A Masonic Response to Media Manipulation

                I’ve been working on this essay for weeks. One of the reasons I wanted to write it is because I’m becoming very concerned about political divisiveness wedging its way into our Fraternity. I’m hearing of brothers speaking to each other in very unfraternal ways more often in social media. I’m hearing more political comments within tyled spaces or other gatherings for Masons. I see and hear more Masons wondering if they can meet on the level in good conscience with Masons who have different political views. It has become clear to me that sometimes some of us are contributing to this divisiveness despite being very well-meaning and intelligent brothers. Sometimes we justify it by saying our understanding of Masonic principles demands it. So, then we start dividing up over who supposedly has a better grasp of Masonic ethics. Whether or not that is necessary, it makes me sigh. We’re forgetting the us of the Craft if we permit no respite from the profane world’s “us-versus-them” conflicts.

                Surely there are many things that need to happen for healing to occur, but I have felt especially moved to address the matter of media manipulation. This essay is long, over 5,000 words, because I wanted to address the issues comprehensively, with care, as little of my own social and political biases as possible, and offering resources I could link in good conscience. Most of all, I want it to be practically useful. So, if you’re interested, then I hope you will go into it with an open mind and heart, and a willingness to take a long, close, careful look in the mirror. I’m trying to do likewise.

Thank you.

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                The purpose of this piece is to explore how we can use Masonic principles to avoid or extract ourselves from being caught in the webs of psychological manipulation constantly being spun in all types of media. The present intentions are to highlight points on what drives media manipulation, how it works, its negative effects, and alternatives to participating in it. Exposure to manipulative messages from all sides is a fact of life for each of us, and one that very few institutions are designed to help us consciously and conscientiously engage. Freemasonry can be regarded as one of those institutions for these reasons:

    • Masonry’s commitment to virtues that transcend partisan and sectarian perspectives, principally demonstrated by meeting on the level with people of differing political and religious opinions
    • The Craft’s emphasis on working with others in peace, harmony, and unity
    • The spotlight our tradition places on the liberal arts and sciences, the most relevant being grammar, logic, and rhetoric
    • Our rituals’ frequent reminders to be contemplative

                In keeping with Masonic ethics, it should be stated that this essay does not target any particular ideology, individuals, or groups. This effort is not about defending or attacking any positions on any issues other than that of psychological manipulation itself.

The Basic Problem

                Media manipulation is the attempt to change the thoughts, feelings, and actions of people through deceptive and devious forms of communication. This kind of communication appears in all types of media, including social, political, religious, news, entertainment, and marketing and advertising. It is used by unethical entities when they believe that offering the relevant information as directly and objectively as possible is not likely to result in people behaving as those entities would prefer. Manipulators may also genuinely believe they are right about something, but also believe they are justified in using manipulative tactics to win others over. The most common strategy is for such an entity to employ underhanded means to persuade us that we are serving our own personal interests, a greater good, or both, by acting in ways that actually serve the entity’s own gain above all else. The overriding aim is always for the manipulator to acquire more power, whether social, political, or economic.

                As far as such an entity is concerned, the individuals or groups targeted for manipulation are resources, tools, or weapons to be used in the quest for power. Serving the interests of those being manipulated is of secondary importance at best. Therefore, people who fall prey to manipulation often end up unknowingly doing harm to themselves and the people and things they care about, even violating the very principles they most cherish. Frequently this involves perpetuating the manipulation by defending it and helping to spread it to others. In effect, one is no longer just a victim, but actually becomes a somewhat willing participant in the manipulation. As a common example, consider the temptation in social media or email to pass along an image, meme, cartoon, or soundbite that one finds amusing or gratifying in some way, while not noticing or caring that it also misrepresents or distorts the truth about an issue or some individual or group.

