In No News is Good News! (Part 1), I explained why a few years ago I stopped reading newspapers or watching the News on TV.
And, for a period of several years, I achieved a blissful state where I managed to tune out politics, overseas wars, natural disasters, gossip, astrology and celebrity wardrobe malfunctions.
But I must admit that, in the run-up to the recent UK election, I tuned back in to political news.
What I saw was very strange. A weird cult had taken over the left of politics. A strange bunch of Momentum activists, Guardianistas and bureaucratic bossy-boots were pushing left wing ideologies that failed miserably in the 1970s.
Cults are for losers. If you’re trapped by any form of dogma or ideology detached from reality, then you’re living in a mental prison of your own imagination.
The News media cultivates cults and echo chambers on both sides. It’s not just the left wing media that is biased. The print media in the UK has traditionally mostly been biased to the Right.
It’s not just a left v right thing, it’s more complicated than that. The BBC mostly gives equal airtime to the two main political parties. But it’s coverage of Culture War issues and identity politics etc is totally unbalanced.
The News media is a player in the game of politics, not a neutral referee. The News media picks sides and helps their side push their favoured political narratives.
The Media is a competitive industry and they are fighting for attention, clicks and eyeballs. They know that fear is the most compelling hook and this is why they try to scare us. If it bleeds, it leads.
I think of The News as the announcements made over The Tannoy System in The Prison Camp: a loud stream of misinformation, propaganda and general bullshit.
The problem is that The News is habit-forming as well as biased. It’s really tempting to consume the news brand that gives you your regular dose of confirmation bias. The risk is that we only hear one side of the story and an echo chamber gets formed.
Here’s a short extract from his excellent book Loserthink.
How to know if you are in a cult
If you are a member of a cult, your leader is probably telling you crazy things and expecting you to believe them.
For example, if your leader is telling you to kill yourself so you can free your soul to live for eternity beneath a couch cushion, you might want to skip the next meeting.
But simply knowing that cults peddle falsehoods won’t help you determine if you are in a cult, because the press, politicians, spiritual leaders (except yours of course) and special-interest groups are brainwashing the public with falsehoods all the time.
Your favourite news source is almost certainly doing as much brainwashing as informing, but you probably think that sort of thing only happens to the sad bastards who make the mistake of consuming the wrong news sources.
No one is exempt from society’s powerful brainwashing forces. The press is telling its viewers what they want to hear – one version of reality for the political right and one version for the political left – and it looks exactly like truth to the respective audiences.
If you’re human, confirmation bias and what you believe to be your “common sense” are identical in how they make you feel. That’s why I often say you can’t look at the past or even the present to know the truth about your reality, because it is easy to fit different theories to the same set of observations.
If you want to test the validity of your world-view, it isn’t good enough that the facts in evidence are consistent with your theory of events . Multiple theories can meet that standard. The only practical way to test your worldview is to see how well it predicts.
If you belong to a group whose interpretation of reality does a good job of explaining the past (or so it seems) yet is bad at predicting the near future, you are probably in a cult or something that acts like one.
As I write this chapter, the United States is grappling with several different interpretations of reality around the same set of observed facts: was President Trump a Russian asset or did the so-called Deep State try to frame him?
Both theories fit the observed facts available to the public. Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley has suggested a third theory for consideration: that both sides of the topic are experiencing confirmation bias and there was neither Russian collusion nor Deep State conspiracy, just a lot of people believing in conspiracy theories. If you are keeping score at home, that makes three entirely different realities that all conform to the facts in evidence, at least according to the adherents of each. Obviously, most of the players in this drama believe that the people who disagree with them have the wrong interpretation of the facts.
If you have a preferred religious belief, keep in mind that billions of people practice other religions and they believe you are the one in the cult while they are the enlightened ones. My point is that knowing cults brainwash their members wont help you determine if you are in one. Brainwashing wouldn’t work if you knew it was happening to you. For the average person, confirmation bias will convince you that your group is the one that has life figured out while everyone else is flailing blindly.
And that perception will almost certainly be an illusion. Once you learn to embrace the realisation that being right and being wrong feel exactly the same, you’re halfway out of your mental prison.
Summary: Being absolutely right and spectacularly wrong feel exactly the same
The clearest signal you’re in a cult is that other members of the group actively try to prevent you from exchanging ideas with outsiders. For example, Democrats and Republicans increasingly avoid the company of the other, and the smart ones avoid talking in mixed company because it rarely ends well. One could make an argument that both Democrats and Republicans are evolving from whatever they once were to something closer to accidental cults that worship their preferred news sources and adopt the opinions assigned to them.
For the past several years, I have been writing about American politics using what I call a persuasion filter. Through that work, and the interesting people I have recently met, I have learned things about the true nature of reality that are so startling that you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
We can test that assumption because I’m going to tell you right now: there are only about a dozen people in the United States – perhaps 6 on the political right and six on the political left – who decide what the public thinks about politics. That small group routinely influences how the news is framed and the rest of the pundits simplify amplify the messages and brainwash the public through repetition. I’m sure you have noticed the sameness in how pundits handle their respective narratives on the left and the right. None of that is an accident. A handful of influencers create the framing for stories and the public believes.
If you believe the news you consume is organic and unbiased, you might be less of an informed citizen than the accidental member of a cult, but without the bad haircut requirement.
Summary: If your view of reality is consistent with the past but fails to to a good job predicting the near future, you might be in a cultlike organisation with a manufactured worldview. If members of your group discourage you from listening to opposing views, its time to plan your escape.