Q&A: Manipulators, Optimism, Utopia, Trump, Writing Tips & More

Caitlin Johnstone
Apr 6 · 18 min read

While we’re all waiting to find out what’s happening with Julian Assange, I thought it might be fun to do a little Q & A with my readers to pass the time while that singularly important crisis resolves. I asked for some questions on social media and got way more than I had expected. Here are a few of the ones that jumped out:

“How do you stay so optimistic and positive, given all the corruption in politics and the media? How do you suggest others do the same?”

I remain optimistic because what the hell else am I going to do? The alternative is to roll over and stop fighting against the depraved sociopaths who are poisoning our world, and fuck that. Optimism and pessimism are choices that you make of your own volition; one means staying in the fight, the other means tapping out and preparing for death. For me it’s a no-brainer.

The other half of optimism is having enough basic humility to understand that there are things you don’t know. It’s easy to look at a bunch of data and trends and conclude that it’s all hopeless, but that’s actually a very arrogant and dishonest thing to do. By saying you know it’s hopeless, you’re pretending to know everything about humankind and its limitations, to know that we’ve got no surprises left. Nobody who’s explored their own inner world with a good amount of sincere effort would ever do that, because looking within reveals that there are vast universes within us which are almost entirely unexplored. There’s no way to know that humanity doesn’t have any surprises lurking in those huge dark caverns, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that it does.

I suggest others become optimistic by choosing optimism. You don’t become a pessimist because the facts say X, Y and Z, you become a pessimist because you chose it. In return you get to relax and stop fighting, and you get to lean back and feel smug and superior to all those idiots who still think they can win this thing, but the cost is exiting the fight. Not worth it, in my opinion.

“What can I tell my 13 year old son to give him hope about the future? He has no faith in humanity and I struggle a lot to find ways to point out the ways we are doing good in the world. It’s hard, though. I don’t want to lie to him, but I also don’t want him to be depressed.”

I think everything changed for me the moment I found myself telling both my kids in no uncertain terms “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. I’ll fix it. It’s not your problem, leave it to me. Any time you find yourself worrying about it, just remember that I’m on it.” There was a weird moment between the three of us where the world seemed to stop in its tracks and start turning in the other direction. They didn’t question me at all, they both just kind of nodded and let it go.

For me, everything changed in that moment. I took full responsibility for the first time in my adult life. I was no longer blaming my parents’ generation for everything, nor hoping that my kids’ generation could clean up our mistakes. I’d just turned 40, I was in the prime of my life, I had all the skills I was ever going to get with the maximum amount of energy that I was ever going to have to use on something important. Why not this?

That seemed to release my kids a lot. They still keep an eye on what’s going on, but that ominous background hum of terrifying anxiety doesn’t seem to be there anymore, and they got on with happily exploring their own burgeoning personhood. They are free to be creative and joyful and adding to the sum of the happiness in the world. That’s an important job in and of itself. They could do that because they trust me. All that needed to happen after that was for me to trust myself.

And that was quite a process. For me, it changed everything. Suddenly, my own little weird neurotic concerns shifted out of focus and the highest interest has had to become my priority in everything that I do, because saving the world means putting all your own personal concerns aside. As you know, a mother loves her children more than she loves herself. That just happens as surely as the placenta leaves the body; you can’t help it, it just is. So realigning my desires to making sure that I hand over to my children a safe, healthy, sustainable, sane planet to live on as my number one responsibility to them, above everything, above even my own life, was a relatively natural switch to make. But it turns out it was an important one.

So, if you dare, tell him “Hey, don’t worry, I love you and I’ve got this. This is not going to happen on my watch little buddy, just you wait and see. Mama’s gonna clean house and you’re going to inherit the most beautiful, sane and happy planet that humans have ever seen. You just go play, I’ll let you know when I’m done.” And then go to your room, close the door, have a little cry, get quiet, and see what wants to be done next.

I trust you. You’ve got this. We’ll do it together.

