How to Stop Fake News

Fake news has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. In 2019, the top 100 fake news stories on Facebook were viewed over 150 million times. Millions of Americans have been exposed to such stories as Pizzagate (the idea that the Clintons ran a secret pedophile sex ring), the myth that Donald Trump’s father was a KKK member, and the lie that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar held “Secret Fundraisers With Islamic Groups Tied to Terror.”

Fake news is designed to appeal to our psychology, and the authors hack our brains to make these stories go viral. How do you, as a strong and integrous man, avoid believing and sharing stories that turn out to be false information?

#1: Recognize That the World Is Complex

The world is full of shades of grey, and is unutterably complex. The sheer complexity of a single tree (composed of billions of atoms) or a single human being (with millions of thoughts and memories) should be enough to humble us and beggar belief.

That same complexity holds when it comes to our society. Real news is rarely black and white. In the real world, mass shooters can be Bernie supporters (which doesn’t indict Bernie’s philosophy), race-baiting Donald Trump supported the First Step Act, and even the heroic Martin Luther King had affairs. Life is complex, and complex things are messy.

Fake news, on the other hand, is often tailor-made to look clean. Every detail points towards the same conclusion: that our team are the good guys, and the other team is the bad guys. Jussie Smollett’s faux hate crime is a good example. He alleged that two white men wearing MAGA hats accosted him, shouted racial and homophobic slurs (Smollet is black and gay), and tied a noose around his neck before leaving. Every detail fed neatly into the narrative that in “Trump’s America,” white Republicans would openly harass and assault minorities.

The problem with the story? Smollett made the entire thing up.

If you want to stop the spread of fake news, here’s a rule of thumb. If it sounds too good (i.e. too damning for your opponents) to be true, it probably is.

#2: See the Humanity In Your Political Opponents

Most humans beings aren’t evil or stupid. Most of our political opponents are good, smart people who happen to see the world differently from us.

Fake news, however, tends to paint our opponents in the absolute worst light. The lie that Bill and Hillary Clinton ran a secret pedophile sex ring is a good example of this. So is the widespread lie that Joe Biden referred to Trump supporters as “Dregs of society.”

When you see a news story, ask yourself, “How stupid or evil would my political opponents have to be for this story to be true?” If the answer is, “very”, then proceed with skepticism.

A caveat here: some political actors do perform evil actions. Donald Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021 is a good example of this. Assuming good intentions in your political opponents is a good rule of thumb, but shouldn’t be taken as an absolute law.

#3: Be Complete In Yourself

Perhaps the best way to combat the spread of fake news is to be complete in yourself. Be strong, be grounded, and have a sense of identity that’s reliant on who you are, not who your political team is.

The moment we identify ourselves as members of a political team, our brains begin working overtime to “prove” that our team is good and the other team is bad. In his excellent book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt uses the example of the elephant and the rider. The elephant (our intuitions and preferences) decides that X political team is good—it must be good, since we identify as part of it. The rider (our mind) is then tasked to seek out evidence that supports the elephant’s conclusions.

This can lead to extraordinary mental gymnastics, such as an inability to process information that would be harmful to your “team”. In a New York Times article titled, “The Real Story About Fake News is Partisanship,” Amanda Taub writes, “Americans’ deep bias against the political party they oppose is so strong that it acts as a kind of partisan prism for facts, refracting a different reality to Republicans than to Democrats.” 

Jennifer Jeret, a professor of political science at Stony Brook University, puts it even more bluntly: “You can have very high levels of news coverage of a particular fact or an event and you see little or no learning among people who are motivated to disagree with that piece of information.”

A study even found that partisans with strong math skills were good at solving a math problem only if the solution to the problem conformed to their political beliefs. Conservatives, for instance, struggled to solve a math problem where the conclusion was that gun control reduced crime (liberals similarly struggled when the conclusion was that gun control increased crime). 

How can we stop our brain from short-circuiting in this way? By developing a strong sense of identity that’s independent of our political team. That way, our elephant won’t automatically see the team as good, and our rider won’t jump through mental hoops to justify the team. 

Without an attachment to a political team, we can evaluate each news story on its own merits rather than whether or not it makes our side look good.

#4: Seek Joy From Spirit, Not the Adulation of the Crowds

The biggest problem with fake news is how shareable it is. When we share a story that makes the other side look bad, we’re rewarded with lots of Likes and Shares and Retweets on social media.

