The greatest gift I’ve ever given myself was detaching from mainstream media narratives about politics.
I first became politically engaged when I found my parents’ old Doonesbury and Bloom County books in fifth grade. My journey through news and politics has been an interesting one since then.
At varying times I’ve been completely immersed in news and completely detached from it. Detaching yourself is one of the best ways to get more in touch with life’s complex reality.
Mainstream media narratives serve mainly to keep us mentally and spiritually shackled to a bloated corrupt government that has nothing to offer us, even when we need leaders more than ever.
Let’s explore the flaws in our current political paradigm and then I’ll give you four simple tips on how to unshackle yourself from this terrible system.
Little Blue Soldier
At the end of college, I was up to my eyes in politics. I wrote a left-leaning political column called “Little Blue Soldier,” did environmental activism, and covered the 2016 election for my school newspaper.
(I wish I could link you to my old writing, but San Jose State’s journalism department revamped our website and for some reason, they didn’t include a search function. Sorry.)
Politics consumed most of my waking hours and I usually fell asleep watching a presidential debate or a Young Turks breakdown of Trump’s latest scandal.
I felt a personal and professional obligation to “keep up” with the news. I was fighting the Democratic party’s noble fight against conservative tyranny using media as my broadsword.
Like many other liberals, though, and I had a minor mental breakdown when Trump got elected. My entire understanding of the world was shaken because I had bought so deeply into the Democratic party narrative.
My identity centered around Hillary Clinton defeating Trump and my non-stop barrage of tweets and opinion pieces was supposed to be a core part of that victory.
After overdosing on politics, I had to detox. I wound up spending about 8 months without consuming any news.
During this time I also went to Fiji where I gained the initial inspiration for creating Dirtballs. Getting out of the country into a beautiful place full of friendly people was incredibly therapeutic.
Once I returned to the states and plugged back into Twitter’s brainfeed, I noticed something strange. My understanding of the world had drastically changed. The very fabric of reality seemed different.
The mainstream media shapes our understanding of the world. Most normies build their entire system of identity and morality from these narratives.
It was only by turning away from these narratives that I began to truly understand myself.
Being a Democrat used to be a core part of my identity. I was a good soldier, and I knew the talking points well.
But there was always cognitive dissonance, a gap between my beliefs and the “correct” views according to party doctrine. I felt it deep in my intuition but pushed the feeling down like I used to do with all troubling or confusing emotions.
Looking back, my intuition told me in the first Republican debate that Trump would be president. I couldn’t reconcile that with my worldview that no one could beat a Democrat with credentials as solid as Hillary Clinton’s
Politics, like religion, is a shorthand for engaging with reality. The universe is complex and we are simple, so we need intellectual tools to help us navigate these turbulent waters.
Furthermore, in an increasingly secular society, the government fills the gap where god once lived until politics replaces religion and spirituality entirely.
Unfortunately, our political shorthand has developed into the contrived conflict of left vs right. When you visualize this power structure, it starts to look very familiar. Take a look:
It’s a pyramid scheme, folks.
The mainstream media and it’s political narratives are marketing a giant pyramid scheme to us.
See how at the bottom, left and right are far apart, but they grow closer at the top? That’s because as you get closer to the top of the pyramid, the differences between people matter less.
Once you’re on top of the pyramid, the only thing that matters is control. The greatest trick that our ruling class ever pulled was convincing us that the two main political parties are anything but two halves of the same oppressive system.
To people who still live in this narrative, this idea might seem ridiculous. How could FOX and MSNBC both preserve the same power structure when they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum?
The very idea of this neat two-dimensional spectrum is part of the control system. By forcing us to fit our political beliefs into the most simplistic framework possible, they prevent us from having the nuanced discourse required to build a just and equitable society.
Mainstream media outlets work together to preserve a status quo where the controlling class sits at the top of the pyramid while the proles bicker at the bottom.
I don’t believe in all of communism, but Marx was on to something when he drew a distinction between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. There is a powerful controlling class that exploits the weaker controlled class.
With their greater access to information and influence, the Bourgeoisie constructs a false reality for the Proletariat in which we rely on the “powers that be” for our comfort and salvation.
