Turn Off, Tune Out, and Drop In: Media, Politics, and the Social Spin Cycle as Symptom & Dream?
Most of our world is mind-spin. The power of wisdom is to wake us to the direct experiences of things as they are. It dispels our drowsy blindness and allows us to live more of our life, rather then just experiencing the world from the conceptual realm where what we call reality is a dream and a shadow of a dream (Levine, 1979/1989, p. 12)
In recent times, there seems to be an epidemic of sorts. What Stephen Levine in the citation above called “mind-spin.” This concept, although vague in nature, seems to stand as an undercurrent for the greater social, political, and economic systems that govern our day to day existence. Seeing the continual spin offered in traditional and even contemporary (social) media sources, I can’t help but recognize how the programing that we subject ourselves to affects me, as I stare at the 24 or so televisions in my gym offers during my 5 AM workout. It is here, where I attempt to clear my mind, that I willingly subject myself to see the same story broadcasted from 24 differing perspectives, feeling emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, despair, and all to rarely those vague concepts of hope and happiness arise within the waiting vessel of my being, as I grasp to understand the experience of “I” within the context of a greater social spin-cycle. Exploring that despair further, I begin to realize that this phenomenon not only affects us at the personal level of emotional and cognitive response, but also the collective level through dictating the storylines, the lessons, the morals, and the ethics we use to form the foundation of our family values, the true strength that lies behind any nations collective prowess. The mind-spin’s cyclical nature seems to repeat itself, feeding upon any diversion that presents itself as a means to numb us from the absence so present within today’s media, economic, educational, political, and social institutions.
As I turn on the television and the computer, to look at my favorite sources of news, entertainment, and areas of interest my 300 or so virtual friends find themselves interested in this immediate moment, I find myself somehow sucked in by the spin; yet, intriguingly enough, I also find myself disgusted by my infatuation with it. As a philosopher, I find myself gearing up the power of mind to make sense of this all to human phenomenon. That is when the answer strikes, like the flash of light so commonly seen in children’s cartoons. This phenomenon is “all too human.” Because this phenomenon cannot be removed from the subjectivity all to common to human emotions and experience, it needs to be understood at a more humane level. Understanding the social mind-spin cycle cannot empirically objectified or academically quantified. If it were to be understood from this perspective, we again would face removing the relevance of its subjective effects on us at the emotional and experiential level. Instead, it must be understood by the experience felt by the subjective emotions present within the collective storylines present, not a level that will use quantitative analyses, statistics, or simple majority rule explanations that tend to use simple and blanket statements as a method to explain away the very complex human phenomena mind-spin will explore.
As a philosopher, but more importantly a citizen of this universe, I must ask: Have we lost touch with our humanity, as we have increasingly exposed ourselves to the ever presence of a hyper fixated, never ending media culture that “spins” out of control, looking for its next fix, like a junkie of old yearning to land their next fix? Are we slowly training ourselves to become the artificial intelligence we so actively seek to ban as a means to keep our jobs, our livelihood, our creature comforts, and even humanity intact? And finally, I must ask, has the collective needs for advancement, technological supremacy, and that constant, never-ending, non-stop need for productivity began to outweigh the individual values that make up our personal, family, social, and national identity?
The mind-spin cycle is prevalent in our daily newscasts. It is found in the millions, upon millions of information bytes, images, words, and psychologically informed methods of programming we willingly subject ourselves to on a daily basis. In its literal sense, it is found in our newscasts, it is found in our social media, and it is found in our need to be exposed to ever-increasing and non-stop methods of informational programming. In its figurative sense, mind-spin fills the time, like alcohol fills the blood, leading to a drunken state of information intoxication, deluding us to believe that we are somehow informed, and being productive with the valuable time we cannot regain. One need only look at the television or computer for a few minutes, to see mind-numbing spin we subject ourselves to on a daily basis.