It’s important to realize that social media platforms were designed this way. Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, says, “Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photograph, we give you a little dopamine hit.” Dopamine is associated with feelings of euphoria, and the dopamine-inducing design of Facebook is one reason that social media addiction is on the rise. The documentary The Social Network describes how social media companies monetize misinformation and disinformation by promoting content on their News Feeds that makes people more angry (which includes a lot of questionably true content).

How can we fight back? We can recognize that the adulation of the social media crowd, and the associated dopamine hits, are hollow. It’s euphoria, but of a very fragile kind. It is not true joy, any more than the temporary satisfaction of an alcoholic doing a shot is true joy.

True joy comes from following Spirit and your highest self. That will almost always involve a search for truth, since truth makes the world better. It rarely involves a clamor for external validation.

If you want to stop the spreading of misinformation, learn to differentiate the true joy of following Spirit from the false joy of external validation. Avoid seeking out the latter, online or offline.

Conclusion: A Deeper Cut

Lots of smart people write articles with tips for how to combat the spread of fake news. They talk about the importance of fact checking (ex. with Snopes), of reading articles before you share them (Twitter actually rolled out a feature recently to discourage people from sharing articles they haven’t read), and of checking reliable or nonpartisan news sources like the Pew Research Center.

There’s nothing wrong with these tips, but we wanted to take a deeper cut.

Fake news is hardwired to appeal to the ego. It targets our “us vs them” mentality, our ego’s desire for external validation, and our ego’s wish to see the world as a simple place of black and white. 

The integrous and grounded man has his ego under control. For the healthy masculine man, the ego is a servant, not the master. When you are grounded, you feel no desire to believe or share fake news, because its siren song holds no appeal for you.

We specialize in helping men develop strength, integrity, and groundedness. To that end, we offer online men’s groups and 1-on-1 life coaching for men. If you would like to build more strength and inner resilience, and master your ego, reach out today.

Why Is Knowledge Important?

The world is overrun with fake news. We have partisan extremists on every side, from Antifa to the alt-right. We have cable news and endless op-eds telling us that every issue is black and white, and “those people over there” who don’t see things the way we do are responsible for all of the problems our country and our world face.

These are the turbulent currents of our time. Building a firm foundation of knowledge can help you be a rock for yourself and your family so you don’t get swept away. If you want to develop as a strong, integrous man, then scholarship is essential.

What do we mean by scholarship, or knowledge more broadly? Do we just mean more partisan facts (Obamacare increased the cost of insurance by XYZ%, the Trump tax cuts created $ABC in national debt)? No. True knowledge is deeper, and involves learning enough about the world to buffer you against extremism.

It doesn’t matter what your political ideology is. It doesn’t matter if you’re Woke or a Trump supporter, a Christian or an atheist. Acquiring an understanding of the world is ideology-independent; it’s not about helping you win battles for your side, it’s about helping you live your best life.

Two Essential Types of Knowledge

In his landmark book A Celebration of Discipline, pastor and scholar Richard Foster lays out two important types of knowledge:

– books (to which we can add, any long-form high-information media such as documentaries)

– The world itself (that which we observe by living)

Both types are important. Books and other long-form media can help you understand historical trends, which inform where we are today and where we as a country (and as a world) are going. Observing the world itself—everything from the ladybug on your windowsill to how your neighbor who’s a different race talks about his children—can help you develop empathy and humility and a bone-deep understanding that, one way or another, we’re all in this together.

Benefit #1: With Knowledge, You Can Avoid Getting Caught Up In Extremism

There is no shortage of extremist causes looking for new recruits. Postmodernists insist that there are no objectively valid facts; everything is subjective. The alt-right insists that people who don’t look like them are somehow lesser. Anarchists insist that we should destroy the government by sometimes violent means, and Antifa shouts that words are violence and that ideas they dislike must be met with fists.

Each of these strains of extremism posits a narrow and selective view of the world. They look at a world that is dizzyingly complex and full of shades of gray, and they tell us that it’s all black or all white.

A firm foundation of knowledge is important because it can help buttress you against the siren song of these groups. An understanding of history shows us that there are, in fact, objectively valid facts. In the 1940s, 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz. That is both objectively true and objectively evil. 

An understanding of how human societies have historically behaved in the absence of government (Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature provides a solid overview) shows us that, while governments can grow too big and too powerful, their total absence is generally a bad thing.

And history is replete with the dangers of curtailing free speech as Antifa desires.

The scholastically well-rounded man sees the world in shades of gray, and understands the danger of black and white thinking. That buffers you against the demands of extremists. This is essential for your own life. Extremists tend to be deeply unhappy, and to inflict their misery on others. Both social justice warrior extremists and alt-righters live in levels of mental Hell that most of us find difficult to imagine.