“You have the ability to see through most of the social conditioning (i.e, you have an advanced bullshit detector). To what do you attribute this ability, and can you suggest any ways to teach it to others?”

It was a combination of (A) actively bringing clarity to the nature of my own internal processes and (B) escaping from an abusive relationship with a manipulator, both of which emerged concurrently and complemented each other. The longer I’m out of the abusive relationship the clearer my inner vision gets, and the clearer my inner vision gets the better I am at seeing and describing the nature of manipulation. I don’t recommend getting into any abusive relationships, but I highly recommend bringing consciousness to your own mental processes.

I wrote an article a while back titled “Fight The Establishment’s Narratives By Getting Clear On Your Own” which pretty well summed up my answer to this question. Basically in order to understand how manipulators operate, you’ve got to develop an intimate working understanding of what buttons they’re pushing and what levers they’re pulling to accomplish their manipulations.

What the manipulator understands, which hardly anyone else does, is that society is made entirely out of mental narrative, so whoever controls society’s narratives controls society itself. Control the stories that people believe about what’s going on, and you control the people. This is true whether you’re talking about the stories that are told by a couple about the nature of their relationship, or the stories that are told about an entire nation and its relationship with other nations. It really is possible to keep people doing your bidding while giving them nothing in exchange besides a little narrative manipulation, and, if you lack the part of a healthy human being which empathizes with other human beings, there’s no disincentive for you to exploit that massive advantage.

Few people operate with a lucid understanding of how their mental processes are operating from moment to moment, so a manipulator is able to slide in and program the unconscious parts of their operating systems into accepting narratives which are advantageous for the manipulator, whether that’s “Submit to your spouse” or “Hate the Russians” or “Accept the status quo”. All it takes for them to do this is an understanding of your fears and desires, attractions and aversions, and basic behavioral patterns; if they have that, a little skillful word play can send you marching in any direction of their choosing under the belief that it will get you what you want and/or avoid what you don’t want.

If you have a lucid understanding of the way your mental processes are operating from moment to moment, it’s completely different. It’s the difference between (A) a puppeteer sucking you into the drama of a puppet show from behind a puppet theater and (B) trying to suck you into the drama while standing in broad daylight right in front of you and pretending that his hands are talking to each other. If, due to rigorous self-examination, you have a better understanding of what makes you tick than the manipulator does, it’s like they’re standing right in front of you trying to pull your levers and push your buttons with a giant spotlight shining on their heads. It’s almost cute when they try it, like a child with chocolate all over her face saying she has no idea where the cupcake went.

So that’s the solution: develop a better understanding of what makes you tick than can be obtained by anyone who might try to manipulate you with bullshit, and you’ll be able to spot bullshit for what it is. You’ll be able to see what they’re doing, and you’ll be able to lucidly describe what they’re doing to other people who are being manipulated. Meditation, self-enquiry, radically honest writing and journaling, and being uncompromisingly real with yourself are all tools that you can use toward this end.

“Despite your warranted disdain for Trump, and within the grand scheme of exposing the establishment & their propagandists, do you believe it was better for the world and/or your interests that he was elected instead of Hillary Clinton?”

Yes. I believe that her proposed Syria no-fly zone in an area where Russian war planes were conducting operations could have led to far more dangerous world-threatening confrontations between two nuclear superpowers, and I believe there’d be no meaningful pushback against any of her hawkish agendas like we’re seeing in parts of the political/media class against Trump’s behavior in Yemen and Venezuela. Hell, the Yemen vote which just passed in both houses with overwhelming Democratic Party support probably never would have even happened.

I think had Clinton won we’d be seeing more warmongering and cold war escalations than we are seeing with Trump, and with far less scrutiny and criticism. The escalations against Russia, which were already scheduled to take place after the 2016 election regardless of who won, would have been a far easier and more straightforward sell than this bizarre Russiagate psyop the mass media have been forced to spend all their energy doing contortions around. The narrative shapers would have focused on how amazing and historic it is to have a female president while marginalizing all criticism, like they did with Obama but worse. People would be more trusting of both their government and their media. With Trump the ugly face of the Orwellian oligarchy is laid bare, and it’s harder for the manipulators to spin.