Even some of my radical socialist friends are still convinced that voting for Democrats is the road to a better society. Even when the Democrat we’re forced to vote for this cycle, Joe Biden, supported the Iraq war and helped create policies that enforce white supremacy through the prison system.
That’s the power of a good story.
These false political narratives are one tool that the controlling class uses to preserve their power.
If people at the pyramid’s base are too busy fighting each other they cannot focus on actions that truly change the power structure.
Academics and think tanks are constantly creating new ways for the proletariat to subdivide itself and maintain constant conflict. There’s truth in the intentions of the identity politics movement, but really it’s just an obsession with that which divides us. And if all we focus on is that which divides us we can never band together.
Storytelling is a fundamental way that humans make sense of the world. Thus, it’s perfectly sensible that this power structure thrives on contrived simplicity and conflict-driven narratives.
Conflict is one of the building blocks of a good story, and the media excels at creating conflict.
Next time you want to argue with someone, ask yourself if the argument comes from your heart, or from something you heard in the news. I still notice myself arguing on behalf of the media sometimes.
Everything from Russiagate to the Blue Dress meme is a simple narrative designed to make members of the proletariat pick sides and fight against each other.
Life is more complex and nuanced than these narratives lead us to believe. In reality, we are all trying to build a just and equitable society for future generations.
As different as people’s ideas can be I truly believe that’s what we all want. We just come into the world with different skills and opportunities and do our best to move towards that as quickly as we can.
This might be a better depiction of reality than the political pyramid:
In this together
People approach a common goal using different tools, ideas, languages, and lifestyles. Everyone gets us closer in some ways and further in other ways.
No one has the whole answer; everyone has part of it.
The world is far more nuanced than left vs. right, red vs. blue. We need to reframe our understanding of political reality to accommodate all of the nuances within it.
This model allows us to work together and build a global community. It acknowledges the fact that everyone has something to offer and no one is perfect.
It does not force us into arbitrary conflicts or reinforce harmful power structures. (Although conflict and power imbalances are likely unavoidable with humans in the picture.)
This model recognizes that we are all in this together.
Unfortunately, the pyramid power structure is deeply entrenched in society. They did a lot of work building this narrative, and they’re not going to give it up easily.
Anyone can do what I did though. If you genuinely have the desire, you might find it’s easier than you thought to unshackle your political consciousness.
Here’s the rub: you have to take responsibility for building and maintaining your picture of reality.
Processed mainstream narratives only exist as they do because so many people are willing to give up control over the constituent elements of their consciousness. Spiritual laziness on our part enables them to commit their crimes against reality.
It’s the same sort of laziness that enabled fast-food chains to build international businesses on food that kills us and destroys the environment. Many people don’t have the time or desire to cook their own food, let alone piece together their own concept of reality.
But if you’re ready to put in some work and enter a fully developed picture of the universe, here is what you need to do:
For the next month, do not consume any news. Instead, use this time to meditate, garden, exercise, or connect with your loved ones and your community (but don’t get sucked into political arguments.)
That’s basically what I’ve done the past few years. (Except for the not arguing part. I love a good debate about “the issues”)
I focus more on my health and wellness than on following the plot of this shitty TV drama we call politics. There’s a lot more to the world than who sits in the White House.
Keeping up with mainstream news doesn’t actually help you understand the world. It helps you understand the narrative better. It makes you more of a slave to their devilish plots to suck our souls dry and enrich themselves.
Mainstream news is not unbiased information, but targeted hypnosis. The messaging is tailored to keep us feeling scared, angry, and helpless. The mainstream media is a PR machine for the political status quo.
Understanding the world starts with understanding yourself. As the oracle at Delphi said, “Know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe.”
Understanding your own thoughts and motivations on a deeper level helps you understand other people in the same way. We’re more similar than most people allow themselves to realize.
Even if you continue to engage with mainstream news, make sure you meditate for at least 10 minutes before you do so. Drink some nice cold water too.
2. Embrace the chaos
Simple explanations of complex phenomena are rarely correct.
