Shining World

Social Media Can Break Your Brain

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Hello Grant, this article you sent is very interesting, thank you. I am putting the link to it in this satsang as I think it will interest other inquirers. We both enjoyed it and find it an astute assessment of the paranoid psychology behind the conspiracy populist phenomenon, a fear-based program in the universal mind (computer game!) that gains momentum when the time is ripe for it.  People who are drowning in anxiety and feel deprived of security legitimately feel a growing cynicism and alienation which makes it easy to detest people with different values. To blame someone or something for your status quo. Conspiracy theories offer the perfect emotional tools for the disenfranchised, and as some experts say, have become the most effective community bonding mechanisms of this century. They propose the idea that there is ‘an evil force out to get you!’ which sucks in fearful minds because it seems to offer agency and a kind of tribal safety.

The attraction is that you get to feel important, even superior, by debunking everything you hear outside of your bubble, be it scientific, political, or ideological. You are one of those who know what’s truly going on! For those who feel powerless, it provides the power to reject ‘experts’ and ‘expose’ the ‘hidden’ cabals. And you get lots of support from other like-minded people. There is a kind of a rush, a pleasure almost, in thinking you are beating the system. You are not fooled, but everyone else is an idiot!

The conspiracy idea creates an epistemological crisis which allows fearful people to detach from reality and literally make up their own ‘facts’. Yet, it is as old as time because fear is inherent in the mithya game.  Sometimes fear is smart because nothing is at it appears to be in duality. Life is and always has been inherently unpredictable because of the nature of duality, so the primary motivation of humans is security, wherever they think they will find it. I am sure suspicious mistrusting minds first developed when we emerged from the trees, became self-reflective, and had to make sense of the environment and each other. Suspicion gave rise to our gods and mythologies and along with them the belief that in aligning with the ‘right’ side you will find protection.  Fear sometimes protects but is also behind the most destructive forces humans engage in.

Not long ago, fear-based conspiracy/populist ideas played out disastrously but were endemic to a particular country or culture, often little known to the rest of the world. Just to mention one example of this phenomenon (and there are too many to mention), look at what Hitler achieved with his populist idea of the supremacy of a super-race. These days, social media has made the phenomenon not only global but glaringly loud and visible. It’s like mass hypnosis, an Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole kind of thing, but on a global scale. Mithya on steroids, out of control.

Social media platforms started off as networking sites offering attractive and seemingly benign connectivity and engagement. But this quickly evolved into a substitute for real connection offering instead the opportunity to reveal our worst selves, shouting out our grievances in the name of ‘legitimate’ feelings. Social media has spawned algorithmic echo chambers in a twisted digital economy which is the perfect breeding ground for the extreme, toxic, and divisive disinformation crisis consuming most of the human population, it seems. It is a Frankenstein monster. But the real monster is the ones who facilitated its creation, us, with our fear and desperate need for security, and to be heard.

It is said that we are living in a ‘post-truth’ world and that is true in many ways, thanks to social media. But ‘truth’ in mithya has always been relative, which is what makes duality so dangerous and suffering so ubiquitous. What is truth, how do we agree on empirical facts when everything is subjective? One would think that humanity could find a way to agree on the difference between fact and fiction, and not long ago we did have a kind of lingua franca of shared rules and values on what constituted evidence-based knowledge. But that is not so these days. Nothing is sacred anymore given the power of Maya to seduce and delude.

I love the word apophenia which is gaining traction these days. It is the tendency of the human mind to find a connection between things which is not actually there.  It is an apt description of the crazy alternative reality created by the masterminds of chaos on social media whose methods to trick the mind employ its own logic against itself.  The idea is to incite outrage by cherry-picking ideas and presenting them, out of context, but in a way that all sounds so reasonable and plausible. Except that behind it is a deliberate manipulation, an ingenious form of autosuggestion that deludes the mind into thinking it is ‘discovering’ or uncovering, the truth. Because humans are lazy and have always been afraid and insecure, the suggestion that they are being duped is easy to achieve.  And we are being duped by ignorance, all the time, that is nothing new. Social media platforms exercise the power of duality at its most destructive. It should just be a game, an entertainment, but sadly, it has the power to take over a mind completely. Social media has the power to break your brain if you delve too much into it, and from where we are with it now, who knows where it will go. There are many possible scenarios!

We have recently had a Self-realized person, and Vedanta teacher to boot, who has fallen down this crazy hall of mirrors.  One would think that as a Vedantin, and especially as a teacher, your discrimination would make you immune to the hypnosis of duality in all its forms, but apparently, not so. When there are still deeply buried samskaras lurking in the unconscious anything is possible in Maya. He told us we are brainwashed by our liberal views! It would be funny if it is not so sad. We are living in interesting times, that is for sure.

Grant: Thank you Sundari, for taking the time to answer and your analysis of the analysis from the non-dual perspective. Apophenia, a word I had never heard before but now understand, is a great description of how I always felt when people tried to convince of something they saw for instance in a symbol or in a movie or music clip where they detected certain words and movements that had to mean or refer to something concerning worldly or spiritual life; it has parallels to magical thinking.

Sundari: I am sure that apophenia is where the word ‘phony’’ originates from, although the English dictionary claims otherwise. I think phony, which means to deceive, scam or swindle, is correct because people are so often unaware of how their mind deceives and cheats them. The mind is a very interesting thing; it is designed for efficiency, for heuristics. It is naturally biased by its vasana load and will go for the simplest answer within its narrow frame of reference, its personal subjective reality, if it can. And it will do so by reductive thinking, regardless of any other information that contradicts it. The mind identified with its beliefs will fight to maintain its biases, sometimes even to its own demise, as though it is fighting for life itself.

