Just as healing the body requires diagnosing the illness, curing society requires social “recognition of evil.”
Since November 9, when the Democratic Party woke up to a new reality, where they are not at the helm, there has been a surge in the discourse concerning the term “fake news,” and whether or not it was used to promote the candidates in their campaigns. The buzz culminated when an unsubstantiated BuzzFeeddossier claiming to contain compromising information about the President-elect, Donald Trump, was picked up and treated as real news by CNN. For his part, in his first news conference in months, Trump grilled the CNN reporter, called his network, “fake news,” and prevented him from asking questions.
In truth, fake news isn’t news at all. Let me be very clear: News may be fake or phony, but it is always bent. Since we all have opinions, and journalists are more opinionated than most, assuming that a journalist will be able to transcend personal view and the view of the journalist’s employer (and every media outlet has an official standpoint) is not only naïve, it is dangerous. If we open our eyes to the truth that journalists are as human, and therefore as biased as the rest of us, we might have a chance at understanding reality a little better.
Here is a statement from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Codes of Ethics page: “Never deliberately distort facts or context.” If anything is good about the recent buzz over fake news, it is the fact that it shows the news outlets, all news outlets, for what they are: tools for manipulation of public discourse and public opinion to suit the interests of the people who control the news media. Informing us about the truth is nowhere on their sights.
Here is a classic case study that shows how media outlets use news to manipulate the public’s view. Over the past six months, three deadly attacks were carried out by terrorists who drove trucks into a crowd of unsuspecting pedestrians. The first incident took place in Nice, France, the second one occurred in Berlin, Germany, and the third attack happened in Jerusalem, Israel. Here is how BBC News reported the three very similar incidents:
1)France: At least 84 killed by lorry at Bastille Day celebrations.
2)Germany: Lorry kills 12 at Christmas market.
3)Israel: Driver of lorry shot in Jerusalem after allegedly ramming pedestrians, injuring at least 15, Israeli media report.
In the first and second cases, the emphasis in the title (and the story) is on the victims. In the third case, BBC News emphasizes the terrorist—presenting him as a victim rather than as a deliberate perpetrator of a murderous terror attack, which is what he really was. Worse yet, the story does not mention the fact that in addition to the injured pedestrians, 4 people were killed.
Compare these three reports to the SPJ Code of Ethics item that journalists must “never deliberately distort facts or context,” and you will see how far we have gone from the days when we thought that the press was the “watchdog of democracy.” Evidently, the only thing the press guard is their shareholders’ interests. Here is why this happens.
Bias All Over the Place
It isn’t only the press that is biased. Polls, once presumed to be the bastion of objectivity, have become a mockery. Following their two spectacular failures—to predict the outcomes of the Brexit and the US elections—polls have lost the public’s trust. As a result, ahead of the presidential elections in France, the influential newspaper, Le Parisien, has decided to abandon opinion polls in the run-up to the election, and to “shift focus from ‘horse race’ journalism to on-the-ground reporting.”
In the US, the president nominates the Supreme Court justices, and Senate must approve them. In other words, by definition, the highest figures in the US justice system owe their position to politicians. Moreover, if the majority of senators come from the same party as that of the president, even this balancing measure becomes ineffective. And if the Supreme Court is subject to the influence of interests, how does this reflect on the entire judicial system?
Wherever you turn, personal, sectarian, financial, or political interests determine the way the country is run. This is true for the United States, as it is true for every single country in the world. The good news is that now, unless you have opted for willful denial, everyone can see this. In Kabbalah, realizing the negativity of human nature and its adverse impact on our world is called, “recognition of evil.”
You needn’t be a kabbalist to know that the ego is king in today’s world. Sociologists have written about our culture of narcissism since the late 1970s, and since the turn of the century they have begun to talk about it in terms of an epidemic. Spiraling depression, skyrocketing divorce rates, escalating violence, extremism of all kinds, growing alienation and isolation, escalating political disputes, all these are symptoms of the self-entitlement epidemic that is threatening our well-being, and perhaps even our physical being.
To Correct Human Society, Correct Human Nature
It is beyond the scope of a newspaper opinion piece to describe an entire correction process for human society. I have elaborated on this in several of my books, including Self-Interest vs. Altruism in the Global Era: How society can turn self-interests into mutual benefit, and Completing the Circle: An empirically proven method for finding peace and harmony in life, in which I also included modes of operation for implementing the ideas discussed in the book. Here I would like to point out only the basic principles for constructing a healthy society.
No Suppression of the Ego
You cannot crush the ego. Our ego is constantly growing, so every defense you erect against it will crumble as soon as a new level of egoism surfaces, releasing all the pressure that has been building during the period of suppression. The result is war, chaos, and other forms of violent turmoil. For centuries, humanity has tried to suppress the ego and pretend that it doesn’t exist. The result is the world we see today, where the ego is destroying everything of value on the planet.
Moreover, the ego is the engine of development. Humanity’s greatest achievements emerged from man’s quest for fame, fortune, and knowledge—all offshoots of the ego. Crush the ego, and you have crushed progress.
Reign It In
The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, said recently in an interview with Tucker Carlson on the Tucker Carlson Tonight show: “Connecting people to people will be a huge job. …I think that the best jobs will be people-to-people jobs. We’re going to see a whole new set of jobs and industries around the heart, around connecting people to people.”
Indeed, humanity’s final frontier is not to conquer space; it is to conquer the space between us. Currently, our single most important task as humanity is to rise above our egos and unite. I realize this may sound utopian or unrealistic, but it is very feasible if we use the right approach and means.
Almost 4,000 years ago, Abraham the Patriarch discovered that life exists on the balance between giving and receiving. As is today, Abraham’s society in Babylon was shattered by alienation and by aspirations for human achievement. The ancient Hebrews came from multiple tribes and nationalities.
Escaping the alienation in their own tribes, they flocked to Abraham, who taught them how to love one another, the trait that eventually made us into a nation. Today, after two millennia of abandonment of this most valuable asset, we must not only return to our roots and restore our unity, but also share the method for achieving it with the rest of the tormented world.
Abraham and his descendants developed a connection method that enabled their disciples to transcend the egoism that stood between them and bridge it with love. The higher the threshold of egoism became, the higher the bridge they built above it. The book, Likutey Etzot (Assorted Counsels), writes, “The essence of peace is to connect two opposites. Hence, do not be alarmed if you see a person whose view is the complete opposite of yours and you think that you will never be able to make peace with him. Also, when you see two people who are completely opposite to each other, do not say that it is impossible to make peace between them. On the contrary, the essence of peace is to try to make peace between two opposites.” King Solomon aptly summarized this approach in his proverb (Prov 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
In our society, we have extolled receiving to the point of self-entitlement, but we have totally abandoned the element of giving. We have tilted society off kilter. Now we must reintroduce the element of giving into our communities, so that the positive power of connection will counterweigh the negative power of separation.
In previous columns, I wrote about Connection Circles and other techniques that we can implement in order to “inject” the positive force into society. But before we begin to employ any of them, we must decide that living in an egoistic world, where the press is misreporting, the justice system is politicized, the economy is warped so as to benefit the few ruling elite, while the rest of the people are slowly sliding into poverty, is simply unacceptable. Just as physicians need a diagnosis in order to prescribe an effective cure, we need “recognition of evil” in order to start healing our society. This is where we are right now; it is the first step toward recovery.
Featured in Haaretz