Saturday, March 17, 2018

When the truth is found to be lies ...

... and all the joy within you dies. It was 1967 when Grace Slick belted out those lyrics. 1967 certainly was a pivotal year for me. My first daughter was born in April and 4 months later I packed up our young family and left our home town of Long Beach, NY and headed for the sunny shores of San Diego. I don't think I was fully aware of just how deep those lies ran for at least another year or so but when it hit home, it hit hard. Growing up in the 1950s we were all feed this beautiful fantasy about America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Where all men were equal and no one questioned why that didn't include women or back or brown people. Where any white man could grow up to be president. Where our laws were fair and just. Where we won the war and championed democracy around the world. Where the American dream of a home in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a car in the driveway was available to everyone. We were raised to be proud and never doubt that we lived in the greatest country on earth.

The history books we were taught out of were another work of fantasy. First of course it was always 'his' story, never 'her' story. And once again the story was told from the perspective of rich white men. When they first arrived from Europe the first order of business was to help the poor savages who's land we were invading, and of course teach them about Jesus so they could be saved. We were always good to the friendly Indians and only reluctantly had to fight and kill the renegades who threatened our settlers. Wars? oh we only fought defensive wars and never went into another country unless they needed us to defend their democracy against communists or dictators. Oh, and of course, we had God on our side.

I won't even get into the crap they feed us on TV.

I'm sure I was beginning to realize we were being feed a crock of shit at a pretty young age. I was pretty rebellious in school and always suspected the teachers were lying to us. I was still pretty young when the civil rights movement began to pick up momentum in the early 60's, but I only had to look around me to realize that black people were getting a pretty raw deal. And this was New York, not Mississippi. But of course it was the Vietnam war that really blew things wide open. You could say that the war was the gateway drug that opened our eyes to the way things really were in this country. And speaking of drugs, after that first hit of LSD I, and millions of others, realized that absolutely nothing is as it seems.

Waking up and realizing that it was all a lie, that our country had a brutal and sordid history, that we had made a business of overthrowing democracies and installing puppet dictators all over the world, that we had ended slavery but replaced it with a system to make sure black people were always our slaves, that our government was basically for sale to the highest bidder. These realizations took a heavy toll. We were raised to be idealists but many had that idealism shattered by this new reality. And none had it harder than the veterans returning from Vietnam where they witnessed first hand that our country was actually a force of evil in the world and not the wonderful defenders of freedom and democracy. To return to a country that didn't give a shit about you and in many cases vilified you is too much to even imagine. Many of our brightest people fell into depression or drugs or worse. Many resisted and took a lot of different paths to try and right these wrongs. But for all of us, disillusionment is an understatement.

Fast forward to today. Many pundits are saying that the biggest damage Trump has done is to obliterate the truth. We now live in a world were instead of just twisting reality and telling plausible if ultimately false stories, as most of our past presidents did, our president tells obvious and verifiable lies. Everyday. And rather than call him out on his lies, most of the rest of the government just pile more lies on top of his. News outlets create elaborate false realities based on what their core audience is willing to believe. Every possible conspiracy theorist has a video on YouTube which can be very convincing even on the most outlandish beliefs. Fake news, alternative facts, the "truth" is under attack from all sides. Reality has once again been shattered. What is one to believe? Can our country survive when people no longer believe anything our leaders tell us? Or will we all learn critical thinking and discernment?

I'm counting on the later. We'll be better off if people don't believe anything by default. Question everything. One of my daughters had a bumper sticker that says "Question Reality". Many people give me a puzzled look and say "reality is what's real, you can't question it". No "reality" is just the sum of all the things you believe to be true at a given moment in time. Your reality can be shattered in an instant. I think the scientific method is the best approach. Form theories, not beliefs. Look at the evidence. Test your theories. Don't be too invested in what you believe to be true. Be flexible. Don't follow the crowd. There may yet be some absolute truths out there, but for now we have to learn to live in a world where they don't exist.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

He's using a Jedi Mind Trick

Psychological manipulation is rampant in social media, we see it all the time, but the ultimate master at this game is none other than the tweeter-in-chief Donald Trump. Take for example this one innocuous sounding tweet "It's okay to say Merry Christmas now". Well of course you think. That sounds totally reasonable. Why shouldn't it be okay to say Merry Christmas? Wait, you mean it wasn't okay before to say Merry Christmas? I didn't know that? So you check it out and soon discover there was a "war on Christmas" led by those godless liberal thought police. Oh no you think. It's a good thing Trump came along and put a end to that.

What just happened here? Since Trump is no Jedi I'll just call it the Trump Mind Fuck. He does it all the time. Witness the speech he gave in Utah when he opened up the Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante to mining, drilling, and logging. He said he was giving the land back to the people after it had been taken in a land grab by the over reaching federal government. It sounded so reasonable, so benign, almost heroic. Of course it was a totally lie. An insidious, deceptive, cynical, evil lie. But it sounded like such a good thing! You've been mind fucked again.

Trump isn't the only one doing this of course. It's all over social media. You know when you come across a post that somehow makes you feel like you must be stupid for not knowing that, or wow this guy must have passed the fourth stage of enlightenment. Posts that make you feel like the poster must really be part of the in crowd and you definitely are not. Or somehow they are privy to some secret knowledge that has been held back from the common folk. It's a trick. They are just fucking with you.

I think we have a pretty good understanding about how the press and network news sways public opinion one way or the other by reporting only part of the story, or ignoring important events while focusing on trivial ones. Most people are used to this and try not to let the news media affect them that much. But social media is so new and can be used is so many subtle and deceptive ways, I don't think we are all properly hardened to the ways in which it can affect our thinking. I am not a psychologist. I would very much like to see a study by psychologists on all the various methods being used to manipulate our thinking on social media. What I do know is that now more then ever developing the art of critical thinking is of utmost importance. Be a skeptic. Make your default to not believe anything unless there is a good body of evidence backing it up. Even then question the evidence. Realize that what we believe or disbelieve doesn't make a damn bit of difference in the grand scheme of things. What is is, regardless of our beliefs. However it is when we act or speak for our beliefs that we can get ourselves in trouble or have a negative impact if we are wrong. So believe what you will, but only speak for what you know.