vol. 2 issue 21
In this issue, is it fake news or is it a story?
The building blocks:
*Brainwashed or awake?
*My story: what fighting Wells Fargo didn’t teach me but should have
*The difference between fake news and storytelling
*A list of independent publishers to help deconstruct the news
Couple a’ things. First of all, for the reader who claims my rejection of extreme Capitalism and of this administration is due to my having been brainwashed by the media, as I will politely sum up the comments, that’s messed up and I am uninterested in engaging in this topic anymore. Conversations are one thing, and I enjoy those. Being harangued is another and I won’t abide it. I am no longer brainwashed. That’s the reality. And more than that, rather than try to keep a death cult going, I have set my sights on the future.
Future forward thinking for me is really only possible because through the investigations, the interviews, and the critical thinking I have done as publisher of docu-mental, I finally can see how deeply mind-screwed I have been and in need of de-cultifying of the lies and puffery that constitute the American Dream blown down our throats by the Republicans – and too many Democrats! – who have not only done nothing to protect this country from its democracy being starved of oxygen, but have and are currently seeking to keep their foot on our collective throats by way of choking democracy of its final breath.
Voter suppression; propping up a deranged individual who is hatcheting our justice system and turning it against the public; handing over trillions of stimulus money to a fistful of greedy men who have no interest in helping the soon-to-be 20% of the country’s unemployed; and I could go on, but…since you’ve made it clear you are right and I am wrong, and that your righteousness gives you super powers over any questions I might ask, you do you.
Meanwhile, this weekend, something floated to the top of my consciousness that I had forgotten. It’s this quote from the late and amazingly insightful comedian George Carlin: “They call it the American Dream because you’d have to be asleep to believe it.”
What hurts is that I saw his act and thought it was funny a decade ago, but didn’t understand that I was one of the victims he was warning was being victimized. There I was, “Hahaha, we’re owned by a fistful of elites, hahaha. Sure feels that way, hahaha.” But I really did want to believe otherwise. Why not? Because I was accustomed to being a good little girl, who has always done as instructed and who wanted very much to believe in heroes and the rightness of my privilege as an American citizen.
Then in 2011, I got roped into a nearly 4-year long nightmare where I had to fight Wells F*cking Fargo for my good name they were destroying through their now well-documented corrupt and immoral practices.
I had sold my home in one day only to find that there was a lien against the deed I couldn’t clear until I could find the number of the loan it was attached to that, gosh, no one could seem to find. It apparently wasn’t the one on the bill I’d been paying. What the hell? It was critical I get this resolved because I had taken a job in another state.
But, no one cared. I only started to get traction when by fluke I found out I knew someone in the top office, someone from high school. Even then, it took another 18 months.
For months, it was my part-time job. There were some weeks where I spent upwards of 20 hours trying to free myself from this Kafkaesque nightmare where too many times I had to start all over with “requisite” paperwork I am convinced was thrown in the trash every time it arrived on someone’s desk. “We’re sorry to inform you, it has been misplaced.” I was told that. Numerous times.
There were really just two things that got me through. The first was having a boss whose credo was “never go to hell for things you do at work”, and so who let me have the time I needed when I needed it, so long as my work got done, and most important, who let me delay my arrival in the office I’d actually been hired to work from.
And the second was my fury.
As I told you last week, I am not built for anger, but I will carry an ember of outrage in my chest until justice is served.
In the end, the lien remained because no one knew the account number of the loan attached to the lien. All anyone could say for sure was that WFF had bought the home equity loan from another bank, not the one where it originated. Without the number, they could not discharge the loan.
My “victory” was that I got WFF to take my property, which sucked for my neighbors because no one wants a bank owned property on their streeet, but I avoided foreclosure. I doubt it mattered at all to them.
When it comes to injustice, I am tougher than leather and there is no way I can ever describe in words the rage I felt at having anonymous people at a faceless company that I never personally entered into a business agreement with carelessly ruining my life, which was what they were doing without a care in the world about it.
I remain outraged to this day that what Wells F. Fargo was able to do to me was even possible in the first place, but it was because of the economic policies and the people who put them there that it was. I still wonder how many suicides, heart attacks, divorces, and other calamities these ass hats are responsible for having precipitated.
