Book Review – “The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul” by Jean-Claude Larchet

Jean-Claude Larchet is one of the world’s leading philosophers and an expert in Orthodox Christian Patristics; he has written over 25 books and countless articles. His latest book is on a topic everyone reading this can surely relate to: the new media—the Internet, smart phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. While he writes in an easy to read and sober manner, his matter-of-fact analysis is so alarming—without being alarmist—that the attentive reader is sure to be shaken. Indeed, the word “epidemic” in his title is not hyperbole; he believes and clearly shows that the new media are producing illness and destruction on a mass scale, unlike anything seen before in human history. If he were not such a careful and sober writer one might be quick to conclude from his analysis that we are in the Last Days. 

After a very short introduction setting out the aim of the book, he proceeds to the first chapter, “Invasion,” which briefly describes “digital colonization” and the new media one by one. Although he admits television is not “new” he nonetheless discusses it with the newer media, both here and elsewhere, for it has not been supplanted by new media and in fact “coexists with them, either in parallel or as their partner” (5).

Chapter 2, “When the Medium replaces the Message,” considers Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” and explains its relevance to the paradigm shift we are currently undergoing. The content of media is not nearly as important as the technological medium itself, which changes the brain and indeed the human person. He frequently quotes from Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, twice quoting the following passage: “If, knowing what we do today about the brain’s plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet” (15). The chapter ends by concluding that for many the new media have become idols, quoting from the premonitory Psalm 113 (verses 13-16), and denominating the new type of human being emerging, homo connecticus.

Chapter 3, “The Tyranny of the New Mediators,” begins with an epigraph from Revelation: “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” which he then repeats later in the chapter (20). As he says, when digital implants into the human body replace credit cards, “Mediation will then have reached its extreme, which is described thus in the book of Revelation” (20). The idea behind the mediators’ revolution is not only to change us, but to ascend themselves to Godlike omniscience. For instance, the purpose of Google’s self-driving car is not our comfort and safety, nor even ultimately financial profit, but rather to gather as much data as possible on our driving habits, preferred destinations, who we travel with, what music we listen to, etc. (21). But the real danger involves our focusing outward instead of inward, as in traditional societies; a change which of course predates digital media but is now accelerating to increasingly dangerous proportions. He concludes the chapter by saying: “the new media have created a system of estrangement never seen before, while projecting the illusion that they increase our power and freedom” (22). 

Chapter 4, “Shrinking Time and Distance” describes how the new media have changed the nature of space and time. Space, of course, by instantaneous communication with anyone anywhere, and time by “removing its continuity to make it broken, piecemeal, and scattered” (25). While we were promised the new media would bring us more time, we in fact have less time than ever before.

In Chapter 5, “The Destruction of Interpersonal Relationships,” Larchet returns to another of McLuhan’s famous concepts, the Global Village, which, he says, “is not a real village, for the neighbors are not real neighbors, the kinsman real kinsman, or the friends real friends” (36), an obvious reference to the manipulation of the word “friend” by Facebook. In fact, we learn here that the creators of Facebook “never for a moment wished to create links of friendship between users. The aim of the like is to flatter the ego of the one who receives it” (47). Larchet discusses the Orthodox concept, hesychia: the deep calm and solitude needed for spiritual development, which the incessant interruptions and diverting claims on the attention by the new media make impossible. The disembodied virtual world we inhabit is opposed not only to calm and solitude but to real communication and real community. What matters is the messages, not the content of the messages—at least for people who need a constant influx of text messages, emails, and “likes” to feel validation. Modern man is turning in on himself and in panic of genuine intimate relationships, and this is causing widespread autism. There is a multitude of issues discussed in this chapter which I do not have the space to consider, but the end of it all is a tendency toward psychopathology and schizophrenia. 

In chapter 6, “Evil Encounters,” Larchet discusses the dark web, the many studies diagnosing the ill effects of television, and much more. He produces statistical proof that the incessant sex and violence on the television has done great damage to the young, and further evidence of the damage caused by video games and the Internet. For instance, “65% of Internet searches conducted by young Americans between 10 and 16 years old are for pornographic sites” (57). 

In chapter 7, “The Abolition of Private Life,” we see that Big Brother, Orwell’s image of the intrusive totalitarian state, “is no longer fiction” (69). The details he adduces will scare the hell out of you, but it is essential that we know these things. 