Life is complex and our various ideologies are shorthand for engaging with reality.
Buddhist monk and spiritual leader Tich Nhat Han explained a great principle in his book “The Art of Communicating.” When anyone compliments or insults you, TNH recommends you respond by saying, “You are partially correct.” This prevents us from getting too much ego boost from praise and from getting too hurt by petty criticisms.
If we apply this to politics, you might say every solution is partially correct. If everyone took this approach, we might be able to make more progress.
Name any political group. Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Feminists, Socialists, Anarchists, the list goes on.
Every group has touched on a part of the greater truth in which we all reside.
Every idea solves some problems, but no idea solves every problem. We need to take the good parts of every political, social, and economic ideology then combine them into a spiritual Voltron that can take out the forces of evil.
By grounding our political discourse in oversimplified corporate-sponsored talking points, the mainstream media conditions people to keep themselves as ideologically separate from their perceived enemies as possible.
If you reduce everything to left vs. right it’s easy to pick sides and live in conflict.
However, by embracing life’s nuance and complexity, we can find novel solutions and new ways to understand our greatest issues.
3. Be patient & optimistic
Meditation helps here.
We have to accept that we will not live to see the resolution of many conflicts or solutions to many problems. In mid-2020, when I’m writing this, we’re entering into the second great depression, so we’re not likely to see our country’s problems solved for at least a decade.
Think of a bad habit you used to have. How long did it take you to stop that habit? A month? Six months? More than a year?
So how long do you think it should take for a society of millions with untold amounts of energy and resources invested in a particular way of living to shift course and restructure their systems of production, consumption, safety, and opportunity?
Global problems like racism, climate change, and greed take a long time to solve. It took us a long time to even recognize that climate change was a problem. How can you expect us to solve the problem in less time than it took us to understand it in the first place?
Change takes time, and the mainstream media constantly tells us it’s running out. They tell us this so we’re fearful and thus more likely to give our power and agency over to the same assholes who created these problems or at least threw fuel on the fire.
Take a deep breath and give the change time to happen.
4. Focus on what’s real
One of the most important spiritual concepts is the Veil of Maya. This refers to the system of illusions that come together to form our understanding of reality.
That’s a pretty spot-on description of the MSM.
News is essentially a collection of images and ideas that creates a picture of reality we can accept as true without much mental friction.
Unfortunately, it’s not real, so if you live in accordance with the news you’re living a lie.
In my broadcast journalism class, I argued a lot with the professor. She would instruct us to flat out lie to people, drawing nonexistent parallels and conflating unrelated facts to create an overarching narrative.
This is not an anomaly. My professor was a broadcast news veteran and was teaching us the mainstream industry practices.
At the highest levels of the media, executives have agreed to build narratives rather than reporting things simply as they are. It’s more like a collage than photography.
The most remarkable aspect of my news-free period was how much more engaged I felt with my life.
The illusions distract us from what’s real and tangible. You can have a real impact on politics but the mainstream narratives tells you all the power is in someone else’s hands.
Even when the media is piling onto real social phenomena like this year’s protests against police brutality they frame stories in a way to keep us dependent on these flawed corrupt power structures for a soliution. (RIP George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all the countless other victims of police brutality.)
No major world change is fast or easy, but we are a lot more powerful than the controlling class wants us to believe.
The media pretends it’s the voice of the people, but when was the last time you were even called on to answer a political poll? How can the media represent you if you’ve never talked to anyone in the media?
Understand this: The media only represents the people it features as guests and pundits. The occasional interview with citizens and bystanders is intellectual tokenization of the Proletariat.
This propaganda machine tells you what to think and how to act. We can’t let that continue.
It’s up to you to decide what’s real and what’s not.
How do you have the most positive impact on your own life and the community around you?
That’s what it’s all about.
These days I don’t consider myself a Democrat or Republican. I’m just a human on earth trying to make the best of life in this ridiculous country.
I’m on a spiritual quest to build a just and equitable global society, and we’re not going to do that by fighting over red and blue.
We need to stop relying on mainstream media to interpret reality if we’re going to find ways over, around, and through our greatest problems.
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