Liberal pundit Keith Olbermann shared a video the other day where he ranted about people who don’t want to take the Covid vaccine with such emotional vitriol that spittle flew from his mouth and drool poured down his chin. I found it hard to watch, partly because it’s always uncomfortable to see someone come apart like that and partly because it made me realize that I’ve probably spent the last few years making fun of a media personality who has some actual diagnosable psychological disorders.
Rather than lay out what he thinks are the best arguments for taking the vaccine as most of his peers have been doing, Olbermann instead spouts vituperations about what “cowards” and “snowflakes” unvaccinated people are.
“They’re afraid!” Olbermann screams over and over again, as though being afraid of something makes you some sort of monster. As though we’re not all afraid of something, whether it be the vaccine or the virus or being alone or the fact that thawing arctic permafrost is pouring methane into the atmosphere. This commonality should draw us closer together, but here it’s being used for partisan us-vs-them theatrics which drive us further apart.
Us-vs-them frameworks are used constantly to manipulate people into espousing various narratives, and narrative manipulation is the underlying source of all of humanity’s problems.
Today’s world is dominated by a unipolar power structure loosely centralized around the United States government. It is comprised of many nations which are ostensibly independent, but, since they move in near-complete alignment with each other on all international issues of major importance, this power structure can effectively be called an empire. This empire sets the economic, environmental and military policies which are causing all the ecocide, war and nuclear brinkmanship we see driving humanity toward its destruction today.
The empire’s greatest weapon is not its military but its propaganda machine. There’s simply never been anything like the global narrative control provided by the western news media, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. The military fights wars; the propaganda machine wins them long before they even start.
When you use the military to eliminate opposition, everyone knows it happened. When you use propaganda to eliminate opposition, people aren’t even aware you did it. They think it was their own idea to suddenly become super concerned about Saddam or Putin or Maduro or whomever or to go along with this or that power-serving agenda. Beyond the hard, concrete realities of war and militarism there’s a whole other war being fought on a far greater scale and of far greater consequence, and most people don’t even know it’s happening: the mass-scale psychological manipulation of the entire human species.
This is why human behavior looks so irrational when taken together. Why are we fighting all these wars, engaging in nuclear brinkmanship and destroying the biosphere when we know intellectually these are bad things? It’s not because humans are inherently destructive, it’s because a few destructive humans manipulate the rest of us into doing destructive things using propaganda.
A lucid and well-informed examination of the world’s problems will keep bringing you back to this one fundamental issue: that Earth’s inhabitants are being psychologically manipulated at mass scale into organizing themselves in ways that serve the powerful instead of the people.
Most propaganda is based on us-vs-them framing; support the oligarch-controlled Democratic Party because Republicans are bad, support the oligarch-controlled Republican Party because Democrats are bad, those evil Muslims/Russians/Chinese want to hurt us, that evil dictator over there is doing things which we good freedom-loving people cannot allow, etc. A tremendous amount of energy goes into feeding into these us-and-them frameworks to keep the propaganda engine running efficiently.
Manipulative narcissists, cult leaders and propagandists all do this, and they do it because it is effective. A video titled “The science behind ‘us vs. them’” by Big Think does a good job of breaking down how deeply hardwired the human brain is to think in terms of an “in” group who we like and an “out” group who we don’t like, citing numerous experiments which have shown this to be true around the world.
“What becomes clear when you look closely is it is virtually inevitable that we divide the world into ‘us’es and ‘them’s and don’t like ‘them’s very much and don’t treat them well,” explains neuroendocrinology researcher Robert Sapolsky. “But we are incredibly easily manipulated as to who counts as an ‘us’ and who counts as a ‘them’.”
“We could be manipulated by all sorts of ideologues out there as to deciding that people who seem just like us really aren’t, they’re really so different that they count as a them,” Sapolsky adds.
“We turn the world into ‘us’es and ‘them’s, and we don’t like the ‘them’s very much and are often really awful to them, and the ‘us’es we exaggerate how wonderful and how generous and how affiliative and how just like siblings they are to us,” says Sapolsky.
Can you see how easy it would be for someone who understands this aspect of our psychology to exploit it to seed propaganda in our minds? Set up a “them” side who we distrust and an ‘us’ side who we trust, and any information which comes from the “us” side will slide in unchecked by critical thinking.
If you can split the population into two sides and control the “us” narratives of both of them, you can easily insert propaganda narratives into most of the population. If Rachel Maddow is in your “us” team you’ll desire increased cold war aggressions against Russia, if Tucker Carlson is on your “us” team you’ll want more escalations against China, both of which happen to advance the interests of the aforementioned empire. As does the status quo both sides promote in their own ways.
This happens constantly, throughout the empire all around the world. Fake “us”es and “them”s are set up for us by powerful manipulators, and our receptiveness to the “us” side allows the manipulators who control it to continually feed narratives into our minds about what’s going on in the world.
Power is controlling what happens. Real power is controlling what people think about what happens.
I don’t know exactly what’s going on with this virus and the vaccines; sometimes it seems like I’m the only person on the internet who doesn’t. But what I do know is that the intensely heated polarization over this issue on both sides feeds into the us-vs-them dynamic where power-serving propaganda about any subject can easily flourish. This benefits someone, and it ain’t you.
Humanity’s problems are made possible by mass-scale manipulation, and mass-scale manipulation is made possible by us-vs-them beliefs. If people weren’t being aggressively manipulated into consenting to the status quo they would have used the power of their numbers to end the status quo a long time ago. Divide-and-conquer isn’t just useful because it prevents people from unifying against their oppressors, it also pours rocket fuel in the oppressors’ propaganda machine.
What’s interesting is that humanity does have within itself the potential to dissolve its us-vs-them cognitive habits and thereby render the propaganda machine ineffective. The phenomenon commonly called spiritual enlightenment consists of a shift in perception which causes the sense of separateness to fall away, making it clear on a deep, experiential level that we are one, not just with all people but with the entire universe. You still have your own ideas, disagreements and preferences when it comes to politics and society, but the sense that anyone is some kind of “other” separate from you and yours falls away.
So there just happens to be a potentiality within us all that could solve all our problems if it were to somehow become unlocked at mass scale. Every species eventually arrives at a point where it must either unlock a potentiality within itself and adapt to a changing situation or go extinct. It looks like we are arriving at this point currently, and that collective enlightenment is the potentiality we will need to unlock if we’re to turn away from our trajectory toward doom.
And that will either happen or it won’t. I personally don’t think it’s some random aberration that this potentiality which sages have been writing about for millennia just so happens to be exactly what we need at this particular juncture with this particular collective psychological dilemma. But if I’m wrong and humanity does go the way of the dinosaur, it would be a damn shame if we didn’t at least hold hands on our way down.