. Thus these formats serve as perfect mediums for idle entertainment, and they function as sensational mediums for emotion-based propaganda; it makes perfect sense that governments like the one here in Australia subsidise digital television set-top boxes and encourage ipads in schools, while simultaneously overseeing a decrease in student reading outcomes. The populace is encouraged, from a young age, to become attached to the mediums which can most easily be used to propagandise them, while the schools ostensibly in place to help them learn to read fail more miserably at that task with each passing year. Only the wilfully ignorant and/or utterly programmed could fail to see the significance of these developments, but I digress.

As Goebbels rightly noted, good propaganda is based on true information, and there is a time and place for good propaganda; both audio/visual and audio-only content will continue to have its place in my operation. In a future post I will go into more detail about what I mean by the term ‘propaganda’, including an in-depth analysis of the ‘trivium method‘ promoted by Jan Irvin. Suffice for now to say that for the entirely of my two years active in this scene, I have always based my content on objective facts (or what Irvin might describe as ‘grammar’), and presented the information logically, in the hope that the audience would connect the dots for themselves to arrive at valid conclusions. By ‘propaganda’, I simply mean the overt and intentional use of rhetoric to convey information and ideas. For this purpose, the audio/visual medium will continue to be the most effective of those available to independent content creators like myself. When good information (objective facts), good logic (sound reasoning), and good rhetoric (strategic use of language and symbols) are employed in unison, the effect can be forceful enough to reach and influence even staunch gov/media believers (such as those who consume hours of television programming weekly, or undertook several years of university study). To reiterate, there is a time and a place for good propaganda.

The primary audience I am seeking to reach, however, are the very people who are least likely to be susceptible to the rhetorical devices which make propaganda effective, and most likely to read a 3,000-word treatise with regular pauses for contemplation along the way. Those who have followed my work for long enough will be familiar with my emphasis on logical form, and the first season of the ARP was replete with segments which focused on breaking down the rhetoric of mainstream media outlets. By now, long-time listeners ought to have much better mental shields than most against the ploys of rhetoric, regardless of the truth or otherwise of the underlying message. Long-time listeners should be concerned primarily by the truth, regardless of how entertaining or emotionally-compelling it may or may not be. For the core audience I am seeking to get my messages across to, there simply ought to be no need and little use for rhetoric; objective facts presented in a logical format should be sufficient and, for the reasons outlined in this post, the written word may be the most effective medium for communicating the facts and logic I have at my disposal.

This will be, therefore, the first of what I hope will be many written articles to be posted to this site – not only by myself, but by those of you who would like to contribute. This is a blog, after all, and if you have the patience to read through what amounts to my first essay since university, you likely have the patience to write an article yourself. I have explained why I think the written word is the most effective medium for communicating good information and ideas to others, and if you agree with the case I have presented, you have the opportunity now to put your beliefs into practice. If on the other hand you disagree with the case I have made, I will be more than happy to post your reply, here on this site. Unlike the audio/visual and audio-only formats, the written word can remain entirely anonymous. There are literally no excuses left for you to remain silent, other than that of utter demoralisation – and if that description fits you, then why are you still here at johnlebon.com? I’m quite serious: why are you here?

tl;dr The written word can be a powerful artform, whose experience is one in which objective and subjective cannot be easily separated. By engaging in the process of reading, the reader will produce, in their own mind at least, either their own voice, another voice, or ‘no voice at all’. It is this inner voice of each audience member which content creators like myself seek to reach. My own content up until this point has been produced in audio/visual and audio-only formats, and while these are themselves important and useful mediums, they are not necessarily the most effective available to me for what my content is designed to do: encourage people to think for themselves. The written word literally requires the reader to think in a way which audio/visual and audio-only does not. It may well be that even if I succeed in encouraging other people to think for themselves, their own mental or moral weaknesses prevent them from modifying their behaviour; I am keenly aware of this fact, but I maintain my focus on the information -> thoughts -> behaviour schema (due to personal experience) and the written word ensures that any influence my information may have on the audience will be at least partly directed by their own thoughts. This is the first written article to be posted to this site, and it is my hope that many more will follow – including from people like yourself, who have no excuse other than utter demoralisation to keep your thoughts and ideas entirely contained within your own mind.

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