The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.  -- Albert Einstein

I should have this book in my publisher’s hands by now, but there is something that keeps gnawing at me.  The odd thing is I can’t define it. Yet.  But it’s important enough -- at least to me -- to put it on paper, hoping that I will be led to the answer.

There is something dangerously afoot among us.  It’s tasteless, odorless, you can’t really see it.  But it’s there.  Maybe it’s just in our heads.  Maybe just in mine.  I wonder how we got here.  Here is where we spend more time writing our thoughts in electronic short hand, using one hundred forty character soundbytes.  Here is where we rather look at a tiny screen than up at each other.  Here is where more and more we each see ourselves as the only person in the universe; our thoughts as the singular important source of what the truth is and any information we receive must assimilate to that truth or be destroyed.   Here is where we think meanness, bullying or violence is a must-have element when we hawk toilet tissue, candy or cell phone service during television prime time…or play games using that little tiny screen on our hand held universe.  Here is where we are bombarded with a cacophony of information, misinformation, calculated opinion shaped to look like information, non-reality reality, outright lies and straight-faced deception.  Here is where we look to a comedian on the comedy channel for news, while a commentator – who tells his viewers they are idiots if they take what he says as gospel – is a purveyor of propaganda to a willing mass of U.S. citizens. 

We buy into it. We do.  We type, tweet, talk in typed code, no longer caring if words are spelled with any accuracy or used in context. A friend told me he overheard kids asking each other what a dictionary was. (I’m assuming your kids know, right?)  Everyone is looking for the shortcut – to the latest news, the most popular opinion, the latest public train wreck in entertainment…or politics. If you convey a thought in writing, you have to summarize it in two or three sentences or readers will skip to the next comment.  Immediate images that entertain or horrify us show up on the Internet and go viral. More and more people take to using social media as a mechanism through which they taunt, attack, bully and/or ridicule the beliefs, opinions, and physical characteristics of public figures and absolute strangers, while hiding in anonymity behind the computer screen.  We pass along what we think is information, or at least looks like something we agree with, by the click of a button, without bothering to read the link we just passed along, completely trusting in the person or group who sent us the message.  After all, they think as you or I do, right? Right?  The reality is, with the barrage of information we’ve become mentally catatonic, neglecting the nurturing of our core beliefs and values.  We are literally losing our minds, relinquishing them to those who have other plans for their control, use and maintenance.  Think this is an extreme theory?  Keep reading.

We, each of us, have general or specific biases that influence how we process information and retain or reject ideologies.  No one has an identical prism through which he or she sees things the way another person does.  That’s why siblings can grow up in the same household, yet have very different perspectives of what that experience was like and how it affected them.  People will tend to accept any and all conclusions that fit in with their systems of belief, without challenge or any deep consideration of what they are actually agreeing with. The reverse is also true, and people will tend to reject assertions that do not fit in with their belief systems, even though these statements may be perfectly logical and arguably possible. This is particularly true when people ignore the premises and focus solely on the conclusions being drawn. It is even truer of people who are not educated in logic and argumentation, as such people reason by experience and not at all by logic. When trying to influence the belief set of others, don’t try to persuade them with pure logic, when you are talking about things that are outside their beliefs. The converse is also true: If you argue within their belief system then you can persuade them of things that are not strictly true.*

There is a psychological theory called cognitive dissonance.  We each have beliefs that we accept because they were taught from childhood – unquestioned legacy, from experience, or from open-minded education, which is a conscious effort to reevaluate and test existing paradigms.  When we believe something, whether it’s about ourselves or other people, and something occurs that is the opposite of those beliefs, we become uncomfortable experiencing anything that conflicts with those beliefs. The discomfort often feels like a tension between the two opposing thoughts.   Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action. To release the tension we take one of three actions:
  • Change our behavior
  •  Justify our behavior by changing the conflicting thought
  • Justify our behavior by adding new thought
Cognitive dissonance is central to many forms of persuasion to change beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors. The tension can be injected suddenly or allowed to build up over time. People can be moved in many small jumps or one large one.**