And yet, even my WFF experience, which included countless humiliating hours speaking to uninterested “customer service representatives”, lawyers, and accountants, not to mention sleepless nights, anxiety, and fear, not even any of this could de-cultify me of the truth and goodness that I wanted to believe was the American Dream.
Some people close to me didn’t want to stop believing in it either. They could not believe that a bank would do this kind of thing. “It would be bad for business,” I was told. Except it was never about business, it was about the bank executives having created a culture of self-serving and self-dealing. My needs were never a part of their bottom line equation.
The point is, we can be so in the thrall of the American Dream we might choose its sanctity over the facts of how it is being used to destroy the ones we love right before our very eyes.
It took years to absorb the extent of this attack on my freedom for me to be able to calmly consider what had happened. Then, through asking questions, coming up with theories and then trying them out, probing the body of my American life experience using my “five states of mind”, trademarking my desire to “create herd immunity to anxiety and depression ™” only then could I truly conclude that my experience was no fluke and that the pain we Americans feel is real and is inflicted by greedy minds.
That’s why we have the man in the White House we have: as extreme as his behavior is, he is the natural – the ONLY possible – conclusion of the lie that purports that a hierarchical system of elites running a game of extreme, unfettered, unregulated Capitalism can endlessly consume everything without also eventually consuming our good will, our goodness, our minds, our freedom, ourselves. When all the goodies are gone, what else is left but us?
Whether or not the president is mentally ill is absolutely not the right question. The mentally ill ones are the sadistic, tiny-hearted, lying weirdsmobiles who are working their sick black magic to keep him in power.
The right question is whether we will wake up to how we have allowed ourselves to be hypnotized into accepting our freedom cages designed by these monsters. Then, once woken up to this fact, we need to ask ourselves what we are willing to do about it. If we don’t act soon enough, our only options will be apathy or violence.
We don’t have a Hitler on our hands because he appeared out of nowhere and bullied his way in. The Nazis called him to them from where they were already standing on Capitol Hill and Wall Street. That’s how he got here, and that’s how he has stayed put so far. He is not actually the problem, the system and its acolytes are. It’s dangerous to believe otherwise. If we don’t make ourselves wake up from this deadly nightmare, these sinister creepshows will just call in another monster madman.
Now, for those of us who are willing to test our truths rather than insist upon them, on to the second thing. The way that we wake up, the way we break down the prison bars of our cultified minds and create something new with our liberation is to engage in critical thinking, to dispense with that old story, the American Dream. And that means it’s time to grow up, folks. No more good little children. If you’re offended by that, please read on and I will explain what it all has to do with perceiving fake news as opposed to a good story.
But first, if we’re going to be in possession of our own minds, we have to end our addiction to being told what to do, how to think, and how to behave. It starts with kicking our addiction to the media, in particular the kinds that talk us to sleep as does cable news. As Carlin astutely observed, it’s all part of the dream machinery.
You might not consider yourself addicted to the media, but it’s hard not to be. Because we are human beings, we depend upon stories for our sense of belonging, the more dramatic the better. Our brains are wired for story, as numerous studies and the preponderance of books sold worldwide, prove time and again.
As a shrewd literary activist friend pointed out to me recently, that is how the cable news even stays on the air: creating, re-creating, populating, and telling dramatic storylines that have a villain, a hero, and a series of interesting plot developments. Notice I didn’t list that their business model is primarily to “inform you”. Cable news “shapes you” maybe, but just like my needs not being essential to the bottom line of the bank, informing us is actually not paramount to the bottom line of television news networks.
Even historical movies have to say that they are “based on a true story.” The drama gets zhuzhed up to ensure the story sustains our interest. We don’t mind because we like being told a good story with a moral and a map for a possible way to approach life. We also crave the opportunity to feel bonded to other humans through the emotions generated by the story.
The problem with this is that when stories become larger than life, they become epics, and the hallmark of an epic is not nuance. It’s epicness! With heroes! And antiheroes! And if you want one set of heroes and not another, you know which storytelling channel to turn on. My head is starting to hurt from the noise inside my mind created from just telling you about it!!!!!!!!!
All we really need from the news is simple information to better execute the range of mundane, often boring, quotidian tasks that make up the bulk of our lives. Has the date to file our taxes changed? Can I mail in my vote or do I have to appear in person? Is it expected to rain?
