I took a simple taxi ride in Regensburg the day before yesterday on the last full “free” day before the hard lockdown began in Bavaria. As usual, I chatted up the taxi driver. After all, these people are the ones who can really give you there biggest bang-for-your buck on the prevailing Zeitgeist, both locally and in terms of the general mind out there in the country, in the world. They can also be some really interesting characters. In whatever city I’ve lived, I’ve always learned relatively as much from the taxi drivers, sometimes, as I do from people who I know more intimately in that locale, in a comparatively much shorter time.
Asking him about the “hard lockdown” that was due to start across Germany the next day, I was treated to an unfiltered gush of dark conspiracy theories straight out of Q Anon and Rush Limbaugh. It really tempted me into a dark corner of pessimism about our species and our time in this world. He talked about how the lockdown was being engineered by governments to control our brains. It was a plot to engineer by first squeezing out cash-transaction based small businesses (like himself) in favour of the mammoth credit-based, big-bank businesses of an invisible global elite. “They want to destroy money. They want to eliminate the use of cash, so that we must then use credit cards. Only when we use credit cards, they can trace us and follow us. They want to know whatever we buy, and where we buy it, and with whom.” It is a plot to create a “world government”, bio-chip regulated control of the masses, mass surveillance.
“But if the governments shut down businesses for the pandemic, ” he is asked, “then they cannot collect so much taxes, which is another kind of disaster, because without taxes they cannot do the projects that cause people to like them and keep them in power…?” This is my standard weak attempt at the most simplistic take-down of these pandemic conspiracy theories. “No no no. You don’t understand. They have secret piles of money. They can survive while they build control infrastructure around us. They have been building secret money stashes for years in order to do this. They are well prepared!” And, yes, he quoted the basic scenario of The Matrix, as a reality, yet without referencing the movie itself: We are all just being formed into Duracell batteries to power the Matrix. The coronavirus was a massive global head-feint by invisible elites, a fake pseudo-virus designed in a lab to turn us into zombie-like batteries powering a faceless authoritarianism. He used the term Lügenpresse — the “lying press,” fake news — to “explain” how this “greatest lie in human history” is being shoved into our brains as a reality which only exists to make us fearful and disoriented.
Emerging from the car at the destination, I felt this weakness in the bones. Word-for-word, it is the same irrational, insane, toxic, completely nihilistic and rage-filled stew of conspiracy-reality that is rotting the social and political foundations of the United States of America — live!! — right before our very eyes, in real time. He was speaking like one of these Q Anon nutcases, only with German language and a Bavarian accent. It was shocking not for the “thinking” (if you could charitably call it “thinking”), but how it was a word-for-word reiteration of diatribes I had seen on PBS’s Frontline documentary regarding the rise of heavily armed right-wing militias in the US. They all connect the same nefarious dots, literally point for point. The sense of some eerily common scripting left me in a fog of shock that did not dissipate until after intensive chanting and an hour of meditation at Evening Practice later that day. The ubiquity of this derangement across culture and language — and its rage-based, serpentine primitivity — really left an impression on me.
Joe Rogan’s October 30, 2020 discussion with Tristan Harris on the insidious neural grip of social media addiction is absolutely fascinating, “essential-reading”, can’t-take-your-eyes-off it, scary, totally-required watching that unlocks the “how” and “why” of this lowest-common-denominator illogic. It fleshes out in granular detail the weaponising of our attention (“the race to the bottom of the brain stem”, Harris rightly names it), leading to all of the deeply compartmentalised thought-tracks that we get shunted into by the much-discussed (but never in such detail, in my hearing) algorithms of the tech giants.
Much of what Harris says here was presented in his film, The Social Dilemma, which I recently joined Netflix for the very first time expressly in order to watch, after hearing Harris’s conversation with Sam Harris. But due to the long-form conversational nature of this format, and the dialogic flow of Joe Rogan’s authentic regular-guy intelligence, much much more is teased out in this conversation to give a far more complete picture of the mental and spiritual rot being brought to humanity by the 20 year-old mass psychology experiment called “social media”.
One money-quote from Tristan Harris:
The algorithms aren’t making a distinction between who is just laughing at it and who is deeply vulnerable to it. And generally it’s concerned with [attracting] who’s vulnerable to it.
This is another example of how I think about it: It’s as if you were driving on the highway, and now there’s Facebook and Google trying to figure out, like, “what should I give you based on what tends to keep your attention?” You look at a car crash — and everybody driving on a highway slows down and has a look at the car crash — according to Facebook and Google, like, the whole world wants car crashes. “So, let’s just feed them car crash after car crash after car crash!” And what the algorithms do … they find the perfect little rabbit hole for you that it knows will keep you there for four, five hours. And the conspiracy theories are like the dark corners of YouTube, and the dark corners is where it tends to keep people there for, like, five hours. And so you have to realize that we’re now something like 10 years in to this vast psychology experiment where it’s been in every language and hundreds of countries and hundreds of languages. It has been steering people towards the Crazytown. When I say crazy town, I think of:
Imagine there’s a spectrum on YouTube and there’s on one side you have like a calm Walter Cronkite, Carl Sagan — you know slow, you know, kind of boring but like educational material or something — and the other side of the spectrum, you have the craziest stuff you can find — “Crazytown”.
No matter where you start — you could start in Walter Cronkite or you could start in Crazytown — but let’s say that I’m YouTube: If I want you to watch more, am I going to steer you towards the calm stuff or am I going to steer you more towards Crazytown? I’ll lean more towards crazy town.
So, imagine if you could kind of tilt the floor of humanity – – just by, like, 3° – – and then you just step back and you let society run its course. As Jared Lanier says in the film [The Social Dilemma], if you just tilt society by 1°, 2° that’s the whole world! That’s what everyone is thinking and believing!
I think that anyone who has young children must be morally obligated to watch this entire conversation.