The Primary Lever & Fulcrum of Manipulative Communication

                A fulcrum is the point on which a lever turns. It magnifies the power transferred from one end of the lever to the other, making it possible to move something with less effort than would be required with a more direct approach. Fear is a ubiquitous lever and fulcrum mechanism in manipulative communication, beginning with the manipulator’s own fears, which it is trying to counter by the acquisition of more power. Then, psychological manipulation taps into the fear of audience members, using it as a fulcrum to acquire greater leverage on their other emotions, thoughts, and actions. In this context, fear is understood as the basic perception of a possible threat, and refers not only to strong feelings like terror or dread, but also subtle feelings like caution and concern.

                Even when not part of the overt message, underlying fears are invoked through allusions to desirable goals. Manipulators want us to believe that if we do not align with them, then we will experience what we fear instead of what they offer as a seemingly attractive alternative. For example, an advertising campaign that paints a particular product as enhancing safety and happiness also plays on our underlying fears of danger and unhappiness. Similarly, a political message that promises power and prosperity also subtly, or not so subtly, suggests that the represented ideology, party, or candidate is our best remedy for whatever weakness and hardship we fear.

                Of course, fear is a fact of life, and it is not always a bad thing. Fear contributes to our surviving and thriving, and helping others to do likewise. It is a parent’s fear that causes one to forcefully yank a child back from ignorantly stepping into speeding traffic. That is a loving combination of emotion and action illustrating that fear itself is not evil. In fact, this essay is fueled by my own fears of me and others being manipulated and participating in manipulation. It also involves my understanding that you might recognize such concerns in yourself, my hope that you carefully consider the matter, and my faith that you respond with the greatest wisdom, strength, and beauty you can summon. I believe that doing so is ultimately good and empowering for everyone, individually and collectively. The intention here is to be ethically persuasive, not manipulative.

                In contrast to ethical persuasion, psychologically manipulative communication willfully distorts, omits, or falsifies information. It does so in order to create the illusion that we need to be more fearful of one thing and more desirous of another than the facts actually warrant. In some cases, it even completely obscures and contradicts the facts in order to convince us to fear what would actually be more beneficial and desire what would actually be more harmful. Psychological manipulation encourages us to be less informed, less mindful, critical, and rational, and also less self-aware and balanced. Sometimes it does so by urging us to believe that more informed and capable people are doing those things for us, and we should simply trust them. Other times it cunningly tries to convince us that we are processing information with exceptional acumen, when in fact we are effectively being hypnotized to agree with the pitch. These are all perennial techniques in unethical sales that are at least as common, if not more so, in corporate affairs, politics, and religion as they are in retail goods and services. The questions are now about how we can be more conscious of such techniques and our vulnerability to them.

Red Flags for Manipulative Communication

                There are various specific signs we can look for in media that help us recognize when messages have been designed to manipulate us. Perhaps among the easiest to spot is emotionally loaded wording, imagery, or sounds. While strong displays of emotion can be entirely authentic and appropriate, they can also indicate that the source of the message wants our attitudes and judgment to be swayed, if not entirely driven, by particular feelings rather than thoughtful consideration. We have already considered how fear and desire are central to this process, but there are many more specific emotions that make it more complex and dynamic. It is only pointing at the tip of the iceberg to list feelings like disgust, pride, shame, exhilaration, guilt, affection, frustration, distrust, joy, anger, amusement, and boredom.

                Those feelings connect with genuinely important parts of our lives, and their connections can be used to move us like puppet strings. Most powerful among them are the categories in which one’s sense of self are deeply rooted, such as gender, sex, family and friends, ethnicity, race, nationality, and religion. Manipulators use the symbols and buzzwords of such groups to get us to react out of loyalist impulses, which are based on our instinctive desires for belonging and esteem and our existential fears of isolation and meaninglessness. Within religious groups, similar prompts can also be used by manipulators to leverage our fear of spiritual damnation.

