Are you one of those who despise, detest or otherwise dislike the kind of crap that’s being dished out in the name of ‘news’ by media? Are you increasingly nervous about discussing politics—especially issues related to Modi and Trump and Brexit and Kashmir and Iran and Triple Talaq and Article 370—because people, even people you know well, fly into a rage at the drop of a secular hat or communal topi?
If so, I’m like you.
I’m scared of the growing intolerance among people. I deeply distrust and often loathe the news that I get via media – meaning all media, including social media.
I see a sinister connection.
That’s why I’m writing this Fèihuà (Chinese: bullshit – click here to know how to say it]
But first, I have a confession to make. Despite my aversion to and distrust of media, I follow media news, daily and avidly, sometimes even with immense amusement.
Each day, I spend between 30 minutes and an hour surfing through a variety of TV news channels, English and Hindi, in no particular order (feel free to gasp in horror): channels like Wion, Times Now, Republic TV, Aaj Tak, Rajya Sabha TV, DD News, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera come to mind.
Experience has taught me that spending anything more than an hour on these news channels is as pleasant as swallowing 10 ml of strong ammonia solution; which incidentally I actually did when in school (for details on symptoms, please click here). It probably explains why I still find a lot of things difficult to swallow; especially in the media.
Oh, and I also glance through the following online papers/magazines at least once each a week: Newslaundry, The Wire, Quint, and Dawn (Pakistan). I also get two daily newspapers—Indian Express and Times of India—on which I spend a maximum of 30 minutes before turning to the Sudoku in the former which takes me anything between 5 minutes and forever. I read select WhatsApp forwards from select friends; I do not exist on Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media platforms.
Blanch in horror you well might, precious reader; but I inflict this media bombardment on myself for two reasons:
- I recognize that I need the media to know what’s going in the world—because the world is too big and there’s too much happening too fast everywhere for me to experience and understand personally. But I simply refuse to take the easy, lazy way out and depend on just one media source for news, or on friends to tell me the news. I believe no media source is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth; yet every media house is perforce putting out bits of truth at the behest of its corporate/political paymasters because it knows that even a semi-literate bakra like me will not swallow pure lies. In this situation, with so many scattered locations of what are at best ‘bits of truth’, the closest I can get to know the whole truth is to make the effort to sift and scan through every shade of media—from the deceitful extreme Left to the deceitful extreme Right, from pro-CPM through pro-Congress to pro-BJP, from capitalist to communist, pro-Islamic kook to pro-Hindutva kook via pro-Christian kook, from ultra-conservative to neo-liberal—to identify these truth-bits and put them together like pieces of a jigsaw. Without prejudice, without pre-conceived notions, with as much balance as I can summon up in what’s left of my deranged mind. In doing this I have complete faith in my own discerning power to tell truth from lie, right from wrong; yet I remain aware that I can make mistakes, and I try and stay alert for traps.
- I enjoy taking potshots at the media for brazenly partisan or false reportage, so it’s important for me to know the various varieties of ng’ombe (Swahili: bullshit) that the media is manufacturing and selling me in the name of news. Only with this knowledge can I develop my own superior varieties of ng’ombe to counter their assault.
It’s not easy absorbing and sifting through so much multimedia garbage daily; it’s not always pleasant. I know it’s probably futile, and you’re welcome to laugh at me, but still I keep at it— like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the mountain, knowing it’s only going to roll down again. I keep at it because I think this is the only way I can remain – and maybe even crawl along – the top of the slippery, ever-narrowing Wall of Balance that runs between the two great Chasms of Choice that define today’s world.
That’s the thing: everything has become ‘binary’ – have you noticed?
I feel pressurized to choose, all the time, between great extremes, stark opposites. I feel driven to take radical positions on all kinds of issues and ideas and events and things about which I know little and have little or no personal experience on, issues that really have no bearing on my daily life, but that seem to have somehow become incredibly important for me, and every person on the planet, to have and to express very strong views on: political views, religious beliefs, ideologies, causes, calls to war.
