Far from claiming any of us, simple absorbers of media (however opinionated), can make an actual difference through how we position ourselves on the political spectrum or outside of it, this post deals with issues of conscience in an increasingly polarised world.
While it’s a known fact neither the left nor the right promote unity, political fury in the west is perhaps stronger now than it has been for many years. Are we, as human beings, in danger of being degraded by the baseness of the political spectacle? At which point does the media’s intoxication affect us intrinsically?
Headlines are being made out of social media posts and small comments, as those in office debate each other in the style of pimps outside a brothel; the left and right have become experts at turning bits of flotsam into the pillars of their positions, scooping up the dregs from each barrel to further inebriate their audiences.
Even the neutral can gradually be pulled in one direction, on a cause-by-cause basis, by the so-called alternative media, slowly climbing onto a bandwagon.
The total abandonment to a wave of energy generated by propaganda now resembles football stadium dynamics. While on a football stadium this temporary abandonment can be cathartic and harmless, in real life it can cause people to truly dehumanise others, in manners formerly deemed left behind in history books.
Counterculture or counterfeit?
Since our teenage years, attempts are made to co-opt us into a solid set of beliefs and principles, often feeling the need to make a choice between conforming to the moment’s education and “rebelling”. The other day I heard from various sources that conservatism would be the new counterculture; right-leaning people see it as an optimistic perspective after being pummeled by the left for so long. The realisation came that this cut and dry left/right duality is portrayed as an unavoidable cycle to maintain in the future, as if no alternative were possible.
How authentic is any culture formed as a diametral response to another, each grabbing hold of society until reaching an extreme; why want to replace it with its polar opposite instead of reaching a unifying compromise? Are leftists and right-wingers really different species expected to keep fighting for domination in perpetuity? Is the right expected to behave any differently than the left does now when climbing its way to power again?
Perhaps this is what we are meant to believe in order to remain at each other’s throats.
Blurring the lines between facts and rhetoric
Media outlets, including alternative ones, have mastered the art of invalidating a point of view just because it is strongly held by the ideological opposition, regardless of whether or not it might make sense at least partially. Nit-picking on marginal issues, diversion and placing an event within a one-sided context can be made to look like factual reporting. Factual reporting presents both sides of an issue. When the versions you hear from opposing outlets portray events in such an antithetic way you’d think they came from different planets, prepare to wonder whether subtle or gross manipulation is involved, potentially on both sides, no matter how much you tend to agree with one.
Today more than ever, one is nudged to censor their critical thinking as an issue of loyalty, when often agreeing with the stances of a peer group. When suddenly disagreeing, mobbing may occur. Proof of this loyalty can be requested at any time since discussions occur between larger groups and more publicly than ever before. The pressure to pick a side can be substantial.
Trusting inflammatory outlets which change their tune for their own agendas
Choosing a trustworthy news source is not easy, as so many are skilled in gripping people’s interest, often done today by claiming to have inside information on issues most of us cannot obtain information on directly.
It wasn’t long ago (a few years, roughly) that InfoWars and the likes were spreading theories regarding false flag terrorist attacks, impending martial law and the use of artificially generated fear in order for states to draconically control the masses. Apparently, terrorism was a manufactured excuse to create “police states”. There was a FEMA camp hysteria and descriptions of vans coming for millions of people in the middle of the night and “disappearing” them, never to be heard from again. Police brutality was constantly deplored, as well as increasing police presence and militarisation.
Fast forward to present day and this tune is being blared in reverse, with the same amount of gravity and confidence. Now, according to the same people, terrorism is actually caused by religious fanatics and no longer a ploy to “take people’s freedoms away”. In fact, they constantly promote a president who wants fewer restrictions on how the police can act, who wants more security forces on the streets supervising and raiding. And what takes the cake, who wants a massive “deportation force” to… snatch millions of people from their homes, day or night, intern them and have them “disappeared”. The system they made people dread for years is taking shape now and they are cheering it on, as it will affect only one part of the population and not the one embracing their rhetoric.