                Other tactics that play on our sense of identity and group loyalty are scapegoating and dehumanization. Scapegoating attempts to disproportionately blame a problem on a specific person or group. It typically involves oversimplifying what is in reality a more complex issue, excusing the manipulator and select others from responsibility for the problem, pseudo-justification for the unfair treatment, and preventing the cooperation and compromises feared by the manipulator. In the process, those being assigned blame may be addressed with language that likens them to non-human creatures, machines, monsters, or inanimate objects, which is de-humanizing. It is also dehumanizing when an individual or group is cast as either lacking or having an excess of some human quality, which makes it easier for them to be dismissed or attacked as deviant, abnormal, criminal, grotesque, or diseased. Scapegoating and dehumanization are thoroughly intertwined with stereotyping. They have repeatedly been central tactics in manipulating people to ignore or approve the wholesale denial of civil rights, and even to directly participate in heinous atrocities like mass internments and expulsions, massacres, slavery, and genocide.

                Somewhat more difficult to catch are various logical fallacies that manipulators regularly employ to twist our perceptions, understandings, and decisions in their favor. Some of them have already been touched on, such as appeals to emotion. There are many other fallacious reasoning tactics, and the following are some of the most prevalent.

  • Faulty generalizations use inadequate data to come to overarching conclusions about all or most cases of something; such fallacies are inherent in stereotyping.
  • Slippery slope arguments suggest that any movement in a particular direction is unacceptable because it might move closer to a detrimental extreme of that direction or farther from an idealized extreme of another direction. These arguments often falsely claim that any such movement very likely or inevitably arrives at a detrimental position. The intention is to block the discovery and activation of a reasonable middle ground for cooperation and compromise with people of different opinions, beliefs, or values.
  • Ad hominem attacks involve discounting or ignoring information because of some objectionable quality in the source (ad hominem means “to the person”), rather than dealing with the information on its own merits.
  • Red herrings are apparently reasonable considerations that may indeed have some association with an argument, but are actually irrelevant to reaching logical understandings and conclusions on the matter at hand. Red herrings are used to distract and disrupt a chain of reasoning to prevent it from revealing undesired truth.
  • Straw man arguments subtly replace or falsely equate one proposition with another, and by defeating the second proposition they attempt to create the appearance of having defeated the original. This type of argument often involves taking an opponent’s words out of context, exaggerating the opponent’s position and arguing against the exaggerated version (also see reductio ad absurdum), oversimplifying the argument, or claiming that defeating one argument for a proposition is the same as defeating another or all arguments for it.

                Conspiracies do happen, but conspiracy theories can also be red flags for psychological manipulation. Such theories can include any or all of the previous elements of manipulation. They often hinge on rumors, suspicions, assumptions, speculations, partial truths, correlation mistaken for causation, apophenia (false perceptions of patterns), and lies. They also play on our intolerance of ambiguity and the belief that there must be intentional coordination behind highly significant circumstances in our lives. Manipulators use conspiracy theories to offer seemingly plausible explanations when we find it difficult to make sense of why things are as they are, falsely appearing to provide true answers to our most perplexing and intractable social and political problems. One basic intention is to build our trust in the manipulators while also building suspicion against the parties allegedly involved in the supposed conspiracy, as well as distrust for those who question or contradict its reality. Manipulators’ desired effects from conspiracy theories can become much more intricate and active, including moving people to take political action and even become violent.

Responding to the Reality of Media Manipulation

                There are four general ways of responding to psychological manipulation in media.

    1. Try to ignore it.
    2. Turn away from or attack those entities we perceive as manipulators.
    3. Educate others about the problem.
    4. Be more aware and engaged in understanding and managing our own vulnerabilities to manipulation.

