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  • Writer's pictureBrian Gómez

Breaking our Mirrors and Building Good Media (Part 1)

Updated: 13 hours ago

I was recently in an Uber, after a three hour Zoom, and while I was exhausted -the whole time I was locked in. I was tuned  into the driver’s monologue -this is usual for me. A gregarious display to maintain my near perfect rider rating. But this time, I had new tools in my arsenal: I listened to conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory in the Austin traffic with curiosity. I had just started reading the book “Doppelganger” by Naomi Klein by chance, but it immediately got me thinking. She shared about the ways that everything is a mirror, and that our politics today largely reflect that. The way the right and conspiracy-land has used exactly what the left has ignored, reflecting people’s fears and worries into unbelievable truths. So when I listened to each theory I thought ok, what is the fear?

Migrants mean a fear of livelihood and economic stability in a time of  struggle, the fear of vaccines are around health, and the belief in fake disasters are around fear of governments, and the ever shrinking power citizens have today in the midst of climate change, technology, and a weakening democracy. In the book Naomi describes the way she has gone into the mirror, learning more and more about her double, conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf. In a similar vein I do the same. Not just in Uber rides but all around. I’m hungry for the mirror, largely because I worked in the left of the left, in social justice silos that often repeat narratives I know reflect their lack of communication with those on the other side of the double-sided glass pane.

And, this is where I first saw Naomi Klein, when I was working for Sunrise Movement, the leftist youth-led climate change organization, or in the mirror world the communists brainwashing children to promote the climate change hoax perpetrated by Bill Gates. And when I was there and in circles like that today, I heard things that not only are grounded in actions we see today but are also reifications of the mirrors like the belief that everyone on the right is a racist, or wants to see them dead. That these people are both uneducated and also controlling the narrative as a part of a big plan. That there is no logic in their beliefs.

But when you enter into the mirror world, nothing could be further from the truth. Mostly, I now reflect on the fact that social and environmental policy are the most at risk for mirrors when we don’t address economics. These were my college majors and yet I’ve just begun to put the pieces together. As climate change and racial advocacy began having their moment, there was something that was ignored, economic policy. And as I’ve also written, movements like Sunrise were fraught with young people who rarely had economic challenges, and were often college educated, often at elite institutions. And so the mirror of these people is exactly who has come up in the world.

White people without college degrees, and ostensibly lower incomes were the first but now polls are showing people of color without college degrees, men, and other groups polling high for Trump. These groups are often undereducated and that combined with economic insecurity makes them ripe for explanations that go beyond the fold. Especially when they are not part of or less apart of groups most vulnerable to socially motivated rhetoric that attacks women, immigrants, BIPOC, or the LGBT communities. So in some ways the left was right, but they missed the mark. Progressivism is often the byproduct of higher education, but rarely does it not intersect with the underlying economic benefit of higher education.

It was this missed opportunity that led to the rise of right wing media influencers. Much like state media that promoted baseless theories to find a common enemy in times of strife in years past, social media does the same. But because technology is a magnifier, social media has led to even more extreme thinking and a disconnection from reality as a whole. 

The feed knows what kind of content will keep us hooked, and that’s often content that reinforces our beliefs. It could also be content that is controversial, that can drive engagement, and drive radicalization, division, and violence. The scary thing about the mirror world is that it's not only a social projection, it's also very real. These fears are capitalized by content creators, whose content is then fed to Americans across the nation, and is driving very real actions. This is what happened in the El Paso shooting, where a man, convinced of a conspiracy theory, on a conservative mirror of the site 4chan, shot up a Walmart in a largely Mexican area. The new series, God Save Texas, talks about this. I was excited to attend a screening with the directors here in Austin, and we ended on the topic of the shift we are seeing in groups affected by some but less of the hateful rhetoric of the mirror, towards the right. Why were these people voting against their interests? Why are more people going towards the right?

I might have found the answer in a mirror event. Weeks before I attended a presentation by Numbers USA, a right wing environmental group, whose rhetoric was used in the 2016 election by Donald Trump. The numbers in question are not about species of live oaks but immigrants. And the focus of the talk, sprawl, is also mentioned in the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto, along with a chilling detail of the live rounds he used:

The manifesto’s argument is largely about corporations. It makes points about corporate interests and environmental harm. He even goes on to advocate for universal healthcare and Universal Basic Income. The thought process is not necessarily anti-Mexican but rather that American consumerism is driven by immigrant labor, and the children of those immigrants are too educated. This is not necessarily true. It might once have but today, most of that labor happens outside of the U.S and so curbing immigration will not mean less water bottles are produced. Children of immigrants are also not sizably overeducated as to shift employment numbers. It’s clear this text is driven from his challenges in finding a job with an associate’s degree, and concern for other Americans and the planet. It is wholly an economic argument turned into a racial one. He argues that if we had less people, there might be more resources to go around. That if we shrunk ourselves down to our smallest selves, the government and corporations just might be able see our humanity. We know however this will never happen because the lack of resources is artificial in question.

And sure enough, at the end of the manifesto I saw another word I knew, scarcity. This is the same word the presenter at NumbersUSA used. He said, “It's not like before, we live in scarcity now.” And this is one of the biggest belief systems that drives people to point fingers and triggers. But it's not true. While we live in a world of environmental scarcity, we don’t live in an economic one. Prices are artificially inflated  by companies, and the country has more than enough money to invest in the nation, if only it can get out of other ones. And so the answer here is again a mirror. It’s not them, it's us. 

As American companies began exporting production in response to strengthening labor rights, Americans became unemployed, sinking our manufacturing sector in places like the midwest. And as other countries continued developing, especially in the advent of remote work , even work needing a college degree made an exit. The culprit is corporate profiteering, globalization, and consumerism. We are harming our environment, but the answers don’t lie in any one group, but rather society as a whole. The new right is no longer frustrated at immigrants and the poor because they receive government aid, they want aid too. As life becomes unaffordable, Americans are demanding to be taken care of. Instead everything is becoming harder, and that’s how the mirror continues to grow, eating up those most desperate to its ideas. I’m ending this piece without an answer but ahead of SXSW where I’ve stacked my sessions with tech-xperts and sessions on culture to figure out what the new internet might look like: a social media that instead of driving us to back away, can lead us right up to our mirrors, to break through.


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