Mass Manipulation

News organisations are propaganda machines forcing their audiences to take sides. How far will society stretch before it tears itself apart?

It must be clear that the vast majority of people are not at all affected by any single air raid and would hardly sustain any evil impression if it were not thrust before them. Everyone should learn to take air raids and air-raid alarms as if they were no more than thunderstorms. – Winston Churchill

“It’s vogue to begin chapters with quotes, it provides the illusion that you are well-read.’

John Ewbank

A minor key echoes from a piano as children stumble across a dust-stricken wasteland. The barren trees and rutted rubble road would set a curious juxtaposition against the film crew’s expensive equipment if it was visible. The piano plays while a violin joins to add touching notes of misery.

“These children are the cost of war. Separated from their parents they are destitute and distraught.”

 The narrator talks of hardship, of innocent people, slaughtered. He tells us of these survivors staggering across the ruins of their existence. However, there is a catch, there is no mention that these children are stumbling across a wasteland because of a failed uprising supported by the West. There is no mention that weakening the ruling regime created a power vacuum that was filled by evil and cruelty. And there is no mention that despite its faults, before the war this country was a pleasant place to live. Western propaganda besmirched its name, and with an Orwellian twist portrayed the population as subservient to a tyrannical leader. Before the war they had their homes, family, and health, they had their lives.

The news is a story from a snapshot. The conveyance, and embellishment, of an ephemeral slice of time torn from its context. These snapshots aren’t conveyed for our betterment. Nor are they conveyed without bias. They are captured and delivered to grasp our attention. We might think that the creators of these snapshots – the media – are benign beings who seek without prejudice and disseminate information for the good of mankind but to believe that would be to revel in delusion. Mass media are businesses – profit-seeking enterprises – which exist not for the altruistic purpose of improving humanity, but to make money. And while, occasionally, societal good is done by investigative journalists, their work has now become obscured in a haze of nonsense, and the preponderance of ephemeral fiction, which today adorns the airwaves.

The effect of the media is far more pernicious than one can possibly conceive. Everyday complex events are condensed into simplistic stories. People and companies are transformed into pantomime villains. When once we had the truth, we now possess a savage bastardisation of it. The media make us believe we are knowledgeable without fact. They induce people to form trenchant beliefs based on fleeting emotions. And ironically, but not unexpectedly, they have fooled themselves into thinking they are omniscient. They believe what they write without question and consequently, they merge truth and fiction, creating absurd narratives in which facts cease to exist. But they are unaccountable. They are not punished for their transgressions or the misinformation they spread. Instead, from their position of authority, they distort the narrative to vilify those who speak against them while vindicating themselves. They demand freedom of the press while destroying people’s lives for profit.

Every day, States, companies, countries, people are caricatured for a story. Transient global events are dwelt upon, and debated ad-infinitum, as though by concentrating attention upon them they are somehow augmented. People have their lives destroyed, companies have their names denigrated, for nothing more than venial errors. Conversely, those without virtue are elevated for a single good deed. Paroxysms of society induced by the media ebb and flow, while enduring problems are forgotten. It is as though, the outrage that accompanies minor social transgressions clouds our minds and keeps us from acting upon the terminal issues that the world faces. These are obscured in a haze of nonsense that invades our consciousness and distorts our thoughts; culminating in a world of perpetual angst that induces us to pre-judge situations with incomplete information and make assumptions for the benefit nobody.

It is easy to blame the corporations, for this, much like we blame governments, but we are responsible too. We disproportionately engage with emotive fact-free stories over detailed analysis. Consequently, the media has been coerced to simplify their work and produce more nonsense content to maintain their readership. These new ‘clickbait’ stories have become less about news, and more about people suffering, with journalists accentuating human cost to show harm. Thus, we are saturated with opinion pieces where people discuss the bad things that have happened to them, and how they’ve been wronged. But never is it conveyed, that the bad things are the individual’s interpretation of events and they may not reflect the views of the other parties involved.

To compound the issue, each person moaning about their existence will have slightly exaggerated it to the reporters, distorting the story. Then the reporters will select specific quotes and highlight certain bits of information to make the problem seem insurmountable. This is the dramatisation of existence. Those watching or reading the story become outraged. They feel more pain than those who have been wronged. These emotions aren’t induced from something real but from mere words and images. This global gossip creates only anxiety and pain. You aren’t improved by learning about it, but you can’t seem to look away.

