My conflict with conflict

brain-cleanse

Among the great and mighty rules that fledgling novelists and screenwriters learn is to fill their work with conflict. It is so baked into the bread of a writer’s life that this rule is rarely questioned, nor is this devotion to conflict recognized as a major contributor to massive social misery.

Whenever I walk into my neighborhood Costco, I get a brief yet palpable feeling of sadness when I see the line-up of TVs for sale. I have come to view TV as dispensers of bad news, which is to say, constant conflict. If the content that we put into our brains is mind food, then the high-definition TVs that we work into our living spaces act like junk food that may lead to mind poisoning.

We pay for the beautiful TVs and their glorious high-def pictures. We pay for the cable or satellite or subscription services that feed us mind food. Ultimately, without our being consciously aware of it, we may pay for it with our mental health, too.

I don’t think that many people have stopped to wonder what this saturation of media exposure is doing to our consciousness, both individually and collectively. TV is so ubiquitous to our culture as are movies and books that feature conflict (as the majority do) that we think of it as normal. We gorge on this stuff.

I come from the first generation that grew up with TV, the Boomers. Yet while most families had TVs, life was still fairly balanced with other activities. Boomers can remember a life before the saturation of computers, smartphones, Google, etc. From that vantage point, we can see more of the arc of social change that technology has created.

We can see how much more in your face conflict is because of the gadgetry that delivers it.

 KNOW WHEN YOU’RE HOOKED

Sometimes when I go about my everyday business, I realize that I am being influenced by old stories of conflict. Let’s say that I go to a rustic park for a relaxing hike in the woods. Out of nowhere, I start wondering what could go wrong. Is someone waiting down the trail to mug me? Will I slip and fall and need help? Will some wild animal attack me? My mind seems to preview everything that could possibly go wrong, most of it based on stories of other people’s rotten experiences in the woods.

Last fall I drove myself from Oregon to Arizona via Idaho and Utah. I took many roads spontaneously, and especially when driving through Nevada, I found myself more out in the middle of nowhere than ever in memory. I chuckled when I saw that Highway 50 is known as the Loneliest Highway in the US. I believe it! But what struck me the most was how many times during my crossing of the wasteland did I wonder what would happen to me if my car broke down and there was no cell phone service. It was a thought I could not get out of my head no matter how many different songs I played.

Why do I automatically start thinking of all the things that could go wrong? Is it that in all of the stories I have ingested over my years of living, things go wrong all the time? Things going wrong is part of the formula. Was I born to be so fearful, or have I been conditioned after hearing so many stories about problems people encounter. I am not describing a phobia or a mental health condition. Rather, I am describing an awareness of tendencies of thinking and where those tendencies have come from.

The conflicts do not have to be life threatening or horror story fodder. Most of my life does not involve life-threatening situations. It could be something like being afraid to share an opinion for (a conditioned) fear of insulting, offending, or riling someone. That fear could come from having just seen a movie or read a book where someone got into deep doo-doo for expressing an unpopular opinion, such as authors a few generations ago who got imprisoned because they wrote things said to “excite lewd thoughts.”

It could be a fear of consulting a doctor, lawyer, therapist, contractor, or sales person because I had just been exposed to disaster story after disaster story about how some so-called professional abused a client. No, these fears don’t usually keep me from taking an action, and yet there is brain residue from dealing with all the distrust that has come to my consciousness from an external source.

Think about it. Think about how many stories you get exposed to hour after hour, day after day, that graphically illustrate conflict. Think of how many times you become outraged, hurt, or afraid as your first response to a story, even if you can intellectually steady the rocking boat. The story can be either fiction or peddled as non-fiction. The truth is that non-fiction stories, perhaps based on true events, are created using dramatic story-telling techniques aimed at hooking your emotions so you’ll keep watching or reading.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

I have been thinking about the popularity of conspiracy theories, many of which suggest that Big Government, Big Business, and even Big Illuminati actually control life for the rest of us. They are always doing rotten things to enslave us peons to do their bidding while they bask in the wealth of anything money can buy.

An issue I see with conspiracy theories is that we seem to burn up a lot of energy attempting to solve the riddles rather than working to solve the issues. Did some part of the US Government plan 9/11? Is some tippy-top-secret agency hiding UFO news? Is Monsanto poisoning everybody? For that matter, what about Big Pharma?

