The rise of the Fifth Estate

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In 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote:

‘In old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralising. Somebody – was it Burke? – called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism.’

That was the genius of Wilde, his capacity for capricious commentary written on tablets of solid granite. These enduring words are ever more relevant with the passage of time and few would disagree that the power of the media has indeed done much to usurp the legislative, executive, and judicial estates of government. Indeed, there were times during the Great Pandemic when one could have been forgiven for believing they had disappeared entirely, like a dinosaur hit by a gigantic meteorite and about to be displaced by the rise of small and furry mammals.

Metaphorically, that is exactly what has happened. Government teeters on the brink of extinction, on the very verge of displacement. There almost seems an inevitability that these ponderous institutions that steered the Industrial Age would someday give way to the very forces they unleashed. The seeds of their own destruction were present from the start.

So it is we are witness to the rise of the 5th Estate, the birth child of the Industrial Age, an agile and adaptive force that controls all others, the mammal to the dinosaur spawned from the meteoric strike of the Great Pandemic. The 5th Estate to which I refer is that of technology which now controls virtually all aspects of our lives. We are governed by the rules of social media, which has all but replaced the executive at least in our daily lives. The clergy of the new religion are the so-called ‘experts’ as in-precise as the Spanish Inquisition and just as exacting. It represents the greatest threat to our national sovereignty in almost a century.

These oft self-appointed experts are plucked from obscurity to tell is what to do, how to think, and the way we should behave. This technology can register every heart beat while our lives are dictated by an avalanche of algorithms over which we have almost no control.

Even their makers cannot control their direction once unleashed and one cannot say we were never warned. From Mary Shelley to Aldous Huxley to Elon Musk, yet humanity has remained deaf to these calls. In fact, we have rather welcomed it! We are a tired species that fears our own freedom and we seem to see little value in our virtue. Our trust in our own decisions is so low that we would prefer to simply to surrender to the techno-machine!

Humanity is sleepwalking into the chaos created by evolutionary forces that travel at the speed of science. Technology has no reason, no objective, no direction. It adapts to its own chaos, which is alien to any living species. Its intelligence is its own and incomprehensible. It has no interest in human destiny and as it outstrips the pace of human development this evolutionary rack will stretch our capacities to their ultimate limits. We are indeed dominated by technology.

This article is a republication of an article originally published here by the The Spectator Australia.

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  • Dr David Richards

    Dr David Richards is an Australian General Practitioner and Adjunct Professor at an Australian University in the faculty of medicine. He graduated from London University in 1984, having also completed an Honours Degree in Human Genetics and Immunology. He has peer reviewed papers for a major European Journal and presented at International Conferences on Genetics and Carotid Ultrasound.

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