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Mfonobong Inyang: Having The Gift Of Critical Thinking & Perspective (2)

Respectfully, Luke was so underrated because he was known more for being a disciple and a doctor than for being a storyteller with great perspectives. He may not have had much notoriety as some of his colleagues but he is suspected by scholars to have documented the Acts of the Apostles. In one of his narrations, he shares a powerful episode that got me thinking. Many people know the story of Paul and Silas in prison but not many have paid attention to the backstory nor interrogated the pre-conditions. These two gentlemen were on their way to the temple for prayers as their custom was when they ran into a damsel possessed with a spirit of divination. They did exorcise the spirit eventually but not without consequences. Consider these three subtle points.

“Made a lot of money for the people who owned her.” The first thing we see here is that not only was this lady under the spell of higher spiritual powers but she was also a slave of people who made their economic fortunes off her personal misfortune. Sounds familiar right? Whilst most people profit off their talents, business savvy and other competencies, we see here that they are those who only thrive when there is dysfunction. So when next you see any dysfunction around you – whether politics, economics, social, religious – just know that there are people who are benefiting from such.

“When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square.” The second thing we see here is that when their economic interest was lost, they fought back by trying to make their private concerns become a public concern. Sounds familiar right? The marketplace here is a metaphor for the public, media and constituted authority. Have you noticed that these two men were framed as public enemies via propaganda but their original ‘sin’ was disrupting the business model of certain private interests?

“These men are disturbing the peace; dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” The third thing we see here is the disingenuous narrative being spun, the owners of this lady are evil geniuses who know that they cannot accuse these two men of sabotaging their illicit business, so they accuse them of subverting the law instead. Understand that this was at the height of Roman hegemony where dissents are not tolerated, so these men knew what they were doing by playing the race card. Sounds familiar right? Notice how quickly the story moved from private interests to public outrage? How you know they succeeded was that “the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.”

Paul being a strategist himself could see through incidents such as these. Remember that before his conversion, he was an OG when it came to systemic persecution of communities of faith, so he recognized the signatures of this playbook. He would later submit in one of his famous epistles that the real contention isn’t with human entities but against agendas and organized evils. I see what you did there, Paul.

About Agendas Agending

This instalment of critical thinking focuses on a word that gets thrown around a lot: propaganda. One source defines it as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature used to promote a political cause or point of view.” Another source puts it this way: “deliberateness and a relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation (which) distinguishes propaganda from casual conversation or the free exchange of ideas.” These perspectives point toward the consensus that the purpose of propaganda is to “influence people’s opinions or behaviour actively rather than merely communicating the facts about something.”

Is any piece of information or person free of bias? Absolutely not. I dare say that this essay contains a sprinkle of propaganda and that’s the reality of life. It is what it is. So if we have established that bias is an inevitable characteristic of humans then our problem is not so much bias in itself but how much of it is too much. Think of bias as salt, you cannot cook anything without it. What we can say is that some people are better chefs than others. Every song, news item, commercial, political rhetoric, or movie is pushing an agenda, whether subtly or overtly. Know this and know peace. Some people are obsessed with telling your own story for you and they desperately want their version of events to be the single story. That’s why you may have been conditioned to be a chatterbox for some people’s affairs but are strangely quiet when tragedy of a much greater magnitude happens in your backyard. Not that it’s ever out of place to show empathy but isn’t it interesting that these same people never match the energy when it comes to your own affairs?

Many things happen every day but agenda determines what makes the news, that’s why we have liberal and conservative media houses. When it’s in some people’s strategic interest for you not to thrive as an individual or as a collective, there’s sabotage from within and without because their successes are hinged on your failures. Your advancement is a threat to theirs. Propaganda determines the perspective that the information is being spun toward. It determines whether something is seen as a six or a nine. Narratives will then determine whether euphemisms or superlatives are used in the storytelling. The idea is for your mind to become more malleable to certain notions or – like the intelligence community likes to put it when deploying predictive programming – suggestible. 

A Game of Shadows

I’m a movie buff but I don’t enjoy watching unintelligent ones that ruin my cinematic experience, except when I am just watching for entertainment purposes. Miss me with mediocre storytelling. Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favourite actors of all time, whether as Iron Man or his eponymous character in Sherlock Holmes, I marvel at RDJ’s genius. In the Sherlock Holmes franchise, his superpower is not clairvoyance as most people think, it’s curiosity. As a consulting detective, he pays attention to things that others like his close associate, Dr. John Watson, overlook. Nobody knows more about the cloak-and-dagger strategy than Mr. Holmes.

To everyone else, James Moriaty is a professor of mathematics but Sherlock Holmes brilliantly sees through all that smoke and mirrors. The professor secretly has interests in cotton, opium, steel and advanced weapons which naturally makes him a proponent of armed conflicts on the continent because it lines up his pocket. He routinely incites acrimony between people, organizations and countries using well-choreographed cover stories. His MO is so overt that it is covert. Moriaty is a criminal mastermind that believes a winning strategy necessitates sacrifices. In his own depraved words, “the law of celestial mechanics dictate that when two objects collide, there is always damage of a collateral nature.”

I am au fait with the movie’s pièce de résistance – a physical game of chess between Holmes and Moriaty. It’s also an apt metaphor that underpins the fact that the real players in every game are always in the shadows whilst they surreptitiously move the pawns on the chessboard. Sherlock Holmes, ever the enfant terrible, alludes to this when he said, “I might be absent in the room but my methods are not.” This, my friends, in a nutshell is how the world works. Stop playing checkers, start playing chess. Knight takes rook – checkmate!  

9+

Author, lawyer and rights activist, Dele Farotimi, brilliantly captures my submission with one of his book titles, Do Not Die In Their Wars. Verify, and learn to better interrogate issues: am I being recruited to fight a proxy war? Who are the real players here? What strategies are in play? Why am I being co-opted to take sides whenever there is a conflict? What is my own enlightened self-interest? If a particular thing is called bad now, why wasn’t the same energy used for a similar outcome earlier? If event X generates Y amount of outrage, why is event 10X not generating a 10Y outrage?

We wax lyrical in condemning cancel culture and rightly so but I dare say we are not ready for the conversation on the downside of stan culture. The act of unlooking or defending the indefensible when our faves are involved is a sight to behold. We must eschew the type of politics that doesn’t value human lives. We can support our MCMs and WCWs without losing our humanity. Certain events in recent times should remind you that you’re very expendable in the grand scheme of things regardless of your loyalty. Especially for young people, stand strong, and don’t become collateral damage. Obedience is better than sacrifice.  

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