For the same reason, not giving into extremism is good for your family. When you pursue your best life instead of living in service to a partisan agenda, your woman and children benefit.

It is also essential if you want to improve the world, because there are many paths to being a better citizen but none of them go through extremist causes.

Benefit #2: Applying Knowledge to Integrous Action

If you understand history and human nature, then you can better understand where we are as a country and see the directions (both good and bad) in which we are heading. This can help you to take integrous action as a citizen to set the nation on a better trajectory.

Imagine that you’re a US citizen in 1942, and there are rumblings about locking up Japanese-Americans to prevent them from aiding the enemy. A thorough grounding of history would show you examples of other civilizations who have let war inflame their passions against the out-crowd. You would understand why civilizations in war are prone to this, why it’s happening now, and what might be the consequences if the nation followed through on this urge.

From there, you could stand up against the prevailing tides and warn people. You would know where the road the US was considering walking would end, and could encourage the nation to walk a different path.

What applies to the nation applies to the state and the smaller community. If you see your community going down a path that history suggests will end poorly, then you can more effectively speak up.

Benefit #3: Knowledge Is an Antidote to Prejudice

There are any number of groups in the US and the world that encourage us to see one group of humans as better than another group. White supremacists cry that only white people are fully human. Social justice extremists believe that it is a sin to be white. Alt-righters despise women, and Sarah Jeong (former New York Times editorial board member) tweeted “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

Each of these beliefs relies on prejudice and an ignorance of the “other”. But when you deeply study the world—not just books, but your fellow man—you come to realize that there is no “other”. When you observe how your neighbor of a different race loves his children, you see that skin color is only skin-deep. When you have close relationships with both men and women, you understand that neither gender is superior to the other.

When you live deeply in the world, and observe the poor and the wealthy, the white and the black, the immigrant and the native, you come to realize how phenomenally similar we all are. Underneath our superficial differences, you see that we are all human.

Gaining knowledge is a powerful antidote to racism, sexism, and every other sort of prejudice.

The idea that understanding people different from us can counteract prejudice isn’t just nice-sounding theory—it actually works. Darryl Owens is a black man who has spent 30 years befriending members of the KKK in order to convince them to give up their robes. As NPR reports, “He (Davis) says once the friendship blossoms, the Klansmen realize that their hate may be misguided. Since Davis started talking with these members, he says 200 Klansmen have given up their robes.”

By observing other people, and developing a deep understanding of them, we can protect ourselves and our families from being swept away by the treacherous currents of fashionable prejudice. 

Knowledge Is Important, But Not Sufficient

If you want to be a solid, integrous man, then knowledge matters. But it is not enough on its own. The world is full of highly-educated partisans who sell or buy into extremism to the detriment of themselves and their families.

What else is required? The integrous man needs wisdom and discernment. You don’t just need knowledge, you need to know how to use it.

You also need a solid sense of identity. In order to protect yourself and your family from getting caught up in fashionable extremism, you need to be fully grounded in yourself. Extremists prey on people who have a weak sense of identity. This has always been true; many of Mussolini’s Black Shirts were young men who felt dissociated from their culture and looked for a sense of belonging.

If you already have a sense of belonging in your own skin, and if you already feel complete in yourself, then extremism can’t get a handle in you. If your identity comes from who you are and not your political tribe or what you believe, then you’re less likely to throw your life away in service to an extremist cause.

That’s what separates the grounded, strong man from the partisan hack. Both have plenty of knowledge. But the former uses it in service of his own best life and the good of his family, community, and country. The latter just uses their knowledge to push an agenda.

If you would like to go deeper in cultivating strength and groundedness, The Undaunted Man can help. We use men’s groups and 1-on-1 men’s coaching to build healthy, powerful men. If you’d like to take the next step on your path, reach out to us today.

Manning Up Is About Showing Up

Part of being human, be it a male or female human, is that we’re all pretty hard wired to evolve and advance as individuals and as a species.  Yet, some people passionately embrace that reality, and a great number of others – knowingly or not – run like hell from the prospect.  One of the reasons why is because humans have become extremely comfortable with staying comfortable. I would even assert that many have become addicted to comfort, which is causing a great deal of difficulty and suffering for so many.  If you’re a man, this shows up in distinctive ways…most especially in the multitude of ways we can check out at a moment’s notice, whether alone or with others.