We don’t live in world of monster truck rallies where it’s all or nothing, smash or be smashed. We live lives of quiet routine punctuated by thrill. I’m okay with that. It makes the thrills thrilling and invests the routine with meaning. The cumulative effect is a life well-lived. The other is chaos.
Put another way, our lives are not binary, but cable news is. It’s good or bad, all or nothing, scandalous or heroic. It’s entertainment! It is a monster truck rally. And it creates an addictive need for story in part because we can’t sustain all that chaos; we have to have a way to order it. That’s what stories do, they put things in order. Not the order, but an order.
It’s well established that stories are what religions – and cults – use to inculcate their followers with the “right” thoughts. It’s what political parties do, and it’s what retailers do, too. It’s all branding, a narrative that reinforces an identity.
That’s not a bad thing inherently. As my literary activist friend remarked, all stories are true. But not in the fake news, “you get your reality and I get mine” kind of way. No, they are true in that all stories offer some thread of the human experience. We need all the stories so we have a range of diversity to draw upon in order to help us interpret these human experiences. All stories are potential maps, but they are not the way to get where we want to go. That’s where our free will comes in. We’re supposed to exercise our critical thinking faculties to choose the maps that make sense. Maps are tools, not gods or decrees.
Which is important to understand because it helps digest this fact: stories are actually NOT news. They might contain information, but that is not their primary function. Stories are either entertainment or they are instructive, sometimes both, but when Lester Holt tells you that “The top story on the NBC Nightly News tonight is…” just remember, you are about to be entertained/inculcated first, informed second.
Because stories are what we’re hardwired for, they are effective. The branding works. But what happens when the branding works too well?
That’s when we turn into children. You know, “Mommy, it’s bedtime. Will you please read me a story?” And do children want a different story every night? If you’re a parent, you know the answer: Not really. Maybe they like a different plot line, but they want familiar characters, don’t they? They could listen to you read the same damned story or a version therein every single night for nights on end because it gives them comfort. It lulls them to sleep.
When our comfort level and identity are tied together, woe to the people who try to convince us that the story is not all we think it is. That becomes too threatening to our sense of self.
So, we stop thinking. We forget to test our truth. We refuse to question authority, and instead make them unimpeachable. Our story flips from being comforting and instructive to being controlling and destructive. That’s when stories start to morph into fake news, tools to manipulate us.
Tip: If you never find yourself thinking when you listen to your favorite “news” source, “Hmm. I wonder if that is really true…” I suggest strongly that you have gone to sleep.
Effective branding gives us iPhone vs. Android users, but it also gives us a Republican party that can justify with ease its death cult on Capitol Hill. It ensures Catholic children become rape victims the world over. It turns a substantial number of Americans into believers in a deep state sex trade hellbent to overthrow the government.
These seemingly impossible events only become possible when we are in a dream state, asleep at life.
The “news”, and in particular, the kind that makes us passive listeners just like children hearing a bedtime story, is fake when it is used for profit and power. Such storytelling titilates the dopamine system and makes us feel special and sweet-happy.
And from my personal experience, I can tell you that it’s not stupid people who get suckered in, it’s people. All people. You, me, your best friend, your favorite sibling. We’re all vulnerable to the power of a good story. Just like any addictive substance, stories about characters that we’ve allowed to encompass our identity sway the pleasure center of our brains.
But just like any addictive substance, the let-down is hard and it is painful. This is why publicly chronicling my waking up to the lie that has been the story of the American Dream has been hard. It’s chaotic. It’s made me feel vulnerable. But this process has been and is authentic, and is the result of me testing my truth. So, I trust it. I will keep doing it. And the more I do, the more I become the one to put order around the chaos, the one to create the story of who I am. The less I need storytellers with an agenda.
Still, I have more questions than answers.
I recall from reading Thoreau in college that he accused the masses of leading “quiet lives of desperation” but suggested wisdom was the key out.
Wisdom is the domain of adults.
Wisdom comes from taking time out from the noise, deconstructing the stories we’ve been handed, testing the truth of them, and then putting them back together to see if they still hold up once we’ve examined them according to our life experiences, not our rented identities.
