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20 December 2016

The Fake News Epidemic

*Altering perception* for the purposes of healing and enlightenment is a very different process than intentional and deceptive manipulation; although sometimes difficult to discern the difference, genuine seekers are always guided by the premise that exponentially more is unknown rather than known, and they're certainly not afraid to challenge dominant paradigms, while fraudulent people purposely alter perception for the sole purpose of manipulation.

The simplest definition of fake news is disseminating intellectual pornography, perverting and exploiting the sacred bond between journalist and recipient for personal profit. In the United States there has always been a long-standing and important relationship between ethical and accurate journalism and the very functioning of our democratic processes. 

Dubbing 2016 the year of fake news seems to me an appropriate phrase to describe the decline of a perhaps once-literate and well-informed electorate into a mob. We've all heard the stories of some Eastern European kid huddled away in his parents' basement disseminating fake news on social media as click bait, and one can argue, with good reason, the results of the 2016 United States Presidential election were greatly affected by these fake news stories (leaving the entire Russian controversy aside for the time being), many of which attacked the character, career and accomplishments of former US Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for President Hillary Clinton, often diverting American voters away from issues of policy toward issues of character and scandal. How frequently were insults and ad hominem attacks substituted for substantive discussion? Even Trump's most ardent critics must admit his mastery of social media and complete domination of the fake news culture. The question that taunts me is could these fake and malicious stories and derogatory memes actually have come from the Trump campaign?  How difficult would it really be for any particular candidate to hire companies that manipulate search results and spread misinformation? Whatever the real story, his reality television background and his many corporate incarnations, often revolving around sophisticated marketing and real estate sales and development make him the perfect fake messiah for the fake news electorate.You take tap water and bottle it with a Trump label and suddenly it is the most delicious, liquid elixir imaginable, emanating from the spring of eternal life simply because that man knows how to market shit.

I see the damage and danger of fake news as reaching far beyond the pitfalls simply of a no-longer-well-informed-electorate, or even a sucker-born-every-minute consumer class, as bad as they may be. Once an idea or story is floated out into the netherworld of the Internet, the idea cannot be undone. Like an e-mail once sent that cannot be taken back, in some hell realm of the collective psyche, these ideas will recur eternally, forever affecting the future decision-making process in profound, albeit subtle, perhaps even subconscious ways. Again, I ask how vital was it to Trump's success that issues were frequently substituted for character assassinations? Has there ever been a candidate in US history subjected to more outlandish tales than Hillary Clinton? The alien baby above only slightly off the usual path.  These memes and fake news stories are nothing new, just an age old trick  hucksters, cult leaders and gurus have used for centuries--alter perception or direct mental focus to validate expectations or, more accurately, preconceived notions, placed within the converts' minds by the master.

So, history becomes rewritten in memes and conspiracy theories.

Now, the social media behemoth, Facebook has announced a plan to filter these fake news stories with the help of identification by subscribers and a team of individuals sequestered away in yet another room somewhere, perhaps even in Eastern Europe, seeking to verify or denounce the validity of these viral messages in the hope of addressing the controversy head on by labeling fake news. Recently, there has been a proliferation of websites trolling for clicks and shares on Facebook often featuring provocative images or headlines. Once clicked, we're lead to sites analogous to the Roman catacombs where we must navigate at a slug's pace through page after page, always slowly-loading and filled with advertisements and links, no doubt also data mining any poor fool's Internet trail as well. You never get to the enticement or bait, just taken down a rabbit hole of white noise. These sites usually focus on entertainment, pop culture, history and, yes, politics, too.  The phenomenon is really just people seeking validation for what they may already "feel" is true. They cannot articulate why Hillary Clinton is evil or corrupt, but they know it must be true. 

Perform an experiment: Search for "Trump memes" and "Hillary memes." While most of the memes for both are extremely derogatory, interestingly, many seek to legitimize Trump, even taking the most vile aspects of his world view and spinning it in a "positive" manner, see examples below.