And often I feel this pressure too: other people, not just media-folk, are always trying to CONVERT me to their view(s).
And such is the pressure to opine, so immense the flow and intensity of information that batters me, so compelling its power, that there’s no time to think – leave alone reflect. I’m asked to choose at once. Choose NOW. At every step, every turn, I am being pressurized to choose between binaries: between extremes of opinion, world-view.
Choose—and be judged. Choose—and be rewarded by group acceptance, or condemned by social isolation.
Choose between binaries like: Love Modi vs.Hate Modi. Love Rahul vs. hate Rahul. Bhakt vs. Tukde Tukde Wallah. Left—Right. Majority—Minority. Brahmin—OBC. Hindi—Tamil. White–Black. Us–Them. Blah–Blah.
Thus far, I’ve managed to gasp “Thloh!” or “Eff Off!” at the Spiders, and those who quote them, without giving in to the pressure of choosing; without becoming a groupie – a bleating Animal Farm sheep, whether of this flock or that. Thus far, I’ve not alienated friends.
But I’m getting weary, I’m feeling more and more alone.
And I’m writing this because I’m also increasingly alarmed. I notice that people I’ve known for years and decades, wonderful loving people, young and old, are succumbing and becoming sheep; impatient and angry sheep, intolerant and abusive sheep, narrow-minded sheep. They follow cheer-leaders (bleat-leaders?); they echo the crowd; they parrot the safe slogans, the politically correct spiel. It doesn’t take much gentle conversation to reveal that they don’t make the effort to read and research and reflect and work things out on their own.
They don’t have the self-confidence any more. The self-confidence to swim against the tide; to be individual, unique.
I’ve said this before: I believe the information maelstrom on every issue, every subject, every topic, is designed to sap our individuality, our self-confidence; to addle our minds so that we respond like digital switches. ON-OFF. And that’s why, I believe, the whole world is becoming more and more impatient, more radical in opinions, more intolerant of differences.
O noble reader, I do believe every media house everywhere in the world runs on a business strategy that is even more simple, powerful, effective and sustainable than the age-old strategy followed by the shrewd paanwallah who blends a little opium into his qiwam (kimam).
For the paanwallah, I, you, all of us, are loyal clients to be hooked…and to stay hooked on his paan alone for the rest of our paan-eating lives.
Easy way to escape: don’t start eating paan.
But in the Web of Pseudo Reality woven by today’s marketing–advertising–media (MAM) Spiders, using artificial intelligence and Big Data and Allah and Rama and Jesus and Marx knows what other psychometric and information technology tools, we are already hooked, already trapped and secured.
We are a billion little flies in the Web. Flies with brains (sure, go ahead and laugh, I know that leaves me out…I wish). Flies that can make choices.
Our minds are trapped in the Web; the Spiders have painstakingly (lovingly?) wrapped us up in translucent pouches woven from silky-soft strands of psyche that define our personalities, our attitudes and emotions, our responses to stimuli—a thousand and more strands of our own private selves that we have so openly, so eagerly and thoughtlessly placed in public domain over the years. Our Facebook and Instagram profiles, our Likes and Dislikes, our Twitter and Snapchat and WhatsApp groups and follower lists and forwarding patterns, our responses to countless seemingly trivial online tests and surveys, our Google searches, YouTube and Netflix watch-lists, reading habits, patterns of travelling, shopping, eating-out, entertainment…
Easy way to escape: none. [But for a while you can try screaming “Thoh”! “Eff Off!” and suchlike.]
And the Spiders now feed on our naked minds, for they can better predict and measure our responses to different stimuli, our behaviour in different circumstances. The Spiders use our minds as testing grounds for innovative propaganda ideas and actions on behalf of their transnational political–corporate–religious–criminal–terrorist clients.