Here’s a real time example: President Obama is an African American, Christian, highly intelligent man with a law degree from Harvard, graduating magna cum laude and was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.  Many people in the United States believe the stereotypical views of what defines an African American, i.e., stupid, lazy, evil, angry, corrupt, et al.  Therefore President Obama is not an African American, in spite of the facts and credible evidence; hence we have the Birthers who continue to try to prove what is not provable because there is nothing to change the facts It is said that if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.  Or at least that’s what someone wants you to think.  It is equally fascinating to read how there was a brief effort, after President Obama’s inauguration, to prove that he was actually an Anglo, how in spite of the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support this or any other myth, the same people think the President is of the Muslim faith, and therefore is a terrorist, because all Muslims are terrorists. (It occurs to me that the Tea Party and GOP may be willing to sacrifice the USA just so they can say that President Obama failed. Wasn't that the directive from Rush Limbaugh? but I digress...)

Adjunct to cognitive dissonance is counter attitudinal advocacy.   Sometimes people will state an opinion or otherwise support a point of view that is actually against their own beliefs.  Especially when they can benefit from it.  A covert manipulation tactic of getting people to agree with you, perhaps on a small point, about something which you want to persuade them. Ensure there is no significant external justification. After a while, their beliefs will change.

Another real time example: A woman decides to build an online publication to sell at a huge profit.  In order to sell the publication, she creates the perception that she is liberal and it is a liberal leaning publication where people can comment on the events of the presidential campaign and other newsworthy articles, growing its readership into the millions, with advertisers forming a long line with checkbooks in hand.   Post-election, the voice of the publication slowly begins to change, shifting decidedly to the right.  Blogging commenters find their daily/hourly entries are being moderated and eliminated when they didn’t fit the new meme.  The dissonance was internalized, using my own as an example.  I was, in fact, relieved to find out other bloggers felt the same way.  Then the announcement that the publication was sold to a conservative right wing corporation with a penchant for publishing articles that instigated comments from their base that were openly radical and racist. Further, deeper investigation showed that prior to the presidential election, she was always a conservative.  While the publication’s readership is shifting, as many realize what the publication is becoming and who is being hired to write for it, some of us haven’t made the leap yet, still believing the publication will return to what it once was.  The reality?  We were punked and she profited.

Politicians and pundits.  Corporate media and moguls.  People with access to public microphones and publications. All wanting to influence the minds of the masses in order to fulfill one agenda or another. A constant influx of commentary, commercials and castigating vitriol, like water dripping on a stone, wearing it down, drop by drop. The danger? The worry I have is that today’s technology and our humanness are the perfect storm for mind control through propaganda.  We watched as the protracted temper tantrum from the right resulted in the infusion of a party back in control of states and a Congress that is operating as a hostile corporate takeover of the middle class.  Yet those who empowered this state of affairs are supporting the results which, ironically, are identical to the very actions they were protesting.  Yet they cannot tell you why they continue to support them.  And I asked. 
Most people relate propaganda with other people and places without democratic freedom.  Say the word propaganda and people think Hitler, China or Gadhafi.  truth is propaganda is everywhere, including where you least expect it.  Propaganda is defined as deceptive or distorted information that is systematically spread. 

The Propaganda Techniques”:

Assertion: An enthusiast­ic or energetic statement presented as a fact, although it is not necessaril­y true. They often imply that the statement requires no explanatio­n or back up, but that it should merely be accepted without question.  Note that such assertions are constantly repeated, believing that a lie repeated often enough is perceived to be the truth.
Bandwagon­: Is an appeal to the subject to follow the crowd. Essentiall­y trying to convince the subject that one side is the winning side, because more people have joined it.
Card Stacking: Involves presenting only informatio­n that is positive to an idea or proposal and omitting informatio­n contrary to it.
Glittering Generaliti­es: Words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. They demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.
Lesser Of Two Evils: The lesser of two evils technique tries to convince us of an idea or proposal by presenting it as the least offensive option. To convince people of the need for sacrifices or to justify difficult decisions­.
Name Calling: The use of derogatory language or words that carry a negative connotation when describing an enemy.
Pinpointing The Enemy:  An attempt to simplify a complex situation by presenting one specific group or person as the enemy.
Plain Folks: The plain folks’ device is an attempt by the propagandi­st to convince the public that his/her views reflect those of the common person and that he/she is working for the benefit of the common person. 

