Wednesday, October 13, 2021


From a purely psychological standpoint, deception has a price. Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT, said in an article that she wrote for Psychology Today the following about romantic relationships in which secrets are kept and then exposed: 

"There’s a natural desire to seek explanations and to know more facts. Aggrieved partners begin to review details of prior events and conversations, seeking overlooked clues and evidence of lies. They may painfully conclude that they and their partner have been living in two very different realities, which they once believed were shared. If the relationship ends, both partners may suffer from shame and blame, compounding grief." 

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how God designed the human brain, and how all of mankind has a thirsting after facts and truth. The above excerpt, although it applies to a couple in a romantic relationship, reminds me of the relationship between information and the American public. We live in a society that is saturated in saccharine mass media soundbites. We live, also, in a society that gets its news mostly from social media. Now, I love social media in many ways. It is a great way to communicate with other people, it's a wonderful business tool for promotion, and it just makes life more convenient for everyone. The dark side of social media, of course, are the people who control most of its tributaries of data. Companies like Facebook and Instagram come into question, and you begin to understand that the flood of information coming at you is often carefully curated to blow up, go viral, and send a specific message - usually one that is rhetorically inflammatory. 

Let me give you a rather specific example. Just a couple of weeks ago, a photo of a Border Patrol agent allegedly "whipping" an illegal Haitian migrant at the Southern Border went viral.  Here's an example of a Tweet from Yamiche Alcindor on Twitter, via the El Paso Times:

Unfortunately for the social justice keyboard warriors scattered across the fruited plain, this photo was not accurately portrayed. The image was spread all around Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, shared by big media outlets like MSNBC and talk show hosts like Joy Reid (who is anything but joyful, in my opinion).  Unfortunately, this wildfire piece of yellow journalism was deeply obfuscated.

The Border Patrol agent was not, in fact, "whipping" the migrants at the border. The leather cords in question are actually the reins to his horse. The false narrative that BP agents were whipping people did serious reputation-damage to the agents in question, and they have been relegated to desk duty pending an "investigation" of the incident. So much for fact-checking! Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook force incredible levels of fact-checking on anything related to the 2020 presidential election or COVID-19, and yet they did nothing to suppress the spreading of deliberately-false information toward the Border Patrol agents. Why? 

We can look at the damage done when a malicious rumor like this is propagated in the mainstream media. The information sparks a brush fire, the general public latches onto an immediate, outraged, emotional response, and then by the time the media admits the information was false (and offers a weak, barely-publicized retraction), the damage is done. People have moved on, and all they remember is the false, caricatured narrative of BP agents whipping people. 

It begs the question, then: what kind of psychological damage does a culture of half-truths and deceit inflict upon the American population? Personally, I think the damage is pretty deep - and if the American people do begin to find out the truth for themselves, the relationship between information-machines and those receiving the information breaks down. Like a scorned lover, the American public is bewildered, shocked, and confused. Why have they been lied to? 

Let's examine the statistics on this one. Gallup just released a survey with some pretty startling data on how much the American people trust the media. The survey found that while 68% of Democrats trust the media, only 11% of Republicans do. Across all demographics, overall trust is down a full four points, which apparently makes 2021 the second-lowest "trust the media" year so far, coming in second to 2016. Clearly, Americans as a whole aren't sure about whether or not the data coming at them every moment of every day is trustworthy or not. And to be perfectly frank, I think even Gallup's estimates are conservative. I think a lot more people distrust the media today than what's being reported. 

Like the example of a scorned lover, we can imagine Americans who, shocked and angry that they have been lied to, also demand to know the whole story. Who doesn't want to know the full picture when they've been deceived? If the media itself - whether it comes through social media or the nightly news - can no longer be completely trusted, who can be trusted at all?  