The media’s desire to provoke emotions has stretched so far, that calm and reasoned opinion is now rarely sought. Debates now are populated by people convinced of their sagacity, who have never stretched their minds beyond the echo chamber of their own thoughts. Their intransigent ideas are sought by media organisations to create ‘balance’, as though it is essential to interview people with diametrically opposed views, rather than those who represent the general populous – who sit a little between both absurdities. And while debates of this type may be entertaining – in a perverse way – they do irrevocable damage to society. For supporters of each cause will tune in, and believe their side to have won, disagreeing vehemently with the contrasting views and engendering in their mind the belief that everyone of a different political, social, or economic inclination is amoral, or stupid. These debates create artificial conflict, with the sole purpose of making people have strong emotions. Thus, those with the strongest, and most reactionary views, who should not be given a voice are thrust into the limelight because they provoke debate.

This angst and turmoil the media induce in us is a consequence of misunderstanding the complexity – or lack thereof – of the human mind. We humans believe ourselves to possess pre-eminent intelligence, but our minds rest on a plateau of assumption. A plain which extends beyond vision in all directions. So much so that we are incapable of perceiving which of our thoughts are embedded in fact, and which are speculations held aloft by intense emotion. The distinction between the two isn’t obvious. After all, we assume that if we feel strongly about something then we must know about it. But a strong emotion doesn’t have to be grounded in anything tangible.

Consider for a moment sentimental value. We attach more worth to objects with history than to an equivalent without. A work of art, a silver cup or a quilt, we will value each more if they were owned by our predecessors rather than being bought from a shop.  Why does a silver cup from your Granddad have any more value than an identical one from an antique shop? Why does an original painting have more value than an indistinguishable copy, and why does a first edition book cost more than a later print? The arrangement of the atoms in all examples are indistinguishable to human senses, but originals always cost more than replicas. For it is not the physical presence of an object which creates its worth, it is the story that it carries, and the emotions induced. Rationally speaking this is absurd. Can you justify why a bad painting painted by a known artist is worth more than a brilliant painting created by an unknown?

Evidently, we attach sentimental value to physical objects, but now you must ask yourself: “Do I value my opinions sentimentally?” Are you holding onto beliefs solely because they are your own? Unfortunately, you can’t answer that question. The mind has no logic error checking system, instead, it has a bias to information that supports what it already knows. You seek out people of similar viewpoints not because they are right, but because you have evolved to do so. We release endorphins when talking to people who agree with us. These make us feel good about our opinions, even though they might be wrong. But, It isn’t just how we value our opinions that creates a problem, but how these are formed with incomplete information. Two people can interpret the same article differently because their minds will filter out what they believe to be relevant. But those beliefs don’t have to be based on anything factual. This mechanism can be observed when comparing how two people interpret the same book.

When reading a novel, the brain creates imagery and emotions to produce a coherent reality from letters on a page. Since our brains are all different, so is what we take away from books. We can see this in films adapted from novels. If we have read the book prior to seeing the film it’s based on we will find the director’s interpretation of the book is always alien to ours. Perhaps, so much so that the film may bear little resemblance to our interpretation of the book. This is curious, for we received the same information, but the output of our minds is irreconcilable. It doesn’t take much effort to realise how this relates to the media. It is immediately apparent that all news stories and articles are like films adapted from books. The plot and characters have been created by a director who has seen and conveyed events through their minds. It is like someone going to a party then telling you about it. A layer of distortion is created, information is lost. You have now formed an opinion on what the party was like based on their perspective, but other people may have had very different experiences. Then from their version of events, we add another layer of distortion because we need to fill in the gaps of their story. They tell us there was an argument between a couple, but now we create this argument and its severity in our minds. But we don’t really know anything about it, other than it probably happened. Who knows, the couple might have been having a fake argument for their own amusement.

All news organisations, as they are run by people, create this distortion of reality. The people at the corporations, deliberately, and inadvertently, filter out ideas that are incompatible with how they want to convey events. Deliberately because they need to maintain the editorial stance of the company. Inadvertently, because often the people working at the company don’t have enough information to fully understand what they are writing about. Consequently, articles are often fundamentally wrong. But the reader doesn’t’ know this unless they are already familiar with the subject.

The Internet compounds this issue. It is a platform where credulous individuals can share in the absurdity of their thoughts. On the Internet, you don’t need quality writing, integrity, or intelligence. You just need a willing audience, a group of people who empathise or who you manipulate into empathising with your viewpoint. That may sound disingenuous, but one glance at Google News supports this reasoning. Minor events attract hundreds of articles, all providing similar information, but each written to appease a specific audience. Thus, every publication is subtly manipulating the narrative. This isn’t the exclusive remit of Internet publications, but they are the most overt in their methods of distortion, adding editorial opinion when none ought to be issued, or carefully cropping quotes to deliver a specific message. But the people reading their preferred publication aren’t aware of this, they have no interest in receiving a balanced view. They just want to have the reassuring feeling that their opinions are right.

You might now be thinking. “Yes, that is exactly what xxxxx newspaper/organisation does. Their readers don’t realise they are being manipulated.” But don’t be so quick to judge. You are suffering from the same delusion. Your favoured news outlet is distorting reality too. You just don’t realise it because you think your opinions and your version of reality is correct, but they aren’t.

