Years ago, every morning we’d come across Section-A of the morning newspaper and read a variation of the same finger-smudging words as any other rolled up daily that found its way onto our driveways or front steps. We’d read all-the-news-that-was-fit-to-print. We might even open one eye to the network wake-up shows, and listen to the same inflecting monotone of a news anchor, who read in-all-seriousness a slight departure from the words spoken one dial-click away.
Today the morning is not all that’s different. The entire day holds a continuous flood of change-moments. And its “news” is only one example of the new-normal abundance of distractions. News is the finest example, because news’ job is to report how the national landscape changes, as it has already, more in the last three years than in the last one-hundred, it seems. And there we see that much of what we loved has already collapsed and departed, and we let it happen. So you better keep up this time.
We know the other unending proliferations: social media, superhero movies, binge seasons, opinion pieces, gadgets and apps, celebrity rumors, foodie recipes, sports, who’s showing virtue now, movie reviews, political arguments. Hearts race even reading the list; what are we missing at this given instant?
(Note: In this article, “we” also means “I.”)
The new reality-makers certainly know how to make hearts race. Edward Bernays spelled it out almost a hundred years ago in his work on propaganda. But without the underlying unmet needs that his methods fulfill, his methods would fail, whether in 1930s Nazi Germany, 1900s ad-deluged America, or the 2020s Covid feardom.
The new reality-makers know the social needs, such as the lure of demonizing a group, from the 1930s European Jews to the 2020s unmasked and unvaccinated.
The new reality-makers know the emotional needs, to connect images to feelings – such as binary divisiveness, and blame.
But if the images and messages should cause warm and for-the-greater-good emotions… those are good, and hard to discredit, am I right? When emotions, the self, and the material, are the dominant reality, all that heart-racing will happen, but for the best, right?
CJ Hopkins1 illustrates example after example of signage and screens successfully spawning the utilitarian covid concern, and, more significantly, new-normal behavior. “[T]he more important part is forcing people to look at these images, over and over, hour after hour, day after day, at home, at work, on the streets, on television, on the Internet, everywhere. This is how we create ‘reality.’ We represent our beliefs and values to ourselves, and to each other, with images, words, rituals, and other symbols and social behaviors.”
The over-and-over is how conformity forms and festers. “Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re away. He’s making sure you’re always distracted.” -- Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby.2
They want to distract. Frank Wright2 expounds on this spectacle: “[T]he modern media self is dependent on the cloud for its emotions.” Bernays knew that, post-Enlightenment, emotions predominate - so their key to selling ideas or things is simply to connect images to the “me.”
For now, it doesn’t matter who “they” are, or whether “their” effort is unintentional, conscious, or evil. The point is that we know they’re trying to do so. And we know it works.
Also on our screens there’s alt-info about distractions, how to spot them, and how to avoid them. Each day Bernays’ textbook on advertising and propaganda plays out, along with an indispensable subset of articles telling us we‘re all being propagandized, and how and why “they” are stealing our freedoms from under our mask-dented noses.
All that is brilliant, yeoman’s work, vital to the cause, whatever that is. Some of us notice these takings of freedoms, but what should we do with that freedom taken anyway? Freely swipe to more screens that happen to pierce the blocks and shadow-bans?
Alana Newhouse3 brilliantly describes the “broken” society we live in, then she longs for diversity as the end. She seeks to replace our monochrome, stale, broken lives with something artsy and good, and definitely missing today; hard to argue against this. “What I want is to be inspired by the last generation that made a new life-world—the postwar American abstract expressionist painters, jazz musicians, and writers and poets who created an alternate American modernism that directly challenged the ascendant Communist modernism: a blend of forms and techniques with an emphasis not on the facelessness of mass production, but on individual creativity and excellence.”
Caitlin Johnstone4 similarly seeks diversity of experience and more expansive art and awareness. "If there is a purpose of human life, as near as I can tell from these severely limited sense organs and this very limited brain, it’s to become as conscious as possible.” Again, superb breakthrough work, and so many elements of truth, hard to discredit - but what comes next?
Is it just like what-got-us-here-in-the-first-place, just like the rebellious responses to the Middle Ages, the Victorian Era, the Third Reich, the Fifties? – more modernist-materialist-epoch responses to conformity, totalitarianism, and sameness – when the sameness led to diversity led to more sameness. More distractions.
But it’s difficult to write off all that. Platonic-Socratic hidden midwife-gadfly abstract consciousness reality is much better than materialistic, Marxist, nihilistic, utopian gray doom. Create-from-nothing, Genesis-God-like creativity is much better than determined Calvinist robotism. What could go wrong? Foreshadowing: lots.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn5, in his 1978 speech to Harvard, gave us a clue and a warning on rebuilding a ruined society. “[W]e recoiled from the spirit and embraced all that is material, excessively and incommensurately. The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs.”