That’s why for us, the flies in the Web of MAM, every day is becoming like every other day—a long, blurry, endless series of frenzied jumps from one stressful decision to another, one crisis to another, one worry to another, with no time to think or rest or reflect. Only the Products of the Day change; only the Products of the Day dominate our conversations when we meet; and each of us must make a YES-NO choice in regard to each Product each day. There is no place for neutrality, moderation, no room for a third way, a middle path…and a pall of dread hangs over the very idea of choosing not to choose. I am made to feel I must choose, one way or the other…or be condemned to the pseudo-death of total social isolation.
And what are these Products of the Day?
You guessed it: Love Modi vs.Hate Modi. Love Rahul vs. hate Rahul. Bhakt vs. Tukde Tukde Wallah. Left—Right. Majority—Minority. Brahmin—OBC. Hindi—Tamil. White–Black. Us–Them…ad nauseum, ads and advertorials nauseum.
So it is that sooner or later, you and I will succumb to making a choice without hesitation. Without thought. To respond instantly and ferociously to just about anything and everything, however trivial, however important.
And as my progressive choices help the Spiders categorize me and adjust their individualized Product presentations accordingly, I easily, almost unconsciously, adopt a certain narrative; a certain ideology; a certain world-view. I won’t even know that my mind is trapped and my vision clouded. On the contrary, I will continue to think that I’m broad-minded, sober, independent, unbiased; that I am right, WE are right. And I will eagerly try and convert others to my view — because there is comfort in numbers, there is less fear of being socially isolated.
And the sheer beauty, the sheer horror of it all is, my short-term memory becomes shorter and shorter till it dwindles to nothingness. And because this is happening to everybody, I can switch my opinions, my stand on issues, my entire world-view, 180° overnight – or even within an hour —without my feeling in the least bit guilty or ashamed about being hypocritical or deceitful or unprincipled. And without anyone even noticing.
“In the Realm of Subliminal Consciousness, Conscience withers… and Memory dies” – Bakasura the Great, 2477 BCE
I know there’s no escape from the Web while I live. The sleepless Spiders watch; they see all, know all.
So long as I have ever used the Net (and I started 20 years ago), so long as I have a mobile phone, so long as I use any social media platform, so long as I use credit cards and debit cards and passports, I am naked before the cold, clinically efficient, half-machine half-human million-eyed monsters that are the Spiders of MAM.
Even if I fling my phone away, shoot my TV set (and cable operator with it), burn my credit cards and de-register from all social media, I will be as free as a butterfly impaled by a sharp pin on wax paper.
If you don’t believe me, watch this TED talk to learn how and why the entire Brexit farce-turned-horror of June 2016 was orchestrated by a Spider named Cambridge Analytica and Facebook et al … leaving the peoples of Britain, and indeed the EU, still grappling with the aftermath in August 2019. Watch this TED talk to understand why, and how easily, Russia and Cambridge Analytica manipulated the entire American electorate to turn against Hillary Clinton and vote for Trump as President. If you want a detailed account of all this and much more, watch ‘The Great Hack’ (it’s on Netflix; here is a trailer.)
You might think: “Arre boss, this is all about USA and Britain, what’s it all got to do with India that is Bharat, hahn jee?”
Well…check out how the same Spider—Cambridge Analytica—was wooed by our very own Indian National Congress and possibly other political parties to help win Lok Sabha elections: [click here]
Of course, gentle reader, as soon as you visit any or all of these links, the ‘data points’ that define your existing electronic psycho-profile will instantly be updated and suitably modified by the Spiders on countless databases in unknown locations on the Web of MAM…
And then you will wait, as I do.
You and I wait, secure and comfortably numb in our own little silken pouches in the great Web …we wait for the next Spider, the next brain-numbing stab of e-heroin that always marks the start of the next Product of the Day campaign…
But don’t worry: we’ll have forgotten the pain, and the very memory of today, by tomorrow.