Are you having a hard time knowing who to trust? Not sure what is going on in the world? Is your Facebook feed full of lies, misdirections, and half truths? This is because billions of dollars are being spent to confuse all of us.
More than one billion dollars has been raised by the leading presidential candidates in the United States. Most of this money will be spent on media and advertising — to influence voters, attack opponents, and build up stories that make each candidate look good enough to possibly win the election.
Said another way, we are living in a world of billion dollar lies.
Is global warming really happening? Has Julian Assange been shacking up with Russian terrorists? What was that horrible thing Trump just said? Isn’t Clinton shacking up with Wall Street executives? Do vaccines hurt children? Will this election be the buildup to World War III? Questions like these (and a thousand others that could be mentioned) are swarming around us. They make it really difficult to discern what is going on.
Now, more than ever, is the time to be fully rooted in reality. We need to cultivate the ability to discern what is happening around us — to see the real threats and distinguish them from the fake ones. This is essential because humanity is going through a cascade of real crises and the pace of change is only quickening. It’s just going to get harder to know key truths in a world that is increasingly feeling insane to live in.
I would like to suggest a silver lining in this predicament: Knowing that you are confused is a sign of mental health. It is those who cling firmly to dogmatic truths, regardless of their substance, who are not coping well in these turbulent times. Anyone who fails to see that the game is rigged (our political choices have been constructed to ensure that the corrupt system doesn’t change) has drank some kind of Kool Aid. They have fallen back to the comforting palliatives of fundamentalism and have lost the ability for nuanced thinking.
The world is filled with paradoxes. Contradictions are all around us. It is possible to see more than one side of a story and still hold to our core values as ethical people. We can acknowledge that global warming is happening (and caused by humans) while also pumping gasoline into our cars to drive our children to school. We can see that the political game is rigged and still participate in elections while also engaging in the deeper critiques that will be needed for true political revolution.
There really is a cultural sickness. Millions are suffering from the mental disease of late-stage capitalism. The economy is behaving like a patient with cancer. And there really is a global architecture of wealth extraction that has created widespread poverty and inequality. The major institutions of society are plagued by systemic forms of corruption. We can know these things and still be confused. This is simply because the world is very complex and it is hard to know what to do challenges like these.
Add the barrage of environmental disasters (a massive windstorm is bearing down on us here in Seattle as I write these words); refugee crises (many of which are caused by previous environmental disruptions); political breakdowns (such as Brexit in the United Kingdom); and chronic social epidemics (like gun violence and police brutality in the United States).
These things make it harder to cope with the complexities of reality. So we really have our work cut out for us. Just when propaganda has never been better funded or more sophisticated is the time when we most need to have our wits about us. Luckily, there are hundreds of millions of us awakening around the world. We don’t need to feel alone for being out of step with the official storylines spoon fed to us by corporate media.
But we do need to be actively skeptical of our own assumptions — like good scientists who formulate hypotheses and then go looking for diverse empirical datasets to confirm or falsify our assumptions. At the end of the day, it will be reality that hands out consequences. So it is reality that we should consult to see if our beliefs and perceptions are adequate for navigating the world around us.
It might surprise you to learn that I remain hopeful even in these times.
More than a decade ago, I took classes in a graduate program for atmospheric sciences. This gave me valuable insights into changing planetary climate that I have been able to watch and validate in my travels around the globe. Glaciers really are melting across the mountain ranges of the Earth. Migrating insects really are spreading diseases to northern latitude forests. Financial instabilities really are transferring massive amounts of wealth to the billionaire class. The costs of basic goods like housing and food really are skyrocketing while wages stagnate and employment opportunities collapse around us.
These things are real. We can see them in the patterns of lived experience among our friends and families. They are evident in reports coming from universities and research centers on all continents where people engage in scientific study. The disconnects and gaps are in the stories carried by the media — whether from major sources like CNN or Fox News or by the vicarious sharing of videos, blogs, and graphics on Twitter and Facebook.
Human beings are capable of living within lies and half truths. We are a story-making animal that crafts simple narratives (“I walked to the fridge.”) and complex ones (“The world is comprised of nation states that have the best interests of their citizens at heart.”). Some of these stories are true — they map onto reality well enough to help us solve everyday problems. Others are manipulative-by-design and intended to confuse us into submission… such as the absurd notion that “choosing” between two candidates in a rigged election is somehow supposed to be a form of democracy.
We can study the media and see how stories are crafted. And we can learn about the history of propaganda to learn the tricks-of-the-trade for perception management. What we can’t do is take information at face value. There is too much manipulation going on. When billions are spent to shape the outcome of a single election (and billions more in aggregate for all the marketing departments of multinational corporations), a great deal of training is required to discern reality from myth in a lie-filled world.
May this article comfort you with the knowledge that you are not alone. Together we can make sense of things and navigate real threats by truth-checking each other and seeking a diversity of perspectives on important matters. This is done in community. Join in dialogue with others who are struggling to make sense of the world and together we will figure it out.
I believe in us. We can make it through this maelstrom of confusion. We may be overwhelmed in isolation, but together we are stronger than we realize.
Onward, fellow humans.