That said, Trump is still extremely horrible. It annoys me when I criticize him and Trump supporters come in telling me “Yeah okay your point is valid, but Hillary would have been worse.” So? Hillary being bad doesn’t make Donald good. The election is long gone. The asshole in charge right now is the asshole whose behaviors we’ve got to talk about. It’s like if I said someone getting raped is bad and you came in saying “Nuh-uh because murder is a thing.” That’s not a legitimate argument.

“Is Trump going to break the system enough so that the majority sees the corruption on both sides?”

If that were going to happen it would have happened by now. The system, meaning the corrupt establishment power structure, is flowing smoothly under Trump, who in terms of policy and behavior has been a fairly conventional Republican ghoul despite all the extreme rhetoric on both sides. For the majority to start seeing just how fucked the system is, a lot more is going to have to change than just pinning an obnoxious face on it for four years.

“What happened to your ‘going rogue’ podcast w/ Mr Tim? I love your words. I miss your voice:))”

Too time consuming on top of all the other stuff I’m trying to do. We might start up a new show together in a few months though once a few things shift.

“Why do you think Corbyn stopped speaking out about Asaange, the moment he got elected Labour leader ? Do you think that even if he became the PM, he would be able/allowed to free Assange ?”

I think that’s a very real fear that the bastards have, otherwise there probably wouldn’t be so much urgency to squeeze him out of the embassy as fast as possible. If they were confident that they could keep him silenced and isolated in his room there, they’d be content to just leave it there.

That said I don’t know how legitimate those fears are. It’s possible that Corbyn, who because of the smear campaigns can barely even get away with saying Palestinians are human beings anymore, would have justice for Assange way down on his priority list. Going against the will of the most powerful intelligence and defense agencies on the planet is never an easy thing to do, and Corbyn may not be up to the task.

“What steps would you recommend for a dusty old writer to get himself warmed up again? Information moves so quickly that my ability to stay current with writing suffers in favor of my desire to research.”

I like to use a customized Twitter news list, which I explain how to do here. Twitter forces everyone to be as concise as possible with whatever they’re sharing, so if you make a list of good information sources whose work you trust you can efficiently scroll through it and delve deeper where necessary. I’ll set my own list to public so anyone who wants to use it can do so by clicking here and bookmarking, but FYI I also have some US government baddies in there whose tweets I like to keep tabs on like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, so you might want to just copy the parts of mine you like and make your own. If writing is your thing, let the more research-oriented minds do some of the work in that area and then cite their findings in your own writing.

For getting started, it might help to try just writing Facebook posts at first, or even tweets. My thing took off when I realized that the posts I’d been making in Bernie Sanders Facebook groups could be made into full-length opinion articles, which by then I was ready for. I’ll often still base entire essays on the idea behind a single tweet I’d previously posted.

Other than that, the trick is to stay inspired and insightful so you have worthwhile stuff to write about. Cut out needless stressors and time wasters, eat food that gives you energy, take naps to refresh your brain, and engage in some introspective work like meditation to clarify your inner vision. Oh, and try to mute your inner critic. He’s worthless.

“Christianity — Fake or Real?”

Fake. Just look at how interwoven it’s been with powerful governments throughout history. Its calls to be meek and obedient and “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, its glorification of poverty and claim that “the poor you will always have with you”, all fit in perfectly with the agendas of the powerful people who’ve wanted to keep all the riches to themselves and rule with an iron fist. Christianity has consistently served as propaganda for the powerful to keep the people from rising up and taking back what the fat kings stole from them. That remains true to this day. The kings of old wanted us poor, meek and obedient, and the kings of the current age, the plutocrats, want that as well.

“What do you think about the hypocrisy of the USA and her vassal states condemning and sanctioning Iran for the nuclear program while helping Saudi complete nuclear reactors unverified?”