Thought, opinion, matters of preference, want, longing, and worldly, nationalistic, and even prejudicial forms of attachment run as a deep undercurrent of the newscasts and the information we subject ourselves to both in traditional and now social-media channels. While these attachments can be seen as positive or negative, because they touch upon our subjective experiences and emotional landscape, they are neutral by nature, tugging upon each individual from a differing perspective. These attachments make up the dialogue that must be present for psychological growth to occur. For it exists in the paradox, or within the religious context the parabola, that true growth occurs, through the process of thought, emotion, and action that follows the adoption of new levels of consciousness once not part of our experiential or emotional landscape. As professor Howard Zinn (2002) showcased in the book, You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train, for true social growth to occur, there must be dialogue between two opposing forces, which ultimately leads social change through the real growth possibly by holding and working through both opposing forces. While we all have dreams, and who does not want to dream, in order to make those dreams become reality, we must face the shadow present within the reverie dreaming affords us. We must face the emotions present, the anxiety, fear, jealousy, sadness, anger, laziness, prejudice, hate, and other ill seated feelings common to the minds all people, in order to free ourselves of the power media has on our preconceived notions of what is right and wrong.
Today, as I stood in the gym, and stared at one of 24 televisions broadcasting an array of programming, and finding it difficult to focus on Steven Levine’s words stated above, I found myself caught in reverie of a dream, exposed to the millions of bytes of information my brain was subjected to by the 4 K televisions that drew my attention from the words I was reading. But somehow, I awoke. I had a momentary lapse of consciousness, a deficit of attention, as my awareness automatically fixated on the barrage of information programmed into me by social and traditional media sources. CNN, Fox News, TBS (Comedy), Sports Center (Self Explanatory), Telemundo and an array of Hispanic Language Television Services, local, national, and international news broadcasted similar stories, but of opposing opinions and geared towards various areas of interest. I was on mile one of a three mile elliptical run, and had great difficulties allowing my gaze to meet the words I was reading, versus being sucked into the quagmire of information that social censors felt I would need to have in order to make an “informed decisions.” As if I needed someone else to tell me what, or even how to think in order to form an informed opinion.
It was here that I found myself on edge. Upset about the world I was being subjected to by my gym, by individuals that make money on selling me information based upon their opinions, but then charge it back to me as a paying consumer of the athletic membership I find so rejuvenating to the soul. It was capitalism at its finest, yet wrought with an ugly shadow that can only be defined as a childhood mentality of Mob proportions.
Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Immigrant, or American, we are all human beings first. Members of a family that shares the same rock floating in space, traveling a path of mutual existence. However, as I find myself bombarded with news, it quickly becomes apparent, we love to categorize our existence, our beliefs, our character traits, and even ourselves by figments of our mind’s propensity to work on overdrive, mind-spinning us into a quagmire of the never-ending repetition thought affords us. Through what has become an apparent need for society to evolve, through the systemic propensity to re-volve we are actually setting ourselves up to de-volve into an area of consciousness that simply does not make sense.
A Revolution of Consciousness
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world.
(The Beatles, 1968)
In the 1960’s a popular concept to awaken within emerged. The hipster generation of that era, happily named the hippies took to the streets, went against the social norms and values common to the “greatest generation,” burned their draft cards and bras in rebellion against their parent’s moral and ethical foundations, and found peace, love, and happiness by creating a counter-culture whose foundation was built on the premise of going against the grain of socially acceptable norms. They were told by academics to “Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out” (Leary, 1965). They followed ideologies that promised enlightenment, found solace in blending Eastern and Western traditions of mindfulness, would employ psychedelic pharmacology to elicit and amplify the awakening of consciousness, and sought meaning in the life they yearned to create. They rioted to find peace and protested to find order. “The Age of Aquarius” had dawned, and a new generation sought to awaken within, to explore methods that could lead to freedom, liberation, and ideologies that could promote general happiness and wellbeing. This was their revolution of consciousness, one that would lead to many of the current social woes we empathically feel now, as we attempt to solve the many personal, familial, social, and economic problems the Baby Boom generation has left us.