In Chapter 8, “The Denial of the Body and Its Effect on Health,” he quotes the French writer Michel Desmurget: “Imagine a recreational substance whose consumption would increase considerably the incidence of obesity, smoking, alcoholism, sleep disorders, attempted suicides, dangerous sexual habits and eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia). Would you accept this substance into your home? Would you allow your children to use it?” (76). Desmurget is talking about the television; the new media have only increased such problems. 

The next five chapters are titled, “The Dominance of the Virtual over the Real,” “Mental Disorders,” “Dumbing Down the Mind,” “The Impoverishment of Spiritual Life,” and “Prevention and Treatment.” I will summarize some of the salient points as I conclude this review.

First of all, it should be noted that the executives of the new media industry themselves keep their products out of the hands of their own children, or else strictly limit the time they are allowed to use these devises. “Chamath Palihapitiya, the former vice-president in charge of user growth at Facebook, said at a Stanford Business School event: ‘I don’t use this shit and my kids are not allowed to use this shit either’” (167). This new media revolution is designed to enslave and destroy us, and its creators know it. Former Facebook executive Sean Parker said: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains” (111). Larchet mentions a famous photograph of a bareheaded Mark Zuckerberg at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona which shows him amid a group of people all wearing headsets: “They all looked like cyborgs, staring straight ahead at a reality that does not exist, totally unaware of each other, and of the king of their world, striding toward them and savoring his power” (88).

Despite the atheist ethos of the world we now inhabit, the fact is that a new religion is arising, and it is associated with Transhumanism, by which, “they hope to conquer the world.” However, this new religion and its “new man” are “transposed from the spiritual level to the material level, and are to be brought about not by the Grace of the all-powerful God but by the promethean force of man, helped by the technologies he has invented to conquer nature” (141). If you have not heard of Transhumanism before, it is extremely important that you come to some understanding of what it is, and this book is a great place to start.[1]

The new media provoke and feed the passions, disperse our faculties and destroy hesychia. Larchet stresses the need for nepsis, vigilance, and the need for attention, prayer, and fasting—not only fasting from certain foods during prescribed times, but from media as well.

There is a plethora of vital information in The New Media Epidemic; unfortunately, I could only touch on a very small number of the problems Larchet describes as well as the solutions he suggests. This is a very important book.


[1] For an interesting discussion of the “Superman” that Transhumanism promises to bestow upon the world, see my book Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism. In the last chapter I quote a NASA scientist who says evolution has brought us to the “Supreme Mind,” which will “eventually reach immense power. It will be able to move all over the Universe, to control and use its laws. It will become God, if the notion of God implies something that knows and does everything. In other words, Man will become God.” Quoted in Matthew Yde, Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism: Longing for Utopia (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 207.

“1984 in 2019”

I agree with those who say that Huxley’s Brave New World more accurately forecasted the future than Orwell’s 1984—that is to say, Huxley’s novel resembles our world much more than Orwell’s—but it must not be forgotten that Orwell’s dystopia is, in many ways, an uncanny depiction of the world we live in now. On the first page of the book we learn, parenthetically, that the inhabitants of Oceania are preparing for “Hate Week,” and soon we learn that these people have regular sessions of “Two Minutes Hate.” Nowadays the Two Minutes Hate and Hate Week have expanded into 24/7 Hate, as is evident by the most cursory perusal of the media. (To confirm this experientially I turned on AOL news while writing; it was indeed non-stop virulence. Try the experiment yourself.)

