Take the Red Pill: when fake news rules the world, where can you turn for Truth?
When Elon Musk tweeted about the red pill a few weeks ago, it took me a few minutes to dust off the cobwebs from my memory. At the dawn of the new millennium, we were captured by the horrifying society in “The Matrix”. You may remember the scene where Neo is offered a choice between a blue and red pill by the rebel leader Morpheus. If he chooses the red pill, he will live in truth. If he chooses the blue pill, he will return to the beautiful mind prison of the matrix.
Like all good dystopias, the underlying ideas in this movie strike a cord that runs deep — rattles you, makes you a little nervous or uncomfortable. And it should. Dystopias are stories, but there has always been some truth that lies interwoven in the fabric of a dystopia and a society that teeters on the brink of self-destruction.
I’ve been thinking about Musk’s controversial tweet a lot lately. We are a deeply divided society that hides behind keyboards and memes. A society that makes sweeping generalizations about people and marks you with a huge red X or blue X based not on facts, but on impressions — the car you drive, your sex or race, or even something as trivial as your hair style. I am guilty of this, as well. We draw a huge line in the sand. You’re either with us or against us. When in reality, unless you are an extremist, you’re probably somewhere in the middle — waltzing a silent dance on that line, with a good solid mix of liberal and conservative ideologies. Afraid that if you speak up, you’ll be labeled. You can want a ban on glyphosate, renewable energy, and the enforcement of strict environmental restrictions, but also be pro-life… gasp! You can be all for strict gun control policies and want more competition in the schools and the allowance for charters to emerge. You can be against vaccine mandates and against the wall. You don’t have to Feel the Bern to be as cool as a blunt in a hippy peace circle. Gasp! and more gasp! And yet, here we are divided. Deeply, deeply divided. And we can thank the media for that.
The media is divided. You can watch conservative news or liberal news. But what happened to just NEWS? And these divided sources will move mountains to keep their viewership on opposite ends of their proverbial sand.
The news media has always cooked headlines for better readership and higher ratings. In the last decade, it has gotten especially bad. Relying on our swipe right mentality as a society to encompass the way we receive news as well. When I turn on my iPhone, I drag my finger from left to right and all of the latest news — according to Apple — appears on my phone. This is the way the “news” often gets distributed to people in our busy lives. We don’t have time to read full articles, so we skim a few headlines — maybe read one especially eye catching one. And those small tidbits of news — those click-bait headlines — bounce around in our mind; they stay with us as we move throughout our day. If we do read a full article, we are likely being fed an incredible amount of misinformation.
And that is dangerous. This is how they’ve won. They’ve beaten us, because of our impatience and our bull headed need to be right.
The coronavirus crisis spotlighted how ridiculous the news has become. Throughout the entire pandemic, it was difficult to get a straight understanding of how serious this disease really is. At first, I found it hard to buy into some of the concern regarding the coronavirus, because the media likes to use fear tactics to boost ratings. I said it many times over before things seemed more dire. I couldn’t trust them, and so I didn’t.
Later on, some states opened up too soon, others refused to reopen. People were left holding a scale between health and freedom. There were articles debunking conspiracies around microchipping and vaccines for coronavirus, and others that showed how wary many people are about getting a vaccine when it’s available. It felt very much like politics controlled science. Articles about how deadly hydroxychloroquine is, articles praising it as the next best thing, and articles about scientists who just wanted to know the damn truth. You could be arrested for going to work or sitting at a beach, because that is too dangerous amidst the pandemic. However, gathering en masse on the streets, regardless of how justified the cause, was totally and completely acceptable. On a single social media forum, you could pinpoint which commenters listen to Fox and which listen to CNN just based on their regurgitated “facts.”
During the recent protests and riots, some news sources are reporting on the necessity of the rioting, others on destruction. Some on the ANTIFA groups who are trying to discredit the whole operation. Articles that police did use tear gas on peaceful protestors, news that they didn’t. There have been facts that have been completely omitted from the news on both sides, and you only find these facts, if you read all the different reporting and try to weed through the spin. Who has time for that? No one does. So you just believe what you believe based on whatever news source you’re listening to.
The confusion and hypocrisy to fit agendas has become insurmountable. And, it leaves me wondering what are they trying to do? Credible news sources have had headlines that contradict themselves over and over, that now it’s truly hard to miss the inaccuracies… the holes in the web of deceit. The media has produced so much gaslighting in the last three months that it feels very much like a Hail Mary, the grand finale firework show in an election year — where they hope you get so lost in the smoke that you cannot see the truth. The truth… whatever that even is! Is Pilate’s folly, “What is Truth?” to be forever our absurdity as well?
Fake news runs rampant. The term fake news is so popular that my four and a half year old says it — and says it accurately. Why is that? Is it because, honestly, most news isn’t credible anymore. Reliable journalism is hard to come by these days. There’s spin and agenda in everything you read. Where do we turn for the truth? You ask a conservative, they’ll tell you Fox; a liberal, will tell you CNN; and someone, like me, who’s somewhere in the middle will say, NPR. But, how can you really trust any of them for “the news?” Do you feel that shift… the one that tells you something isn’t right? It moves beyond weird conspiracy and into the reality that it’s not.
That red pill is a mindset… it’s waiting for us to wake up and realize that the line in the sand was drawn by our own minds — minds that have been hijacked and fed poison about The Other. Mine included. So wake up in reality! We can turn to the truth. The truth lies in the correction of our own minds. I am not your enemy. You are not my enemy. Our neighbors are not the enemy. Those who are dead set on divisiveness are… they are traitors, treacherous — dangerous to the very fabric of our democratic republic.
Abe Lincoln said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Let’s stop, pause and take a minute to reflect on who is trying to tear us down. Who is trying to divide us. We are Americans. Stop the war within our own walls… within our own minds. Stop the name calling, the fear, the hate. Stop looking for a savior in red or blue. You won’t find one there. Stand with me against the divide— for unity, for liberty, for domestic Tranquility… for the people.