A Political State of Mind

11" x 14" acrylic on canvas panel
As spiritual counselors, a lot of us tend to shy away from the subject of politics. I'm not one of them. My first job at 17 was as a youth editor for a local paper. I would go on to cover the political beat for a while, thinking I was going to be the next Lois Lane. In the end, I would leave this career in 2008 entirely after coming to an uncomfortable realization.

As a former journalist, I suffered mightily for years from being torn between telling a half-truth, no truth, or an outright lie. You see, the best way to sway public opinion has nothing to do with the actual news. It's all about the salaciousness of the spin. The juicier and more controversial the story, the better it will be absorbed into the collective consciousness of a populace. It doesn't matter if what you say is true, false, exaggerated, or understated. It just has to be said FIRST.

Every single thing published after an initial headline is either a reaction or a retraction. Neither will be remembered by the public half as much as that first sound-byte. If a headline screams some guy killed five people in a park and later it turns out he didn't do it, that man will still be spit on in public by people convinced some sort of conspiracy allowed him to evade justice. Such is the power of the written word when it is said first. 

And in this digital age of technology, being first has never been so vital or as catastrophic. We have vigilantes seeking justice armed with half-baked conspiracy theories learned from Facebook. Mob justice can be established by who has the biggest audience on Twitter or Snapchat. We can drive a person to suicide by overriding their Instagram account with derogatory comments. Yes, we have power. The question is whether we know how to wield it. 

My answer is no.  Our technology grows faster than we can legislate rules for it, for one. Secondly, our cheap technology demands a high price, namely the sacrifice of our moral compass. Think about the Internet for a minute. From day one, anonymity has been its most appealing facet. Within its halls, we can become virtual gods. And a great deal of this freedom has been utilized for the wrong reasons.

The Dark Web consists mostly of the original interfaces coders used back when tinkering with computers was still considered something only geeky people did. Now those spaces are the hidden playground of developers looking for innovation, thrill-seekers who want to be the next Morpheus, the criminal underbelly & the security hackers assigned to police them all. Now that geekdom has attained chic status, the Internet has turned into glossy websites currently tasked with conning us into massive consumerism through convenience. 

Make no mistake: our politicians don't give a damn about our young people or the prevalence of societal predators. This is used as a convenient excuse to create additional cyber laws that restrict the one thing parts of the Internet were actually good at doing: making knowledge democratic. 

So what does any of this have to do with the state of our country? Everything, of course. In an age where a person's life can be destroyed in 140 characters, it is our responsibility to know the difference between the spin of rhetoric, conspiracy theory, and fact.

This isn't about the party you support or which candidate you voted into office. It's about taking full advantage of the fact that our smartphones and computers are the virtual equivalent of The Library of Alexandria. We need to use them to educate ourselves towards a better future instead of trolling on social media, purchasing more things society claims we can't live without and believing everything we see on social media without question.

My advice is to stop relying on sound-bytes to teach you about the world. Do your own research beyond just a Wikipedia scan. Read the actual legal documents and study mentioned in any article instead of the writer's summary of it. When social media presents a professional as an authority on a given subject, check their background info to see if they are credible. Check the bibliographies in the back of the publications you read to learn where that viewpoint originated. And if you are unfamiliar with questioning news, start with this resource article from Tacoma Community College on how to fact-check until it becomes second nature to you.

Because in every era, one thing remains the same: 
Knowledge is power. 
Start utilizing yours. 


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