In the novel much of the hate is directed at “enemy of the people,” Emmanuel Goldstein, a figure Orwell based on Leon Trotsky; but as demonized by the Soviet propaganda machine the communist revolutionary no longer resembled himself. He was a mythical repository for the people’s hate and hostility, much the way Osama Bin Laden was used by the US before they finally jettisoned him in 2011 (Bin Laden and Trotsky were also both heroes before they were villains). Orwell writes that during the Two Minutes Hate Goldstein’s face flashed on the screen, “delivering his usual venomous attacks upon the doctrines of the Party—an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less levelheaded than oneself, might be taken in by it” (12).[1] Perhaps if the Party had found it useful, they could have staged a Navy Seal-type raid and dumped Goldstein’s mythical body into the sea. The inhabitants of Oceania could have watched the whole thing unfold on the telescreens, just as we in the USA so breathlessly witnessed Bin Laden’s capture on our own telescreens. (And you know, if it happens on TV it must be true. See Wag the Dog, one of the most honest depictions of our world ever to come out of Hollyweird—this is called “Revelation of the Method”.) We learn on the second page that the cityscape is littered with ubiquitous signs saying, “Big Brother is Watching You.” In other words, this is a surveillance state. Then we read: “In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue-bottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the Police Patrol, snooping into people’s windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.” This reminds me of something I experienced firsthand when I lived in Columbus, Ohio. Intermittently over a year or two a helicopter would appear hovering over a residential building across the street from the apartment building where I lived. Every few months or so I would see the helicopter hovering very near a particular window on the second floor of the large house and shine a blindingly powerful light into the window and hold it there. I saw this many times, and it was always the same window. Initially I thought, as charitably as I could, perhaps someone was hurt and needed to be flown to the hospital. But obviously that was not the case. Only after I moved away from Columbus and began an extensive study of Mind Control did I ascertain, almost certainly, what was going on. But amazingly, loud as the helicopter was and as near as it was to street level, I never noticed other people looking on with disturbed countenance, as I always did. In the novel Winston, the “Last Man,” as he is described later, seems to be the only one (along with Julia) who is aware of the disturbing reality that has become normalized in this dystopic metropolis. 

Then there are the ubiquitous telescreens. Television was introduced in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and the commercial film industry was decades old when Orwell was writing. Nonetheless it is shocking how accurate he was with regard to the screen culture in which we now live, and screens that not only project brainwashing electromagnetic images and sounds, but that allow the voyeuristic state to spy on the people as well. Four pages into the novel we are introduced to what Orwell is best known today, his depiction of reality control through the misuse of language: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.” These are the slogans of Oceania. The Ministry of Truth—“an enormous pyramidal structure”—is where bogus news is fabricated and history rewritten. In other words, the Ministry of Truth is where lies of all sorts are manufactured for public consumption. Just yesterday I learned of an ABC News broadcast that purported to show footage of a Turkish assault on the Kurds. This was broadcast shortly after President Trump announced he was withdrawing troops from Northern Syria. It was discovered that the footage was actually from a gun show in Kentucky from two years ago: “ABC News regrets the error.” Fake news and tawdry entertainment, so pervasive today, Orwell calls in Newspeak prolefeed: “the rubbishy entertainment and spurious news which the Party handed out to the masses” (307). Besides the Ministry of Truth, where lies are conjured, we have the Ministry of Peace, where war is planned; the Ministry of Love, where political prisoners are tortured; and the Ministry of Plenty, where the severe economic austerity policies are hatched. These are the four great ministries of Oceanic London. Orwell goes through many more of these grotesque violations of nomenclature in his essay on Newspeak appended to the novel, for instance joycamp is a place where forced labor is undergone. Today we have “ethnic cleansing” and “friendly fire” and “enhanced interrogation” and countless others, contemporary examples of what Orwell describes in “Politics and the English Language” as “making lies sound truthful and murder respectable.” As if taking its cue from Orwell’s novel, the US War Department changed its name to the Department of Defense in 1949, the same year the book was published.

Later in the book Julia says that in her opinion the terror attacks experienced by the people of Oceania are false flag operations, that the rocket bombs “were probably fired by the government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’” (153). Winston is astonished that such a thought never occurred to him; it should have been obvious. Julia also does not believe in any underground opposition movement: “The tales about Goldstein and his underground army, she said, were simply a lot of rubbish which the party had invented for its own purposes and which you had to pretend to believe in” (152). We know that Operation Gladio was a NATO/CIA run psychological warfare operation that coordinated terrorist attacks and then blamed them on communists. This strategy of tension, as it’s called, was shifted to Islamic terrorism when the Cold War ended (what has been called “Gladio B”). Terrorist groups exist, of course, but they are usually created and/or controlled by Western auxiliaries, catalyzed by US covert agents like Fidel Castro. This is called “Controlled Opposition” and includes not only terrorist organizations but groups and media that seem to be and even are hostile to the establishment. To comprehend power in the modern world it is necessary to understand Hegelian dialect and its manipulation: the synthesis that arises from the clash of opposites. The power elite control left and right, Democrat and Republican, CNN and Fox News, Democracy Now and National Review, the Mujahideen and the Pentagon, and can bring about a predetermined outcome from the manipulation of both sides. Both former National Security Advisor and Obama advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and the neoconservative members of the Project for a New American Century said that it would be difficult for America to achieve is goals in the Middle East and Central Asia because, in Brzezinski’s words, people are “inimical to imperial mobilization.” Only under “conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being” would intervention be possible. In the words of PNAC, “the process of transformation . . .  is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” On 11 September 2001 the power elite got their “new Pearl harbor.”[2]

