Twelve Tips For Making Sense Of The World

by Caitlin Johnstone

In an environment that is saturated with mass media propaganda, it can be hard to figure out which way’s up, let alone get an accurate read on what’s going on in the world. Here are a few tips I’ve learned which have given me a lot of clarity in seeing through the haze of spin and confusion. Taken separately they don’t tell you a lot, but taken together they paint a very useful picture of the world and why it is the way it is.

1. It’s always ultimately about acquiring power.

In the quest to understand why governments move in such irrational ways, why expensive, senseless wars are fought while homeless people die of exposure on the streets, why millionaires and billionaires get richer and richer while everyone else struggles to pay rent, why we destroy the ecosystem we depend on for our survival, why one elected official tends to advance more or less the same harmful policies and agendas as his or her predecessor, people often come up with explanations which don’t really hold water.

The most common of these is probably the notion that all of these problems are due to the malignant influence of one of two mainstream political parties, and if the other party could just get in control of the situation all the problems would go away. Other explanations include the belief that humans are just intrinsically awful, blaming minorities like Jews or immigrants, blaming racism and white supremacy, or going all the way down wild and twisted rabbit holes into theories about reptilian secret societies and baby-eating pedophile cabals. But really all of mankind’s irrational behavior can be explained by the basic human impulse to amass power and influence over one’s fellow humans, combined with the fact that sociopaths tend to rise to positions of power.

Our evolutionary ancestors were pack animals, and the ability to rise in social standing in one’s pack determined crucial matters like whether one got first or last dibs on food or got to reproduce. This impulse to rise in our pack is hardwired deeply into our evolutionary heritage, but when left unchecked due to a lack of empathy, and when expanded into the globe-spanning 7.6 billion human pack we now find ourselves in due to ease of transportation and communication, it can lead to individuals who will keep amassing more and more power until they wield immense influence over entire clusters of nations.

2. Money rewards sociopathy.

The willingness to do anything to get ahead, to claw your way to the top, to betray whomever you need to, to throw anyone under the bus, to step on anyone to pass them in the rat race, will be rewarded in our current system. Being willing to underpay employees, cheat the legal system, and influence legislators will be rewarded exponentially more. People with a sense of empathy are often unwilling to do such things, whereas sociopaths and psychopaths are. About four percent of the population are sociopaths, and about one percent are psychopaths, with some five to fifteen percent falling somewhere along the borderline. The less empathy you have, the further you are willing to go, and the further up the ladder you can climb.

3. Wealth kills empathy.

If that weren’t bad enough, studies have shown that controlling large amounts of wealth actually destroys one’s sense of compassion for one’s fellow man. When you are able to use wealth to obtain everything from security to loyalty to personal relationships, you no longer have to be tuned in to the brain’s empathy center the rest of humanity depends on to get an accurate reading on what’s going on with the people we’re surrounded by. Most people need to be constantly feeling around their families, coworkers, employers, friends and acquaintances in order to ensure their own safety, social standing and security, whereas a wealthy person can simply purchase those things. Being born into wealth or having it for a long time can prevent that sense of empathy from being as strong as it is in the rest of the population.

4. Money is power.

A 2014 Princeton study showed that ordinary Americans have essentially zero influence over their nation’s policy and behavior regardless of how they vote, while wealthy Americans have a great deal of influence. This is because the ability to use corporate lobbying and campaign donations effectively amounts to the legalized bribery of elected officials, which means that money translates directly into political power. This creates a ruling class which is naturally incentivized to use their influence to increase their own wealth while decreasing everyone else’s, because since power is relative, the less money everyone else has the more power the ruling class has.

This is why billionaires keep hoarding more and more wealth while using legalized bribery to stifle economic justice legislation. It isn’t because they want to be able to buy thousands of luxury cars or dozens of private jets; they can only use one at a time the same as everyone else. They hoard wealth to keep the rest of the population from having it. Because money equals power, spreading wealth around would be tantamount to making everyone king, and because power is relative, making everyone king would mean that no one is king.