Conspiracy theories, which at their core are conflict stories, goad us into fear. They are staples of any media entity in the business of attracting viewers, readers, clickers. The game now is to mislead people with dramatic techniques so they’ll pay attention. Day by day, hour after hour, people are being tempted to turn their attention to stories of conflict, many of which turn out to be manufactured gotchas!

I think that the importance of this is recognizing how we handle real conflicts that affect us personally. How many ordinary people are unconsciously taking the lead from the media and are themselves parroting these conflict strategies? How many people are making up their own conspiracy theories because this is what the media by example has taught them to do?

My Facebook feed has become a parade of nightmare scenarios about calamity. Between all the clickbait (misleading headlines that beckon clicking on the link), sob stories, and rants, Facebook has become the new National Enquirer.

BOOKBUB

I subscribe to Bookbub, an ebook service that offers cheap prices on selected ebooks. Every day in my email I get an announcement about books on sale. They come with a brief description. When I look at these blurbs day after day, I see so much written about conflict. It indicates to me how much we thrive on it.

For example, there is this: “This rich saga traces the rise and fall of the Malacouti family as they face betrayal, ambition, and a painful choice in the early 20th century. ‘A riveting portrait of family strife’ (People).”

And under that one, this one: “In this richly textured novel set against the Bangladesh War of Independence, a young Pakistani widow, Rehana, strives to keep her family safe from the chaos that surrounds her. ‘An immersive, wrenching narrative’ (Publishers Weekly starred review).”

And then: After a serial killer escapes from a mental hospital to hunt down psychic Laura Adderley, can reporter Harrison Frost get to the bottom of the real story?

We don’t seem to see immersive, wrenching narratives about yummy stuff.

“An epic saga of friendship where neighbors band together to assist one another in living the good life. ‘A riveting portrait of cooperation that raises the bar on fulfillment’ (Publishers Weekly)

“Just when Sandra thought she could take not another moment of ecstasy, she discovers that she can. ‘An eye-opening narrative on cosmic pleasure’ (People)

Even when books work their way to happily triumphant endings, the fact is that by design we’re still forced by the conventions of story-telling to go through the long and winding road of turmoil. We’ve apparently decided that conflict is more riveting than solution.

FINDING THE FLIP SIDE

Certainly fear and skepticism have their places in our lives, and being prepared is always good. Yet I wonder what would happen to society as a whole if we did not cultivate so much doubt and dread, shock and awe as a normal business practice. In the end, would it create a healthier climate, or would it create a society of happy munchkins vulnerable to attack from any wicked witch flying by the neighborhood?

I like to nurture my mind. I’ve noticed that finding media that do not pander so eagerly to the conflict formula is a challenge. Inspirational, positive, solution-based media fare that feeds hope, love, and optimism is in relatively short supply. You can always find it if you specifically search for it, but there is a tsunami of conflict to deal with by contrast.

In times of personal struggle, it is good to have access to positive media. When I feel lonely, depressed, discouraged, or frustrated, I like to responsibly heal myself, a task made more challenging if I can’t find healthy input.

I believe that overexposure to messages of conflict is creating unnecessary turmoil. Garbage in, garbage out. There is so much mental cruelty being perpetrated in our information and entertainment media that I personally am not too surprised by all the violence in the world. Cause and effect seems pretty plain to me.

Often I like to fantasize about societies either in our future or on some other planet entirely where people grow up not so bombarded with messages of conflict. Maybe they grow up in a totally love-positive world where a tribe mentality dictates that no one should feel abandoned, no violence necessary, and cooperation is more important than competition. What would life be like in that world? What kind of problems would be eliminated from today’s normalcy if a few generations grew up with brains not filled with such a heavy influence of fear, violence, and losing?

BECOME AWARE

Don’t take my word for it. Pay attention to what media mind food you ingest. Become aware of the messages of conflict streaming into your psyche. Once you begin to notice how people are selling you conflict, you might become more motivated to watch what your brain eats.

 

The news opera

ScareguyIf you spend much time watching — and being scared by — the news, it’s essential to your sanity that you understand something.

The news is not sacred. The news isn’t even real. If you depend on the news to give you a heightened-consciousness view of the world, forget it. News is primarily show business. Its aim is economic — to deliver an audience to sponsors.

Many people have realized that news, as defined by what the new covers, is mostly bad. Shit at 11. World Shit Tonight. Nightly Shit. 6 O’clock Shit.

