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How To Protect Your Brain From Being Eaten by Ideology, Idiocy, and Bad-Faith Arguments

A few years ago when I quit the news, I also quit reading articles. Specifically, ones forwarded to me via email by people who do not generally read. Like a food diet, my information diet needed to be protected. Books were allowed in. Documentaries, in. Debate, in. Forwarded articles were a no. Social media, no. Broadcast news, hard no.

[You can read more about that decision here]

In the years since I’ve made that decision, I feel calmer. The depth of my understanding of certain topics has expanded, I don’t feel that urgent need to have an opinion and state it publicly. And I’m perfectly comfortable answering, “no,” when asked, “Hey did you hear about the 98-year-old woman who was murdered in Vermont after she ate a vat of expired cheese?”

There is room in my brain for more critical thinking.

For the better part of 7 years, I have begged, pleaded, and posted as much as I possibly could to get people to opt out of this hamster wheel of dopamine chasing, to no avail. People were convinced they were being worldly by “keeping up” and “being informed” (I assure you, you are not). That belief beat any evidence-based arguments I could make. I wasted effort and energy sending long group emails to people I loved, explaining headlines, persuasion, social forces, framing effects, clickbait, and ethics. I published these ideas in a variety of outlets which also were mostly ignored. 

It’s much easier to decide that the world was simpler when we only had four media channels (broadcast, print, out-of-home, radio) – but the world was not simpler. There were no “simpler times.” There were times you were younger. There were times you knew less. But life has been the same level of complicated, cruel, confusing, and beautiful for all of human history.

People who express nostalgia over a past that no longer exists always strike me as the most susceptible to misinformation. Their feigned naivety lends itself to a desire to trust something, anything. It’s easier to believe a conspiracy theory that aligns with your worldview than to assume the person or institution you trust is lying to you on purpose.

Mass propaganda and disinformation campaigns are happening right now and you are falling for them. So am I. It’s impossible not to.

What is possible is to protect our peace. To protect our brains from being eaten by ideology, idiocy, and bad-faith arguments.

If everything you’re reading is agreeing with you – you’re not reading properly.

If everything you’re reading is causing your blood pressure to go up – you’re not reading properly.

There are plenty of places outside of the internet to find tempered and useful information that makes you a smarter person. They go by the name, “books.” If you’re feeling out of sorts and not sure what’s real or true or what to do about it – I suggest you turn off the TV, stop scrolling, and start filling your brain with things that take time, effort, and energy to understand.

The chaos is not going to lessen anytime soon. Those who’ve lost their minds to the madness machine aren’t coming back for a while. I suggest we let them go. Sun Tzu says “The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” The enemy here is ignorance, hate, reactivity, blame, projection, tribalism, and dysregulation run amok.

This is not a battle of knives and guns, it’s a battle of ideas taking place in the attention economy, but the rules are the same:

From Art of War:

  1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight;
  2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces;
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks;
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared;

Choosing your battles wisely (do not engage after 4 glasses of wine), knowing who is worth your time (Not the social media troll), and surrounding yourself with people who are grounded, intelligent, and well-read (do not confuse “uses big words” or “has a degree” with grounded and intelligent) are the antidote to this idiocy we’re witnessing.

I propose we raise the bar for what we deem acceptable.

These political debates are unacceptable and profoundly stupid. What passes as “an article” would make my 5th-grade English teacher weep. Ignoring data because it’s inconvenient or because you’re data illiterate is unacceptable. Spending too much time on one subject at the expense of others to create the illusion that it’s the most important thing (google “agenda setting”) is reprehensible.

If something you’re consuming creates the feeling of fear, chaos, certainty, or outrage – recognize it was designed to. Then interrogate it and decide what you think for yourself.

There is a game being played around us and you do not have to play it. The world existed before media and it will exist after. Being more deliberate and discerning with what and how we consume will only serve us well.

We will see no improvement if we continue to be cracked out on a steady diet of outrage, blame, helplessness, and hate.

To quote from one of the most evil movie villains of all time, Miranda Priestlyit’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room… from a pile of “stuff.”

[watch the full clip here

It’s sort of comical how we think we’ve made a choice that exempts us from the media industrial complex, when in fact, our beliefs are being selected for us. by a group of robots that are trying to optimize for eyeballs.

Time, effort, and energy. Put them elsewhere. Put them where it matters (and you get to determine where “matters” is). That’s how you take your power back. That’s the leverage you have.

Use it.






PS: THANK YOU for continuing to read and reply to these emails. Hearing from you is life-affirming. I’m moved by every single person who takes the time to write me. I’ve been very slow to respond, so if you have not heard from me, know I have seen it and am getting to it. I try to reply to as many readers as possible. I’m a few weeks (errr months) behind.

One thing I wanted to share was the overwhelming response to my last piece – to choose life and choose joy. I did not know I had so many readers in Israel and was moved by the calls to life. To honor life by living yours. It helps no one to be marred in your self-pity, guilt, or shame. It’s ok if you can’t directly help troops on the ground. Love your kids, be kind to the person at Starbucks, and get that second glass of wine. You are ALIVE. What a gift.

I spent some time recently with family friends who live in Israel and have friends in Gaza and life is horrific. My brain could not compute the stories I was being told. One of the organizers of Women Wage Peace shared her despondence when her 75-year-old friend and organizer was burned alive along with all her things. They barely were able to identify her body. That woman spent her entire life advocating for peace. ENTIRE LIFE.

The only thing I could think of in response was to quote Vonnegut from his book about bombing Dresden, “And so it goes…”

Still, our family friends said: LIVE.

Choose life.


And so it goes.