                The first response is tempting because the issue of media manipulation is so complex and widespread that we feel we cannot trust any media, anyone in media, or ourselves to be up to the challenge. This option therefore requires either disconnecting oneself from media, or taking a head-in-the-sand approach that continues to leave oneself vulnerable to manipulation. In either case, it also neglects responsibility for the social phenomena of media manipulation. The second and third share the advantage of acknowledging personal responsibility. However, without good study and practice in the subject, they run the risk of poor discernment about who is being manipulative and how they are doing it. The fourth way also acknowledges responsibility, and includes paying attention to one’s own experience, directly learning to better discern manipulation, one’s vulnerability to it, and how to extract oneself from it. The more understanding and skill developed through this approach, the more one becomes genuinely qualified to pursue the second and third. The fourth response is most congruent with Masonry, which encourages us to take responsibility for self-improvement for our own sakes as well as to improve our ability to make a beneficial impact on our relationships and societies.

                Recognizing and responding to the red flags of manipulation is not necessarily an easy thing to do. One reason is that most of us are not well educated and practiced in the subtleties of critical thinking and media literacy. This problem can be multiplied by the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which we overestimate our knowledge and skills and are therefore more vulnerable to manipulation than we believe. The challenges of dealing with red flags can be further magnified by the fact that many of them also frequently appear in everyday rhetoric and “common sense,” when no manipulation is consciously intended. So, we may automatically overlook them and act as if they are normal, reasonable, and ethical parts of communication. Confirmation bias also complicates things by making manipulation easier to identify when it contradicts our preferred understanding of truth, and harder to catch when aligning with what we believe or undermining what we do not believe. Similarly, it can be more tempting to regard others as being manipulated, or practicing or perpetuating manipulation, than to conscientiously investigate our own involvement. All of these factors help explain how we can fall prey to media manipulation despite being intelligent, educated, caring people. Such observations further highlight the need to be aware of our own mental and emotional processes and our personal susceptibility to manipulation. As Masonry teaches every Entered Apprentice, the primary tools and essential materials of our labors are our own hearts and minds, and that lesson is reasserted in every degree thereafter.

The Fulcrums Within Us

                In various ways, we have already been examining how our own thoughts and feelings make us vulnerable to manipulation. Now, we can gain more light by learning several mental habits that provide leverage points for manipulative messages. In particular, we consider cognitive distortions and ego defense mechanisms, both of which are ways we actually manipulate ourselves without realizing it in the moment.

Cognitive Distortions

                Cognitive distortions are automatically skewed ways of thinking. Often, they have been modeled by others during our development from birth into adulthood, but we can also devise them on our own. We adopt them in an effort to be more efficient and safer in making judgments and decisions, and they prove effective just enough to get reinforced and become habits. Yet, as we face more complex demands in life, their shortcomings become more troublesome, leading us to misunderstand things and react in ways that can be self-defeating and hurtful to others. Among those troubles, messages that use similar shortcuts or twists in reasoning to our own cognitive distortions are more easily accepted as valid and trustworthy, less likely to be recognized as fallacious, biased, or intentionally manipulative. There are many kinds of cognitive distortions, and now we examine some of the most prevalent.

                Black-and-white thinking is also known as dichotomous thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, and splitting. It is the tendency to categorize things into oversimplified binaries of right and wrong or good and bad, with little to no middle ground or other categories beyond the two perceived opposites. Such polarization is common when we are being perfectionistic or struggling with the idea of “good enough.” Among other things, this habit makes us vulnerable to manipulative messages with us-versus-them implications, where them is loaded with exaggerated negative connotations and the bad among us is minimized if not completely ignored. It can also be played upon to make cooperation and compromise seem totally unacceptable.

                Jumping to conclusions is the habit of quickly making judgments and decisions before further information can be considered. It typically involves a sense of certainty, a feeling of urgency, or both, and often lurking underneath is a fear of uncertainty and a sense of insecurity. Its two most common forms are “fortune telling” and “mind reading.” The first is a presumption about how circumstances will unfold, and the second about someone else’s internal processes, such as the person’s “true” or “hidden” thoughts, feelings, desires, motives, or intentions. These tendencies provide manipulative leverage to messages that would distract from carefully evaluating relevant information about a situation, coax us to accept unwarranted judgments, and urge us to take poorly informed action.

