The wide use of the social media mechanism of “leave a comment below” in all it’s different forms, including Twitter, has significantly contributed to the current breakdown of social etiquette and damaged communication between people. Poisoning the well of social discourse has contributed to the serious loss of peace of mind and the erosion of happiness of much of the population at large.
As Tristan Harris the former Design Ethicist of Google has stated, this is part of Big Tech’s strategy and business model helping it “to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed.”
From a spiritual perspective, this is incredibly damaging to people and disruptive to spiritual growth. We need to be continuously evaluating whether something I am hearing, seeing, reading, etc, heightens my emotional responses? And does this content appeal to or stimulate my baser instincts? Does it create division (team spirit), or does it encourage empathy, compassion and kindness? Is it based on spiritual understanding, or does it promote ignorance?
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
Well, the topic tonight is Leave A Comment Below, subtitled, the age of rage. So as I mentioned last week, what of course inspired this talk was the fact that people do jump aboard different live streaming and posting, and post comments. Sometimes the comments are combative, or disrespectful, or just insulting, even, and it’s like we have been led into this situation. Rather—it started out rather innocently. There was this thing that we started seeing where people—for instance, people reading the news, and then either at the end of it or after a particular story that they were reporting they would say, “So what do you think of this? Leave a comment below. We’d like to hear from you.”
And it’s like a massive eye roll. It’s like, “Are you kidding me!?” I mean, do you really think that they want to hear your opinion? And of course, that doesn’t even feature in a lot of people’s mind. If they are somehow triggered—I’m going to use that word—by a story, or they want to take a position on it, then it’s like they feel this great need to let the world know how they feel. And it’s pretty much this thing that social media has done.
I mean, do you really think people are that interested in what you’re wearing, and how you’re feeling about something, and what you’re eating? A limited number of people are—and if people are deeply fascinated by that it’s an indication of them not having very much going on in their life, that they can be obsessed with following somebody around and watching what they’re doing. That’s like, “Oh my God, get a life.” Really, I’m serious about that. And I don’t mean it in a demeaning way. I say that out of some sadness in my heart that, what have we come to that this is now—this is how people are living?
They used to have a saying for the old days: they were called busy bodies, somebody that’s poking their nose into other people’s business and looking over the fence at what the neighbours are doing and just getting involved in other people’s business. They were called busybodies. Now they are just what? I don’t know what you—how do you refer to them? They’re just avid fans or users of social media. So at what one time, not very long ago, was considered a degraded quality—a busy body was considered a degraded person, a person that’s just, “Mind your own business! Who do you think you are sticking your nose into somebody else’s business?” to now thinking that that’s all perfectly normal and is a good way to function.
And of course, as part of this scheme—actually it’s part of a major plot to take over your life and to turn you into a consumer and user of social media so that you can be exploited, that you can be taken advantage of. And so the more you are—and what they call engaged, the better off it is for the owners, for the big tech owners, because it’s like now everybody’s going at it with each other, and reading each other’s comments, and following people around. That’s also known as stalking, by the way.
So—and a big contributor to this thing was to allow people to create fake identities, or to have hidden identities, because what you’re doing is setting people up to be able to act inappropriately. What is considered, you know, the guidelines for how societies operate, there needs to be a certain civility in discourse, otherwise you can’t function as a society. And what we’re seeing is that this whole thing has been completely undermined and eroded, to the point where civil discourse is almost dead. And you see it particularly in politics where people just, if somebody has a different political idea, a different political philosophy—I mean you may think that it’s not good, or that it’s even bad for the country, or whatever, but rather than debating and talking about it people tend to just become really uncivil and just attack each other vociferously. And it’s just like, how are you going to function as a society when you can’t even agree to disagree? You have a point, and I have a point, and we’re not going to meet anywhere on that so how do we move forward? You can have your position, I can have my position, but there has to be some sort of meeting in the middle. That doesn’t mean you are compromising your principles, but it’s needed in order to advance things. But it’s just like, it’s become so crazy.
And then you have people that are literally addicted to reading the comments I’ve had people tell me, “Oh what I like to do is read the comments.” And it’s like, you don’t even know who some of these people are or most of these people are, why would you be reading their comments? Do you know what’s driving them, what’s their philosophical or political ideology, or where they sit socially and things? What do you know about this person? And why are you so eager to read all these comments? Well it’s because we’ve been trained to do this. So we’ll get into that in a minute, and we’ll look at it from a spiritual perspective.
But what’s going on, it kind of reminds me of something that happened in the last century, and how we saw society in the Western world, and now increasingly in other parts of the world, where people abandoned moral and social philosophies and principles and moved into this whole new realm. And it was like really, really extraordinary how this happened.
