So is your mind conjuring up images of The Hades Times reporting on the political happenings in the fiery hereafter? Sorry to disappoint you – but I’m really talking here about the source of our own political headlines which scream negativity at us on a daily basis.
Many of us have noticed that the tone of much of our political media has taken a decidedly negative turn over the last decade. Cable TV programs pit one “expert” against another “expert” and sit back and encourage fireworks. Ratings go up while civility goes down. In many cases, Internet sites are even worse – writing incendiary stories with tacked on reader comments which in the cloak of anonymity can turn very nasty. Where does all this negativity come from?
The Medium Is the Message
Marshall McLuhan is famous for having made this observation – that the delivery system of our messages often dictates much of the content of those messages in a weird symbiosis. Consider this — when we only had three major American TV broadcast networks, the “news” was relegated to being provided only during certain times of the day. The limited amount of available time to tell the news kept it focused on what was generally most important. Given that our choices were few, the competition for our attention was somewhat limited and the result was the news was not that “flashy” nor negative.
Then, along came cable TV and 24 news networks. With more time to fill on air, more things began to be reported upon….and then reports expanded into greater amounts of commentary and analysis. With more choices of news channels, the competition for our attention became greater and more and more of the programs had to do “creative” things to be noticed in the sea of overwhelming choices. Sometimes these attention getters were negative and divisive — and like a wreck on the side of the road, successfully turned our gaze towards them. The messages began changing with the shifts in the medium.
Since then, the internet has only expanded our choices and exacerbated the problem of using negativity to catch our limited attention. A recent book serves to make the reasons for this more clear. Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me I’m Lying – Confessions of a Media Manipulator starts out as a personal story of how he realized how he could use the media – in particular, bloggers and the internet, to his personal gain — and shows us how we can do the same if we want. However, the book ends up being more of an exposé of how the market forces of the internet coupled with increasingly shorter news cycles feeds a media monster desiring personal gain and speed at the expense of truth and decency.
More specifically, Holiday describes a fast paced world of blog sites who care less about accuracy and fairness than they do “pageviews”. Bloggers are driven to produce quantity on short deadlines and paid on an incentive basis — the more pageviews their blogs get, the more they get rewarded. It’s easy to see that such a system incentivizes sensationalism.
As he writes, “Bloggers have a direct incentive to write bigger, to write simpler, to write more controversially or, conversely, more favorably, to write without having to do any work, to write more often than is warranted. It’s no wonder they are vicious, irresponsible, inaccurate, and dishonest.”
Interestingly, he points out the parallels to the shifts within the newspaper industry. In its early days of “yellow journalism”, newspapers were sold on the corner and had to compete fiercely for your attention and your coins. There was no guaranteed reader loyalty — buying the paper one day was no assurance you would buy it the next. To keep sales up, the papers used large type “screaming” headlines about sensational stories — sometimes misleading you from the truth along the way. Daily profits were more important than being honest or doing what was in the public’s best interest.
Then newspapers introduced a subscription model — you had your paper delivered to you and you committed to it for a period of time. There was less need to do outrageous things to get your attention. The headlines quieted down, the standards of journalism went up. Stories were fact checked and journalism prided itself on its standards of excellence.
Yet, now newspapers are dying and the online news sources are rising and with this we once again see the media becoming intertwined in the message in a way that is not in our best interest. Holiday describes a process that leads to lower quality source material being placed online. This inadequately fact checked and inaccurate content gets repeated with a buildup in the quantity of a story to the point where it rises to the attention of more prestigious news sources who can no longer ignore it. Where once these higher quality outlets would have taken the time to verify the story’s sources, instead the reporting of these other online sites with their lower standards become “the source”. His book offers example after example of such situations frequently with disturbing and harmful outcomes.
Such a system leads to initial reporting of stories that tend to the sensationalistic and the negative. Everyone in competing for our eyeballs and our attention so as to increase their site’s prestige and their profits. All of this is generating an unintended consequence of feeding a society that sees things more negatively. The media and the message can unfortunately divide us if we are not careful.
The Medium and Message of Hell
To a degree, this system is creating hell for us. Moreover, the justifications that lead to individuals contributing such a system are based upon “hellish” thinking. Yes, I’m shifting gears on you.
In my way of thinking, in spite of the common image and old myth, hell is not a place. Most of us know that. If you want to believe that it is though, that’s fine by me. You are free to believe what you want. However, in my belief system, hell is simply a state of mind. We can create hell in our minds from moment to moment. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.”
What makes the same world a heaven or hell depending upon our thoughts? Twentieth century spiritual teacher Ernest Holmes defined hell as “a discordant state of being. A belief in duality. A sense of separation from God. A belief that our good is always to be, and never is. Hell is not a location.” I tend to agree.
What he is saying is that when we place our belief in separation and all that comes with that belief, we can create unhappiness and a sense of discontentment or worse — and that emotional sense created by our belief in the illusion of duality is our experience of hell.
What does it mean to believe in separation? It means to forget that we came from the same source and that everything and everyone is connected. It means we give more credence to an outer experience that feeds a belief in duality — that you and I and everyone and everything else are distinct entities that are totally disconnected —than to any inner knowingness that such duality is not really real. In doing so, we give our energy and attention on competition more than cooperation, about ensuring our individual success at the expense of what is best for the greater whole.
When we do this, we can be led into believing that it is ok to give false, negative or misleading headlines to get you to “click on” my story. We can justify that harming the reputation or livelihood of another person is all right so long as I get more pageviews and thereby a higher paycheck. We are not concerned over the harm caused to others so long as our website is successful as defined by external indicators. We can feel satisfied that telling a lie for our own benefit is acceptable because we can always do an “update” — even knowing it will never get read as much as our original disruptive story.
Up From Hell?
But is this all really ok? Is this really the highest and best expression of who we are as a people?
I get it that many will read my words and immediately have justifying thoughts about the whole situation. “That’s just the way it is.” “Selfishness is human nature.” “We can’t change this system, too much money is at stake”. And on and on.
I am realistic….but I am also an optimist. I know that it may take time, but that our highest human nature will eventually win out. Our human history when observed from very high vantage points of long periods of time can always be seen to be moving in a positive direction. I know that will be the case here too — ultimately. But must we wait for the long view to kick in? Can we not listen to our intuition that tells us so deeply that we must “be the change” NOW?
If so, then what can we do? Well, the first step is awareness. The more we become cognizant of the tragic gap between what we know is possible for us as a people and what we are currently experiencing in our world, the more we can realize the issue and then turn our attention on where we truly want to go.
But what is that direction? I believe we move out of hell — out of this discordant state of being, away from our belief in duality and separation, beyond competition and winning at all cost. We must let go of our harming one another for our own private gain, of allowing negativity and deceit to be justified in any way for any individual success. Instead, we must move to that which we know is our ultimate truth—that we are all one people placed here for a greater good, to learn the power of cooperation, to expand our sense of care and concern for our fellow humans —and to expand the power of love on earth.
And then the second step is to act — to shift our thoughts, words and deeds in the direction of this world that we know is possible. Each of us must do it in our own way, in our own sphere of influence. When enough of us act from this sense of connectedness and love, then we can be the critical force that creates heaven here on earth.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his very latest one Becoming a Spiritual Change Agent. Check it out!