                Overgeneralization happens when we use one or just a few examples of something to conclude a pervasive pattern exists. One clue to the presence of overgeneralization is the use of absolute terms like always, never, all, none, everybody, and nobody. Through this habit, we can become vulnerable to messages that intend for us to regard particular events or people as if they are only parts of a larger category, which may not even exist. We can thus fail to consider the uniqueness of something or someone and in turn respond inappropriately.

                Exaggeration and minimization are both habits of distorting the significance, value, or possibility of something. While we might tend to exhibit one more than the other, it is also possible to do both with different pieces of information related to the same matter. These distortions reflect and support biases in the way we view reality. Through them we become susceptible to manipulation that does likewise, which can sway us to either overreact or underreact.

Ego Defense Mechanisms

                Ego defense mechanisms, like cognitive distortions, happen automatically. They are not consciously chosen, but instead operate in the subconscious. Their function is to protect the conscious mind from being directly confronted by realities that threaten its ability to cope and maintain a sense of stability and security. In their most positive manifestations, they can help us survive and do the best we can in the face of life’s challenges. However, we can also over-rely on them, avoiding beneficial changes in our self-image, depriving ourselves of personal growth, and even becoming deluded. From among numerous ego defense mechanisms, we presently focus on a few.

                Denial is the epitome of all defense mechanisms. It is the refusal to acknowledge the reality of something, despite sufficient evidence that it actually exists; even the evidence itself can be irrationally disregarded. In some cases, we may acknowledge the reality of something, but denial prevents us from recognizing those aspects of it that are most threatening to our egos. In the face of an otherwise obvious and persistent truth, denial can lead to the involvement of more specific defense mechanisms and various cognitive distortions. When we are in denial, manipulative messages acquire leverage on us by supporting our refusal of the facts and attacking those who try to confront us with reality.

                Displacement involves directing our negative feelings toward something or someone other than what or who those feelings are actually about. We subconsciously judge that it is too risky to acknowledge and express the emotions more authentically, so we choose a safer target. Displacement makes us vulnerable to messages that would manipulate us by diverting some or all of the blame for problems, directing it onto people or things that actually have less or even no real responsibility for them. This tactic serves to protect the people or things that manipulators do not want held fully accountable for their actual roles in a problem.

                Projection is similar to displacement, but the reality we avoid acknowledging and addressing is something unacceptable about ourselves, which we instead assign to others. In short, we see or imagine the fault in others that we cannot admit is in ourselves. This twist permits us to direct our negative judgments and feelings toward them rather than ourselves, maintaining comfort with ourselves and even allowing us to feel superior. For example, rather than come to terms with being in denial about something, we judge others to be in denial and insist that they are the ones who need to wake up to reality. This defense mechanism makes us prey to manipulators practicing scapegoating and using divisive us-versus-them messages.

                Intellectualization is the attempt to detach oneself from the emotional realities of a situation, and reduce it to an intellectual matter. We do this because we subconsciously fear that we would be overwhelmed by the emotions, or that the emotions would force us to acknowledge something we are denying. Tapping into this defense mechanism, manipulators can persuade us to remain indifferent to the feelings of others, and even ignore our own feelings, both of which can make it easier to be cold, cruel, or dehumanizing when it serves the manipulator’s agenda.

Employing the Lessons of Masonry

                As previously recalled, the First Degree of Masonry instructs that our work is first and foremost on ourselves. That degree’s lesson on the Common Gavel specifically tasks us with removing vices and superfluities from our minds. Vices are moral faults or failings, and superfluities are wasteful, excessive, or unnecessary things. We have seen how both cognitive distortions and ego defense mechanisms can lead us into moral error and excessive attitudes and actions. It therefore follows that our Masonic duty is to be more aware of these internal dynamics and improving our ability to manage them. In order to do so, we must continue learning more about them while practicing deep introspection and striving to demonstrate virtue instead of succumbing to vice.

