Many of us seem to be facing a common problem these days. I hear it over and over, in different forms.
“I can’t speak my mind, because I have a lot of old friends and relatives who would just flip me off and dismiss me if I did.”
I’ve written before about the Fascist turn the US has taken, and the fact that this is not a top-down takeover, but is (as all forms of fascism are) a bottom-up demand for a Fearless Leader to sweep away the crusty old rules and replace them with modern, effective, efficient rules. We’re well into that transformation in the US, now, and the only reason things aren’t much worse than they are, is the overwhelmingly self-centered, infantile incompetence of the man that The People have chosen to lead them into their Glorious Future, combined with the fractured dysfunction of the political party that put him into power.
It’s important to realize that this is a people’s movement. Our current governmental disarray is not the clever work of Vladimir Putin, nor Fox News, nor the Illuminati, nor the Rothschild family, nor Islamic terrorists, nor White Supremacists. It isn’t because of immigrants, or women, or white trash, or inner-city blacks, or religious Fundamentalists. It isn’t because of the electoral college, or gerrymandering, or campaign funding, or election fraud.
This is a broad-based people’s movement, reacting to the shuddering, glacially-slow peak and collapse of the global capitalist economy, with which the entire American enterprise is fatally intertwined. There are extremists and sociopaths and criminals leading it, certainly, and plenty of hanky-panky in a corrupt and misshapen voting process. But the reason it managed to install an incompetent sociopath as our forty-fifth president is that too many people no longer really believe in the United States or its democracy. They are fed up with the endless political deadlock, the economic dysfunction, the loss of opportunity for themselves, the loss of a visible future for their children, the loss of respect for their class, the loss of any sense of rootedness or ownership. The political bromides of the past about democracy and freedom have all fizzed over and left the glass empty.
Many, many people want change. They want it now.
Were this not the case, we would not be facing so many old friends and relatives we can’t talk to.
I’m one of the people who wants change: no, who sees the necessity for change. I have that much in common with all the people who support the man currently occupying the White House.
Beyond that, our ways are sundered.
Consider for a moment this business of “fact-checking” the president. There are six colors in a child’s primary palette: red, purple, blue, green, yellow, and orange. If the president states the color of the sky, he has one chance in six of getting it right. We can expend a lot of effort “fact-checking” him on this, but the reality is, we are “fact-checking” a Magic 8 Ball. He spews statements with only one filter in place: how much publicity will this generate for him? There is no relationship between the president’s statements and facts, because he isn’t doing any fact-checking of his own before he opens his mouth. He isn’t playing that game. You might as well be checking how often he begins sentences with words that contain the letter ‘b’.
Fact-checking the president is a waste of time. The president isn’t interested in facts.
This isn’t as uncommon as you might think.
Talk to a car salesman about his work, sometime. If he opens up to you, he will educate you about people. He will tell you that it’s important to know the specifications — the facts — about a car, but that isn’t what sells it. What sells it is the customer himself. When a customer walks into a showroom, he’ll see something he forms an emotional attachment to. The salesman’s job is to notice that, and to help the customer sell himself that car: to pay attention to the shift of emotions, perhaps suggest another car to which he will form an even greater emotional attachment; to play the customer like a hooked fish, never allowing the line to break, until the papers are signed and the deal is closed.
This is why there are showrooms and retail stores. It isn’t about anything except the fact that people have a much harder time forming an emotional attachment to something in a catalog. They’re more likely to make a rational choice when using a catalog, which often means not buying anything at all.
President #45 is a salesman. It’s all he has ever done. It’s all that he knows how to do. He notices and reinforces emotional attachments. In fact, I’ll even throw some credit his way: having suffered from a debilitating mental illness his entire life (sociopathic narcissism), he has figured out a way to be financially successful by noticing and reinforcing other people’s emotional attachment to the only thing in the world that holds any interest for him: himself.
This is exactly what the mass media does, as well. There is very little national journalism left. What we have instead is a vast, multi-tentacled entertainment industry, one facet of which is called “News.” But it isn’t news at all. It is entertainment, and that means it has to be entertaining, not informative. Everything about it involves noticing and reinforcing emotional attachments. That’s why opinion polls are so important: the mass media uses facts about people’s emotions, but it sells entertainment.
Facts are irrelevant to entertainment content.
The public has adapted to this world. Facts are irrelevant. It’s entirely about emotional attachments.
Nuclear war? Meh. The question that serious men ask is, “Will it help us sell shit?”
So let’s return to all those people you can’t talk to. They’ve formed their emotional attachments. They know they’re going to buy a Ford. You’re wasting your time and breath trying to tell them they should consider a Chevy, or — God help you if you suggest it — a Toyota. They’ll dig in their heels. They’ll concoct rationalizations about why Ford is better. They’ll make up stories about Chevys that lose their wheels on the highway, or Toyotas that catch fire in your garage. They’ll tie it to patriotism, and to God. If you press the point, they’ll start to hate you. They’ll forget to invite you for Thanksgiving, and scratch you off their Christmas card list.
Would you really invite this kind of wrath over Ford versus Chevy?
Of course not. You excuse them as lovable pig-headed fools, and drop it. Who cares if they buy a Ford?
People have now become emotionally attached to the idea that fascism is just a better, more authentic form of democracy, just as our forefathers envisioned it; that reverse-racism is a real and present threat; that homosexuals have an agenda; that immigrants take our jobs; that lowering taxes on the rich creates more jobs; that this endless, sickening vomit of nonsense is What Is Really Going On, and Someone Ought To Do Something About It.
And now you want to tell them that Obama is not a Muslim.
The problem is, this isn’t Ford versus Chevy any more. They are agitating and uniting to make deep changes in the fabric of US law that are going to hurt and kill a lot of people: people including themselves, and including you and me. They are pig-headed fools, yes, but it’s not nearly so excusable.
When this escalates to internment camps, mass murder, and genocide, it won’t be excusable at all.
That is, of course, where all this is headed. Surely you all know that much history?
The US is moving inexorably into a period of cultural derangement. Facts don’t matter. People have a right to opinions built on baseless rumors. People are emotionally attached to nonsensical beliefs that create a moral imperative for them to commit lethal violence against their scapegoats. We are becoming a violent, unthinking mob, on a national scale.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
That poem was written by William Butler Yeats in 1919, and it seems to me entirely apropos of this time and place.
Personally, I have no answers to the dilemma of what to do about those old friends and family. I’ve cut some of them out of my life, because I cannot bear their level of unreason, and that has offered me some personal peace. I’ve cut back drastically on contact with social media for the same reason, and it has been good. I don’t follow the News branch of the entertainment industry at all: the only news I keep up with now is local news, and that sparingly.
When it comes to speaking out, I feel my way along like anyone else.
Sometimes, I speak up, as I am doing now.
More often, I’m silent. There’s an old saying: never try to teach a pig to sing — it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig. People who have fallen into this encroaching darkness of unreason are largely, in my experience, unreachable. I don’t try to teach them to sing.
I do try to remain civil. What I mean by that is that I try to avoid triggering or escalating unnecessary violence, verbal or otherwise. I find that it’s easier to do this if you raise your expectations of yourself, and lower your expectations of other people.
But I have no answers.