Category: 2021

Apocalypse

It means “disclosure” or the “revelation of great knowledge.” Of course we’ve twisted the ancient Greek word for two millennia and layered new usages on it so it now means some kind of desolation, a wastescape. Some look forward to it, convinced it will benefit them (and deliberately harm or condemn their enemies), others view it primarily through the lens of media and pop culture usuage.

It’s fitting.

Trump’s presidency ends in mere hours when I’m typing theis and for all the harm and damage I believe it caused – which we will spend a long time repairing, from our pandemic response, to wealth inequality, to our national standing in the wider world – I do give it enormous credit for something important: it revealed.

It revealed the racism and misogyny still rooted deep in American history and institutions, and how insidious offshoots manifest everywhere.

It revealed the motives of extremists of all stripes. It promoted or sheltered ideologies by forgoing dog whistles in favor outright declarations.

It revealed how much of our government relies on honor and shame as preventatives – which both should bring some degree of comfort considering who has come before and what they have decided not to do, and should serve as testament how manifestly inadequate they are as guardrails in the

It revealed the collaboration between populism and plutocracy. It laid bare how specific audiences are whipped up to identity-based furor to claim power, before turning around using that power to benefit a very different audience entirely.

It revealed the difference between popularity and power. Both have limits and uses and taking the advice of Machiavelli to heart, the one that chooses power is likeliest to take the necessary steps to hold onto it even at the expense of popularity – or representing a majority of the people.

It revealed a cultural spirit of spite that I found genuinely breathtaking in its malice and breadth.

It revealed the fissures of race, class, and other identity markers and how

It revealed (or certainly reiterated) just how the tattered threads of our so-called safety net truly are, and therefore how fragile our overall systems are in the face of shock.

And finally, it was a powerful revelation to many, many groups of people that democracy requires and demands participation. And the administration provoked response and organization in truly unprecedented ways.

My greatest worry now is that with the intersecting challenges we face as a world and country, too many people will see a new administration as a chance to go back to complacency. Almost none of the circumstances which enabled this man and his people to come to power are resolved. Meaning, as exhausted as we all are and, it could happen again if we aren’t careful. My fear is that Americans tend to have short memories.

Weekend Links

How do we reattach people to reality and facts? This is the big philosophical thinking I’ve been debating in my own brain this past week and have no earthly idea what the answer is. Whether the need to behave in specific ways and take certain actions to control the spread of the pandemic, or the political unrest founded on outright conspiracy theories…how do you reach a consensus on truth when it’s the very thing that’s being “debated?” My brain hurts.

As you may have surmised, this week’s batch of links is a mix of grim current affairs and abject silliness wherever I found it. It will not solve any of your philosophical conundrums, but it will clear your skin and help you lose five pounds.

Who knows, it might. Truth is relative, after all.

Heh.

Yes, let’s talk about police response to broadly leftist and rightist protest activity in the US:

“Their hearts, minds and wallets were taken advantage of,” Ms. Mace said, her voice rising in fury. “Millions of people across the country who were lied to. These individuals, these hardworking Americans truly believe that the Congress can overturn the Electoral College.”

Take a moment to educate yourself about the memes and iconography that identify specific ideologies and groups.

Patriarchy is a big part of the problem, but it requires women’s involvement to work. See also, Trumpism.

He resigned before making these statements. (And reminder, they are not actually pro-police so much as they think the police are “against” they same groups they are, and the moment this is questioned, they turn. If you’re not with them, you’re against them. Because they’re fascists. Obligatory trigger warning.)

Oh, and theocratic nationalists…those too. Ultimately, the point it to have enough power to exert your power, regardless of being a minority, because you feel you are morally right to do so and that there is a genuinely a risk to society if you aren’t able to enact your agenda.

Brief palate cleanser time, let’s learn about peanut butter!

Meanwhile, in Britain, an optimistic timeline means Jeff and I will be vaccinated by…September. Woof.

National mythology is powerful and the stories we tell ourselves ABOUT ourselves are important. We need to rethink the framing of those stories. Desperately.

Damn, I might have to use Signal instead. And still I somehow justify using Instagram. I am hypocritical trash…

Shock. Surprise. Whomst could have guessed, etc. etc.

WOMB CANNIBALS.

Something something, “a few bad apples,” something.

Jesus. The long term effects of COVID on mental health are just starting to be understood but I feel that the final toll is going to be grim.

Influencers will be the end of us.

So…this is just going to get worse, huh?

If you have been feeling physically done in recently, you are not alone; and yes, Ms Rona is doing this to us.

When your worldview is a lie

I know I am not as sympathetic to those caught up in conspiratorial thinking as I logically could be. I know how the manipulation works, how media echo chambers function to reinforce the things you already believe or want to be true and insulate you against any difference of thought, and how radicalization works regardless of whether it sends you left or right, religious or secular.

Humans and groups are complex and there are no tidy narratives. I saw people attacking and beating police at the Capitol and I saw people ostensibly on the same side trying to protect those victims. I am sure there are people who never imagined that a protest would turn into a violent storming of the Capitol…but I am equally sure that there are people who knew exactly what they were doing and planned for it.

The evidence of this is mounting every day.

