NFL players are kneeling, standing, sitting maybe, and probably laying down at times. Perhaps they are protesting police killings, or maybe they hate America, and some of them are very patriotic and do or do not support Donald Trump. I don’t know. Who cares?
How many headlines has this stupid manufactured controversy taken up? How many arguments and fights have ensued? Do people even know what they are arguing over?
North Korea is shooting missiles, and Trump is calling Kim Jung Un Rocket Man. Okay, this one seems a little more relevant to my life. I don’t want to be blown up. But is there anything I can do to stop Kim Jung Un or Trump from doing what they are doing? Is my worry going to solve anything?
Those are the big ones in the news right now, but there is still the usual cocktail of crime, death, and fear. And don’t get me wrong, it is great to stay up to date with what is going on. Knowing what crazy actions the Federal Reserve is going to take can help you protect your finances. Being aware of government abuses can help you steer clear of becoming a victim. Understanding what laws and regulations coming down the pipe can allow you to make a decision about how to structure your life to avoid the brunt of it.
But the big headlines, the “news” that is shoved down our throats doesn’t actually have to do with real life. It is all distraction. The news is just full of memes meant to elicit an emotional response and corral our behavior into one of a few pre-determined pens.
If you want the best dissection of cultural memes, watch South Park. Last season, in one episode the NFL announcers told fans and players to stand for the national anthem–or sit, or kneel–in order to show their support. Problem solved.
This season has shown the President taunting North Korea with tweets. Parodying distracted driving, the show urges, “if you are suddenly elected president, please put down your phone.”
Over the course of 20 years, almost 300 episodes of the crude politically incorrect cartoon have torn apart the mainstream popular culture. Almost invariably when I am discussing some popular issue, a scene from South Park comes to mind.
The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are particularly adept at calling out when people are being preoccupied with things that don’t really matter at all.
In an old episode where medical marijuana was legalized in Colorado, Randy Marsh purposely gives himself cancer in order to get a permit to smoke weed. “Can we just skip all this and legalize it?” he asks towards the end of the episode.
In another, the people of South Park are powerless to resist a WalMart that has come to town. They conclude that WalMart must possess some otherworldly power of manipulation. The only solution is to burn it down–rather than simply stop shopping there.
The point is, most of the things happening in politics and the media are basically theater. It is a soap opera or a reality tv show. What isn’t outright fake is highly stylized and organized into a performance. It is meant to distract, to keep you preoccupied. Instead of identifying and solving real problems in your own life, you are supposed to become overwhelmed, hopeless, scared, and take no meaningful action.
Powerlessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They say there is nothing poor people can do to move up in the world. People get so discouraged that they don’t even try. They spend countless hours spouting off about injustices when they could have been learning and creating.
The media tells you are powerless to affect your own life, and you need to argue, campaign, and protest in order to live the life you want to live. But it is all a waste of time that you could be spending actually improving your own life.
Is North Korea really a threat? Probably. Is it something that we need to think about every day? Probably not. Is it something any one of us has control over? No.
We are much more likely to be murdered by a local thug than bombed by a third world dictator. You can move to a new neighborhood, or buy some personal protection. Real problem solved, fake problem ignored.
How likely is it that an Electro Magnetic Pulse from a nuke exploded in the atmosphere takes out all electronics? I honestly have no idea how likely that scenario is, but I know I can’t stop it.
I do, however, have a pretty good idea of the risk of natural disasters taking out the electric grid. That real scenario has affected many people recently. So what can I do?
I can make sure I have extra water, an alternative means of obtaining it, or a gravity fed filtration and rain collection system. I can make sure I have a generator and plenty of gasoline, or solar panels, or a windmill, or plenty of equipment that doesn’t need electricity.
Oh and look at that, by responding to a real threat, I mitigated some of the problems the maybe-threat could have posed.
Is some football player kneeling ruining the moral fabric of America? What exactly is the moral fabric of America? Do I actually have anything in common with these 320 million other people anyway? Am I forced to watch football?
Look at that, I guess it doesn’t really affect me, and I can’t really affect it. But you can dissociate from people who drag you back into the mainstream debates. You have that power.
So we can sit here and dissect memes, and get angry about them. But another solution is to turn off the news and stop paying attention to that drama. Go do something that makes you happy. Do something productive. Learn skills that give you options. Spend time researching investments, or better places to live.
These people–the NFL, Donald Trump, Kim Jun Il–are not truly in our lives. They enter our lives through the television and computer screen. It is that easy to cut them out.
I don’t want to waste my time trying to control something that is out of my hands.
Time is the most precious of human resources, and morbidly limited. The media is robbing you, they are stealing your time. But unlike the actions of football players and Presidents, you can control your own time. Spend it wisely.
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