Applied Perpetual Learning

                Through its allegories of building and rebuilding, our Craft illustrates the wisdom in knowing there is never a point at which we can say we have received all the light we need. Change is always happening, both around us and in our own hearts and minds. We have a responsibility to acknowledge it and respond virtuously, and that implies a commitment to lifelong learning. In our aim to continue learning more about media manipulation and how to respond to it, let us consider a very relevant lesson from the Fellow Craft Degree. Rhetoric is among the Liberal Arts and Sciences it recommends, about which the General Ahiman Rezon (Sickels, 1868) says this:

It is by Rhetoric that the art of speaking eloquently is acquired. To be an eloquent speaker, in the proper sense of the word, is far from being either a common or an easy attainment: it is the art of being persuasive and commanding; the art, not only of pleasing the fancy, but of speaking both to the understanding and to the heart.

                In a world where we are bombarded by intentionally misleading and divisive rhetoric trying to be persuasive and commanding over our attitudes and actions, learning to be a discerning listener is more important than ever. Media literacy is therefore a rapidly growing field in both public and private education, helping to ensure that future generations are better prepared to navigate media manipulation. For those of us called to educate ourselves, here are some good places to start:

    • News Literacy Project for Everyone offers several free resources for the public, including an e-learning platform, an app, podcast, shareable tips and tools and an annual news literacy event.
    • CRAAP Test – evaluating resources of all sorts for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose
    • RADAR – assessing Internet resources for rationale, authority, date, accuracy, and relevance

                Fact-checking is a valuable skill for informed media consumption. Penn State’s Fact-Checking Tools lists eight sites for help with verifying or debunking claims. However, fact-checkers are human and have not been above controversy and criticism. There have also been cases where supposed fact-checking websites were proven to be sources of intentional disinformation. It is therefore a good practice to consult more than one fact-checker, and it is also very smart to learn the skills of fact-checking for oneself.

                As we proceed with learning more about media literacy, we are likely to be challenged in various ways. For example, we should prepare ourselves for examples of media manipulation that strike closer to home, testing our willingness to seriously question sources we have trusted and perspectives with which we have agreed. In any case, it is not enough to simply lean more about media literacy – we must apply what we learn.

Introspection

                Applying the lessons of media literacy not only requires exercising scrutiny with the media we consume, but of at least equal importance is practicing the best self-awareness we can manage. As we have seen, our own mental habits and personality dynamics can make us susceptible to manipulation. In learning about those things, it can be tempting to give more effort to spotting and confronting them in others than within ourselves. Among the potential problems with that approach are:

    • It slides into the vice of hypocrisy.
    • It might fall into the cognitive distortion of jumping to conclusions, and mind reading in particular.
    • It could be an expression of the ego defense of projection.
    • It might evoke a backfire effect from others, which only makes things worse, including creating unintended echo chambers around ourselves.

                So, once again, we are reminded that our primary and overriding concern is with one’s own moral and Masonic edifice. There are two basic introspective activities that enhance all our work as Masons, and which are especially valuable in the present matter – mindfulness and reflection.

                Mindfulness is being as aware as possible of what is happening while it is happening. So, as we read, watch, or listen to media, mindfulness means not only attending to the content, how it is communicated, and by whom, but also being aware of our own reactions to it in the moment. This dimension of self-awareness has different aspects, including our physical body and sensations, our emotions, and our thoughts. While consuming media, our bodies often provide clues to a message’s effect on us at deeper levels, even subconsciously. Examples include feelings of tension and increases or decreases in energy. We might discover that messages sometimes elicit changes in our breathing or pulse, even discomfort in specific parts of the body. And it is not only unpleasant feelings that deserve our attention, but also pleasant ones like the rush of a thrill, the warmth of satisfaction, or the calm of release. Each of these may be signs that something in the message is meant to “pull our strings” or “push our buttons,” and therefore they reveal opportunities to more carefully examine what is happening emotionally within ourselves. In turn, we exercise emotional intelligence in mindfulness by

    • identifying the specific emotions arising in response to a message,
    • discerning the external prompts for our reactions,
    • ascertaining our internal predispositions for our reactions, and
    • noting the specific ways they may lead us into self-conflict and irrational behavior.