All throughout, they have been claiming to operate based on the same principles. Is there any intellectual honesty in this? Has there ever been? In the mean time, fortunately, nobody in the west has died for lack of a water filter.
How does the outlet with the largest amount of paranoia regarding the political system suddenly read like state-sponsored propaganda, with 8 out of 10 daily articles fiercely supporting anything Donald Trump does or says, down to writing one article per critical tweet? At what point does this become nauseating and transparent?
“Fighting the good fight”
Although discussing politics has always been uneasy to an extent (hence the “no politics or religion at the dinner table” suggestion), there used to be some decency, some restraint in this before social media provided immediate access to verbal matches with “detractors”. Nowadays, comment sections on any subject become septic tanks of bile, some of it undoubtedly a release of personal tension.
One can easily end up berating a stranger, to then berate the stranger’s mother, ancestors and dog, in only one paragraph, the benefits of which elude rational thinking. How much of this is even real; how much of it is social engineering and paid agitation?
People prone to politically motivated savagery need no more than a few slogans barked or sung with the right intonation in order to start chanting along and raise their fists in the air, as if contaminated by a tribal virus. Some then take to the streets, smash up streets and beat up random strangers. For others, it takes more subtlety. It takes refined language, astute humour, intricate rationalisation. Which is fine and dandy until a barrier is crossed and whatever category has angered them, at least at that moment, ceases to be human.
Entertainment is more politically charged by the day
Even this form of escapism, which has always been manipulative yet in an insidious manner, is now blatant in its pushing of social messages, being not artful but artificial.
Besides the standards imposed by progressives (quotas, trigger warnings, forbidden humour etc), we find ourselves being told what to think and how to vote by wealthy singers and actors (which is infantilising), and even shamed in this sense. Art for the sake of it has become rather rare. Somehow it all pulls people back into the mindset of having the obligation to stand and propagandise for one cause or another.
Factions denouncing propaganda while engaging in it
Propaganda, as most people know by now, seeks to attract individuals into groupthink, and one technique used is finding a symbol for a cause (a person or event) to imprint into collective memory as representative of a broader issue. Which is not wrong in and of itself as long as it doesn’t push for the blurring of other aspects related to the same matter.
What I find rather disgusting, when the media approaches an event, let’s say regarding victimisation or wrongdoing, is that it’s usually highlighted by one side and minimised by the other, regardless of what the reality is, as both are in defence of groups, not individuals. The actual story is lost in an endless spin; people caught up in a certain situation become pawns in political debates. When exposure actually damages the person presumably helped and the media perseveres, it’s a case of exploitation; when they milk it dry, the person is left to deal with the consequences (often involving harassment) of being the poster hero or victim of the day .
More queasily, each side accuses the other of jubilation when having a victim to push forward; in other words, one side has every right to feel outrage and sympathy, but the other doesn’t. Ordinary people become lost in narratives, to often face undeserved public scorn, based on the side supporting them, in a dog-eat-dog fashion, as armies of ideologues feel the need to tear them down in order to reinforce their views. The truth could be anywhere and is no longer relevant as long as enough points are bing scored.
Regardless of how the media makes it look, there is always the option of remaining moderate and approaching any coverage with cautiousness, refusing to label oneself and be spurred on by propaganda, even when a peer group reinforces it enthusiastically. It’s important to remember that no movement is safe from being corrupted and taken over for an entirely different agenda.
And no matter how trustworthy, charismatic and convincing our sources are, they too are fallible and could be surfing a wave to an unknown destination.
There comes a point, when soaking up biased coverage to reinforce a point of view, one needs to take a step back and think deeper. No matter how much it might seem appropriate to reach generalising conclusions regarding groups of people, their accuracy should always be questioned, as that attitude is likely meant to serve someone else’s purpose.