Rulers, historically, do not give up power easily, and this elite wealthy class is no exception. Hence all their aggressive attempts to suppress any movement against the status quo from the unwashed masses.

5. This same ruling class controls the media.

It’s common knowledge that most media is controlled by plutocrats, whether it’s the old money plutocrats who control the legacy media or the new money Silicon Valley plutocrats who control much of the new media. Media control is an essential component of rule; this has always been the case, since the days when kings would order dissident books burned and bishops would torture dissident orators to death. This is why the first thing a new plutocrat does as soon as rising to a certain level of wealth is start buying up media influence, like Jeff Bezos did when he bought the Washington Post in 2013. Bezos bought WaPo not because he is a stupid businessman who thought newspapers were about to make a lucrative resurgence, but because he is a brilliant businessman who knows that the status quo he is building his empire upon requires a propaganda firm that the public will trust and believe.

6. People are always manipulating each other.

Cultivating an acute awareness of when you are being manipulated, and considering whether someone might have a motive to do so, is an essential component to making sense of the world.

It is very rare to encounter someone who won’t try to manipulate you in any way. Generally people you’ll encounter in your life will try to influence the way you perceive them and your relationship to them, they’ll try to pull you in in some ways and push you out in others, try to hook you up to their personal agendas and goals and shape you in a way that fits with their shape. There’s nothing inherently malevolent in such behavior, it’s just what people do and what they always have done. Again, humans are social creatures, and we do what we can to increase our standing within our social circles.

The big problem is when skillful manipulators find their way into positions of large-scale influence like government or media. Unfortunately, these are the types who tend to get elevated into such positions, because they can manipulate their way in, and generally they do so for reasons of personal ambition rather than altruism. These skillful manipulators form an essential echelon of the ruling class’ loyal servants, and are the minds behind the pro-establishment narratives you’ll suddenly see circulated from think tanks to media platforms to the establishment lackeys on Capitol Hill.

7. Society is made of narrative.

Most of human experience is filtered through our mental stories about it, from our sense of self, to our ideas about who we are, to our beliefs about how we’re supposed to behave in society, to what money is and how it works, to where power exists and who we’re supposed to obey. All of these things are purely conceptual constructs which only exist in the realm of thought; a “dollar” exists to the extent that we’ve all agreed to pretend it’s a real thing and that it has a certain amount of purchasing power. At any time we could collectively decide to change the rules about how power functions or what money is and how it operates, and then instantly the rule of the elite class would be over without anyone firing a shot. It really would be that simple.

That’s how powerful a force narrative is, which is why the ruling plutocrats fight so hard to keep us from seizing control of it. This is why whistleblowers and outlets like WikiLeaks are aggressively and constantly smeared and demonized in the corporate media; if they can create suspicion of truth-tellers then they can keep them from being trusted, and thus keep them from being believed. This tool has been used to minimize the impact of everything from on the ground reports of what’s happening in Syria to leak drops from Edward Snowden; if you can create enough suspicion of someone it doesn’t matter if they’re speaking 100 percent truth; nobody will believe them, and thus the dominant narrative will remain the same.

Maintaining an awareness that there is always an unending battle to control the narrative and manipulate it to advance plutocratic interests is an essential part of understanding the world.

8. The lines between nations are imaginary.

Those lines drawn on the map between countries are pure narrative as well; they’re only as real as the collective public agrees to pretend they are. The ruling elites know this and exploit this. They don’t think in terms of nations and governments, they think in terms of individuals and groups of individuals.

Key strategic region in the Middle East? No need to take over the whole country, just flood it with extremist groups who are loyal to your agendas and control its oil fields. Primo naval real estate in the southern hemisphere? No need to annex it and plant your country’s flag there, just secure enough influence over the important moving parts using corporate contracts, trade agreements, military/intelligence treaties and secret deals and you can use it however you want.

