The Warlord, the Magician, and the Alchemist.

I

Journalism’s collapse was a long time coming. Some people and institutions collapse due to outside forces beyond their control, such as illness, natural disaster, or some other out-of-the-blue phenomenon that no one could possibly predict. No one could possibly prepare for the worst because there was no precedented worst that could have ever given a hint of how bad it could get.

Or, sometimes another stronger force just crushes people who still do not go down without fighting. A child is snatched from her bed in her locked house as her doting parents are sleeping in the next room. A mob goes on a rampage, and decides to kill people going to work.

You cannot always prepare. You don’t always get a warning. The Just-World Hypothesis is a horrid bedtime story told so people do not lose their minds to the reality of how fragile life and even the world actually is.

Douglas Adams said it best:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

Everything in this world is both robust, but also fragile.

Yet precisely because of our existence’s fragility, we need to take a more humble approach to things. We need to understand that so much of both the good and the bad is just randomness, and we were not the architect of either outcome.

Then there are the times when someone is the creator of their own destruction.

They do not see the rigs they have put in place have been discovered by others. They are warned by others that there is danger — the skies are turning dark, the ground has eroded, and their rigs have been altered or removed.

They don’t listen because they have mistaken the rigs as a divine sign of their own cunning, and don’t think the rules, the signs, or the warning apply to them.

16922083480_c72cb12907_o

You tell the person that there is danger up ahead; that an enemy army is marching in droves to slaughter them.

They do not flee. They do not prepare to fight.

They laugh at you and call you hysterical as they also accuse you of exaggerating, or even lying.

They have faith in their superiority and rigs. Who are you to tell them?

That is precisely what happened to journalism.

Someone — many someones — told them an army was coming, and they laughed it off.

Until they were slaughtered senseless, and even after they lost the war, they are still in denial of what happened, why, or offered any olive branch to those who warned them, choosing instead to smear or ignore them as they view everything is being just fine, and even a Golden Age of their greatness.

II

This little video pretty much describes what happened to journalism. Journalism is the kid up at the blackboard, while the little boy in the French Dog sweater represents media critics.

Journalism has always been about stealing, scraping, and cribbing from others, and yet, when others point out a deficiency, the profession cannot make use of the warning.

It doesn’t compute.

Which is an interesting dilemma in a world in desperate need of information, but, in fact, has very few credible venues to access it.

But it also an interesting phenomenon of those who shout out the answers to an arrogant and oblivious defeated industry.

People like me.

I am experienced in the ways of journalism, not just because I was a journalist who wrote about journalism, but because I went into journalism for the express purpose of discovering why it was failing.

I am not shouting out the answers because I am rooting for the rot who destroyed the industry. I am doing it because we need to be informed, and we need a credible place to get that information.

It would be very easy to second guess myself for many reasons, but the greatest reason is the three icons that seem to stare me in the face: the Warlord, the Magician, and the Alchemist.

And I can respectfully disagree with them all because I have learned one thing: that you truly can be naked for the world to see, and still be brave.

III

The warlord, magician, and alchemist have two things in common: (a) All three work with deception, but all work with lies in the three different ways. The warlord is a mundane man who must earn the trust and freewill by convincing friend and foe alike that he is a Great Man. The magician must do silly and mundane things to give an illusion of defying what is physically possible. The alchemist must work out complex problems in reality, but must present that work as childish and frivolous Gibberish that uses the Book of Genesis as the starting point.

But then there is, (b) they all must keep their work and true cunning a secret. The warlord must ambush and hold back his plans and advantage to gain a victory over his opponent. The magician cannot divulge the truth of his deception, or else he will look unremarkable. The alchemist must keep that great work secret lest anyone takes advantage of those delicate equations.

All three would advise not telling a decaying profession what is wrong with it. They will steal the ideas, grab the glory, call themselves a Great Man and Visionary — and, of course take all the spoils for themselves as they honestly believe it was their own cunning that helped turn their fortunes around. They may even believe they used one of the 36 Stratagems of War of throwing a brick to get the jade:

拋磚引玉/抛砖引玉

Give someone a hand, and they take advantage of it.

Except sometimes their filters, misperceptions and misinterpretations of reality get in their way. You show the answer, and they may even grab the answer.

But when they apply their version of the answer, hilarity ensues.

Proving why the profession that is supposed to be a chronicle of reality flunked out. If your filters of reality are whacked, your solutions never work.

101

I remember having to take a course when I was professor on teaching fundamentals years ago because there was a problem of students passing courses by rote means, but then having no ability to creatively apply their knowledge in practical or innovative ways. It was a fascinating course run by the professor who proposed it because it bothered him that students just memorized information, but had no deep appreciation of what they were actually learning.

One of the components of the course was to ensure that professors were asking higher level questions on tests and assignments, not just mere rote questions that showed students memorized a few phrases with no idea of how to apply them in new situations.

I always had the same frustrations with journalists: they are not creative. They cannot apply knowledge, let alone wisdom. They crib and copy like parrots. There is no art. There is no science. There is no ingenuity.

The warlord doesn’t see it because all he sees is a world that is black and white and red all over. War is a game of black and white, but the colour on the floor turns red. It is all a competition using secrets and lies, and he must win even if he loses.

The magician doesn’t see it because all he sees is gaining attention for himself and inflating his mundane abilities. He is a showman, not a teacher. He hides the truth away from the crowds who are standing right in front of him and do not see the truth. He must be adored even if it is a mirage and not the real him that people admire.

The alchemist doesn’t see it because he becomes so far removed from mankind that when he sees how far away he is from the world, he becomes an altruist as some sort of attempt to reconnect with a world that never noticed he was too busy tearing every shred of his broken heart and soul to see where he went wrong when he was once at the top of his game. He suffered a spiritual death, and no one could help him. He decided to help himself, even braving defying both gods and demons to push forward to make a a world that was cruel to him kinder. He tries to somehow make lead into gold.

Of all three, the alchemist is the idealist of the group. He is the wounded hero who refuses to be a victim or a villain, but he still misses the greatest point of all: there is no need for secrecy when you live in a world that is self-involved and self-absorbed.

No one sees you from their own selfies. You are always hiding right out in the open in plain sight.

Journalism’s problem was that it was always disconnected from the world it was supposed to chronicle. If you want to chronicle a world, you have to be in tune with its waves and rhythms. You can sense the changes. You do not impose a narrative; you let the world speak to you, even if it enrages you, confuses you, insults you, and breaks your heart.

That requires emotional literacy and sensitivity, not narcissism and arrogance. Journalism failed, and still doesn’t see what the problem is.

It’s why those who risk it all by throwing jades have nothing to worry about: those jades get thrown right back at you. Take them back, and throw them as many times as you wish. Throw your gold bars, too. You won’t lose a single one.

Because journalists don’t pick up anything: from nuances to hints. It’s what killed their profession, but honesty is essential to those who wish to feel the truth and reality around them as they create the alternatives that thwart warlords, expose magicians, and reach out to those alchemists who are ready to give life another altruistic go…

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