The fake story or meme appears to provide form and content to previously held beliefs. 

Research is not simply finding evidence to support what you already believe to be true. Research involves critical thinking and testing a hypothesis, rigorous investigation and evaluation of sources and information. There should also be some possibility of peer review and evaluation by others within the particular discipline or community. A name should be attached to a source so that the person's track record can help verify the potential validity of the thesis within the context of previous work. The formerly "journalistic" collective consciousness in the United States has now morphed into a mess of chaos peddled by anonymous sources and ex patriots fleeing prosecution. 

Over the years, I have written much about the importance and benefits of altering reality, playing with the plasticity of perception if you will. This process is an essential tool to the modern shaman or would be healer. With that said, the point of view I am espousing now regarding fake news may indeed sound contradictory, but here is the difference. I don't pretend that what I explore is purely science. It is based on experience and folklore and tradition, and none of it is for sale. Everything is free and freely offered. If you heal yourself with a plant, the experience is uniquely yours. It cannot be sold or packaged as a commodity, primarily an experience of the heart, a deeper knowing and connection, not just within this three-dimensional world. But above all else not for sale. And I'm not trying to manipulate anyone. Additionally, I've never offered my herbal wisdom or healing paradigms as an opposition to modern science or civilization, never in a dualistic sense, merely as an additional option, one that has always existed side by side with any scientific advancement.

Whether or not evidence of covert manipulation of media will ever be discovered, fake news is completely antagonistic to human progress, like static or white noise when one is seeking a clear signal, the monkey mind impeding the meditative process, our perceptions so altered by instantaneous gratification, our egos so flattered by likes, reminiscent of a rat trapped in a experiment in which the poor creature continually presses a button for pleasure at the expense of food, water and eventually life itself; we've now substituted intellectual waste for wisdom.  With Trump's election finalized, we've moved into this uncharted realm, collectively, as a nation, and I see no easy way out.


1. Pew Research Center Analysis of Social Media and News

2. After a few days of research for this piece, I was led to a new hypothesis. Maybe it wasn't the Russians at all. Maybe it was Trump's team. There has never in US history been a candidate about whom so much complete crap has been floated out there (much of it accepted by the way) than Hillary Clinton. Was this election a master manipulation by one of the great hucksters of all time? Couldn't people be hired to generate fake news and spread memes in order to deflect the focus away from any substantive issue toward ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories? Issues were hardly ever discussed when Hillary came into focus--always the personal attacks--"crooked Hillary," etc. I mean this is a guy who ranted that Obama wasn't born in this country for nearly eight years, gaining much love from the so called alt right for doing so. Perhaps Trump just shaped the "debate" in this manner on his own, but could he also have hired help? Remember, initially, Trump had zero credibility in any political playing field except for the alt right--suddenly he gains a devoted following thousands of people at rallies--by hammering away at themes portrayed in the fake-news-universe deriding his opponents with nonsensical attacks. Remember the story about Ted Cruz' father supposedly in on the Kennedy Assassination? The complete extent of the Trump's manipulation is only understood when examining his transition appointments. He intends to form the most elitist, exclusionary and wealthiest would-be-cabinet in history all the while his campaign theme centered around standing up for the common man's interest. Even his teaser proposals, like prosecuting Hillary and building a wall at the US Mexican border, for example, are now slowly being left to wither away in the public psyche (thank goodness for that). Trump was supposedly "anti" Wall Street and big corporations; all the while, during the transition, he builds a managment team designed to eliminate any remaining restraints on the checks and balances between government and business, always within the constant guise of fake patriotism; his fraud is the ultimate act of betrayal by someone who never had any intention of making America "great" again but only to allow the largest, most powerful, global corporate interests to loot everything. No environmental laws, no unions, no restraints whatsoever. He may well have issued in a new robber baron era with the help of fake news and meme generators.

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