How they were meeting, coalescing, and coordinating on social media.

How specific some of their individual or group agendas were.

How they are not going to stop.

How more is already being planned.

Sympathy for the devil?

And so, no, I do not think of all of these people involved in the storming of the Capitols in exactly the same way…but I am struggling to parse the categories correctly. I think many of them are victims, but where does that victimhood end? In addition to willful bad actors, some were probably just caught up in a moment, the collective conscious of a mob. The vast majority of them have been lied to and isolated from alternative points of view for so long that many people do believe we are living through some kind of cataclysmic crisis.

If I believed some of those things, would I be willing to do something drastic about it? Yeah, if I’m honest with myself, I can see the appeal or at least the logic. Everyone likes to think that if put in the circumstances of history, that they would make the valiant and historically vindicated choice. Well, a lot of these people think that’s what’s happening and they are trying to make what they understand to be a valiant choice. There’s a strange sort of bravery in it.

The problem is…the underlying premise of their belief is deeply, tragically flawed. The people who converged might have nuances and differences, but underpinning all of them is a collective, fatal lie; that the election was invalid in some way.

What do we make of genuine attempts at heroism for a false cause? It’s the same logic of ISIS, the crusades, leftist eugenics of the late 19th, early 20th century, and more. Fervent commitment to a false cause is a human problem, it’s always been with us.

So, what do?

So while I want the people who did illegal and violent actions on January 6, 2020 to face the requisite legal repercussions for their actions, I still think the long term focus MUST be on the ecosystem that made this not just possible but probable. Garbage in, garbage out. We should hold people accountable for their individual actions, but we MUST hold responsible the people who should have been a check on the worst of this and didn’t. And yes, that includes the President, which is why I think impeaching him is the right thing to do. There needs to be deterrent for leaders and those in power from feeling able to leverage violence and extremism – whether through incitement, tacit approval, or passive acceptance – for their political benefit.

I don’t know what to do long-term, however, about the problem of living in alternate realities that are founded on these beliefs. QAnon believers still believe President Trump has a plan to take down a global pedophilia and hormone harvesting ring of Satan worshipers (yes…really…). NeoNazis are already spinning last week as a victory that validates their views and appeals to new recruits. Lots of various other groups believe that they are going to be marched into concentration camps, have their guns confiscated, that the government is about to enact martial law, and any other variance.

Each of these worldviews shares a trait: they have an almost religiously protective reaction to any attempts to persuade them otherwise. It reinforces their faith more than harms it. It’s why I wrote about giving up most of my attempts to argue with people who disagree with me with a view to convincing them – because I’ve lost confidence that it actually produces an effect.

But then, what will work? The only thing I can think of is rooting it out, which is also why I favor deplatforming and push back strongly when it’s called censorship. It isn’t.

We have to confront the ecosystems that create and sustain brittle and false worldviews. This is partly what activists mean when they want to dismantle white supremacy/racism/misogyny, or dispute terminology in a way that makes conservatives mad. It’s also what produces so much backlash against this activism – see paragraph above. If your worldview premises are challenged and they are somehow fundamental to your identity (religious, political, social, you name it), you might interpret a different opinion or movement as an attack. And you might respond accordingly–that’s exactly what’s happening.

We don’t have to be talking about “isms” for this logic to work. I could say the same same is true of the systems of education and media and politics in which we find ourselves, which have helped shape deep and entrenched identities. At a deep level, I’d say this gives insights into how left-leaning people like me position themselves and why. Because I don’t want to dismantle existing systems of power (white privilege, patriarchy, the worst iterations of wealth inequality, and so forth) because they are MEAN or UNFAIR–a criticism often lobbed which I think is juvenile and patronizing. I want them to end because they are founded on lies or false narratives.

We have to confront the lies at the core of these identities. Otherwise they will do what extremist and reactionary movements have always done – reconstitute themselves underground until they see another chance to break out again. History demonstrates this over and over.

The Big Lie

Ultimately I keep coming back to thinking about lynch mobs, that horribly American historical precedent. This is absolutely stemming from seeing a gallows erected on Capitol Hill. People are frantically debating whether it was meant to be symbolic or was intended to kill people…and I think that utterly misses the point.

It’s as useless an argument as whether we were supposed to take Trump “literally or seriously,” because ultimately…it doesn’t matter. The big lie enables and justifies either outcome. That’s why it’s so dangerous.

Looking at the history of lynchings in America, it is actually rare that every single person would have participated in the actual torture and murder of the victims, many would have been spectators or even treated it as some kind of ghoulish community event. But everyone in those crowds would have thought what was happening was “right,” “justified,” or even “righteous.” They would have believed that this action would have been taken because the victim, almost inevitably a person considered inferior or dangerous (whether Black, Jewish, German, Chinese, or any other group) “deserved it.”

You didn’t have to be the one slinging a rope over a tree limb to participate in the big lie of racism. They believed what they were doing was right, whether they watched from a picnic blanket or murdered with their bare hands. These might not be considered equivalently evil acts when viewed in isolation through a purely objective lens – but you can’t do that. Both are categorically underpinned and linked by the same false and evil premise and you cannot detach one from the other.

To do so is to capitulate to the lie. And ultimately, that’s what they want.