What I’m speaking about is the founding of the consumer society, where by plan and by manipulation the general population were converted into greedy consumers, and made to feel that this was all perfectly okay and completely acceptable. And one of the big minds in the—behind this was the—probably the most prominent economist of his day, Lord Keynes, and he put forward this proposal, or idea, that to corrupt people’s values was perfectly okay, if it led to a growth of the economy. I’ll repeat that. He thought that it was completely all right to utterly corrupt the values of people if it led to a growth in the economy.
So he put forward the idea that the two potential greatest drivers for a growing economy are greed and envy, and that people should cultivate these qualities and become perfect consumers; and they will be highly motivated to work hard because—driven by their greed and envy, and they will always be consuming more.
The economist and social philosopher, EF Schumacher, he wrote something that was extremely illuminating on the subject he stated,
“I suggest that the foundations of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all, is [attributable only—oh I’m sorry is] attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby, the peacefulness of man.”
So that—there was a lot there. But there was this promotion of an idea that if we can just attain prosperity then everybody will be happy, and peaceful, and just way better off. And he’s critiquing that such prosperity, as it was being put forward in the modern sense, if it is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature’s greed and envy, it will destroy people’s intelligence, their happiness and serenity, and thereby their peacefulness.
And so, we have that fruit today. We have economies now in the Western world that are infinitely greater in size. We have people with levels of wealth that people in the 40s and 50s could barely imagine, and yet with all of this, the status of living that has been attained at the level, we are not seeing people being more peaceful. We’re not seeing them more serene and happy. It’s the opposite.
We’ve had a massive growth of mental illnesses, of depressions, of suicide. These are all the fruits. But then it’s kind of like, when people try to consider it—I mean, just as an example, and I’ve mentioned before: there was a time when I was asked to make a presentation in the Philippines before a very large group of people that were leaders within the Catholic Church, within the laity, and I was asked to speak on some of these topics. And I asked people, “How many people here know about the ten commandments?” And of course, everybody’s hand is up, because the ten commandments were foundational to all the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, the Muslim religion, Islam.
And these ten commandments, these were considered like sinfulness, that if engaged in will be highly destructive to individuals and is very displeasing to God. This was how everything was presented. But if we look at the modern consumer society, the thing that’s driving it, the essential ingredient is advertising, and the foundational principles of advertising are these two qualities of greed, wanting to consume more and more, and envy, looking at what others have and desiring to have that also, to enjoy that, to attain their status and their happiness. This is what is driving all advertising. And yet one of the ten commandments was, “Thou shalt not covert thy neighbour’s goods,” meaning you should not be looking at what your neighbour has, or possesses, and becoming greedy to have that also. This was considered utterly sinful and very degraded and should be avoided at all costs.
And yet we now have a whole economic system built on that principle, and we don’t have the leaders of churches, the priests, the bishops, the pastors, speaking about it. They’ve actually, in many places, woven this greed for what others have into a theology, where if you are more pleasing to God, you’ll get all the goodies that you desire. And it’s just like, What?!
And so we see how a whole society, and Christianity in particular I’m speaking about here in the Western world, how it was utterly undermined, this fundamental truth that was meant to be lived, was utterly undermined, and people are just entirely oblivious to it. And it’s like how can that happen? Well it happens gradually, and it happens by conditioning people.
So in the modern world the same principle, the use of incremental steps to bring about change, is part of the business model of the biggest distributors of advertising and messaging around products. I’ve mentioned before, that guy, Tristan Harris, who used to be a design ethicist for Google until he left; and in great—being greatly disappointed he—I don’t know if he’s behind, or significantly participated only, in the brilliant documentary, The Social Dilemma. And giving evidence before the U.S. Congress he described that the business model of social media companies is to create a society, and he said this: “to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed.” That is just the fundamentals, he said, of how it works.
So this “leave a comment below” has been a major part—Twitter, you know, it’s a major part of effecting this change that people, that these big social media companies, desire, to get you engaged, and to get you engaged in a way that is polarizing. Being able to be anonymous makes it easier to say terrible things to others and get away with it, and not be confronted by anyone. And everything has just been—the volume has been turned up so high, that what was considered disgusting behaviour before is just now commonly accepted.
I mean I saw this thing where a ten-year-old girl, a black girl in the US, who had autism, and how she was so bullied at school. This behaviour has just become so widespread and accepted. She commits suicide—10 years old. I mean it’s just like, what’s happening to us that people are not shocked? And even if people are shocked, are they also engaging in the activity or supporting it, reading the comments, getting involved in the uncivil discourse? And it’s not even debate. It’s just people shouting at each other.
