April 4, 2022

Innocuous Propaganda

We are victims of innocuous propaganda disguised as life advice... And it's kept you and me from finding our happiness.

Innocuous Propaganda
Photo by Sten Ritterfeld / Unsplash

Never in the history of our species have we come so far yet lost the plot so completely.

We have the most brilliant minds alive today selling fart apps and selling subscriptions to made-up problems. Do we really need a service to share our 280 characters when we are sleeping? Does this really make us… Happy?

Man did not evolve all this way just so you can order delivery of toilet paper to your door with a voice command.

We are victims of innocuous propaganda disguised as life advice.

We start out impressionable and naive. We trust the word of those who have gone before us as they must know things that we don’t know. They love us so much, how can they ever harm us? We are how the world works, what life is, and what is expected of us. We internalize these adult-spoken words and plan our entire futures to these expectations. We believe that by following these guidelines we will achieve the dream of a fulfilled life, full of happiness and free of strife.

How many times have you heard or parroted these lines?

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."
"Spend 3 months' salary on an engagement ring."
"Have a fairytale wedding."

Or the big one… Buy a house in the suburbs, procreate 2.5 kids, retire at 65 and live off the 401k retirement that you should have been saving for since your late teens.

The problem with this bad programming is that it keeps creators, like you, from happiness.

Kellogg’s (the breakfast cereal company) hired ad men on Madison Avenue to convince Americans that they needed another ritual in the day to consume food. Kellogg’s just so happened to also have the perfect product in cereal as the solution to the problem the ad men just made up for you.

When you repeat something long enough, it becomes the truth. This is called the illusory truth effect and it was only identified in 1977.

Through generations, we accept the world as it is. The concept of breakfast goes from an ad slogan to as essential a part of one’s daily life as breathing is.

Innocuous propaganda becomes the truth.

“So what?” I hear you say. “A few strips of bacon and a couple of eggs never hurt anyone.”

This is just a small example. Let’s dive in a little deeper to something more systemic.

For many, our education system has failed us. It is based on the 19th Century Prussian model of state-provided regimented education. In essence, our schools are factories to provide punctual, docile, and sober workers… To factories.

Which is an education predicated on innocuous propaganda.

As a creator, being asked to do repetitive tasks over and over again, to take a break when the clock tells you to… is a recipe for failure.

This innocuous propaganda is not actually meant for creators.

Recall the last time you got home after a long day and are asked to make another decision. Deciding what to eat is so mentally tasking that you’d rather just pass out and sleep.

How about the last time you were burnt out?

I spent half of my golden precious twenties building a family business. I just came off of one roaring success and leveraged that momentum to exit and move my immigrant family to a better neighborhood where I would attempt to build a larger, grander version of what we had built before.

I left my university program two semesters away from graduating. I put it all on the line. It was hard, long hours and I was miserable. My family was also a part of this struggle and sacrifice. I told myself I will be happy once we achieve profitability.

Three months after opening the economic collapse wiped the business and my family out.

Half my twenties were gone with nothing to show for it.

Why do you think we let ourselves repeatedly burn out?

Why is it that we push ourselves to achieve something only to realize that afterward we are still left empty and unhappy?

If others can do it, so can I… Right? Yet we try again and fail because of the innocuous propaganda we internalized.

From lines of words manufactured by ad men to sell you a box of cereal for $4.99 to the undeniable universal truths that echo throughout the cosmos, we must learn to see the innocuous propaganda for what it is and anchor ourselves to what really matters in our lives.

The solution is actually, YOU.

After I burnt out, I got rid of everything I didn't love.

I tried to make sense of things in my depression by looking inward.

I re-enrolled in school. A place that burnt me out twice already.

This is when it dawned on me that I don’t need to wait to accomplish some lofty goal to be happy. I have the ability to give myself permission to be happy. What’s the worst that could happen? Fail again? Surely it couldn't be worse than what I just went through.

What I learned was, the only solution is to learn about yourself.

Who you are.
What you care about.
What you value.

Once you know yourself, you can start to embrace your truth and unwind all the innocuous propaganda leading you astray.

By learning about ourselves we learn our own truths. Truths that we can build further upon that when followed through leaving us feeling whole and fulfilled.