Yes, the Culture has Brainwashed Us (and How We Wake Up)


The Analogy.

You know that wallpaper in the bathroom? That ugly floral wallpaper from the 60s or 70s that you promised, the second you moved into your house, you would strip off and replace with something more fitting to your own tastes? wake up

Remember how time marched on, and you got busy, and the wallpaper just stopped bothering you so much? In fact, you barely notice it anymore. It’s just there in the background, seemingly not hurting anyone. It’s not something you would’ve ever chosen consciously, but it’s palatable enough.wake up

Until, suddenly, a friend of yours points out the wallpaper, and you see it anew all over again as the outdated and ill-fitting background that it is. And what might be behind it—well, does anyone dare to look?wake up

Perhaps your first response is not horror, though. It might be defensiveness of that wallpaper you once knew was hideous. But now—well, comfort has its price, right?

The brainwashing.

This is how indoctrination works. Not only do we slowly grown accustomed to our surroundings, we come to believe that our surroundings are the only reality. If we are not careful, we may never wake up from this state.

“We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented, it’s as simple as that.” The Truman Show

This is true of a culture, too. It can brainwash us into believing things that are simply not true.

Yet, it is in the best interest of those who hold power in the current societal model to keep the model in place. No one is supposed to see behind it to the actual condition of the wall. These culture messages—the wallpaper—shape us invisibly and indirectly; even as we stare right at it we forget it’s there. As Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, states:

“The mythology of your culture hums in your ears so constantly that no one pays the slightest bit of attention to it.”

The Reality.

How could we not all be brainwashed to some degree? We’ve lived in this culture our entire life. We’ve heard the messaging—both subtly and overtly—from those in positions of authority since we were old enough to understand them. And the model overwhelmingly supports our obeisance to what we’ve been told and taught.

In other words—to various degrees we are all brainwashed. Put another way, the mottos and creeds of our culture have lulled us to sleep. Why? Because the culture doesn’t have to change—it doesn’t even have to grow conscious—if we all quietly play nice.

The people working (consciously or unconsciously) to establish rules, norms, and structures are the same people who benefit from them. They are the author and promoter of the cultural mythology.

The Danger of Not Waking Up.

When we forget that there is a greater truth than what we can currently comprehend, our world gets smaller. And when our world shrinks, so does our consciousness, followed by our empathy, compassion, and connection to and for others. So does our potential for being the change agents we came here to be.

When we simply believe that the truth is what we can see and hear and no more, then we become quiet advocates for the status quo, even as we say how sad our world has become. We become complicit in handing down a smaller mindset to the next generation, even as we put our faith in the next generation to make more of a difference than we did. We might actually become adversaries, standing in the way of those who do remember that that wallpaper is not the only option.

Scarier than all of this, we might become the “Get off my Lawn” person whose world is so small and whose tolerance for anything that might be considered “against the rules” is as thin as wallpaper.

How to Recognize our Condition.

It’s not easy to see something we’ve never seen before. It takes a great amount of courage to recognize and admit that we’ve bought into the things this world promotes and sells. This is especially true for those of us who consider ourselves spiritual, or at least, separate from, or better than, the ills of society.

But here are a few clues that, if you hear yourself or others doing or saying these things, you can be sure there is some amount of brainwashing that’s occurred. Only then can we move to the next step: waking up.

“It’s always been this way.”

This is not an argument for anything other than a belief that the status quo is the best standard operating procedure for our society. And yet, the status quo cannot make our world better. It cannot create more justice or equity. The status quo is inertia. But we know that this world is constantly in flux, so don’t let yourself tell yourself (or anyone else) that it can’t change.

“It can’t be done.”

I bet we can name a whole bunch of inventors and inventors-to-be that would balk at such a defeatist statement. And yet we hear comments like this all the time in the face of bold, out-of-the box ideas. Who’s afraid of a big bad idea? Why, a group of people that stands to lose some of their perks if these big bad ideas get a foothold. Thus, the presenters of these ideas—those who have seen the wallpaper on the wall and want it changed—are painted as idealistic, impractical, silly dreamers, and oh, what else have I been called? Oh yeah. Crazy.

“If people just work hard and pay their dues, they will be rewarded.”

