Manipulation and Misinformation

    I stepped out into the evening’s fading light and sighed. If nothing else went well on this business trip, at least the food was good. With a belly full of some of the best steak in town, I turned to take a walk down the river and admire the setting sun as it reflected off the calming ripples in the water below. I wasn’t the only one that looked forward to the summer nights along the river that brought a cool breeze to grant relief from the day’s heat. Couples and families enjoyed meals in the outdoor seating of a multitude of restaurants. Youth and the elderly meandered up and down the path along the river.

    Then a single man caught my eye, standing at the guard rail on one of the piers. He wasn’t watching the water, or the sunset, or even the darkening sky. He was watching the people. Now, people-watching isn’t odd, but there was something in his eyes as he scanned the crowd. It wasn’t amused. It was more of a cold analytical gaze with a specific purpose in mind. The hairs on my arms prickled as his eyes passed over me.

    Just as I was about to turn and walk in the opposite direction of the creepy man, he pushed himself off the railing, stuck his hands in his pockets, made a tiny hole with his lips and walked off, upstream. I thought I would hear a whistle from him, but only the pleasant chatter of the people reached my ears.

    I took a few steps downstream, ready to resume a pleasant evening, but something stopped me. At first, the thought came to me that is was some kind of sixth sense. But after a moment, I realized what had happened. All the pleasant chatter had died down to a quiet murmur of groans. I also turned my head to see more than a few people raise hands to what seemed like headaches.

    Then the world exploded.

    Everyone around me flew into a rage and started attacking one another. Fists flew into faces, chairs broke over backs, and bodies flew into the water. Someone tackled me from behind and we fell into bushes beside the walking path. Despite the blows raining down on my back, I was able to push my unseen attacker off, turn around and raise my fists to defend myself. But before the teenage boy in a Superman t-shirt could resume his assault, a homeless man covered in dirty brown rags flew into him and took them out of my sight. As I looked around from within the bushes, I mentally thanked the teenager for pushing me into a hollow in the shrubs that hid me from the outside world while giving me a decent view of everyone around.

    The fights continued all around, and I saw drops of blood begin to speckle the ground. This was a nightmare. All I had to do was wake up. I closed my eyes and began rocking back and forth.

    “Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream,” I chanted to myself. “Just a dream. Just a dream.”

    The chaos continued for what seemed forever. Just a dream.

    But eventually, the sounds of screaming rage and pain began to die away, replaced by shouts and weapons fire.

    I opened my eyes and peered through the leaves to see people on the ground struggling against cuffs and ties around their hands and feet. But already the fight in them was beginning to die down. Other people in riot gear and sleek helmets fired tasers and rubber bullets to bring the raging mob down. 

    Then one of the masked faces appeared before me, and a hand shot in to the bushes to grab me by the collar. I was dragged out of the bush and forced to the ground. One hand was in handcuffs before I gathered my wits enough to resist.

    “What are you doing? I didn’t do anything!” I yelled.

    The hands immediately released me and I stood up to see soldiers running all over and checking on the people who they had stopped from fighting.

    “Are we clear for now?” asked the soldier behind me who had brought me out of the bushes. Her voice was stern, but not harsh. “Looks like we've got someone that’s blocked here.”

    I turned to her. “Blocked?”

    “Yes sir, I’ll take care of it.” She removed her helmet to reveal her close-cropped, blonde hair. “Hello, sir. I’m Captain Bloom from INTOP, the International Network of Tune Overwatch and Protection.”

    “What?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

    “We are a small organization, but we are spread wide and well equipped,” she explained without explaining anything.

    “Equipped to do what?”

    “Handle this. What’s your name?” she asked before I could continue to barrage her with questions.

    “Ahhh.” I was still so confused that I didn’t know how to answer, or if I should.

    “I.D.” she stated as she simultaneously reached for my wallet in my back pocket. She pulled out a phone and snapped a picture of my license. “We’ll be in touch.”

    She turned to go, but I needed more answers, so I stopped her with a hand on the shoulder. “For what?”

    Her head snapped back at me and my hand immediately fell back to my side. “I’ll try to explain quickly,” she offered. “We discovered that there is a specific sequence of notes, or tune, which messes with the human brain when heard, causing people to do exactly what you saw happen today. The tune is so specific and odd that it rarely occurs. But when it does, we respond. Some, like you, seem to be immune, so we’ll be in contact with you to see if we can figure out why.”