On a related note, we learn in the novel that there are committees for organizing “spontaneous demonstrations” (22). Today protest movements that appear spontaneous are often organized by powerful psychological operations experts. This is called “astroturfing,” and it fools almost everybody. Chaos and a highly stressful environment induce vulnerability to suggestion and so is optimal for conditioning (brainwashing); it also provides the pretext for imposing order. For instance: Problem (terrorism) produces a Reaction (the people cry, “Help us, do something”), which begets a Solution (police state; massive expenditure to the military-industrial-complex; imperial aggression in geopolitical areas of interest). That is the Hegelian dialectic: Problem/Reaction/Solution = Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis. But the most interesting facet of the book, from my perspective, is the colonization of the human mind through doublethink, the “splitting of the intelligence” for the purpose of maintaining power, a process achieved most easily “in an atmosphere of war” (192). After the September 11 attacks the United States went into a state of permanent war, ambiguously called a “War on Terror.” Mass trauma is requisite to social control, and in Oceania there is perpetual war just as we have today, only now we have regular school shootings and global warming hysteria working in tandem with fear of terrorist attacks to keep the population in a state of permanent fear and low-grade trauma.

Doublethink is “reality control” (35, 214). Doublethink is “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them” (214). Doublethink is willful self-deception. It is soul-murder. We hear and believe that the United States is the greatest force for peace in the world even while knowing that since 2001 the US has invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria. This is doublethink. The only president in US history to be at war all 8 years of his presidency is Barak Obama; he dropped over 100,000 bombs on the aforementioned countries yet won the Nobel Peace Prize. After all the expense and institutional restructuring after 911, why is it that worldwide terrorist attacks increased from 355 in 2001 to a staggering 13,500 in 2014, according to the State Department’s own statistics? Orwell says that the “world-view of the Party” was imposed on people who were totally unaware of what they were accepting, people who “could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality . . . and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening” (156).

