This is The Greatest Lie You’ve Ever Been Told

“closeup photography of man's eye” by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

The greatest lie that we’re ever told is that we have to choose from the options put in front of us:

  • These are the subjects you can major in
  • These are the jobs you can apply to
  • This is what’s on TV
  • These are the top 100 podcasts in iTunes
  • This is the shower head in your apartment
  • These people are the authorities on xyz subject

People are deluded into thinking they are making deliberate choices. In reality, their options are architected by someone with goals of driven by self-interest.

  • Howard Zinn’s book on American history has been banned in most AP American History classes for being un-American and exposing atrocities. Generations of school children have been funneled through our education system unaware.
  • Student Loan lenders provide easy access to money, with false promises of the potential for employment, often leaving students riddled with debt, while lining their own pockets. The secretary of education recently repealed regulations that would punish for-profit schools for their role in this. Running it as a business rather than a service fuels a billion dollar educational, industrial complex. Trevor Noah commented it on this by saying “how evil can you get?

Advertising drives nearly all media. This is true for the social networks you’re a user of, the websites you visit, the TV shows you watch, and the podcasts you listen to (the one I host included). As long as this remains the case, corporations will have tremendous power and influence over the media.

A few weeks ago I was watching a documentary about the impact of corporations on the media. A reporter at CBS was working on a story about Nike sweatshops. But Nike was a sponsor of the Olympics, and the story got buried. A few weeks later, CBS anchors appeared on the air at the Olympics in Nike jackets. Advertising puts options in front of us and creates ideals we should aspire to.

  • This is the ultimate driving machine.
  • Drink this, and you’ll look that.
  • Take this drug to solve that problem. Fun fact: often the side effects of a drug are the very symptoms it’s supposed to alleviate. When I had severe IBS, every medication I took came with the warning that it may cause, constipation, nausea, and diarrhea (all symptoms of IBS).
  • These are the shoes that insert famous athlete of your choice wears when he wins a championship.
  • This is the perfect wedding.
If you force people to choose from the options in front of them, eventually they’ll stop looking for the possibilities that surround them.

They will attend prestigious colleges, buy nice stuff, and defend the status quo. Their worldview will become so myopic that they will gradually accept everything they are told as truth. Guidance becomes gospel and direction becomes dogma fueling a series of multi-billion dollar industrial complexes ranging from education to advertising.

Put together they form something that has such a profound impact on human behavior; it becomes like water to a fish: the social programming industrial complex which gets passed on from generation to generation and person to person. If you convince people to choose from the options in front of them and ensure they don’t ask too many questions, you can ultimately control their behavior.

As Edward Bernays famously said

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized

But here’s the caveat. The programming works on the overwhelming majority of people in society.

  • Students graduate from prestigious colleges and land great jobs
  • People get promoted at their good jobs with steady paychecks
  • Suburbia is filled with idyllic housing developments
  • Diamonds are forever
It’s easy to reinforce a cultural narrative and keep people on a hedonic treadmill when the overwhelming majority of people in society don’t question it. Limitation is built into the design.

The only people who question it are those it fails and those who are hyperaware of the architecture of the social programming industrial complex. Salim Ismail calls this failure of the programming to work a “forcing function.” Usually, the people who are aware of the architecture also play a significant role in shaping it.

This leaves one simple question. Are you doing life by default or by design? In the former, a lot of other people shape your reality, in the latter, you shape your own. It’s a simple choice with significant implications. The second is a rabbit hole that runs so deep that, we’ve developed a three-word cultural narrative to avoid it: ignorance is bliss.


I’m the host of the Unmistakable Creative Podcast, where I have candid conversations with insanely interesting people.