This attraction/avoidance dichotomy sets up a very intense cognitive dissonance in people.  As a man, one of the ways I spent decades trying to deal with that contradiction of being acutely aware of a desire to, and simultaneously in terror of, changing was indeed to check out.  I started it at about 22, and found myself heavily in that mode up into my late 50’s.  In looking back at those ways I did that from the perspective of a 63-year-old man, I can see that all that checking out was actually a way of distracting myself from the gross inconvenience of being a man in chronology and responsibility, but not feeling at ALL like a man inside.  I thought, for years, that I was keeping that one pretty well camouflaged.  

You see, my first way of checking out was to become a 22-year-old workaholic in the corporate world (sound familiar to anyone?).  That way, I looked like I was manning up (in a context I had previously held for years that manning up was inherently pejorative), but I wasn’t aware that I was full of shit.  It further obscured me dealing with my fear and discomfort with my fellow men and my own masculinity, not to mention the degree to which fear (in general) of discomfort was running and contaminating how I was experiencing life.  I was showing up for my responsibilities to provide for my family without showing up as fully as I wanted to for my family, particularly my children.  In hindsight, I also was decidedly checked out from my own body.  When that happens, it becomes impossible to show up in a healthy, powerful masculine way.  Why?  Because you cannot be fully present without being connected to your body, which means you aren’t truly manning up. I use that term here in the best sense that indicates being connected to your healthiest masculine energies/characteristics and applying them towards serving others and yourself in the most effective way possible.  I was blissfully ignoring that I was  hiding from all that under the extremely unhealthy extra 120 lbs I had on me.

When our son got to be a teenager, he was really looking for a lot of wisdom from me about growing into a man that he could use as a starting point.  In terms of being able to model how a “good man” operates, I could demonstrate a very hard work ethic.  However, because I was ignoring my inner world where it felt too uncomfortable, I couldn’t show him how to man up in the sense of taking full responsibility for how I was experiencing my life; how I was responding to life’s circumstances instead of reacting to them all; how I could use discipline and masculine energy to totally restore myself (as I’ve done over the last few years) to being MORE my true self; how to help my wife feel safer; how to listen in a deeply present way; how to actually seek and embrace opportunities to get uncomfortable; and how to better differentiate between who I thought I should be (which my ego identity was determining) and who I’ve actually always been, determined by the distinctive qualities of my spirit and its wisdom.

Those are all aspects of being fully present – and how to put such presence to being of good service to the world and to my loved ones – in a good and powerful way, in my experience.  This is SO crucial for people (but I’m focusing on men here given The Undaunted Man is a men’s growth and evolutionary organization) who want to show up for themselves, their lives, and their most beloved people in life.  

If you’d like to learn more about how you, if you’re a man, can move yourself more onto the path of manning up in the showing up sense of that term, look around our website at www.theundauntedman.com, and feel free to reach out to me at geoff@theundauntedman.com to hear about our groups and coaching services.

The Upside of Hard Times

History shows us the kernel of truth described in G. Michael Hopf’s aphorism, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times”. Given the challenges of the moment – political division, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic hardships those issues have created – this is an opportune time for us men to pause and ask ourselves some important questions:

  • Who do we need to be to keep ourselves and our families safe? 
  • How can we be part of the solution – however you define that – rather than contribute to the problem?
  • How can we leverage these challenges to become the men we need to be? How do we lead ourselves, lead our families, and build the strength and resilience necessary to solve our problems? In short, where do I need to step up and be better?

We have two choices when confronted with a problem – embrace the situation as a chance to grow stronger and more resilient, or shrink back from the challenge and avoid it. Clearly, the first choice is the better choice combined with  how we leverage hard times to become better, stronger, more capable versions of ourselves.

Recognizing the opportunity to even make that choice is the first crucial step. What’s the second one? Finding resources to learn those skills and develop a more effective way of operating in the world. The Evolving Man is just such a resource.

The Evolving Man (TEM) is a results-oriented community of men who are defining for themselves what it means to live vibrantly in both their internal and external lives. We support men to feel alive and energized, choose a direction and purpose for their lives, and develop the skills necessary to achieve the life they’re committed to designing. Our experience over the last 13 years is that the best way to achieve those goals is by living with integrity and purpose, and that this mission is best realized within a strong, committed community.

Towards that end, for the curious, TEM’s Track 1/Discover Purpose groups are designed for men that are new to men’s work, studying and working with masculinity and masculine/feminine polarity, and/or in the process of choosing a direction and purpose for their life (with the understanding that today is not forever, and things will definitely change).

If you’re looking for an established, connected group of men dedicated to helping its members become better men (or you’re married or partnered with a man who you feel could benefit from having this kind of support) – and you know you’re committed to making the choice to embrace your challenges as a growth opportunity – you’ve found it.

To learn more, contact us today.