Sensation over Sense

BK recently submitted an article about Trump and Evangelicals. And it made a lot of sense. But what doesn’t make sense is how much media coverage Trump is getting. He pretty much is the laughing stock of the nations. How is it that a beauty pageant organizer/reality tv star/real estate agent is running for US president? He has no political experience. And yet he has gotten so far in running. Like BK said it’s because he’s all about money and that’s what people value most.

Moreover as Chris accurately diagnosed, Trump is a populist politician. There have been many in every country like Le Pen and Zhirinovsky. This is all true and yet, Trump is the one we choose to talk about. I shamefully confess that out of all the presidential candidates, I’ve read the most about Trump. Our society, myself included, chooses sensation over sense.

$85 Million Net Worth

There is another certain American celebrity who get way more media coverage than she deserves. Her net worth is $85 million. What does she contribute to society? Absolutely nothing, except pictures of her behind that break the internet. I am not even going to write her name here because I don’t feel it’s worth any attention. She does squelch and yet she walks into a restaurant and it’s worth increases astronomically overnight.This is because she works the system. She knows what people value: sensation over sense.

The Sexy Life Syndrome

I’ve been thinking about this phenomena and I’ve coined it the “Sexy Life Syndrome.” I got the idea after reading the first chapter of Ramit Sethi’s book, I will teach you to be Rich. At the beginning of his book he asks, would you rather be rich or sexy? People want the sexy life of risky investments and get rich quick plans. People desire the sensational stories of rags to riches overnight. This is the allure of gambling and lottery tickets.

But Sethi’s argument is that getting rich is about making boring and safe financial decisions and sticking with them consistently for 30 years. Budgeting isn’t sexy, but it get’s results. Our society values the “sexy life,” but not the consistent “raise the children/trade in the sports car for the mini van” life.

Media and Society

Now, I feel there is a need for me to preface my view point. There are always brimstone and fire preachers who warn us of the impending doom coming to our depraved Sodom and Gomorrah-esque society. I’m talking about the ones who say, “In my day we never did what the young kids nowadays are doing…” I never understand people who talk like that. I guess that people remember only what they want to remember. (As if there was a time period in human history where there was no sin).

Anyway, my point is not that our society is messed up beyond repair. My opinion is quite the opposite. We do have a society that values sensation over sense. Yes, our society is largely reactionary. And yes, our emotions are constantly hijacked, especially with the onslaught of the internet and ridiculous stories. Admittedly, media portrays what society values. (Presidential Candidates show what Americans want i.e. money). Media is a mirror of our Society, but Society also controls Media.

I don’t think consumers, the lay man sitting on his couch watching tv after work, realizes his power. Media runs on public ratings, and if people value things worth valuing like: acts of kindness and peace making policies (and politicians who are actually contributing positively) media would change.I’m not naive about what’s going on in the world (believe me I’ve seen a lot of ugly in my life) and I’m not a proponent of hiding your head in the sand or sweeping dirt under the carpet.

But what I do suggest is shedding light on Presidential Candidates who are doing something. Or focusing on Christian leaders who are building up the Church. Don’t let your time, energy and life be sucked into the black hole of sensational stories i.e. fb, youtube clips, pinterest, theological debates that never end, etc. (Ok, that’s enough preaching).

The Thermometer versus the Thermos

The sensible life is possible, but it takes intention and discipline. My mother once told me about the difference between being a cultural thermometer or a thermos. A thermometer reads the temperature. A thermos determines the temperature. Thermometers are passive. Thermoses are active. It’s your choice.

You decide: sensation or sense.

Do you notice a lot of sensation in the media? Do you think there are stories that need to be told, but are not told? Who are the unsung heroes in your immediate circle? What does it mean to be a cultural thermometer to you? Are there any Presidential candidates you think positively of?



  1. Thanks for this article, MJ. Certainly, sensationalism plays a big role in his appeal. He’s kind of like an American fantasy figure who answers the question of what would one do were they fantastically wealthy. Run for ruler of the free world, of course all while saying exactly what’s on one’s mind.