    “Oh,” I said. There wasn’t much else to say, so I just watched the captain join her troops in releasing the citizens who had calmed down from their frenzy. They treated injuries and assured that nobody had been seriously injured. And before I knew it, they were gone. 

    Everyone in the area slowly reunited with their families and friends to check on one another, concerned for black eyes and bruises they had sustained. Ambulances soon arrived to assist those more seriously injured. I heard musings and ideas of what had happened. Everyone’s memories seemed to have been affected, but none of the thoughts being tossed around came close to what Captain Bloom had told me, if it was even true. I decided to head toward my hotel across the river and sleep off the stress of what had just happened. 

    The foot bridge spanned the river not far away, and I was soon watching the rippling depths rush beneath my feet. Things began to seem almost normal again, like that horrific fight had been just a dream.

    A chill crept over my skin, and goosebumps prickled me out of my ease. The bubbling waters suddenly grew louder, and I looked to see if something had agitated them. When I saw no change, I realized that the water hadn’t gotten louder. Everything else had gotten quieter. 

    I looked up to see that I was alone on the bridge, but crowds had gathered on both ends, staring at me with a focus I’d never seen before, unmoving. Then a figure stepped to the front of the group before me.

    The people watcher. Only he wasn’t watching people anymore. He was watching me.

    His lips again curved into whistling shape, things began to connect in my brain that was miraculously free of the influence of his tune. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had started the mob fight. And now, he was targeting me.

    The man jabbed his chin toward me, and the people obeyed. Men and women on both sides of the river rushed over the bridge in a desperate attempt to reach me. I had no idea what would happen when they did, but by their frothing mouths, I didn’t want to find out. 

    With one quick thought, I took the one escape available to me, leaping over the railing and into the cool river. When my head broke back through the surface, I heard several splashes behind me, but the river was swift, and I was already well down river. 

    As I looked back, it seemed that those who had jumped into the water were no longer quite under the man’s control. Glancing up, I saw his face, filled with a burning rage that chilled me even more than the river did. Stroking with the current, I prayed the river would carry me well out of that man’s reach.

***

    This dream may touch on some other subjects I’ve already written about, but I guess having a similar dream multiple times in a row means that it might be a message that needs to be heard more than once.

    I feel like most people in the world, myself included, are often like the manipulated people in the dream. Someone with some kind of influence can say the right words, or sing the right tune, and we will be whipped into a frenzy and pretty much dance on that person’s strings. And it seems to me like when that happens, like in the dream, what we end up doing is focusing all our attention on one another, rather than the source of whatever it is that making us angry, depressed, or whatever emotion they want to evoke within us.

    It can happen in all sorts of settings, whether it’s republicans vs. democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, whites vs. blacks, everyone vs. unhealthy foods (whichever ones we are taught to fear at the time), or even elders vs. youth. We are conditioned to hate and attack one another rather than question what we are told. And why would that be? Why does so much of the information that floods our lives inspire us to vilify one another or the incorporeal?

    In my opinion, it is because that takes the focus off of the real source of whatever problem we are all experiencing together. That source, those that cause misfortune and suffering among others, usually benefits from that situation, so in order to continue to keep that benefit, they must shift our focus elsewhere so that we don’t see the truth and take away the power they have.

    But then there are people like I was in the dream; people that aren’t controlled or duped by the misinformation fed to the masses. These people are a threat, so they become the sole focus of the trying to control the population. I have no doubt in my mind that there have been people or industries whose ideas, innovation, or knowledge of the truth have been crushed by lies generated by the powers that be, silenced by money, or possibly even killed for their idealism.

    So how can we escape? How can we avoid being manipulated so easily by politicians, media, or even celebrities?

    I know I don’t have all the answers, but one thing that I think could help would be to always question the information we are given. Research where it comes from. Explore all sides of whatever issue it is. In general, and if at all possible, never take anyone at their word.

    If we are able to do this on a larger scale, I believe that we will be able to, as a society, see the truths of the world much more clearly and be able to guide our world toward one that is beneficial to all and not only for the few.

    Remember to always question.