Really? People still believe this? Look around—there are many, many people who work their fingers to the bone their entire lives, and never catch a break. For many, they can’t even get health insurance. Likewise, there are many who never have to work for anything in their lives, but are born into positions of power and wealth that give them authority over others.

A large majority of our citizenry still believe in the value of hard work as the pillar of a healthy society. This keeps our criticisms of our society conveniently pointing downward onto the already oppressed. Once we wake up, we realize that we should be looking upward, to the very systems that create rampant crime and corruption at the top, while rape culture, homelessness, poverty, paycheck-to-paycheck living afflict so many millions of us down here. We live in the richest country in the world, and yet 40% of people could not pay a $400 emergency expense. Do we really believe that 40% of the American population doesn’t work hard enough?

“What goes around comes around.”

Perpetuated in spiritual circles as well as secular circles, this is an idea of a world that is, at the end of the day, fair. In this world, you reap what you sow. This cultural mythology states that people who have done horrible things will one day experience the consequences (in this life or another) and those who have lived good lives will one day (in this life or another) be rewarded.

This convenient belief allows us to assume that people who have difficult lives have somehow deserved that life, and that those who live comfortable lives have earned those. Look closer at this particular wallpaper and ask—Do we really think the world is a scale, in which everything is meted out evenly somehow, some way, in the end? Or is this a pretty little lie that allows us to look the other way, believing that it is karma’s job—not ours—to address bad behavior?

“It’s God’s plan.” (Or, the one about Christian religious beliefs, which are very much embedded in the American culture)

Is it? Is it really? Does that make any sense? And please don’t tell me that “God works in mysterious ways,” or “God only gives us what we can handle.” Even if the word “God” is replaced by “Universe,” does anyone really think that there’s a puppet master in the sky? One who loves us so much that he gave his only Son to save this world but still allows children to be raped, trafficked, abused, stolen, murdered? Or a god that’s passively allowing children to be gunned down in their schools, despite all the “thoughts and prayers” that have been sent up? Does anyone really believe that the same god who ignores these horrors then decides to weigh in on something as inconsequential as which football team should take home the national championship?

It’s not up to a God-up-there to heal this ill society. It’s up to us. This is only possible if we wake ourselves up and stop telling each other fairy tales that keep putting us to back sleep.

How to Wake up.

They say that “Breaking up is hard to do.” But so is waking up.

And even then, waking up is not an event, but a process. Seeing the wallpaper again is just one thing; preparing ourselves to strip it off is another. In the face of change, suddenly the effort to remove the cultural mythologies from our collective subconscious seems nearly insurmountable. This is why if we really want to wake up, we must get serious about it. We must commit. We must have more than a “vague ambition.”

“If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he [Truman] was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him.” The Truman Show

And know this about the process of waking up: there will forever be another layer of brainwashing we must reveal and discard, no matter how fervently we take on this work. It’s because everywhere we go, the cultural mythology hums in the background, calling us back to sleep.

If we want to be true agents of change, we must remain vigilant. We have to pay attention to how easily and how often we can fall back into complacency or defeatism. Waking up is one thing, but staying awake as an entirely different (and much more challenging) process.

Staying asleep might seem like we are staying safely out of the way, but it’s a passive/aggressive immobility in a culture that needs some fierce rogue agents fighting for change—change is to a healthier, safer, freer society for all of us, not just a few.

We are here to wake up and stay awake. It begins, and it continues, now.

Time to take that wallpaper down and see what’s really underneath.


  1. Sarah Wheeler on at 12:25 pm

    Keri, you are so mind bendingly bad ass! 😎 I hate wallpaper! Have you ever tried to remove wallpaper?!! It is such a messy, time consuming process. Better to have never bought into the wallpaper craze. Thanks for reminding me to keep my walls bare and my eyes open!

    • Keri on at 12:44 pm

      Sarah, thank you! This means I can now officially put “bad ass” somewhere in my bio…or maybe my Linked In profile?? lol. Yes – I had to remove just border wallpaper in a guest bathroom back in 2004 – and the experience was so horrible that removing wallpaper has long been a favorite metaphor of mine! Here’s to bare walls and open eyes…

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