It's interesting to note here that the "media" in America has taken on many forms since the founding of the United States. Media back in the day would have referred to the physical paper press. As the Revolutionary War began to bubble and brew, great writers and philosophical thinkers published their ideas in local newspapers and the like. Ben Franklin even anonymously published his "radical" ideas under a pen name, Silence Dogood. The press was used to stir the pot of liberty, but no more than 30 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, trouble appeared in the colonies. 

In the late 1790s, the Sedition Act was passed. This was an unabashed attack on free speech, as it literally outlawed the publication of “false, scandalous, or malicious writing” against the government of the United States." Basically, this law established that it would be illegal to criticize the government. Government-sponsored censorship - sound familiar? Remember, history doesn't repeat itself. It echoes. Shockingly, it was the patriot John Adams who signed this bill into law.

How did the early Americans fight back against this incredibly tyrannical act - an act that weaponized the earliest form of mass media against the general public by protecting the narrative espoused from a very small but very shaky federal government? They voted in a new president, Thomas Jefferson. The bill ended up expiring in 1801, and Jefferson continued on with own presidency. 

We can see here that the media has often been manipulated to guide and control the people. Indeed, if Karl Marx odiously observed that religion was the "opium of the masses," we may well conclude here that America's opium is the unchecked power of a controlling media stream. For those that study communications, you might already know that there is something called a total message stream. This is the summation of verbal and nonverbal coding, redundancy, sensory information, and data noise that combines to create one, comprehensive picture of communicated ideas and information. When a media is complicity corrupt in spreading false information - whatever that information may be - it participates in sending a delusional total message stream, therefore constructing an alternate and fallacious reality. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel winner and philosopher, released his famous essay, Live Not By Lies the same day that he was arrested in 1974 as a political prisoner (he was an outspoken critic of communism and oppression). He said, "We have internalized well the lessons drummed into us by the state; we are forever content and comfortable with its premise: we cannot escape the environment, the social conditions; they shape us, “being determines consciousness.” What have we to do with this? We can do nothing."

In addition, he eloquently gave people the solution to surviving and fighting back in a society predicated on deceit: 

And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!

And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person.

We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth, to say out loud what we think—this is scary, we are not ready. But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!

Here, Solzhenitsyn is advocating for peaceful pushback. He's saying, even if you don't want to openly shout the truth from the city square, at least do not regurgitate a known lie. Doing so does more damage than remaining peaceably silent. Here in America, we can approach this a little differently (remember, he was living in Soviet Russia, and he was arrested what he believed). We still can verbally push back a little bit, although we can see that the media will utilize every weapon in their arsenal to shut you down. They do this through what is now called "Cancel Culture." The media will use their bullhorn to blast a message about you throughout the world, expecting the feckless sheep to echo that message and destroy the life of the one being "called out." 

Fortunately, people are cancelled so frequently these days, that it would seem this occurrence has become white noise. Comedians like Dave Chappelle have recently spoken out about this (through humor, of course), and so has popular podcast talk show host Joe Rogan. It would appear that the curtain is coming down on cancel culture. In a way, it's almost lost its meaning. When everyone is cancelled...nobody is cancelled. 

False narratives, however, are dangerous. They destroy the foundation of a society, building up a culture on delusions and deceit. No society can survive that is built on total and complete lies. So the burden of truth falls on us, the citizenry, to sift through the flood of falsehoods. Critical thinking, separating fact from fiction, and disconnecting emotional response to stories circulated on social media before the full story is even known. 

I'll leave you with the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: 

It will not be an easy path, perhaps, but it is the easiest among those that lie before us. Not an easy choice for the body, but the only one for the soul. No, not an easy path, but then we already have among us people, dozens even, who have for years abided by all these rules, who live by the truth.

And so: We need not be the first to set out on this path, Ours is but to join! The more of us set out together, the thicker our ranks, the easier and shorter will this path be for us all! If we become thousands—they will not cope, they will be unable to touch us. If we will grow to tens of thousands—we will not recognize our country!

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