How To Keep Your Head In A Sea Of Propaganda
I often think a big part of my role here is to simply tell woke people things that they already know in order to help relieve their fear that they are losing their minds. I got my start during the 2016 election when Berners were being pummeled with media mind viruses from all sides after the primaries trying to bully and gaslight them into believing they had to support Hillary Clinton, even though every fiber of their being was screaming at them not to. It was a psychologically brutal time to be politically active, and I kind of fell into the role of the dependable friend leaning in telling them “You’re not crazy — I see it too.”
My driving ambition has always been to help create a world in which I become redundant and obsolete in this role, which is why I’ve been referring to myself as a “utopia prepper” lately. I’d like nothing more than to live in a world where fighting institutionalized deceit and manipulation is no longer necessary so I can spend my time drawing and writing poems instead of coming up with colorful insults for CNN pundits. Toward that end, here are six suggestions that can help you stay centered in your own truth in the midst of a society that is saturated in establishment propaganda:
1. Withdraw all sympathy for establishment media.
“Sympathy” is the best word I can think of for the way we open ourselves up to another and treat them as part of our tribe, as an extension of ourselves. Experientially it could be described as a kind of warm “leaning in” as opposed to a cold, leaned-back skepticism, and it’s an absolutely essential first step toward planting ideas in your head. All the best manipulators are extremely adept at not just coming across as likeable and trustworthy, but at attracting this kind of sympathetic response from people.
By fostering an unsympathetic inner posture toward all establishment pundits and politicians, you are removing the foundation they require in order to start constructing narratives inside your head. This can be done by remembering that you live in a corporatist society full of corporatist propaganda, which takes us to point number 2.
2. Always remember that in a corporatist society, corporate media is state media.
Mainstream Americans like to criticize countries like Russia and North Korea for having state-run media in some form or another, not realizing that they live in the most brilliantly-propagandized nation on earth.
In a corporatist society wherein corporate power is inseparable from government power, corporate media is state media. It is propaganda. A 2014 study found that ordinary Americans have functionally zero control over how their government behaves, while the wealthiest Americans have a great deal of control due to corporate lobbying and legalized bribery in the form of campaign donations. The highly-consolidated corporate conglomerates who control America’s media are therefore inextricably intertwined with America’s governmental power structure, and this is evidenced by the way they consistently advance pro-establishment narratives. Jeff Bezos did not buy the Washington Post in 2013 because he thought it would make him a lot of money, he bought it because he knew his growing empire needed a strong propaganda wing to feed into the establishment foundation he was building it on.
Maintaining an awareness that you are consuming propaganda kills the power of that propaganda, in the same way awareness that you are being lied to kills the power of the lie. Instead of leaning in sympathetically and asking “What information is this reporter trying to bestow upon me?” you’re leaned back asking “Why is it important to this propagandist that I believe such a thing?”
3. Beware especially when all media outlets start furiously agreeing with each other about something.
“Russia attacked American democracy by hacking the Democratic party.” “North Korea is presenting a major threat to the United States.” “Iraq has WMDs.”
Whenever you see Fox, MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times frenetically agreeing with one another about something political, your default assumption should be that America’s unelected power establishment badly needs you to believe what they’re saying. Partisan politics sells, so the only reason they’re going to set it aside is for some nonpartisan event like a natural disaster, or for an establishment agenda that serves the unified body of America’s neoliberal neoconservative two-headed one-party system. Be on high alert whenever you see such convergence.
Propaganda works by constructing narratives that are favorable to the institution promulgating it, and it does so by appealing to people’s baser impulses like fear and tribalism in order to create sympathy for their stories. Inner work which creates some space from mental narrative and identification is a great way to inoculate oneself against such manipulations. Meditation, self-inquiry, mantra repetition and mindfulness practices can all be useful toward this end, as can right-brained activities like drawing and painting since they involve a movement away from the language center.
All it really takes is enough movement away from the mind’s churning mental narratives to be able to view those narratives “from the outside”, that is, without being sucked inside their worldview. If you’ve just spent half an hour counting your breaths and then some mental narrative comes roaring in about Donald Trump or whatever, it looks very different when it’s being perceived from the outside, without your having yet crawled inside its worldview and imbued it with the power of belief. When fear and tribal loyalty kick in it can be tempting to get sucked into the narrative, but since you’ve seen it from the outside you’ll have a default you can center yourself in that can keep you from imbuing it with too much belief. You’ll keep an even keel and be able to look at the situation more objectively.
5. Find at least one voice who you can count on to stay anchored in their truth.
There are some people who you can always count on to speak their truth regardless of the consequences. It doesn’t mean they’re always right about everything since no one is, it just means you can count on them to remain focused on asking themselves what’s true rather than getting sucked up into the hysteria of a given consensus narrative. I’ve got a few of them, but for example Michael Tracey could have gotten himself thousands of followers and tons of accolades by masturbating the mainstream zeitgeist after Charlottesville and spent his time writing about how bad and scary it is that Nazis are taking over America. Instead he spent his time providing a voice of caution warning about the civil rights people were putting at risk with their calls for censorship and firings.
This needn’t be a professional commentator or high-profile figure; it can be a friend or group of friends or your wise old grandmother. It’s just important to find one solid, grounding voice. I haven’t always agreed with Tracey’s take on things, but I’ve never once seen him abandon his authentic personal truth, and that to me makes him a reliable guidepost to touch in with to keep my head whenever things are getting crazy. I can always count on him to be true to what’s true for him. Find at least one person who you feel is like that for you, and keep touching in with their centered truthfulness.
6. Start telling your own stories about what’s happening.
Most importantly, try to foster your own positive narrative about the things that are going on in the world. It’s not enough to have an idea about what’s false and who’s lying, because then you’re just spinning in an ungrounded ocean of “no” without knowing which way’s up or having any clear way of conceptualizing what’s true. It’s too easy to get lost when all you’re doing is rejecting narratives, so start building your own. Start piecing together your own ideas about what’s really going on in the world.
Don’t hold yourself to very high standards when forming your own ideas about things. It’s okay if you don’t have the perfect ideas about everything from the economy to 9/11 right now, but it is important that you do your best to figure out what you reckon is true. Ideally you want to be able to hold your narratives loosely enough that you can replace them when better ideas come along, but not so loosely that a propagandist can knock them out of your mind with a little manipulation. By holding your positive narratives about what’s happening in the world, it’s infinitely easier to sort out what looks like bullshit from what might be a useful idea.
The real currency of the world is not gold, nor plutocratic fiats, nor even the material backing of military might — it’s narrative. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world. That’s why propaganda plays such a massive role in our society. Whoever can control the stories about where power is located and how money works controls the power and money, because those things only operate by societal consensus. Power and money only exist where they exist because people agree to pretend that’s where they exist. They only exist to the extent that their stories are believed.
So make your own currency. Start telling your own stories. Ignore the would-be authority figures and start finding your own true north. Not the north they want you to believe in, but the one that’s true for you. This is the first step toward we the people reclaiming our power on a large scale.
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