By Jim Powers
Have you known anyone who suffered from major depression? Not just feeling blue, or depressed for a while because of a life event. Instead, there is a deep, persistent sense of hopelessness that you can’t find your way back from?
For the severely depressed person, the voice that never stops talking in their head keeps telling them that the world around them is falling apart. That everything has permanently changed for the worse, that things can never get better. The people close to them keep telling them that, outside their own head, everything is fine, nothing has changed. But they know better. That voice that is with them 24 hours a day says so. And, it never stops talking.
Many people get through that kind of depression with the intervention of medication, or therapy and time. And on the other side they realize something many of us never learn. That those thoughts that run through their heads were lying to them. That the anger and fear and frustration they experienced when they were so depressed was the result of those lies.
Why are so many people so angry these days? Whether politically, or socially, or economically, or over religion or race, rage seems to consume a lot of people. Increasingly they are accepting and even encouraging violence as an appropriate response to their anger.
The sad truth is that, like the voice in the head of someone suffering from major depression, the voices we are listening to are lying to us. It doesn’t matter what side of the now unbreachable political divide they come from. It doesn’t even matter what their motives are (that’s another issue entirely, and just as existential as their lies). It only matters that they are lying, and that we are accepting those lies uncritically, even when we know that they are lying for their own advantage.
For most of our history as a country, we held truth as the highest ideal (even while often falling short). We rejected friends or spouses who lied to us, we rejected politicians who got caught lying. We questioned not only the claims of others, but their motives for making those claims. Due diligence it is called. What happened to that? What changed?
Before 24-hour cable news, when we got our news from outside our community on the one hour 6 p.m. national news, our “community” was measured in square miles. Over the last 20 years, with the advent of smart phones and social media, our “community” is now the world. We spend many hours a day interacting with these devices, constantly connected to a billion of our closest friends. The voice in our head is now directly connected to the voices in our hands. And our slowly evolved brains seem to no longer know the difference.
So, about that voice in your head.
Anyone on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, or any of the other many social media outlets, can now be an “expert.” They can be a complete crackpot, a serial killer, a sexual predator, a terrorist, or just a politician lying in their own interest, and pretend to be someone with just your interest at heart. And they can spread those lies to millions of people almost instantly. And before you can evaluate those lies, they can spread a thousand more.
Because social media companies, in their own interest, have implemented algorithms that silo every experience you have on their platform to agree with your own presuppositions, they have effectively taken away your freedom. They are not going to serve you information you don’t agree with. Why would you want to read or watch that? The most important thing to the company is clicks, not truth. And you are more likely to click on something you agree with than something you do not.
We are angry because making us angry, and keeping us angry, is profitable for social media companies, and an effective way for politicians to pull to them increasingly corrupt power. Forget political parties, lies are corrosive to our society wherever they originate. We are increasingly awash in a tsunami of lies from those voices in our hands and heads.
There are really only a couple of solutions to the problem. We can either question everything we are told and spend the time to look beyond our own bias for the truth; or, we can turn off the voices bombarding us with propaganda. Social media and political lies are destroying our society and may very well have already destroyed our Democratic Republic. This isn’t an accident. That device you hold in your hand is the 21st century’s greatest threat to our continued existence as a free people.
The people lying to you hate democracy and, whether they are republican, democrat, libertarian or just contrarian, they do not care if they destroy this country in pursuit of their goals.
“We live in a house of mirrors and think we are looking out windows.” Frederick Salomon Perls