Then, still, there are the more numerous, supposedly more omniscient mainstream anti-alt experts, who will answer in unison in their uni-message, in all their interviews and websites. To them, the problem is that some of us are too distracted from their current-narrative-thing-distraction-of-the-moment: the covid-mask Ukraine vaccine race-war assault-rifle abortion-travel-distance murder-hornet crisis or something.
We all spiral, in and out of distractions, on through to the next news cycle and beyond.
So this Catholic365com series will try to answer: What are we being distracted from?
Answering more Questions might help us identify the underlying foundation we might be leaving behind. The first three Questions:
1) Reality: What one most true, significant, and authentic entity(ies) do humans encounter in existing?
2) Purpose: What one function impels the universe, God, and/or humans within Reality to the most good and beautiful?
3) Perspective: What one point-of-view provides the knowledge about the true Reality and the most good Purpose?
The possible Answers are multiple-choice. The challenge is to name one Answer to each. The Answer must be the center of one’s life. When a choice is required in life or death, the one Answer overrides.
This first set of three First Questions comes from the philosopher Walter Watson's book The Architectonics of Meaning (1985)6. Watson used “archic analysis” to pinpoint these almost mutually exclusive definitions of dogmas, from philosophy to literature, to art and science. He defined four archic Variables, four Questions (we narrowed it to three here, omitting his fourth, more technical topic, Method). Each of them had four distinct Values, or Answers within them. He evaluated dozens of texts, authors, works, and systems, from thousands of years of history, fitting them into one of the resulting 256 combinations. By focusing on today’s major Questions, religions, and ways-of-life, we can eliminate many of these combinations in the comparisons.
After answering the first three, to narrow the focus, we’ll use three more correlated Questions:
4) Reality: Is the fundamental difference between God and humans in degree, or in kind?
5) Purpose: Are God and His decrees absolute and changeable according to His will, or pre-ordained according to His design?
Again, only one indisputable Answer to each.
6) Perspective: What has the Holy Trinity revealed that guides your daily life?
The answers to #6 are more expansive, yet nonetheless critical.
The Answers are what the media, the emails, the advertisements, the opinion pieces, the comments sections, the memes – unending examples of current things, narratives, ruling ideology – distract us from: our religion.
And religion is not merely an organization of people, or the mode of worship we choose on Sundays. It is our way-of-life. It defines what gives us joy, appeases our sufferings, and motivates nearly all our activities.
No other religion(s) can interfere with our dominant one. Clear, overriding, unambiguous Answers are our religions, our ideology, and our life. We can sometimes accept other Answers simultaneously, but, by the definition of religion and ideology, only ONE each will always reign.
In other words, our ideology or religion is the set of Answers to the above Questions for which we’re willing to lose our life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness to retain. So the answers must not be theory. They are life itself.
Everyone chooses one, or will choose one before our ability to choose expires. Even atheists have a religion. G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Heretics (1905) (page 98) that the “modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas.” 7 And if someone doesn’t have one firm Answer to one or more of these, they may be a “none,” still searching, or lukewarm. Nearly everyone goes through those stages. But one cannot claim to truly live a religion and answer ambiguously or overlap with other religions. Or allow another ideology to run roughshod over it.
In short, these Questions allow us to know the dividing lines, and know that dividing lines exist.
More foreshadowing: In subsequent articles here, clear Catholic Answers will show how Catholic Christianity distinguishes itself from all the other dogmas and religions of the world. We believe Catholic Christianity is not just the privileged dogma or religion, but the one fundamentally different from all the rest. And the salvific one. So focus.
1. CJ Hopkins, “The Propaganda War (And How to Fight It),” July 19, 2021, [Online] Available from: https://cjhopkins.substack.com/p/the-propaganda-war-and-how-to-fight
2. Frank Wright, “This is How We Make Belief,” May 6, 2022, [Online] Available from: https://frankwright.substack.com/p/this-is-how-we-make-belief (Lullaby: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22206.Lullaby)
3. Alana Newhouse, “Everything is Broken,” Tablet Magazine, January 14, 2021, [Online] Available from: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/everything-is-broken
4. Caitlin Johnstone, “We’re Here To Become As Conscious As Possible,” June 16, 2022, [Online] Available from: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/06/16/were-here-to-become-as-conscious-as-possible/
5. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart,” June 8, 1978, [Online] Available from: https://www.solzhenitsyncenter.org/a-world-split-apart]
6. Walter Watson, The Architectonics of Meaning, 1985, University of Chicago Press
7. G.K. Chesterton, Heretics, 1905, Christian Classic Ethereal Library, [Online] Available from: http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/GK%20Chesterton%20Heretics.pdf