It is no easy feat to override the personal unconscious, which is why the world is in the mess it is in. Nobody is personally to blame, it’s just how the gunas play out in the mind steeped in duality. The mind has a doubting function to protect itself because Maya is so deceptive, but doubting is also a dangerous function because it causes so much harm when in the service of fear, which it so often is. Suspicion, mistrust, and doubt are thus incestuous bedfellows. Convince a mind that it must fight for what it believes in and it is capable of almost anything, as we see playing out on the world stage right now.

Grant: Interesting you say it’s fear-based. Yes, it makes sense but it’s not the first thing I think of considering many of the people that have been infected by it. Those I know see themselves as fearless but that’s probably because they feel the power or self-confidence coming from thinking they beat the system.

Sundari: Indeed. Whether we are talking about online hate groups, far-right or far-left groups, conspiracy theorists, etc it is all about security: bonding and finding tribal safety, beating the system. All populism, conservative or liberal is an “us vs them” idea, which can only be fear-based. Yet all minds are a combination of conservative and liberal views. The real and only enemy is ignorance. Because of ignorance people just cannot agree on a language to define what it is they really want because they don’t know who they are and are fighting a losing battle. Life remains a zero-sum game.  There is no security in this world, no matter what you believe in.  Which is why universal dharma is so important.

We may disagree on our political and religious views but we all basically want the same things, security, pleasure, virtue, freedom. Yet the precarity of life seems more pronounced than ever these days because life has become so complex. There are so many people on earth now, there are so many threats to our existence, real or imagined, that a polarizing mistrust has taken hold of the group mind. Fear makes people paranoid. As a whole people have become totally identified with their ideas and opinions and cling to them for dear life. It’s a culture war, and though social media may well be only an accelerant and not the cause, the internet makes having a strident and anonymous voice with zero accountability possible for many malcontents.

Grant: One of the sad things about this present hypnosis like you mention one of your friends who was endorsed as a Vedanta teacher is that a number of people I have known for many years and would never have thought would fall for this phenomenon. And they get so presumptuous thinking they have to save you and even after fending them off they try to come through the back door. It is much like as if my reflection in the mirror tells me that it is Grant and I am the reflection.

Sundari: As I said, it’s all a hall of mirrors in the mithya game. We shut down the possibility of connection when we see that a mind has been taken over by this kind of thinking.  There is no point trying to get through, the mind is effectively broken.

Grant: I must admit this whole thing is disturbing because while I can see behind the camouflage of this dirty game, it does seem to me, that like with the Advaita shuffle, many people are satisfied with knowing that it’s not real. But I think this world – knowing it is unreal but existent – has not seen a more dangerous threat since the time of Hitler (you named it). And because I had read a lot about how Hitler came to power since my ancestors were involved in the war and I grew up in post-WWII Vienna it makes me shake my head in disbelief and admittedly angry that of all political systems it is the “free democratic system” that gives birth this kind of mass delusion. Oh well, strange times indeed.

Sundari: The mass delusion of the conspiracy idea is worrying from the jiva perspective given human history. One can’t help wondering if there is any hope for humanity observing the ignorance playing out on such a large scale. The propensity for people to make up or accept as fact whatever suits their distorted way of thinking is truly mind-blowing.  Though it is nothing new historically it is much more prevalent now than ever before. Fortunately, unlike in Hitler’s time, the upside of social media is that it makes everything more visible to everyone, the good and the bad. And there are more people not affected than affected by the crazy theories, though it does not appear so if you tune into those using social media to manipulate the masses or listen to those brainwashed by them.

The thing is not to give the phenomenon much importance because there is nothing one can do about it other than avoid people who think like that. It will work itself out one way or another, for good and bad, as is always the case in mithya. We have the ultimate out-card because we understand what’s going on from the big picture point of view of mithya, and from the point of view of the Self. Thankfully, dharma is built into the mithya system and as much as dharma has and can break down, it always self-corrects at some point. 

We had to retract our endorsement of the Vedanta teacher even though he is a friend, a good person, and has been a dedicated and sincere inquirer before becoming a teacher. We cannot have a Vedanta teacher teach in our name who has succumbed to that mindset because of the obvious loss of discrimination and dispassion.  As I said previously, and so has James mentioned it in a satsang on the topic, this person never completed their sadhana.  They had a life-changing spiritual experience a long time ago, which they understood when Vedanta came into the picture.  But they never did the work by applying the teachings to the jiva.  They just jumped straight to satya, ignoring mithya, which sadly, never works.

Mithya may not be real but you better work it out or it will come and bite you sooner or later. This person missed out on or never assimilated vital aspects of the teachings, particularly on Universal dharma and on nididhysana. One of the dangers of intellectually understanding the teachings is thinking that gives you a pass to sidestep nididhysana.  As you say, the Advaita shuffle is a very real thing, as is enlightenment sickness.  The logic this person applied is ‘why must I bother with nididhysana when there is no nididhysana for the Self’? This is true, assuming Self-actualisation has taken place.  Clearly, though, it had not.  There is no escaping the fine print on the enlightenment certificate! 

The most bizarre thing is that though he has always expressed profound gratitude to James as his teacher, and served the teachings so faithfully, he no doubt. is convinced we have ‘lost’ it!  He cannot see that so-called ‘free’ thinking of this kind is the very antithesis of freedom. Those indoctrinated by it, left or right, are absolutely convinced of the opposite.  Truth has once again been reversed by Maya and is standing on its head.  What to do but bless them and walk away.  All is always good for the Self. It is just sad to see someone come so close to moksa yet still get sucked back into the pit again, but what do to.

Much love


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