Standard practice. The US and its allies function effectively as one giant empire in terms of foreign policy; all nations within that empire are treated as loyal subjects, and all nations which refuse to be absorbed into that empire are bullied, subverted and attacked. It’s a slow-motion undeclared world war, so it’s not really “hypocrisy” if you think about it, any more than one side in a war being willing to fire upon the other side’s soldiers but not its own. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s imperialism.

“You’ve written about the political power of narrative. Do you think the power of narrative can be used to improve one’s own life or help one’s friends/family?”

I would say understanding the power of narrative can drastically improve one’s life and help one’s friends and family, but actually using the full power of narrative is like using the One Ring; it warps and corrupts its user. Our job as truth-tellers is not to control situations and manipulate people with the power of narrative, it’s to help everyone become more conscious of the nature of the narratives they’re encountering. If people are believing lies, you can help them see through those lies. If people believe stories which lead them to take unhelpful action, we can help them recognize this. The role of the healer is a game of subtraction, not addition.

“Is possible to actual wrest narrative control from the elite establishment in this day and age? Do we actually want ‘narrative control’?”

No, ultimately what we want is narrative lucidity. We want people to be clear on what’s true and false and to have a lucid understanding of when people are trying to manipulate them, so that any form of narrative control becomes impossible. The fact that individual humans are capable of attaining this lucidity means that we all are, and in an entirely unprecedented situation with the threat of extinction looming on the horizon while billions of human brains are connected to each other on the internet, anything’s possible. The way I see it we’re at evolve-or-die time as a species, and we’ll either evolve into a healthy relationship with narrative or we’ll go the way of the dinosaur. I firmly believe that we have the freedom to either pass or fail this test.

“Without getting too utopian, what does our best future look like and how does it happen?”

I don’t know that I know exactly what it looks like, but I think I can take a guess at what it feels like. It feels like pure relaxation. It feels like being 100 percent supported in everything you do. It feels like a loose-hipped Sunday walk on warm white sand. Once we move through into this next evolutionary phase, people’s attitude towards thought will change completely.

They will no longer be fixated on defending their own identity story, or the story of their family, or the story of their various tribes, which will mean much more productive conversations and much more clarity around decision making on a personal and global level.

Manipulations of all kinds just won’t work anymore. You won’t feel obliged to dance to anyone’s tune and they won’t feel obliged to dance to yours. Manipulations will stand out against the background like flies on white paper, so there will be no such thing as advertising. It just won’t work anymore so there will be no point. People will find what they need through word-of-mouth and the internet.

Propaganda will become a comic historical footnote. Our personal relationship with thought itself will change, and with the quieting of the internal chatter we will find ourselves moving in a much more harmonious way with each other. People will find themselves collaborating in inspired ways together for the sheer joy of creating something. Old patterns will fall away like coats fall off shoulders on a warm day, and our healings will be so complete that it will be hard for us to remember how bad things really were.

You know how a few weeks ago Joe Biden was free to be as handsy as he liked, and now he’s not? A couple of weeks ago, Joe Biden could go into any social situation and sniff as many heads and touch as many little girls’ nipples as he liked. From this past week onwards, people will be watching him much more carefully. He just won’t be able to do that anymore, and neither will anyone else who is like him. That kind of switch is happening over and over and over again in all areas of life. Manipulators are being seen and systems of manipulation are being uncovered. Veiled acts of bullying and dominance like Biden’s are starting to stand out in the light, and soon there will be nowhere to hide. Our own manipulations will come out from hiding from us as well and we will start to grow conscious of all the internal ways we try to control others. For some this will be hard to give up, but for many it will be a big relief. Controlling other people takes a lot of energy.

And that’s where the relaxation will come in. The loose-hipped walk comes from doing what you want when you want, and collaborating/helping because it’s fun and not because you want to have something over someone else. Life will become much more tasty. We will be free to thoroughly relish its simple pleasures. When you’re not seeking to hide from life with big highs and lows and endless fixes of sugar, drugs, TV and personal drama, life itself becomes a whole lot of fun. You start to think more in terms of “I get to do this thing” rather than “I have to do this thing.”

