On Facebook, a friend of mine was asking how it was that conservatives and liberals in this country are accusing each other of hatred, dishonesty, ignorance, fanaticism, and numerous other sins of the mind and soul. We’re all quite certain we’re doing none of that, and that the other guy is absolutely guilty of all of that.
But then he turns it around on us, and we wonder if he’s a Russian troll gaslighting us, and then laughing when we start doubting ourselves.
I think there are plenty of Russian trolls out there, especially on Facebook. And I think there are plenty of people of bad intention and bad faith gaslighting us because they are small-souled people who think it’s funny.
But I find it hard to believe that so MANY people are such shmucks. I think there’s something else going on.
Here was my response to the post, which the poster liked quite a lot.
For what it’s worth:
We are, in my experience, very poor judges of ourselves, and of our own core value systems. We also tend to lie to protect ourselves, our reputations, and our power. We lie to ourselves all the time.
These personal lies tangle with the cultural lies we tell ourselves as a society.
Let’s start with the cultural lies.
Our nation no longer bears much resemblance to what we say about it. We do not have a democracy in the US, or anything like a democracy. We have a huge, but inflexible and fragile economy that is teetering perpetually on the edge of collapse, because it must grow proportionally to survive, and it can no longer grow proportionally. Our society has moved very far indeed from any kind of “free” society: nearly all of us are job-slaves, with our housing, our food, our medicines, and even our friendships and communities tied to a rationing system that is grotesquely inequitable, and — for most of the population — insufficient for our basic survival needs. The “successful” must pull up roots and move anywhere at the behest of their masters: should they refuse, they are not sold to another master, but rather, must to sell themselves to another master on the auction block. When we become too old or ill to be useful to a new master, we are sidelined, warehoused, and forgotten. We are profoundly racist, sexist, ageist, and classist.
In other words, most of the things we repeat endlessly about our nation are lies.
I think the main difference between conservatives and liberals is the nature of the lies and rationalizations they are willing to tell themselves about our nation.
Conservatives have crafted a “conservative mythology” in which this crumbling nation is beset by immigrants, lazy bums, badly-raised “millennials,” and whining left-wing socialists. If we could just get rid of all those worthless parasites, everything would be fine.
Liberals have crafted a “liberal mythology” in which this crumbling nation is beset by greedy capitalists, corrupt bribe-takers in Congress, dishonest elections, and lying right-wing fascists. If we could just get rid of all those sociopaths, everything would be fine.
Both viewpoints are lies told to protect the fundamental lie that we still live in a strong, young, vigorous, viable democracy.
I would say that both sides have drunk the toxic kool-aid. They just prefer different flavors.
That said, there are two distinctly different flavors.
Conservatives tend toward authoritarianism. That’s been borne out by many studies.
I saw a conservative comment the other day saying “Yay! Trump 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032!” and some other conservative who was shocked enough to say, “You want a dictator?” I would say that the true answer, in general, is yes. Not that most conservatives would admit to that openly (though many would), since it runs against our cultural lies about how democracy-is-best. But authoritarians crave a structure of authority, and are really just fine with a dictator. They all want a “good” dictator, of course, but that mostly means one who aligns well with the lies they tell themselves. Like a dictator who will build a wall to keep out the evil immigrants, which will solve all the problems of a crumbling society.
When we get into politics itself, there is a lot of very deep corruption, which you would expect in a crumbling republic. It’s impossible to discern true motives, because the politicians are all working with propagandists to craft a “message,” meaning a way to sweeten what is bitter. All of them. Are they really in it for the power? The money (licit and illicit)? The adulation? Are they trying to preserve the republic, or loot it as it goes down?
Surprising comments pop out of their mouths from time to time. They always claim “they misspoke.” I tend to think that for just a moment, they lost focus, and accidentally spoke their truth.
Given that most people are trying to preserve the lie of living in a viable and everlasting republic, they start off confused and get more confused by the antics of the politicians.
Then we come to Trump. All the evidence points to him being a pathological narcissist, and if that’s true, his motives are quite straightforward: it’s all about him. Adulation, power, and wealth. His behavior is consistent with that, including the stream of self-aggrandizing lies he tells.
For some reason, people are fascinated by narcissists, and are more than happy to promote them to positions of adulation, power, and wealth. Maybe it’s a survival thing: when you have a pack of starving wolves attacking your tribe, it’s not the best time to sit down and have a debate over the best way to deal with them.
Given that the republic is failing, it isn’t surprising that large numbers of people would turn to a narcissist, and particularly conservative authoritarians. We all feel the collapse. We want it to stop. We want someone to tell us what to do.