What we call reality is a subjective experience. Many things contribute to it including what knowledge we have accumulated and our status in society. But It also varies in accordance with our neurotransmitters. This is most apparent when people are on drugs, like MDMA. The drug can make the person feel extasy when doing something ordinarily mundane, like eating a banana. Drugs provide an extreme example, but every day we vacillate between different moods which have the same effect to a less effect. When you are ill the world becomes grey and insufferable, but the world hasn’t changed, only your internal measure of it has. Your thoughts are being altered by a chemical, in your bloodstream, that you don’t control.

You might believe that all irrelevant because reality is what has happened irrespective of who witnessed or remembers it. But that makes no sense. Reality is the interpretation of an event. If our world was only about exactly what happened then sarcasm couldn’t exist, the tone of voice wouldn’t matter, and in-jokes couldn’t happen. Reality is our interpretation of the world around us. It ripples through time, for the way you remember something will be dependent on your present mood. Depressed people struggle to remember positive things because their minds reinterpret memories based on their current emotional state, making them taint good memories with negativity. Normally, the opposite happens. The mind edits out negativity over time. Nostalgia is why people who break up often get back together, only to break up again. They forget why they separated. The mind has made an idealised version of the past to spare you mental torment. Time heals not because time changes things, but your mind does.

How we distort our reality by simple repetition can be observed in peculiar behaviors. Stalkers believe that the person they are pursuing loves them. But the attachment is just a strong emotion created by habit – the habit of thinking about their victim. Ideologies are no different. Ideologies train people to have strong emotions about specific ideas. The emotion overrides rationality because the only way our consciousness really interacts with our world is through emotions. This is why when you find yourself feeling very strongly about something you should sit down and write out why. For you might be inventing a narrative to support this emotion you feel, but you’ll never figure it out until you write it down. An example of this is the belief of ghosts. People don’t believe in them because they see them all the time. They believe in them because they think they’ve seen one and they revisit that memory until they are convinced by it. Paradoxically, if someone claimed to see ghosts all the time they would be considered insane. Do you really trust your memories that much? You shouldn’t.

You might think to yourself, “what nonsense my memories and opinions are rational. I have carefully constructed reasons as to why I have my beliefs”, but you must appreciate that you have been genetically programmed to think that, to constantly be questioning yourself would result in inaction, then death. These are mechanisms of thought that have evolved over millions of years. You have no say in them. And while you may be able to rationalise some of your decisions and actions you can’t justify all of them. Would a rational creature become angry when stuck in traffic? Does the anger change anything? Does it make the traffic move? Having an emotion on an event that you can’t change is irrational. Likewise, hearing about atrocities in an area that you have no affiliation with might induce anger, despair, distrust. But again, this isn’t rational. Because you don’t know if the news is true. On a planet of almost eight billion people, there will always be an injustice, there will always be a story.

Throughout history conflict and disagreement has been a staple of humanity, but only with the advent of the Internet and global media are we exposed to global events instantly. These events, are happening in far off lands, which we have no part in, will never affect us, and yet we can’t seem to look away from them. The question we must ask ourselves is: Do we really need to know? Does knowing events we can’t influence help us, or does it just create stress and distract our subconscious from the pleasures of reality. We are a world addicted to sharing the dystopian. We are captivated by the monstrosities erupting around the world feeling that knowing about the somehow augments them or us. But does it? What proportion of the news stories you have heard or read about over the past year have affected you in a measurable way? How would your life be different had you not heard about them?

The media have a duty. They influence society. They hold incredible power. Yet they don’t seem to realise collectively what they are doing. What they are creating. Growing unrest in the west is being fuelled with increasing partisan politics. People are so absolutely convinced in the veracity of their beliefs that reasoned the debate is impossible. There has ceased to be a middle ground. A single-story doesn’t create a problem. But the cumulative consequence of editorial bias does. Like multinationals, the media is a sum of its parts. The world it creates is representative of the whole. And if the whole tends towards base reporting, then the whole suffers. The world suffers.

So, what’s the solution is there one? Individually yes. Globally no. Our environment has exceeded the capacity of our primitive minds and this is being exploited. The only way to win this battle is not to play. You must, therefore, make the decision: do you want to be carried along with the whims of society?  And Live in a constant state of angst and outrage, always seeing things in a negative light. Thinking the world is falling apart. Shakespeare wrote, “The world is grown so bad that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.” Socrates talked of the degeneration of the youth. The world has always been filled with injustice, unfairness, hate, pain, and it always will be. But it is also filled with joy, happiness, love, peace. It is your choice what you expose yourself to and whichever you choose will become your reality. It is the reality which you will have to live with. It is a choice. Your choice.