African Americans – people of color and African descent whose ancestry includes those brought into the United States as slaves – have yet another enemy to fight in the form of propaganda.  We have been both complacent and complicit as we sit on the sidelines, just inside the parameters of our mental plantations.  For, well, ever, we have asked for permission to choose what we believe, how we think, what we should or shouldn’t buy, where we should or shouldn’t go, how we should or shouldn’t define ourselves.  When we – or at least many of us -- decided to vote for Barack Hussein Obama as U.S. President, our decision was the talk of corporate media and political pundits.  We’d come off their plantation and made a decision without permission.   Our choice was dismissed and denigrated as being “an emotional decision” as though we were nothing more than silly children who didn’t  know any better than to choose someone based on the color of his skin.  Never mind the fact that we didn’t vote for Jesse Jackson when he ran for president, or that African Americans comprise only twelve percent of the U.S. population. Never mind the fact that the use of social media gave us direct, even immediate, access to more information outside of the usual sources provided by news shows and networks.

The inherent and repeated message was that we made a mistake, we were wrong, we are not qualified to make good choices in important matters and most importantly we made the decision without their permission.  In the two years after the President’s inauguration we were bombarded with insinuations, unfounded allegations, a protracted temper tantrum that was designed to wear down the masses, including you and me.  Like parents who give in to the screaming tantrums of spoiled children just to get some piece and stop the noise, we stayed on the sidelines during the 2010 elections, not voting, assuming the usual passive position, just to get a temporary moment of peace.  And here we are.  Unbelievably, I just received a Facebook comment recently, in which a person said the following in response to the subject of debate: “…if that's the case perhaps it's best to just leave things well enough alone. People may not be interested in change, nothing anyone or letter can do about that…”   Yes, let’s continue to ignore critical matters that affect our communities and country, while we worry over the latest occurrence on the non-reality reality shows or what some above-the-law actor is doing to feed his or her addiction to attention.

Now I get what’s bugging me.  If we, as individuals, don’t put down the remote and the joysticks for a few minutes and pay attention to what’s really going on around us, then we shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome when it’s too late to do anything about it.  If you are willing to consider the notion that I might be right, do this:
1.    When you are being covertly or overtly defined by others and/or you are asked to do things about which you have no clear view, ask yourself what could be gained by others if you believe something about yourself in this situation.
2.    When you are listening to or reading the debates between opposing entities – whether you side with one or the other -- think not only whether something 'makes sense', objectively consider whether it is possible or true. 
3.    Pay attention to evidence. Don’t ignore what you see just because you’ve already made up your mind, especially when you believe your view is the right view. Irrefutable facts are hard to deny, even when they make you uncomfortable.
4.    When you feel conflicted or uncomfortable about a choice you’ve made, ask yourself is it because someone else has created that conflict for you?  Is that what always happens when you aren’t compliant?  Then the likelihood is that the problem isn’t you, it’s the person or persons defining you on their terms.
5.    Perhaps it would be best if we all stop looking for a label to define us. I/you/we inherently know what we need.  I/you/we know what we need to do to get what we need.  I/you/we have got to stop asking for permission and have the courage to stand up for the truth. As long as we continue to sit on the sidelines, waiting for directions, there will always be someone who will intentionally show us the wrong path.

Enough said.  The next move is yours.

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This is the epilogue from the book 'SHIPS which is being published by All Things That Matter Press in 2011.