We–as I said, all of these different platforms, they actually seek to scandalize, to enrage and to shock, because this holds our attention for a longer time so that we can be more easily exploited. I mean this is such a depraved business model, and the effect that it’s having is outrageous from a social perspective. But what we’re often not looking at is what the effect is that it’s having on a—from a spiritual perspective.
We have to ask ourselves a question when we read some so-called information or opinion. Does it appeal to or stimulate my baser instincts? When I say baser instincts I’m talking about like animal-like instincts: anger, does it make me feel like I want to punch someone in the face, engage in physical or mental or whatever violence, violent speech? Does that—does it have that effect? And if the answer is, if it’s having that effect even in a slight way, then I need to avoid it for my own peace of mind, for my own tranquillity, for my own happiness. I should ask when I read these things, “Does it create division, meaning team spirit, us and them, me and you? Does it encou—or does it, what I’m reading, does it encourage empathy, or compassion and kindness, or just the opposite? Is what I’m reading based on some spiritual understanding, or is it actually promoting an ignorant point of view? I mean, what are the spiritual ramifications for engaging in this?
There is a fundamental teaching, if a person wants to grow spiritually on the path of self-realization, to come to recognize and to be able to perceive their own spiritual identity and the identity of others, then I have to start thinking about things differently. One of the things that was, not a little bit but super strongly, people were warned about if they are going to pursue the spiritual path, and that was to avoid what was called gramya katha. Now this is a really, really interesting word. Grama, it means like a village or a town. So when you say gramya katha means like the discussions in the village or the discussions in the town, but what they’re actually speaking of is the tendency towards gossip. And gramya katha was fundamentally defined by the great transcendentalist as that which is untruth, or that which is gossip, or things which are distasteful, even if they’re true, things that are distasteful or trivial. We were admonished by these great sages that to engage in what was called gramya katha, or this idle gossip, was no different than associating with a prostitute. And that’s like, What?! And it’s kind of mind-blowing that they would draw such a comparison. And they say it was because such talk, such engagement, distracts the mind away from that which is spiritual, that which is true. It distracts the mind and utterly contaminates the consciousness, creating a great obstacle to spiritual cultivation and devotion to the Supreme Soul. It’s crushing. Anyone that is desirous of self-realization, of growing in spiritual consciousness, must strictly avoid this activity.
And yet we have now these giants who are manipulating the entire world’s population, to different degrees, to produce just the opposite outcome; instead of spiritual enlightenment to peace, serenity compassion and kindness, just the opposite, to create warring factions, warring individuals who are prepared to say and do almost anything. And it is utterly, utterly devastating society. We are going to look back in 10 years and say, “What has happened?” But we’re all willingly participating.
Absorption in gramya katha, it really breeds heightened material consciousness, or ignorance, avidya; because every time I get into it with someone, and I start using the pronouns, “you,” “they,” “we,” “I.” Every time I use these pronouns there is zero recognition of our deeper spiritual identities, who we actually are as people. It is the soul that is the person, not the body. It is the soul, the living being. But when I attribute the external labels to being the real person, and I can like, or dislike, I can hate someone or love someone just on the basis of something as superficial as that which is so utterly materialistic and superficial, then I have fallen deeply into a state of ignorance.
This huge focus on racial identities and gender identities, this is the highest state of ignorance, from a spiritual perspective, because none of those identities are connected to the actual soul itself. This absorption, and reinforcement, and group identities, which then makes it easier for me to—this is tribalism at its worst: just because somebody belongs to another tribe they are fit to be killed. This is the epitome of tribalism.
In many older cultures–and I’ve–I spent practically almost all, most of my life, living in older cultures, and I was I’ve observed in different countries where there are these older cultures, that you get these histories of tribal animosities. And it became, in some cultures, these rites of passage, that if I was to go from being a boy to a man I had to go out with a couple of other young guys my age and kill someone, and maybe bring back the heads of someone from another village that were considered our enemies. This is the fruit of tribalism.
And this is what is being encouraged, tribalism I’m speaking of. And once you go down that path of descending into tribal identities where you can feel animosity and hatred for someone, just because of another tribal identity, another bodily identity, a gender identity, a racial identity, this is a hellish life. It is not a life of enlightenment. And this is where we are all being pushed.
People can spend a whole lifetime dedicated to ignorant pursuits and come to the end of their life and face death where they now become permanently separated from that body, permanently separated from that identity that they were clinging to, and have gained nothing, have gained nothing! They’ve spent their life absorbed in that which is temporary and that which is illusory.
