Mind Your Mind: Free Thinking in an Age of Media Manipulation
Using information, or lack thereof, to control the populace is a practice that has existed since the dawn of human history. For millennia, the lower classes were kept illiterate by ruling forces in an effort to keep them compliant. When against all best efforts to the contrary, they began to learn to read, in order to restrict them from moving beyond the basics; access to educational institutions was made exclusive and expensive. Since then, information-reliant professions (science, law, politics, religion, etc.) have continued to push their own agendas by making information obtuse and unnecessarily complicated. Of course, not all who communicate with complexity have nefarious motives, but we know without a doubt that there has been throughout time an undeniable attempt to disempower the common people by placing a barrier between them and their own autonomy. In a nutshell: the less you know, the more you feel that you need to rely on sources outside yourself to thrive, and that model creates capitalist business opportunities and, in even more nefarious cases, opportunities for oppression.
Today, with the advent of the Internet, information is almost impossible to suppress. People almost everywhere on the globe can have access to affordable and/or free information. This allows them to educate and inform themselves in a manner unprecedented in human history. Understandably, this makes those who have traditionally wielded power very nervous. Old systems are crumbling, and as information flows freely more questions are being asked and more answers are being demanded, triggering perhaps the largest shift in human consciousness we have ever seen. It’s not just the rules of that game that are changing, but the game itself. This can only make for a measure of chaos, some of which we are starting to see the stirrings of now. In a brilliant, if horrifying twist, those with the most to lose have found yet a new way to control the people: misinformation… If you can’t stop the access to the information, taint the information itself. Though misinformation is not a new tool for manipulation, we have rarely seen it employed on a global scale to such destabilizing results. We now live in an era of “alternative facts”, fictional narratives parading as truth, bubbles of different paradigms each insisting on their own reality… and in the center, a populace that is being manipulated yet again as I type.
How can we stay sane and centered in this kind of world? I believe the answer rests in minding our minds. Our consciousness will light the way forward. Much has been said about the practice of Mindfulness in recent years, but already it’s become a buzzword that is often dismissed as a passing trend. I offer that we stop for a moment to reconsider its value and how we can engage with it to remain vigilant in this tumultuous political and social climate.
Be mindful when reading essays and articles (including this one); take the time to consider the source of the information, their reason for writing, what hidden agenda they might be pushing; take a beat before you react — are you thinking your reaction through or are you yourself triggered and acting from a reflexive position without taking into consideration that you might be a puppet of your own previous experiences or inadvertent indoctrination? This suggestion goes for retaining critical thought even when reading texts from our own party, team and affiliation. I am a Democrat and a liberal, but of late, likely out of panic, I have seen some of my compatriots behaving in a less than balanced and fair manner when conversing with those whose ideals conflict with their own. Though they condemn “the opposition” for doing so, they too are pushing through their own agenda and disallowing for fair discourse. Of course, it is important to not normalize the toxic rhetoric we are being inundated with, that is the very point that I am attempting to underline, but knee-jerk, mindless reactions and bullying are not the answer either.
Let’s not leave this moment in the hands of the master manipulators, let’s not again give into the “Us vs. Them” thinking that has created wars, division and human suffering for too long now. Let’s each pledge to wake up, be present in each moment, deeply conscious of each thought, profoundly inquisitive of each piece of information we are fed.
Your mind is one of your greatest strengths. Please do not allow anyone to take it away from you. Shackles can be placed on your wrists, your body can be locked in a hole, but no one can take control of your mind. Unless of course you let them. Don’t.