The key is education. In the first chapter of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism (Goldstein of course did not really write the book), we learn that the Party maintains its power by “continually molding the consciousness both of the directing group and of the larger executive group that lies immediately below it” (207-208). That is to say, the ruling elite are themselves brainwashed. A key Newspeak word is blackwhite: “Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary” (212). Was it blackwhite when, in a recent presidential debate, Julian Castro declaimed, “just because a woman, or let’s also not forget someone in the trans community — a trans female — is poor, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exercise that right to choose.” But a transgender woman is biologically unable to get pregnant, as everyone knows, and therefore to have an abortion. Blackwhite. Doublethink. Writing in 1951 in The Impact of Science on Society, propagandist Lord Bertrand Russell writes, “The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black.” But it is important that “indoctrination begins before the age of ten.” In the novel Party members are indoctrinated and the uneducated proles have their “consciousness . . . influenced only in a negative way” (208); that is to say, the masses are enslaved by incessant appeal to their base passions: mindless media, celebrity gossip, sports, fake news, and the incessant hostile chatter I mentioned at the start of this essay, are all used to condition the mind. In our society there is more overlap than in Orwell’s novel. Managerial persons today are formed by the total environment, and might be as addicted to prolefeed as someone of a lower station, something the Outer Party is forbidden in 1984. Our psychological warfare experts today make certain that free porn is available to anyone with a computer, and all sexual taboos have either been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed. Addictive “Pornosec” garbage is not only for the proles. And that is one reason why Brave New World is a more accurate depiction of reality today than Orwell’s novel. In 1984 sex for pleasure is prohibited among Party members and in Brave New World it is proforma, part of their brainwashing, as it is ours. In 1984 family ties are in the process of being destroyed, and gender difference as well, both of which are in process of destruction now, with the erosion of gender differences (gender anarchy) obviously much more successful than the destruction of family affection. But as Russell says, “the influence of home is obstructive” and must be eradicated.[3] Finally, subjection comes through the worship of an idol. Big Brother is the human face of the state, and worship of him is by no means feigned by the majority of Oceanic slaves. The Party uses rhythm and sound vibrations to induce hypnosis and worship of Big Brother. We see these slaves in the novel ecstatically giving themselves over to Big Brother, “B-B! . . . B-B! . . . B-B!” endlessly repeated while “the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms” is heard in the background, “a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise” (16). It was for good reason that Plato excluded certain types of music from his ideal state, and it is no coincidence that we of the New Order are inundated not only with hypnotic electromagnetic rays from our telescreens but also with hypnotic rhythms issuing out of the same devices. Much of music today is not really music but electronic base-heavy repetitive stimulation, inducing hypnosis. Again, I punched into YouTube the search term “electronica” and listened to the first thing that appeared, “El Chombo – Dame Tu Cosita Feat” by someone named Cutty Ranks. Give it a listen; it confirms everything I just said. It goes without saying the any god other than Big Brother, especially the Christian God, is strictly excluded from Oceania. One party member of too much intelligence and aesthetic feeling, Ampleforth, whose job it was to rewrite old poems, is eventually condemned for allowing the word “God” to remain in a poem by Rudyard Kipling (230). He has no attachment to the Christian God, but he does genuinely love poetry and he needed the word for the rhyme scheme. In 1984, as in Brave New World, Christianity must be destroyed. After all, the claim of Christianity is to free people from idols and base passions and addictions that enslave. Likewise, objective reality, objective truth, and objective morality must be destroyed. Relativism means that those in power get to decide what is true and what is not true. After all, if there is no objective truth than “truth” is what those in power say it is. Ironically, it was a victim of the very communist world that Orwell takes as his model for 1984, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who focused his attention on America, not the Soviet Union, in his commencement speech to Harvard University students in 1978: 

[F]reedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility . . . fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.

Solzhenitsyn saw more clearly than most that the moral and religious relativism of the West would lead to the very tyranny he knew so well from experience. “Men are infinitely malleable,” O’ Brien tells Winston (230). And as proof he offers for consideration the new Winston, the formerly recalcitrant subject who through intensive mind control techniques has joined the happy slaves of Oceania. These techniques—torture, intense interrogation, drugs, sleep and sensory deprivation, inducing fear through rats— are the very same used in MK-Ultra mind control, which relies on the victim’s capacity to dissociate. MK Ultra is an admitted CIA program. The Agency claimed that its purpose was to develop torture and interrogation methods to counter the communist threat. Testing included the administration of LSD, electric shock, torture, isolation, sensory and sleep deprivation, and was conducted on both children and adults. In the 1970s the CIA announced that it had stopped all MK-Ultra experiments, although several whistle-blowers have come forward to say that the project went underground under the name, “Monarch Mind Control.” But the truth is, alchemical transformation has advanced to such a degree that, in Michael Hoffman’s words, “The System doesn’t need MK-ultra anymore. The media culture is so far gone it functions like MK-Ultra.” (Yet again, the reason Brave New World is the more prophetic novel.) Winston is quite literally a new man—that “new man” so breathlessly anticipated at the beginning of the 20th century; his “self-willed exile from the loving breast” of Big Brother is over. It’s interesting that he “was still troubled by false memories occasionally” (296). Is this where the CIA got its idea to concoct the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which was expertly used to discredit children who said they were raped, victims of satanic ritual abuse? Never mind that the “experts” Paul and Shirley Eberle ran an underground tabloid for pedophiles in the 1970s called Finger. They did the talk show circuit and were heralded in the media as the highly respected authors of that masterpiece of clinical psychology, The Politics of Child Abuse. No one ever mentioned that before The Politics of Child Abuse there was “Sexpot at Five” and “My First Rape.” It seems they came right out of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. 


[1] All quotations from 1984 are from the Signet Classics edition, 1977.

[2] See Zbigniew Brzezinski:  The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), 35, 211 and Project for a New American Century, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century (2000), which can be found on the Internet.

[3] All quotes from Russell are from Chapter 2, “General Effects of Scientific Technique.”

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