My reading and writing over the past year has covered propaganda, confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, the Overton window, the psychology of cults, the history of the Stalin regime, and the governance standards of the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google). I have zoomed in on these subjects because, as many professional communicators, I’ve been going through a forced reorientation to adapt my craft to a world in which nothing is true and everything is possible.
The research has been fascinating, but I haven’t shared many of my latest discoveries either on this blog or in industry publications. It’s not that I’ve been lazy, but my inner truth-seeker increasingly hearkens to the observation of Otto Rank, the psychoanalyst, about the overproduction of Truth. In the context of the Big Data tsunami that continues to swell by the minute, Rank’s observation seems not only prescient in hindsight but also downright prophetic.
Indeed, in the age of Twitter, deep reading and thoughtful writing seem to be nostalgic indulgences disconnected from day-to-day needs. In particular, writing about the evolution and pollution of the media ecology is like describing water to a drowning man.
However, the drowning man does need help. Propaganda is only one type of corrupted information that pollutes the public sphere, and most people think of propaganda in the context of politics, but our world is awash in toxic information that derails healthy decision-making the way the lancet fluke derails the ant’s self-preservation.
The key conclusion of my research is that the help can no longer come from the ideology of “Storytelling”, the belief in the transformative power of narrative.