We should not raise awareness

The phrase “we should raise awareness about ” creeps me out. I had trouble identifying exactly why until I read this summary of simulacra levels.

Level 1: “There’s a lion across the river.” = There’s a lion across the river.

Level 2: “There’s a lion across the river.” = I don’t want to go (or have other people go) across the river.

Level 3: “There’s a lion across the river.” = I’m with the popular kids who are too cool to go across the river.

Level 4: “There’s a lion across the river.” = A firm stance against trans-river expansionism focus grouped well with undecided voters in my constituency.

Level 1 states truth about reality. Level 2 manipulates reality. Level 3 states truth about social reality. Level 4 manipulates social reality.

The transition from Level 1 to Level 2 is trading truth for deception. The transcendence from Level 2 to Level 3 trades physical reality for social reality—an abstraction. The transcendence from Level 3 to Level 4 is trades social truth for social deception.

“We should raise awareness about ” jumps all the way up to level 10.

Everything below this line is my own invention and does not correspond to standard usage of simulacra levels.

Level 5 and Level 6 (Media Creation)

If you want to manipulate people on a grand scale then you must transcend to an even higher abstraction: the media. “The media” is just what we call the target of the masses’ attention. Media must be interesting if it is to catch the masses’ attention efficiently. Level 5 is about genuine interestingness. Level 6 is about creating the appearance of interestingness.

  • Level 5 (news): “There’s a lion across the river.” = Lions and rivers are interesting.

  • Level 6 (clickbait): “There’s a lion across the river.” = Clickbait with the word “lion” in the title maximizes ad revenue for my news outlet.

Levels 5 and 6 are no longer even about getting people on your side (social reality). They are about generating attention for your information delivery system. (The attention can later be commoditized.) Levels 5 and 6 are the realm of reality TV stardom. These levels are about creating channels and brands. The next level is about manipulating channels and brands.

Level 7 and Level 8 (Media Manipulation)

In English, we often use different words for traditional advertising, native advertising, press releases and propaganda. These distinctions matter if you are an ethical reporter. The distinctions are irrelevant to someone who needs to disseminate a message. Since I am an entrepreneur, not a reporter, I use the word “advertising” to mean “calling public attention to one’s product, service, need, etc.” instead of “paid announcements”[1].

Many people have the idea that news companies send reporters to carefully verify facts. Actually, news outlets usually just republish press releases with a few edits[2]. Even live interviews usually ask predictable softball questions. Interest groups write news and news outlets publish it. Any news outlet which doesn’t let advertisers subsidize its stories has trouble competing with competitors who do.

  • Level 7 (press releases): “There’s a lion across the river.” = This press release was written by a company selling boats and big game rifles.

  • Level 8 (propaganda): “There’s a lion across the river.” = The Zebra Party owns your communication infrastructure.

Level 9 and Level 10 (Pure Memetics)

Memes are often created by people, usually people with specific interests. Once released, memes self-replicating. They mutate and are selected. They evolve.

We started with facts. Then moved up to alliances. Then media. Then propaganda. As memes evolve, they separate from human interests. No longer does the meme manifest a human being’s intention. The meme is trying (in the Darwinian sense of the word “trying”) to survive and replicate.

  • Level 9: “There’s a lion across the river.” = The sentence “There’s a lion across the river.” has high memetic fitness.

  • Level 10: “We should raise awareness of lions on the other side of the river.” = The “There’s a lion across the river.” meme is trying to mind control you so it can replicate.

  1. Both of these definitions come from Dictionary.com. ↩︎

  2. My understanding of media manipulation comes from historical precedent combined with my firsthand experience. For example, I started a company with a press release so good the editor of TechCrunch used it as a case study in how to write press releases. ↩︎