We who experience anxiety, depression and self-hatred know fake news better than anyone.
At a recent rally in Washington DC, Catholic students from Kentucky's Covington High School encountered Native American elder Nathan Phillips. Things occurred. Words were said. Spectators captured images. Within minutes, the media went wild.
Divergent factions accused each other of bigotry, harassment, violently punishable crimes — and the ultimate modern-day offense: spreading fake news.
As now occurs so often, amidst a maelstrom of ever-more-adjustible pictures and words, real-life events become hazy accounts, transferred from ear to ear and eye to eye as in the childhood-party game of telephone, each whisper ever more subjective and ever more blurred, on purpose or by accident, competitively or for fun.
This is a perilous position from which to assess a complicated world. The shrinking of old media with its few but allegedly omniscient Voices of Authority, the ascent in its place of interactive social media and viral video, have shattered the traditional notion of truth.
The very idea of fake news — that so-called facts are spliced, contrived, confused, mistakenly or calculatedly, to trick or tribalize us or sweep us into a swirling tide of rage or fear which seems to confirm our beliefs — is terrifying. It breeds ignorance and hatred and a suffocating sense of impotence.
We who experience anxiety, depression and self-hatred know fake news better than anyone. Our minds broadcast it constantly.
The latest "news" which my mind has been broadcasting in silken anchorperson tones is that I am a wrinkled hobo unfit for display. And that this throbbing in my cheeks is not the sinus headache that always afflicts me between storms but a symptom of something lethal. As is the fact that I dropped a teacup and suffered a skin rash which healed but, hey, might return.
We who experience anxiety, depression and self-hatred hear such broadcasts nearly constantly. News flash: You chose the wrong outfit, wrong partner, wrong career. You are incompetent, hideous, mean. Hear that man laughing? He's laughing AT YOU. And this just in: You're being cheated on, or should be.
Fake news which we take as true.
Just as mainstream consumers should know better than to devour every screaming insta-headline, we should — and sometimes we do — know better, realizing that what else would anxious, depressed and/or self-hating brains say but savage and scary things? It's only logical, like ancient Etruscans speaking Etruscan.
The tricky bit about anxious, depressed and/or self-hating brains is that they are brains, thus infinitely complex and creative. And they're ours, with endless inside access. We can't turn them off.
Yes, we can pause them. Slow their racing pace. But even this takes practice, mastery and skill. We can train ourselves to question their dispatches now and then. But look what we're up against: Dearie, it's me! We've always been together. I know you better than anyone. Why would I lie?
And today's news is: You're a tub of lard!
Just like the fake news on our Facebook feeds, our brains broadcast even as we attempt to sleep, constantly calibrating algorithms by which to feed our worst fears. My mind seizes on every slightly oddball physical sensation — Ah, wearing your favorite bracelet. Is that red spot on your wrist a TICK BITE?!
And it seizes on the "news" that I always face punishment. This is ridiculous. I am a law-abiding, careful, passive, isolated introvert. Yet See your inbox? Those senders are furious at you. Cue twitchy TMJ.
Our anxious, depressed, self-hating brains broadcast fake news because we were lied to — long ago, by those we assumed were authorities. Their power over us, their closeness to us, our worship and fear of them infused their every word with what we thought was blazing truth, however divorced from reality it seemed at first, however much it hurt.
We were too inexperienced, enraptured or afraid to question their wisdom or suspect motives. We absorbed whatever fake news they fed us — whether it was You're committing carnal sins or Your best friend's a bitch.
And just like today's media, sometimes they fed us fake news knowing it was fake. Sometimes they believed it was true. We did not know the difference, and look where that led us.
Let's keep questioning the headlines on our screens and in our minds. We cannot always trace each comment to its source or view each alleged action in real time, but we know the cost of lies.