This progression of insight naturally involves greater awareness of how we are mentally processing all this information, thus helping us avoid cognitive distortions, acting out of ego defense, and succumbing to manipulators’ tricks.

                Reflection is the practice of thinking back on an experience, replaying it in our minds for the purpose of gaining greater insight about how it happened, why it happened, and what we can learn from it. Reflection is extremely valuable because it is often in hindsight that we more clearly see the relationships between various parts of a media experience and arrive at better understanding of the whole. Factors in this clarity can include these:

    • psychological distance from the emotions of the immediate experience;
    • more time and mental space for
      • in-depth analysis of the message,
      • self-inquiry about our reactions and responses to it,
      • accessing and comparing relevant information from other sources, including our memories of other similar experiences,
      • drawing conclusions about the meaning of the experience, and
      • imagining and planning what we can do with what we have learned.

                As a final consideration on the practice of introspection, note that it encompasses a process of critical thinking applied to oneself, which has value well beyond the issues of media consumption. It is a penetrating, soul-searching, recurring self-inventory that requires integrity, courage, commitment, and discipline. Indeed, all the virtues taught by our Craft are required by and improved through this practice.

Virtue

                With the connection between media consumption and virtue well established, we can do good Masonic work by contemplating the relevance of specific virtues taught in our Craft. Here are some initial thoughts along those lines:

Prudence – using forethought about our media consumption and responses to it, exercising good judgment about what we expose ourselves and others to

Temperance – being moderate with our media consumption and in our responses to it

Justice – not allowing ourselves to be manipulated into prejudice and unfair attitudes and actions toward others

Fortitude – persevering in the ongoing work of learning about media manipulation, in practicing introspection, and in practicing virtue in relationship with media

Faith – trusting Deity to assist us; also acting “in good faith” by proceeding with the best of motives and intentions

Hope – confidently envisioning progress in learning and growth relevant to media consumption

Charity – tolerance, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness for others and ourselves in struggling with the challenges of media manipulation; maintaining good will and benevolence toward people with whom we disagree

Our working tools allegorically represent virtues that are also very applicable and worthy of contemplation.

24-inch Gauge – thoughtfully managing our time with media; not allowing media to sap our time and energy for other things, or to bleed into and distract us from other activities

Common Gavel – directly applying our learning, introspection, and virtues to actually make real changes in how we think and act with media, including divesting ourselves of mental habits and personality dynamics that make us susceptible to media manipulation

Plumb – being honorable, having integrity, and avoiding hypocrisy in our media consumption and responses to media manipulation

Level – being gracious in acknowledging that we are all challenged by media manipulation, both externally and internally; regarding others as equals regardless of our differences

Square – remembering there are always moral dimensions to our relationship with media and that it is our own exercise of virtue with media that is our first duty to ourselves as well as others

Compasses – recognizing that our passions and desires are key elements in our relationships with media and that we therefore need to practice awareness, understanding, and wise management of our emotions

Trowel – finding or building common ground and being kind and cooperative with people of differing opinions despite temptations to do otherwise

Conclusion

Everything we learn in Masonry is relevant to our relationships with media, to what we do with the information media provides, to the effects it generates in our hearts and minds, and to the way we behave in response. So, engaging in the work described in this essay is a very direct and productive way of actually doing the Masonic work of making ourselves better human beings, better enabled to practice the tenets of our Craft with everyone at all times. By employing the lessons of the Builder’s Art in this context, we not only increasingly liberate ourselves from media manipulation, we also have a beneficial effect on each other and the world around us.

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My heartfelt thanks to T:.F:.S:.for helping me explore and develop the ideas in this essay.