This is why I am dismissive of arguments that “Israel controls America” or “America controls Europe”. There is no “Israel” or “America”; they’re made-up ideas which rulers once upon a time treated as real, but in the modern days of nationless plutocracy they no longer do. There are individuals, there are corporations, there are government agencies, there are factions and groups, and these are what the ruling elites deal with. Governmental structures are only tools which are used by the ruling elites for the purpose of manipulation, control, and military violence, and they only do so insofar as it is useful. The idea of real nations and governments is a cutesy fairy tale sold to the masses so they won’t see the manipulations.

9. Powerful forces are naturally incentivized to collaborate with each other toward mutual interests.

You can be a low-grade millionaire and still live like a relatively normal civilian, but once you start obtaining giant amounts of wealth control you need to start collaborating with existing power structures or they’ll snuff you out to prevent you from rocking their boat, because again, money equals power. This is why Jeff Bezos contracts with the CIA and sits on a Pentagon advisory board, and it’s why Facebook and Google collaborate extensively with government agencies; they never would have been allowed to grow to their size if they had not. Plutocratic dynasties which have been in place since long before Amazon, Facebook and Google figured this out many generations ago, and have agreed to push forward in a direction of mutual interest that doesn’t upset the status quo that their wealth is built upon.

This is extremely true of the west, where an effective empire has been created by a complex transnational alliance of mostly western plutocrats, but it is true outside of that empire as well; there are power alliances to be found everywhere that there is power.

10. There is an immense amount of wealth that can be grabbed in the chaos of war and conflict.

In the same way that existing power structures are naturally incentivized to quash any emerging power which would upset their status quo, alliances of power structures push to crush non-aligned power structures the world over. Whenever you see the tight western alliances and their media propaganda arms attacking the interests of Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Venezuela etc., you are seeing an alliance of power structures working to disrupt the interests of another alliance of power structures in order to absorb their assets.

The chaotic, Wild West environments that these conflicts create allow for an amount of underhanded looting and pillaging that you could never get away with in your own country, in the exact same way the colonialists and conquistadors of old could never have gotten away with brazenly grabbing gold, land and slaves from their fellow Europeans in Madrid or Rome but were given no legal trouble in the new world. The colonialists and conquistadors pushed into the Americas, Africa and Asia on the pretense of spreading Christianity and civilization; modern day conquerers push into non-aligned power structures on the pretense of spreading freedom and democracy in precisely the same way.

This chaos doesn’t require direct military conflict to be profitable; the uncritical enmity against Russia that the western plutocratic alliance has manufactured with its media control has allowed them to be blamed for everything from incriminating WikiLeaks documents to a corporate raid by Ukrainian oligarchs without any questions asked. Anyone who has ever had to deal personally with a sociopath knows how much they love to exploit the gray areas that chaotic situations give them, and geopolitical conflicts create those situations in spades.

11. The neocons are always wrong.

This one’s really easy. If you ever want to be on the right side of history for a foreign policy debate, look at what Bush-era PNAC neocons like John Bolton and Bill Kristol are saying about it, and take the opposite position. Neocon thought leaders have been loudly and catastrophically wrong about everything since the turn of the century, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya to Syria, and they’re not about to start being right now.

12. The push towards truth always starts with yourself.

You can’t out-manipulate seasoned manipulators. The main error most people make when trying to deal with a sociopath is to try and manipulate them back. Don’t even try. They have years of experience on you because they literally have done nothing else. While you were laughing and crying and worrying and connecting and relating to people, they were working out how to play humans like Garry Kasparov worked out how to play chess. And when you have literal teams of sociopaths collaborating together to amass power, you my dear child, do not have a chance. Don’t play their game. You will lose.

The only way to win this is to set your compass resolutely to “true.” Always be honest with yourself. Find all the different ways that you are manipulating others and see them and acknowledge them. Find your tribal allegiances and your desire to be right, and tip your hat to their existence. The more self-aware we are, the less levers we have to be manipulated by. If you are blindly partisan or loyal to a particular faction, that makes you gullible to propaganda because your wishful thinking and your desire to be right come into play. Get honest with yourself about who you are and what you want, and you will start to become an un-playable piece on the board.

If we can’t beat these bastards with truth, we don’t deserve to win.

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