Earlier this month, an unsubstantiated BuzzFeed dossier claiming to contain compromising information about the President-elect, Donald Trump, was picked up and treated as real news by CNN. The news had turned out to be false, and in his first news conference in months, Trump grilled the CNN reporter, called his network “fake news,” and prevented him from asking questions. Since November 9, when the stunning results of the US elections came in, there has been a growing buzz around the question of whether or not fake news was used to promote candidates.
Fake news is nothing new. It is an oft-used means to mislead people for financial, political, or other purposes. Governments, political parties, and even public relations professionals often misreport in order to accentuate their side of a debate, or simply fabricate stories just to pull the public to their side. In fact, the news today is so plagued with bias that it can either be fake or misleading, but it is always bent.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states that a journalist must “Never deliberately distort facts or context.” In today’s world of journalism, such a statement could easily count as fake news. When every news outlet clearly states its political position, we can only expect news outlets to deliberately distort facts and context in order to manipulate public discourse and public opinion. The interest of media is to serve their shareholders, not to inform the public.
Here is a classic case of a media outlet using news to manipulate the public’s view. In recent months, terrorists carried out three deadly attacks in a very similar fashion—driving trucks into a crowd of unsuspecting pedestrians. The first attack took place in Nice, France, the second happened in Berlin, Germany, and the third ramming occurred in Jerusalem, Israel. Despite the similarity of events, and despite the fact that in all three incidents there were casualties, and the driver was clearly a terrorist deliberately plowing with his truck through the crowd, BBC News reported the third incident, in Israel, very differently from the first two. Here are the headlines that BBC gave to each of the attacks: France: At least 84 killed by lorry at Bastille Day celebrations. Germany: Lorry kills 12 at Christmas market. Israel: Driver of lorry shot in Jerusalem after allegedly ramming pedestrians, injuring at least 15, Israeli media report.
Remember the SPJ Code of Ethics item that journalists must “never deliberately distort facts or context”? Indeed, how very far we are from the days when we considered the press the “watchdog of democracy.” The only thing they watch today is their shareholders’ interests. Yet, there is a reason for this sad state.
The Ego Is King
We may be eyeing journalists these days, but to be honest, bias is all over the place. Take polls, for instance. We used to put them on a pedestal and regard them as the bastion of objectivity. Following their two flops—to predict the outcomes of the Brexit vote and the US elections—polling companies have lost the public’s trust. Now, even the influential French newspaper, Le Parisien, has decided to abandon opinion polls in the run-up to the general elections, and to “shift focus from ‘horse race’ journalism to on-the-ground reporting.”
Another major issue of trust is with the US Judicial System. Since the president nominates the Supreme Court justices, and Senate must approve them, it means that by definition, the US justice system is politically bent from the top down. If the Supreme Court is subject to the influence of political interests, can we even expect objectivity anywhere in the judicial system?
Wherever you turn, personal, sectarian, financial, or political interests determine the way the country is run. This is true for the United States, as it is true for every single country in the world. Yet, as sad as this is, knowing the truth is the first step toward correction. In Kabbalah, realizing the negativity of human nature and its adverse impact on our world is called, “recognition of evil.”
Indeed, today the ego is king. Sociologists have written about our culture of narcissism since the late 1970s, but since the turn of the century they have begun to think that our selfishness has become an epidemic. Spiraling depression, skyrocketing divorce rates, escalating violence, ideological and religious radicalism, an explosion of substance abuse, growing alienation and isolation, escalating political disputes, all these are symptoms of the self-entitlement epidemic that is threatening our well-being and our very existence.
To Correct Human Society, Correct Human Nature
Describing the entire correction process for human society is a bit of a tall order for a newspaper column. I detailed this in several of my books, including Self-Interest vs. Altruism in the Global Era: How society can turn self-interests into mutual benefit, and Completing the Circle: An empirically proven method for finding peace and harmony in life, which also includes examples of practical implementation of the correction process. Yet, I would like to highlight the basic principles for constructing a healthy society.
The Engine of Development
You cannot suppress or crush the ego. Humanity has been trying to do so for centuries, and has failed miserably. Our egos are not stagnant; they are constantly growing, so every defense we erect against them crumbles as soon as more intense egoism appears. The pressure released when such outbursts occur causes violence and disorder throughout society. In fact, the world we see today—where the ego is destroying everything of value on the planet—is precisely the result of our failed attempts at crushing the ego.
Also, the ego is the engine of our development. Humanity’s greatest achievements emerged from man’s egoistic search for fame, fortune, and knowledge. If we crush the ego, we will crush progress.
Humanity’s Final Frontier
The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, said recently in an interview with Tucker Carlson on the Tucker Carlson Tonight show: “Connecting people to people will be a huge job. …I think that the best jobs will be people-to-people jobs. We’re going to see a whole new set of jobs and industries around the heart, around connecting people to people.”
Indeed, humanity’s final frontier is not to conquer space; it is to conquer the space between us. In this perilous time, humanity’s single most important task is to rise above the ego and unite. This may sound utopian or unrealistic, but it is feasible if we employ the right approach and use the right means.
Almost 4,000 years ago, Abraham the Patriarch discovered that life exists on the balance between giving and receiving. As is today, Abraham’s society in Babylon was shattered by alienation and by aspirations for human achievement. The ancient Hebrews came from multiple tribes and nationalities. Escaping the alienation in their own tribes, they flocked to Abraham, who taught them how to love one another, the trait that eventually made us into a nation. Today, after two millennia of abandonment of this most valuable asset, we must not only return to our roots and restore our unity, but also share the method for achieving it with the rest of the tormented world.
Abraham and his descendants developed a connection method that enabled their disciples to transcend the egoism that stood between them and bridge it with love. The higher the threshold of egoism became, the higher the bridge they built above it. The book, Likutey Etzot (Assorted Counsels), writes, “The essence of peace is to connect two opposites. Hence, do not be alarmed if you see a person whose view is the complete opposite of yours and you think that you will never be able to make peace with him. Also, when you see two people who are completely opposite to each other, do not say that it is impossible to make peace between them. On the contrary, the essence of peace is to try to make peace between two opposites.” King Solomon aptly summarized this approach in his proverb (Prov 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
Until now, we have enshrined receiving and we have totally abandoned the element of giving. We have warped society and made it selfish to the core. Now we must reintroduce the element of giving into our communities, so that the positive force of connection will offset the negative force of separation.
In previous columns, I wrote about Connection Circles and other techniques we can apply in order to install the positive force into society. But before we can employ any of them, we must decide that we no longer want to live in an egoistic world where the press is misreporting, the justice system is politicized, and the economy benefits only the ruling elite while the rest of us are slowly sliding into poverty. Just as physicians need a diagnosis in order to prescribe an effective cure, we need “recognition of evil” in order to start healing our society. This is where we are right now; it is the first step toward recovery.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post