    There’s also a confluence of factors, one of them being that he plays into people’s fears and ignorance, particularly about immigration and Muslims. Fear is a great motivator, in general. And another factor is his anti-establishmentism. He’s not afraid to speak out against the government and threaten breaking away from the republican party if he doesn’t get their nomination. He’s also boycotting Fox News, the media arm of conservatives. All of this is carefully designed to play on people’s distrust and disdain for the current political landscape as well as their deep-seated fears. All in all, he’s presented as a tornado of whimsy and intrigue, but to me he’s just an idiot with tons of money. Our shitty political system and apathetic populace made his rise possible.

    • “Our shitty political system and apathetic populace made his rise possible. – See more at:

      Yep. It seems that is what we Americans are good at :( We enable shitty people to do shitty things. Why else would UBFism have gained some traction here? We let anyone create any kind of group.

    • I think that there’s some merit to unbridled freedom (i think). Certainly it’s better than censorship, which gives rise to perhaps a greater tyranny than libertarian freedom or first amendment rights in media. Don’t get me wrong, we censor a lot of things here, unbeknownst to the common public of course. But a better alternative to prohibiting harmful groups is cultivating a public that can think critically. This is beginning to happen in large part to free or alternative media sources. This is one reason why I like this site and your books, BK. We’ve got a ways to go but we’re getting there. I hope that Trump does get quite far because it’ll perhaps cause a tipping point in public thinking. It may cause some to wake up and examine the way that they think.

    • Yeap, that’s the danger of democracy; we give people the right to voice their opinions, no matter how ludicrous is is. And as you say, David, that’s why critical thinking is so vital. I don’t want to teach my students whether abortion is right or wrong or what foreign policy is best. I want to give them a tool box so they can come to their own conclusions even though it might look different from mine. But if they have no tool box they are victims to whatever they hear/watch on tv.

      I’m reading a book called, “The Republic of the Imagination,” and the author who is Iranian compares the value of books in Iran where western literature was forbidden to in the US where so much good literature is at the tip of our fingers. It’s scary how literature is at jeopardy more in a free country like the US, than in a dictatorship because here in the US, we don’t value it.

      Ray Bradbury says, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

      The irony of human nature is that if you burn books/forbid them, it might actually make people want to read them more. (But maybe not in the US because everyone has instagram/fb/twitter. Would people notice?)

      Have you read, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman? He talks about how the advent of tv has drastically transformed the way we do education/politics/live life. I would add that American pragmatism also plays a part. People just want to get rich. Everyone wants a job, so they major in business, but no one cares about the humanities any more. People don’t understand we need critical thinking skills because business men must make ethical decisions. Education should never be taught in a vacuum devoid of the humanities.

      But like I said in the article, I’m not trying to diss American society. I’m trying to bring attention to the fact that we might be caring about things(Presidential Candidates) that really don’t matter.

  2. Thanks, MJ. I’m not sure if readers clicked it, but the Huffington Post article is very good.

    I’m pretty sure that Trump is a je__, a__hole, belligerent, arrogant, condescending, rude, “high-minded,” “high-nosed,” selfish, hypocritical, populist sort of leader. But for reasons that you and others have stated, he obviously has some sort of likability, appeal, street smarts and genius, which is obviously highly annoying to those who really dislike him. He reminds me of one of my favorite villains of all time: The Joker, played excellently by the late Heath Ledger.

    Trump may indeed make a horrible President, according to the Huffington Post article. But has his last few predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, really done a good job by “playing according to the present rules”??

    His appeal also likely represents the (perhaps false) hope that since he is obviously different, is not political, and is successful in his own right (which might not translate to being President), he might just pull it off where others have clearly failed in the minds of many.

    Those who dislike him obviously conclude, “Absolutely no way can he ever make a good president!”

    But to those who do like him, they’ll optimistically think, “Why not? No one else has shown that they can do a good job with all the bickering, posturing and political grid-lock that is going on.”

    If only Pope Francis could be President!

    • “But has his last few predecessors, both Democrat and Republican, really done a good job by “playing according to the present rules”??”

      I like(d) Obama.