“Good evening. In the top of today’s shit pile, …”

And that’s because we as a society have allowed news to be defined as bad stuff. We are just as complicit in this system as are the providers. They deal us the drugs and we continue to buy them.

NEWS OPERA

Maybe at one time the news was more objective, but these days, that premise gets mighty iffy. Now it is soap opera designed to deliver viewers to advertisers with techniques derived from drama.

The moment a news broadcast begins, professional attention-getters leap into action attempting to hook you, the viewer, into hanging on and staying around. They do this with teasers, which now is a combination of video clips and pithy headline remarks. All that is packaged in glitzy computer graphics to make the whole thing look like a big, fun-to-play video game.

Prove me wrong. The focus is on negative drama — the festering conflict.

The retort from the news pros is always, “We don’t make up the news. We just report it.”

Many of us are trained to shrug our shoulders and say, “Yeah, OK. Point taken. Show us another murder then.”

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNIHILATION

Traditional broadcast TV used to be focused on something called public service. A certain portion of the broadcast day had to be devoted to public service programming. The news was part of that mix. News often didn’t make a profit in the early days of TV. It was a resource drain. It was dry. They only had film, no video tape, and the guy just read the news to us.

That has all changed. Broadcasters figured out that news could become a profit center if it were run more like drama. Being a profit center meant teasing and trapping viewers, boosting ratings, and delivering the crowd to advertisers who are paying for all this shit.

The news is the practice of scaring the crap out of us in a socially acceptable way. It’s a parade of train wrecks — that’s metaphorical unless they are “lucky” enough to score a real one.

Watching the news is sitting there like a zombie (which is also what you do when you are being hypnotized, just in case you never made that connection) while you’re being fed stories of conflict. Besides that, you have to suffer through a barrage of fear-mongering commercials, many of which are mini-horror flicks imagineered to upset you.

Some people appear to be waking up to this condition and are not watching the news anymore. They see the news as tease, lure, fright, dread, analysis, thank you.

I heard from a Facebook friend who said that her husband, recently treated for depression, had “watched A LOT of CNN …. but stopped a few weeks ago. He said he suddenly noticed just how negative it is.”

NEWS AS ILLUSION

How can news be illusion if it is all about facts? Isn’t seeing believing?

This is actually a complex question with many different veins of explorations to follow. The bottom line for me is that if you watch a ton of news, you get a very distorted, unbalanced perspective of reality. The stories might be real, but the balance is off-kilter.

This is similar to how porn is a very distorted, unbalanced perspective of happy human sexuality. It’s sort of real but nevertheless selective and formulated in what it shows.

The news could feature a balanced spectrum of solutions if it truly were about public service; the norm now is that the news gushes with the worst of everything. I yearn for the day when the News Director will say, “Let’s focus on positive solutions to the real problems facing humanity.”

DEFINITION OF NEWS

So is the news actually supposed to be a sewer documentary?

I look at my own world. I have done bunches of reading and personal research on near-death experiences and after-death communication. I have talked with people who say they “died” and experienced alternate realities. They are fully convinced that their brains didn’t make this up, and many have made dramatic post-NDE personality shifts.

As it is currently presented, the news rarely goes there. They’re wildly happy to cover fatalities but loathe to consider what happens after death. They’re wildly happy to cover shit, but are they willing to turn it into fertilizer in the form of stories that help us all heal social ills?

Just sayin’.

People seeking answers these days are leaving mainstream broadcasting and choosing YouTube, Netflix, and similar venues. They know that by searching online they’ll find topics traditional news ignores.

Understandably, skeptics as well as news providers point to science as to why the nature of death is not speculated on in the news. Maybe so, but that does not explain why the news needs to portray death and disaster with such sideshow drama — unless it’s about making money.

BIG CONSPIRACY?

I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories. I don’t think that the Media Monster is out to enslave us—even if that does prove to be true! I believe that this is just how the media organically evolved when it was unleashed into the mainstream as a moneymaking enterprise. For people in the media, this is their job. This is how they feed, clothe, and house their families. It’s the American way.

I still think it is ruining the consciousness of the planetary community by flooding us with negative stories dramatically rendered, but I don’t see conspiracy.

MIND YOUR MENTAL DIET

Ask yourself what is the value of learning about all the discord in the world — especially when it is clearly not being balanced with solutions.

