The world has gone to hell.
The problem is you probably don’t disagree with that statement despite the fact that there is generally less global poverty, hunger, and conflict than ever before in human history. Why is it that we as a species remain insist that we are living in the “end of days?”
Perhaps it is because we just experienced a global pandemic. Perhaps it is because the doomsday clock is currently set at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest our world has ever come to total annihilation.
In a strange way, I feel relieved by the current climate. I no longer feel like a lonely street musician, singing to preoccupied passersby about the corrupt, incompetent, and compassionless behavior corroding American and global ethics. At last, it seems the rest of the world has finally caught up with my apocalyptic sensibilities.
Yet, I fear we are misinterpreting the implications of living amidst the apocalypse.
The common definition of apocalypse is “the complete final destruction of the world, as described in the book of Revelation.” This popular understanding of the term has led to it being used synonymously with catastrophe. But is the apocalypse truly a catastrophe to be feared?
Apocalypse comes from the Greek word, apokálypsis, meaning “revelation” or “disclosure.” With that in mind, consider revisiting the word “Revelation.” A new interpretation may reveal itself to you.
The year 2020 shined a light that revealed many shadows in ourselves and our society. Bearing witness to that suffering is an uncomfortable process, but admitting there is a problem is also the first step toward healing the American culture war or improving humanity’s relationship with our planet to prevent certain ecological collapse.
However, identifying the problem (and the necessary action to mitigate it) requires a common anchor of reality. Unfortunately, media bias has eroded the middle ground into a political divide that is not easily bridged.
The Misinformation Age
If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes journalism. Misinformation spread by cable news and social media has become a powerful and insidious tool of influence. What’s worse is that foreign adversaries have weaponized social media, using fake accounts to disseminate divisive content that preys on American identity politics to widen the cracks in our decaying civility.
Deeming a revelation as “fake news,” a “conspiracy theory,” or a “Russian hoax” on mainstream news is the fastest, easiest way to delegitimize its credibility and dismiss it from consideration. Let us not forget, the media as it exists in its entirety is owned by only five companies. As news networks become increasingly partisan, the narratives they propagate become increasingly polarized, making it difficult to decipher which interpretation of reality is valid.
The Missing “Truth” Can Be Found In The Other
Wisdom insists both interpretations reveal aspects of truth, yet our desire to be blameless and act righteous prevents us from seeing (or sometimes even acknowledging) the truth in another’s contrary point of view. Instead of respecting opposing perspectives, media and tech companies have repeatedly censored conversations and de-platformed content creators for spreading misinformation.
When our uncompromising devotion to our identities and beliefs are challenged by conflicting ideologies, we feel insecure about who we are, how we fit, and what we believe. This leads to the feeling of being attacked or feeling “unsafe,” a phenomenon best described as cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance describes the discomfort people feel when presented with evidence of two contradictory thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors. Dissonance is most painful when the revelation undermines how we see ourselves in relationship to the world, threatening the belief that we are virtuous or morally righteous.
The minute we choose to align with a belief, we begin to find reasons why our decision was just and we were wise to dismiss the alternative. In time, any doubt we originally felt at the time of the initial decision has been replaced with surety. The more we justify our choices, the more difficult we find it to admit the possibility that we were ever wrong to begin with, especially if the end result proves humiliating, self-defeating, or harmful.
Why So Serious?
The best cure for cognitive dissonance is comedy. Seriously! The best way to circumvent the anxiety of reconciling two contradictory beliefs is to not take your beliefs and group identity so seriously. Humor can be used as a cognitive and communicative reframing device and also serves as a strategy to reduce or temporarily suspend tension.
The Archetype known as “The Fool” provides comic relief by crossing cultural norms. They are the court jester often seen in stories alongside the ruler, critiquing the state of the kingdom, saying (in jest) what needs to be said, yet no-one else is willing to say out loud.
The Fool uses honesty to combat incompetence and corruption. The fool remains unafraid of what the establishment thinks and speaks to the hypocrisy of those who claim to be righteous. They question rules and challenge authority, using humor to soften their blows.
When I was growing up, political satirists and late night comedians served as the fools. Now, political partisanship has engulfed Late Night television, and it seems Twitch streamers and podcasters have assumed the mantle of providing honest, unrestrained societal commentary. Is it not revealing that so many people choose to listen to the Joe Rogan Podcast instead of cable news?
Braving the Inferno
I embody the Fool every time I make music. I write rhymes that point out societal ails and bring light to the shadow. My lyrics reveal the rot of society, but in hopes that it may inspire growth. In recognition of this natural duality, I decided to release my project, Inferno, as two separate albums: Descent and Ascent.
In today’s world, there is no shortage of fools on radio and television pointing out problems. However, it is rare to find someone who dedicates equal time and attention to proposing and role-modeling solutions. For every song that I wrote on the album, “Inferno – Descent,” that pointed to a cultural problem, I composed an equally compelling companion song on “Inferno – Ascent” that captured the spirit of the positive reformative change I wish to see in the world.
Creating the music and story for the dual Inferno albums taught me that beyond duality, there is polarity. In the bigger picture, both sides are not separate, but one. So if we say the world has gone to hell, can we not also recognize that Earth can be heaven? That’s the power of choice.