Remember when “reality TV” was a joke and everyone thought it would go away?

Haha! Oh well! Play stupid games, win stupid prizes…

Decades after the first person got voted off the island, there’s a reality TV star in the Big House, and a special panel of judges must decide whether to throw him to the dogs.

Depending what channel you’re watching, you get a different spin on the same tale. Maybe it’s news, maybe it’s comedy, who can tell?

In one version, he’s a heroic underdog who “says it like it is”. He defied all the judges to win American Idol 2016, and now he’s in the favorite contestant in Survivor: Special Investigation . He’ll have to con and backstab his way to the top of the heap.

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But on the other channel, there’s a different story. The senile, lecherous father figure, the self-serving asswipe kids, the one family member who’s always missing or out the frame because she’s smart enough to see the disgusting trainwreck her birth family has become? That’s right, it’s the long-awaited comeback: The Osbournes Eat America! In which all decent people watch in terror while the Feral First Family dismantles the federal government and installs a cabal of carnies and fitness trainers and coke dealers.

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On the internet you can get any flavor you want. Maybe he’s Charlie at the White Chocolate Factory, or he’s the monster of Young Frankenstein, or from the Producers or Blazing Saddles or really any Mel Brooks film apparently.

It’s a cartoon administration, a pastiche. And if you find it too garish,try the spinoff, To Catch a Predator: Beltway Edition , in which Jon Stewart plays Robert Mueller in everyone’s minds and somehow the FBI are the good guys now.

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Of course this was going to happen. It’s been the plan since Bernays wrote Propaganda . It’s the endgame of the consent factory. Corporate power merges with state power, entertainment merges with news, fiction merges with politics. The decisions of the few manage the perceptions of the many, and the “rule of the people” is a puppet show of human flesh.

This comes from the reactionary attitude that people are weak and need to be controlled. But now, with assloads of data about human behavior and the robot slave power necessary to sift through it, we’re in new territory of manipulation. And the texture of this new world is warped, tilted toward those who already have money and power, those who can bend the wills of other humans to their ends. Dark wizards.

The nasty old perverts we call “statesmen” and “executives” are at the controls of a world-spanning mind control machine. And they’ve only just begun. In the next ten years, weaponized information is going to topple nations, unhinge minds, ignite wars. The giants are throwing rocks, and we’re scuttling about at their feet clutching umbrellas.

There’s evidence that being stupid makes you more subsceptible to fake news . Well, the authors of the study call it “lower cognitive ability,” but you know what they mean. Across the board – even after adjusting for other biases – they found that people who did worse on cognitive ability tests also had a harder time distinguishing between real and fake news.

Being stupid is not a fixed attribute. Cognitive ability changes over a lifetime, but it also varies from moment to moment. If you’re tired, drunk, or stupefied by a day at the mall, your cognitive ability suffers. Your critical thinking skills go offline, and your ability to do math, and your long-term planning modules. You become a lesser primate: Homo dipshiticus . You believe what you’re told.

Another study shows how the content of a news story affects its virality . Using data from the New York Times, they found that stories were shared more if they evoked awe, practical knowledge, or interest, and shared less if they were sad. But the most effective emotion for getting shared was anger .

Now, this is the Gray Lady, so they couldn’t get a sampling of all human emotions. There’s not a lot of titillation in the newspaper of record. I would bet, given a wider data set, that sexuality would score as high as anger. And somewhere up there is self-image , the desire to see yourself replicated forth onto the internet. But anger and arousal and narcissism are definitely the cash cows of the clickbait world.

Sharing an article on the internet isn’t always a sign of stupidity. Sometimes you want to share an interesting newsletter with your most erudite friends, and that’s okay! You can just forward it to them, or share a link to the archives at tinyletter.com/sciops/archive.

But a lot of the garbage out there – fake news, real news, whatever the hell RT is, the whole spectrum – is designed to push these “hot buttons” and get views and that’s it. They’re collecting eyeballs. The ad-based internet turned into a machine for getting people to stare at infinite propaganda, what a surprise. The dark wizards feed off your attention.

Cogsec means constant vigilance. You have to keep your head above water, wipe the ads and distractions from your eyes.


To conserve our attention and avoid being hijacked by the triggering imagery of the media-circus-industral complex, we should develop counterspells that mute and hide those things we don’t want to see.

We can learn from the British documentary series Black Mirror , in which AR technology is used to “block” people in real life. The people you’ve blocked are overlaid, in your vision, with static snow, and their voices are muffled.

We could, for instance, block every image of the clown-in-chief. I generated this in a few minutes tinkering with person-blocker , an open-source AI tool:

AMERICAN PRESIDENT snowed out by AI

With a little more work we could create an alternate news feed, one that shows the admittedly interesting and practical news of the day, but omits the faces and names of the slimeball dictators that are ruining the planet. Maybe it would reduce their narcissism. Definitely it would reduce my nausea.

True, it could go horribly wrong. The same software could be used to hide all ugly truths, to keep us trapped in our filter bubbles. But we’re already doing that, by choice and by design, self-segregating into echo chambers of identity and indignation.

We’re headed for a world where no one knows what’s true, because their hormones are too jacked by anger and self-righteousness. We’re already dealing with Science Gone Horribly Wrong. We have to put that science in the hands of regular people, or the dark wizards will use it to win another thousand years of feudalism. We have to protect ourselves.

If we can reduce those attack vectors, if we can put a damper on those stupefying emotional triggers, we’ll be able to see the world clearly, and react appropriately.

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