written by Caitlin Johnstone
september 22, 2021
There’s a quote from an ancient Buddhist text called the Dhammapada that’s often translated as, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”
In other words our mental habits shape our personality and determine how that personality will behave, and that behavior contributes to the shaping of the world.
We see a similar line in the Upanishads of Hinduism: “As is your desire, so is your intention. As is your intention, so is your will. As is your will, so is your deed. As is your deed, so is your destiny.”
These are two different ways of expressing the same timeless observation we see pop up in various forms throughout philosophical traditions around the world: that our actions arise from our thoughts and our thoughts arise from our conditioned mental habits, so we need to be very careful about what those mental habits are since it will ultimately determine our destiny.
But the people who pour the most energy and attention into this timeless observation as a group are not the Buddhists, nor the Hindus, nor any religious or philosophical tradition at all. Those who are the most interested in studying and acting upon this insight are the powerful people who rule this world.
The powerful understand that because people’s actions follow from their thoughts and the destiny of the world follows from people’s actions, if you can control the thoughts people think at mass scale you can control the destiny of the world.
Control the way people collectively think about things and you can control the way they act, you can control the way they organize, and you can control the way they vote. This is important because people have become more literate and better at sharing information over the years, and therefore more aware of the value of freedom and equality, so it’s gotten harder and harder to deny them freedom and equality without sparking violent revolutions and winding up with your head in a basket.
Power structures of more “enlightened” societies have addressed this dilemma by giving people the illusion of freedom and equality while still keeping them enslaved to the agendas of their rulers via mass-scale psychological manipulation. Media institutions, online platforms and think tanks are dominated by plutocrats in coordination with secretive government agencies to ensure that the information the majority of people consume serves the social, political, military and geostrategic interests of the ruling power structure.
This is why when you watch the news on TV it always kind of feels like they are deceiving you; that’s exactly what’s happening. Information that is inconvenient for the powerful is omitted, while information that serves the powerful is amplified and twisted in the most convenient light possible.
This happens not because the media-controlling class is personally leaning over the shoulder of every news reporter and instructing them to lie, but because if you control who runs a media outlet then you control who they will hire and who they will elevate, naturally giving rise to a system wherein reporters understand that the only way for them to advance their careers is to promote narratives which serve the ruling power establishment and marginalize narratives which don’t.
The best way to manipulate people without their knowing it is to appeal to their strongest and most unconscious impulses. In practice this means tugging at the psychological hooks of the ego, which at their base level are fear and identity. If you’ve made a strong identity out of something like belonging to a certain political party or a certain ideological or ethnic group, then it will carry a lot of egoic weight for you. If you’re in a fear state then there will be a lot of egoic contraction and you’ll consequentially take your thoughts very seriously.
If you can appeal to people’s base impulses of fear and identification it becomes very easy to insert ideas into their minds and give them new mental habits, and that’s exactly what propagandists do. You need to fear the terrorists, the Russians and the Chinese, because they’re going to harm you. You need to support the Democratic Party and everything its pundits tell you, because that’s your tribe. Those anti-vaxxers over there are your real enemy, not the nuclear-armed globe-spanning power structure that is driving our world to its doom in myriad ways. And on and on and on.
They give us the illusion of freedom, but as long as they chain our minds with propaganda we are not free. It wouldn’t matter if they gave us every personal liberty imaginable if a critical mass of us were still thinking in ways which benefit the powerful, because those thoughts would cause us to act, organize and vote in a way that benefits our rulers and not us.
If we want to free our minds from the chains of power, it’s not enough to do research and memorize a bunch of facts about what’s really going on in our nation and our world. The most important step to freeing our minds from their shackles is to remove from ourselves the psychological hooks of fear and identity to which those shackles are attached. This means freeing ourselves from the delusions of egoic consciousness, which, funny enough, brings us right back around to the central tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism again.
As long as humanity is enslaved to the ego it will remain enslaved to abusive power structures, because manipulators will always be able to use our egoic hooks to propagandize us into supporting their interests at mass scale. Until then it won’t ultimately matter how many civil liberties we gain or lose, because we’ll still be unable to move beyond the bonds of our psychological chains.