And with all that mind noise gone, that’s when real connections between humans can be made. Real connections based on real listening and sincere collaboration with enough space and respect to allow inspiration and true creativity to shine through, without it being sucked into finding new ways to kill and exploit each other. Once that starts, who knows what that will look like. That will change the landscape of human achievement more radically than any event we have seen so far in human history.

“Camus said the most important philosophical question is Should we or should we not kill ourselves. What do you think Caitlin? Is their more important questions to ask, coming from the perspective that life has no intrinsic meaning whatsoever.”

The most important philosophical question is “What am I?” We come into this world screaming, messy and confused, they slap a name on us, they fill our heads with a bunch of ideas invented by dead people, and then most of us go all the way through to our graves without ever stopping to grapple with the fact that we don’t even know what the hell we are underneath that huge conceptual tangle.

What is your actual experience, here and now, underneath your mental narratives about it? What we think of as sensory input appears and disappears, thoughts and feelings appear and disappear. That’s all. We have a mental story about being a certain creature with a certain name, but those stories and memories are also experienced as nothing other than appearances rising and vanishing within our field of consciousness.

But what are those appearances appearing to? What is the subject which experiences them, fundamentally, at its core? Don’t give me a conceptual answer, look and see in your own experience without using mental narrative. That’s the most important philosophical question anyone can possibly explore, and it’s the weirdest thing in the world that most people die without ever having seriously grappled with it.

What’s even weirder than that is how, when you try to look experientially at the beholder of your field of consciousness, there’s no solid thing to be found there. You look inwardly for the self and find nothing but appearances rising and falling to an ineffable and unperceivable Something.

It’s possible to bring an acute and enduring awareness to this undeniable reality of your experience, and experience life from that awareness rather than from the conventional assumptions most of us make about who we are and how the world is being experienced. This brings a deep and lasting peace to your experience, and a great clarity to the phenomenon of mental narrative.

“My question is if you think the dnc can be reformed from the inside.”

No. The whole thing’s made of and exists for corruption, and many of the calls to reform it from the inside are themselves rank with manipulation geared toward herding the anti-establishment left into the establishment fold. That said, I still think it’s good that there are some clear-eyed and well-intentioned people trying to change things from the inside, not because they will ever succeed in doing so, but because their efforts force the establishment to slam door after door in their faces in ways that we can point to and show everyone. The DemEnter crowd forces the guardians of the status quo to reveal its true face, thus helping to kill the legitimacy of the Democratic establishment.

“What can we do to restore quality journalistic institutions across the world?”

You can’t. Independent online journalism is the future, IMO. There’s no salvaging the plutocratic media, and institutions have reliably failed us. The internet has changed everything, and we can never go home again. Look to the individual truth-tellers and help amplify their light in any way you can.

“Why are there no super heroes in real life?”

Because superheroes are a bullshit narrative construct designed to keep us subconsciously looking outside ourselves for a savior instead of within. There are no saviors. Bernie Sanders isn’t going to save the day, neither is Donald Trump, neither is Tulsi Gabbard, neither is Elon Musk. You are. The only person in your world who you should be looking to to save the day is you, because that’s the only person whose actions and insight you have any control over. Leaders will get co-opted and manipulated in the interests of the powerful, but you can prevent that from happening with yourself.

“What is love?”

A deeply felt and enthusiastic “yes” to the experience of something.

Well that was fun! If you’ve got any questions you’d like answered, email me at admin@caitlinjohnstone.com and I’ll answer them if I end up doing this Q&A thing again. Questions will be posted anonymously.

___________________

I recognize no copyright of any kind on this work. You have my unconditional permission to republish it or use any part of it in any way you like, or any of my other writings. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone, or my previous book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for my website, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish.

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Caitlin Johnstone

Written by

Rogue journalist. Bogan socialist. Anarcho-psychonaut. Guerrilla poet. Utopia prepper.

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