If you are really into the news, take a day and watch it mindfully. View it defensively. Reflect on how your attention gets grabbed and by what? Watch what hooks you emotionally. Study the techniques they’re using. Considering that passive televiewing is a form of hypnosis, or works similarly, are you pleased with all the conflict, stress, and strife you are feeding your unconscious mind?

You might also reflect on this: what do you get from the news that you really need to know? Could you get that from another source? Are you really being served?

Remember, we are talking about your mind, your emotional well-being, your life.

THE MOOD-O-METER TEST

Here is a fun experiment: Compare the “news” you watch to places like ted.com. Do a day, a week, a month.  See which one is performing a better public service. See which one makes you feel more like living and thriving, more like engaging and joining with others.

If you normally watch a half hour of news, watch a half-hour of speeches on ted.com. See if it makes you feel different.

I guess it’s not a closely guarded secret which one floats my boat more.

The news is not the high road. It is not currently the solution. It may actually be much more the problem since all it does is rifle viewers with messages and visions of ain’t-it-awful?

Mind your mental diet. Learn how to monitor what kind of consciousness you are feeding your brain. Feed it good stuff.

Loneliness in media

loneliness

Watch out for what you’re watching!

In our mass media culture, loneliness is a cookie cutter stereotype. In the movies it usually filters down to someone who doesn’t make muster in the popularity game. They rarely get asked out or if they are the one asking, they frequently suffer rejection, often in a cruel way.

Their issue might be their odd looks (remember Powder?) or a personality too quirky for mainstream acceptability. Ironically, this frequently makes them interesting as movie characters but in movie reality they often suffer the brutalities of ego warfare.

The stereotype is that being lonely is the sign of personal failure and crippling ineptitude. Loners are dorks. Might as well tattoo a scarlet letter on their foreheads to warn everybody of the cootie potential residing therein.

The way society responds to loneliness is often borne out in the term lonely hearts, as in lonely hearts club. This usually translates as Lonely Losers Club. If you look at how movies portray a lonely heart’s situation, it is usually to emphasize their quirky natures as of to say, “This is why s/he’s lonely.”

In our society, loneliness also translates as being a major indicator that someone is harboring visions of becoming a psychopathic serial killer. They’re lonely. They’re loners. No one loves them. So they finally wig out and kill people to display their rage at a loveless society—and capture some fame in a society that rewards its killers with massive amounts of attention.

OUR ADDICTION TO SUFFERING

If you’re lonely, you probably watch a lot of movies. I do. And what I see is that the movies like to portray life’s shitty side. Movie, TV, and computer screens everywhere are filled with endless tours of angst. Even when there is a happy ending and ultimate success, which is supposed to make up for all the shit crammed down a character’s (and the viewer’s) throat, ostensibly to lead to a more emotionally fulfilling punch at the end, on balance it’s still a case of everything that can go wrong probably will.

The unmistakable conclusion I make to all of this is that as a society, we have an emotional shit fetish. We’re addicted to violence, conflict, and, well, shit. Markets respond to fetishes because that’s where the customers and their dollars are. If there wasn’t a demand for it, there would be no economic incentive to keep pumping it out.

I can easily see a world where we imagine and explore solutions more than expose problems. I can see a world where our stories explore the world as we want to see it be—the proverbial heaven on earth—than further exploit what’s wrong with it. We could show more of what’s possible and less of what’s shitty.

Barack Obama rode the wave of hope and change to office because people were so hungry for an optimistic vision. It’s that same force field of human desire that could be tapped into to envision a more loving, caring society. Right now people have a huge preponderance of the bad to imitate. It’s so easy to find shit to watch. Hard to get away from it. But finding visionary and solution-oriented material to be inspired by?

BOTTOM LINE

The bottom line is that most depictions one will see of loneliness highlights suffering and failure. It means if you’re lonely you stand a good chance of taking on aspects of the negative stereotypes. (“I am lonely, therefore, I must be a failure.”) That adds to the existing burden of feeling isolated and often unloved.

I would love to see some major changes to how we do things. One would be to create more resources for people to find positive solutions to problems. Another would be for our entertainment media to produce positive visionary material. The third would be to evolve ways for people to help people deal with social situations like isolation and exclusion.

The vision of this site is to help in some small way by somehow fostering networking where people can find and assist others. The ultimate aim is creating solutions.