Being on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Why? I find myself drawn, yet must inextricably draw comparative analyses to the social and political commentary so common today as it relates to the generational values that my parents brought me up within. Cocaine reveries, alcohol infused dreams, trips with “electric Kool-Aid,” a plethora of great musical talents, and think outside the box philosophers strove to awaken our consciousness to ever increasing complexities of existence. We were told that we would somehow be liberated, “change the world,” evolve, and find ontological meaning from the mess we inherited from the “greatest generation.” Universities, those centers of learning that promise to enlighten their demographic profile with sources of knowledge that “could” lead to liberation, bent the ear of their adolescent demographic profile towards their philosophical, political, and socio-economic leanings, with the promise that they will reap the reward for their four year course of study, have ultimately failed their customer base by trading their knowledge base for motives of profit that are dependent upon indentured servitude contracts they subject their adolescent demographic too. In our need to evolve, we have ultimately enslaved ourselves to a system that promotes our devolution by promoting single sided viewpoints as absolute truths apparent. This does not afford itself to the revolving nature of consciousness, which must sit with both side of the equation, taking in and growing from the tension present within the paradox, those unconscious building blocks from which personal and collective psychological growth emerges.
CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, etc., etc., etc. all buy for our valuable time, barraging us with “polls,” so happily produced by the very educational settings that would entrap us to the system they so happily promote as leading to consciousness. Media and our university have created a scientific partnership, developing psychologically sound and sociologically secure ways to sway, disrupt, and / or downright manipulate public opinion from the unipolar perspective they promote. By promoting monologue, staying within the status quo of socially acceptable, politically correct theories and ideologies that do not account for dialogue, dissenting opinion, and / or alternative perspectives, the generation that was to find happiness by going against the grain, now faces an equally dissenting force against the policies, procedures, and socially acceptable mores, values, and ethics they created as a means to define themselves. The monologue of political correctness, that exclusive club that had defined and promoted the rights of all, yet was somehow socially exclusive of many others it cast away in the shadow of its rise to power, has come face to face with the very shadow it has cast.
Has it as a mechanism for change ran its course? Has it simply ran out of steam, as evident in the backlash seen throughout the world’s political stage?
It would appear that the social, political, and economic liberalism that has defined the world post “Cold War” has ran out of steam. The “New World Order” that was to bring about new forms of consciousness has within itself aged, and now faces new and evolving mechanisms of change that were not expected in its unipolar model of consciousness. What was once considered taboo, and / or even politically incorrect has now emerged center stage, as America, England, and possibly other EU nations seek to redefine their value base. It would appear that the rhetoric used to promote equality, inclusion, and understanding so common to the Baby Boomer generation and their children has became the ideology by which people have subjected themselves to indifference, exclusion, and a monologue that views only one opinion as right, and all others as dissenting and therefore non-relevant.
Are we awakening to a new force from within, one that can stand up and grow within the beauty that dialogue affords us. Whether liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, immigrant or natural born citizen, it is time to bring dialogue back into the equation. Socially, politically, economically, theologically, and ideologically polarizing standpoints cannot promote the growth that will be needed to solve the real problems we as a species face. Furthermore, as we negligently stand on divided shores without finding ways to compromise on both sides, we not only promote the very childlike state of consciousness we have sought to transcend, a gang mentality bent on retribution for perceived hurts incurred, but we also negligently pass onto our children’s generation the complex problems we show that we are unwilling to solve. In this case, it is not about the complexity or the amount of the problems present; it is more about the mentality of the problem solvers we have elected, and their inability to escape a childlike mentality of sibling rivalry they have created. This is not a democrat or a republican problem. This is not a liberal or a conservative problem. Instead, it is a human problem, and one that we must solve if we are to provide the next generation with any form of an existence that is somehow better than that our generation has been afforded.
Engaging the Shadow
The foundation for psychological healing rests on the notion of bringing problematic behaviors, thoughts, patterns, habits, and attitudes to conscious awareness. Once we are aware that a problem exists, it looses its unconscious nature, becomes more readily accessible to understanding, can be worked through, and even integrated within the dynamics of personality development. By taking on a dynamic versus stagnant nature, conflicts and opposing pulls so common to the psyche can actually mitigate the damaging effects problematic symptoms and behaviors cause. People experience trauma both directly and indirectly, and the emotions, thoughts, conscious, and unconscious storylines we assign to those traumas create the sense by which we hear, see, feel, perceive, and interact with the environment at large. As consciousness arises, it turns to the very storylines that brought it from the darkness into the light as a means to make sense of new stimuli experienced. However, it is not uncommon for the polarized nature of consciousness to suppress the negative storylines associated with personality growth, throwing into the depths of a personal and collective shadow those unwanted, un-integrated storylines that stand in aversion to the ego the identity we create.