After all the shit I have had thrown at me in my five plus decades of this go-round on earth, I have come to think that the point of our lives is to continually expose our identities to stress tests. That’s not so we change who we are at heart, which for the majority of us, is good and pure, but to change how we relate to that inner substance, to clarify its existence and thus, see it more clearly.
The only way to make sense of that is to understand that our nature or inner-essence is the same, but our identities have to be fluid.
Yikes. If you’re a cable news network executive that is not the news you want to hear.
So, what I am saying is, as always, test your truth. Use what you learn to create your own story. That’s not fake news, that is your truth. You create it not from what the rent-an-identity storytellers who need your power tell you it is, but from your own powers of discernment. Maybe nothing will change, but at least you can say it’s your truth because you poked at it as hard as you could, and it still held up, so you are confident it’s right. That’s so important if you’re going to be free, as my own experience has shown me.
I hope docu-mental continues to be a part of your process, and I thank you for letting me be among those whom you trust. Of course, I hope you will suggest this publication to others and even consider becoming a patron-subscriber. But that is not required. I don’t take your attention for granted, no matter how it is paid to me.
Similarly, I would like to recommend several other small, independent publishers. Just because. Only one of these publishers, Isaac Saul at Tangle, is aware I am doing this. The rest are all others I recommend, in no particular order, because they challenge and inform me, not inculcate and validate me.
All of these publishers, including myself, have years of training and experience at what we do. Our reporting and opinions are not swayed by deep-pocketed interests, but are based in critical thinking, beat reporting, and our facility for conducting meticulous scientific and historical research. We are unafraid to expose ourselves to uncertainty. We are all fired by passion, not profits, although we do hope to sustain ourselves accordingly.
Tangle: Read this post of Isaac’s to understand why he created a site where he can offer you the right, the left, and then his own informed opinion. When you visit that post, scroll down to the part where he asks and then handily answers the question, “Am I a Hack?”
Isaac is a well-pedigreed reporter with an impressive list of solutions journalism accomplishments he can claim, including helping to change policies around predatory lending.
Letters from an American: This is Boston College American history professor Heather Cox Richardson’s daily round up of the most important news impacting democracy, as seen through the eyes of history. I find that when I can’t really absorb any more blah blah, this is the only news source I can read, and if it sparks my interest to learn more, she provides all the essential links.
BIG by Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, is a former senior policy advisor and budget analyst to the senate budget committee.
No Mercy, No Malice: New York University business professor Scott Galloway’s occasional look at how business is or isn’t working in America. Has great doodles and info graphics.
ProPublica: The multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporting nonprofit founded by the late Herbert and Marion Sanders. Ms. Sanders was the longest serving woman CEO in this nation, heading World Savings Bank, the lending arm of Golden West Financial Corporation. Pro Publica makes its resource intensive reporting available to a number of major news organizations, but is not controlled by any of them. You can choose from a number of free newsletters. ProPublica looks at every and anything, left, right, and center. No one is spared.
The Dispatch: A primarily conservative site dedicated to fact-checking and bullshit clearing, co-founded by several conservative writers including Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes.
Arts Journal: This is both a site with original reporting and opinions, but also a top notch aggregate that culminates in a daily newsletter to inform you about the range of ideas, issues, and trends in the world of fine arts and performance.
Sinocism: The most exhaustive reporting in English about China that I have found anywhere. Often includes open threads for discussion. Founded and published by Bill Bishop, a former Beijing media exec, who also founded Marketwatch.com and was involved in a range of other media ventures.
CJR: This is the Columbia School of Journalism’s daily review of the news about the news. If you want to know how the news is made and what news people think about that, this is a good primer. It takes on the day’s stories and breaks down how the reporting was done, for good or for ill. I find it takes no prisoners, and I learn a lot about why and how my colleagues in the business make the decisions they make, don’t make, or should make. It also has good long-form reporting.
Poynter Institute: Similar to CJR in scope, it also offers an indispensable range of fact checking tools.
Aeon: Provocative essays and short videos by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts. One of my favorite Friday afternoon pleasures to read. Published in Australia, with contributors from everywhere.
The Bitter Southerner: Founded by a Southerner who was damned fed up with being thought of as stupid and backward on account of his accent, he decided he’d do something about it. Great source of information about roots music, but also wonderful human interest stories.
Thank you for supporting docu-mental. I wish you good health.