Every presidential election cycle, it’s tragic to see so many ordinarily sane, lucid, everyday people succumb to the seductions of political propaganda, losing their wits in the process. 

So here’s my advice to the average bear as we enter this election year – cherish your sanity and life outside of your political opinions. Try to enjoy Freak Show 2024 without taking it all too seriously! Here are a few ways to help you detach: 

1. "What is Seen and What is Not Seen" is the core lesson of Henry Hazlitt’s timeless “Economics in One Lesson.” Hazlitt develops how this simple insight can be applied to understand many subtle aspects of economic life and government policy. 

The art of politics consists in seeing many chess moves ahead beyond the immediate, literal, or surface of the political scene. “Seeing the unseen” of politics is crucial to inoculating oneself against political propaganda and keeping one’s wits when everyone else seems to have lost theirs. 

2. “In politics, man must learn to rise above principle,” H. L. Mencken writes in his 1940 essay, “The Politician,” wherein a politician running for president aims to “save the country from all the stupendous frauds and false pretenses of his rival,” only to find his “blasts of common sense got very little applause.” Thus, he, too, starts making false promises to stay alive in the race.  

Politicians deserve a larger dose of skepticism than anyone given their active quest for power and use of manipulative techniques to garner votes. If you wish to understand such political professionals, do not listen merely to their words, but rather look below the surface for the hard-boiled necessities they face. 

If you were in their shoes, would you really behave differently?

3. “A truth that’s told with bad intent / Beats all the lies you can invent” was reportedly George Orwell's favorite line of poetry. To tell a truth “with bad intent” is to be selective with the truth, bending it to fit one's own narrow interests. It also is to say something true about someone else while leaving the same truth about yourself unseen. The corporate press who manage “the national conversation” do this constantly and shamelessly.  

Though members of the prestige media rarely seek formal political power themselves, they nonetheless wield immense informal power over the populace and political process, thus deserving a potent dose of skepticism.  

The media often tells the truth – the truth, when applicable, is the best propaganda, after all – but they often do so with bad intent. Their job isn’t to tell the truth always and forever. Their job is to curate and control a “national narrative” that is, at best, only partially true. Like the political class, the media purposefully manipulates others for their own selfish ends. Framing the Overton Window, they greatly limit the range of allowable opinions while encouraging rabid debate within those artificially constructed limits.

4. “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives,” Jonathan Haidt writes in “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” “Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes,” he writes, “than a scientist searching for truth.” 

Aside from the manipulative psychopaths of politics and media, those they manipulate should also be taken with a grain of salt. The political opinions of the average man are rarely of his own creation and are often left as unexamined as his back hair.  

Everyday folks who mean well are, sadly, some of the most susceptible to spreading the propaganda of their manipulators, unwittingly as though infected by some unseen highly transmissible mind virus. 

5. “Nowadays, ‘public opinion’ is more smoothly and easily ventriloquised,” writes Christopher Hitchens in his “Letters to a Young Contrarian.” Indeed, polls are more often a means of shaping public opinion than of accurately reporting public opinion.  

Hitchens continues:

"Thus to the consumer the ‘poll’...may seem like a mirror of existing opinion. But to the one who produces it, the poll is a swift photograph of the raw material to be worked upon. You may have noticed that popular opinion is not always and invariably cited by the elites. Nor is it consistently tested.... Who would pay (a properly sampled poll is quite an expensive business) for such a thing? No, ‘public opinion’ is not usually recycled until it has been treated. Only then are people informed whether or not their own opinion enjoys the certification of being the majority or approved one. Even general elections, which are supposed to involve voting in the active voice rather than the passive one, have been increasingly compromised by passive dress rehearsals: the polls condition the poll.”

6. “Your vote is your voice,” is one of the most insidious political clichés during elections. Your vote, if it means anything at all, is merely a negligible share in a political authority over which you have no practical control nor any right not to consent to. Not voting is still treated as consent. So, vote as if your life depended on it (if that turns you on), but never confuse your vote with your own God-given voice.  

I tremble to think there are people happy to see their voices boiled down to a ballot, their liberty reduced to mere ballast for yet another manipulative politician. Your vote doesn’t guarantee your voice, it conscripts your voice without giving you a choice. Your vote only empowers you to the degree you're willing to deny your own voice and hitch a ride to some other guy’s babble.  

More than any vote, the First Amendment remains the best legal guarantor of your voice – it recognizes that your voice isn’t granted by the government nor the democratic hordes but originates from Nature and Nature’s God. 

Whenever any daft majority claims to be the collective master of your individual voice, just remember what Coriolanus said to the unruly mob who sought his forced exile: 

“I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty! …
Despising,
For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere.”

7. “The tyrant in you is the tyrant in me” is a line I have often repeated. Even the most righteous political campaign against tyranny runs the risk of becoming a movement fueled by resentment, hell-bent on destruction for destruction’s sake.  

Indeed, if evil was only on the “other side” of the political divide, it would have been swept away from the earth long ago. Alas, evil is often found in the mirror. Empathy for another’s worldview, even the supposed worst among us, is the only way to find light in the darkness of an otherwise blind march for political power and prestige.  

“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own,” Jonathan Haidt wrote. “And if you do truly see it the other person’s way—deeply and intuitively—you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.”

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email [email protected]. Follow him on X @TheJoeyClark or watch the radio show livestream.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected]

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