Carl Jung wrote extensively on the archetypal shadow being a construct that once integrated can lead to deep understanding of the Self as it exists separately from the ego / self construct and the personae we create to function in our daily lives. For Jung (1951/1969), the shadow represented the dark aspects of personality. As a symbol of personality development, it is the most easily accessible archetype to the ego because its content is personal. For Jung (1951/1969), the shadow represented a “moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without a considerable moral effort” (p. 8). While the shadow represents all that is dark within the personality, it also has positive qualities that can drive individuated development. Jung (1954/1969) wrote:
The meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is. For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad. It is the world of water, where all life floats in suspension: where the realm of the sympathetic system, the soul of everything living, begins; where I am indivisibly this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me. (pp. 21-22)
As a construct of personality development, the shadow is both part of and exists independently from the living being who experiences its grasp. As an archetype, it exists a-priori and is symbolic of storylines that are suppressed or repressed; its nature is both personal and collective, and forms the basis for ongoing familial, social, and and collective inter-generational dynamics common to our historical landscape. As an archetype, the shadow exists of personal and collective storylines we place into its well, acts as life-spring of paradoxical information that if integrated, can lead to considerable growth through finding meaning in a way about life that Buddhism defined as the Middle Path.
Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.
Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana. And what is that Middle Path realized by the Tathagata…? It is the Noble Eightfold path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
THE PARADOX OF OUR TIMES
Is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempersWider freeways, but narrower viewpointsWe spend more, but we have less.
We have bigger houses, but smaller familiesMore conveniences, but less time.We have more degrees, but less senseMore knowledge, but less judgementMore experts, but more problemsMore medicines, but less wellness.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too oftenWe have learnt how to make a living, but not a life.We have added years to life, but not life to years.We’ve been all the way to the moon and backBut have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour.We have conquered outer space, but not inner space.We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted our soul.We’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice.We’ve higher incomes, but lower morals.We’ve become long on quantity but short on quality.
These are the times of tall men, and short character;Steep profits, and shallow relationships.These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare,More leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.
These are the days of two incomes, but more divorces;Of fancier houses, but broken homes.It is a time when there is much in the show window, and nothing in the stockroom.
A time when technology can bring this letter to you,
And a time when you can choose,
Either to make a difference …. or just hit, delete.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I thought I would be able to easily plow through the article. I was angered by my experience at the gym, and the barrage of information I was subjected to on a daily basis by traditional and now social media outlets. However, one month later, the article is only now comping to fruition, I realize, that this subject matter is not to be taken lightly.
The paradox of Our Age is just that, we have a choice, to make better the woes that have gone wrong, or to continue the path towards unipolar destruction a one sided view of consciousness has provided us.
There is no simple answer to the problem of mind-spin. As I wrote and edited, and wrote and edited this article some more, I began to realize the age old adage, we are what we eat. No days, we seem to be fed our daily source of programming, to make us who the media wants us to be, consumers of a unipolar source of information that ultimately feeds and lines the pockets of those in control of its content. In the 1960’s we were told by Dr. Timothy Leary (1965) to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” However, As I look at the bigger social problems this ideology has created, I find myself asking, isn’t it time to “Turn Off, Tune Out, and Drop In” to a new form of consciousness surfing the paradox can provide our individual and collective psychological development. As His Holiness has suggested, we have bigger houses, more conveniences, more medicine, more possessions, more communication, faster access to knowledge bases once not explorable, more relationships, and more access to relationships with people in other parts of the world, but somehow, we also have less compassion, less time, less friendships, less companionship, less and more permeable values, and ultimately less humanity.
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