So it’s kind of like—some people are going to say, “Oh you’re really overreacting,” that, “It’s just social media. It’s not a big deal.” No! People said that about cigarettes too: “You’re just overreacting. They’re innocent, harmless things. Nobody’s gonna—they’re not gonna kill anybody.” People said that about consumerism and the consumer economic system, “Oh, it’s harmless.” People still don’t connect all of the vast unhappiness and the terrible things that go on, that are coming about as a result of the adoption of these philosophical ideas and adopting a life living by these principles that are destructive.
So, some people may think, Wow! This is a serious over reaction to something as innocent and simple as the comments, or being on Twitter. And the answer is, No, it’s not. It is utterly inconsistent with trying to live a spiritual life and to try and gain spiritual insight. It’s inconsistent. The two things can’t work together. Now they’ve got all these things where people talk about doing like social media detox, [Laughs] and they go to these camps or places for a couple of weeks, and they’re not allowed to bring any devices, and they all engage in person-to-person communication and getting to know people and learning to open up and to do things that they had completely withdrawn from, getting in touch with the real world. Human beings are not designed to live in a room with a VR headset, and this is exactly where we’re going.
You’ve got—I mean I was shocked when I saw what Facebook was up to, this renaming of Facebook as Meta, and then they’re out, trying to promote the addiction to these synthetic and artificial worlds. They’re actually going around making representation with large Christian churches offering them all of the help with the technology and massive discounts to get their large congregations (some of them have like 10, 20,000, 30,000 people in their congregation), getting them into the virtual reality, telling them that you’ll be able to preach more intimately to each individual. You can create these heavenly worlds, and they can hear the message of God there, and all they’re trying to do is to take over your life. And they’re using these noble ideas to simply try and get more people addicted.
They—I saw somebody did an article how Zuckerberg, and I can’t remember the woman that’s second to him, how they want to become your landlord, meaning they want you to move into their space and to become completely dependent upon their technology, under the guise that it’s going to do wonderful things for you, but all they’re trying to do is get you to move into their property, so that you will be paying rent forever. This is sinister. This is just absolutely sinister. But because they’re packaging it so beautifully there are going to be people that are influenced by it, just as we saw with consumerism, how you don’t have any religious leaders really speaking out about the horrible, the corrupting, the corrosive influence of advertising, when it’s having people constantly break one of the ten commandments, to covet thy neighbour’s goods. That’s the whole thing. So what’s happening here is even worse.
There is a need to get back to basics in life, to find goodness, to find humanity, to be able to cultivate even love for your enemy. That was a noble and wonderful thing to do. Now we’re being told, going in the other direction, to become tribal, to become vicious with each other, to become head hunters of each other… if we can smash someone, we can destroy their life, we can bring them down because they have a different philosophical underpinning in their life, a different political ideology, we can destroy them and their wife and their kids, and every—just destroy their whole life, and we’ll all cheer and celebrate—it’s like oh my God! What is this? What is this, being done in the name of making a more just society, we’re going to go out and destroy our enemies, crush them? This is just so—such primitive, and such tribal thinking.
Okay. Sorry about that. [Laughs] Nah, we need to raise the flag sometimes, the red flag. When you see there’s a shark in the water, they get out there and wave, and tell everybody, “Look, come in, come in, come— Get out of the way. It’s dangerous.” They’re not trying to spoil your fun, the lifeguards. They’re not trying to hassle you and torment you. They’re trying to save you from danger.
Your most sacred well-being lies in your spiritual identity. The less that you engage in activity that blinds you to your spiritual identity, the more that you engage in activity that enlightens you to your spiritual identity, the better off you are going to become, the better the effect that you will have in your interpersonal relationships, the better you’ll be as a citizen of the world, as—in terms of the impact that you have on society and on the environment, on the planet.
It’s utterly inconsistent to be a greedy consumer chasing all this technology, and to be concerned about the environment. It’s inconsistent to think that you can consume whatever, whenever, and that you are concerned also about the planet.
So of course, we know that the greatest thing that we can do to bring about these internal changes, to fortify us, to give us strength, to give us spiritual insight and spiritual experience which brings us joy and sweetness and gives us the proper direction to head in, that which creates a higher taste, making it so we can give up the lower tastes, it’s centred around the use of transcendental sound, spiritual sound, and that chanting these sacred and these holy names, these transcendental vibrations are what will make it so that we can grow spiritually in our experience and our understanding, our insight.
So I invite you to chant with me. We will chant the Aum Hari Aum mantra, might do something else following it, maybe Haribol Nitai-Gaur, but we’ll do the Aum Hari Aum mantra. I will chant it twice before you respond and join in twice, and then I will chant it twice again. Thank you very much.