It is a good thing to try to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. We shouldn’t fool ourselves about how well we can do that, but for some situations, we do a pretty good job. For example, if we watch a movie and someone gets attacked by a Great White Shark, we know we would feel pretty terrified and it’s a fairly good assumption that they are going to be terrified.
Let’s imagine how it feels inside the experience of a person who lies constantly and absurdly about how wonderful and great he is; how beloved he is by everyone; how he is the best at everything. Let’s say he declares himself to be a wobble-free genius. Can you imagine how empty he feels inside? He believes himself to be utterly incapable of anything which is why he insists he are successful at everything.
I saw the results of such a pathetic hypothetical person once up close and personal in real life. Trump took over a golf course that I was a member at. He made some nice improvements. At that point, I didn’t know him from Adam. But some people at the club did and they quit. Some of those people had been former club champions. So what does Trump do? He orders that the plaques be redone with his name as club champions for those years. He not only had not won those tournaments. He had not even played in them.
Just imagine how you would feel looking at a trophy with your name on it knowing full well that you had done nothing to deserve it. Would you feel proud or ashamed? My guess is that you would feel ashamed. This false “accomplishment” tarnishes every real accomplishment you ever had or that you ever will have. This is a normal response.
But Trump, for whatever reason, has such subterranean self-esteem that any semblance of praise, however false or ill-deserved, feels to him as a seeming life-saving desperate drop of moisture for the shriveled old soul that lives within the shriveled old body. If someone flatters him and he knows it’s flattery, he values that more than he would an honest complement. Because to him, opinions about his abilities or behaviors don’t interest him in the slightest. He’s not going to change because of feedback from this or that politician, family member, thinker, advisor, etc. But he just wants the shadow of true praise that is not based upon fact at all but upon power.
He failed as a businessman. He failed as a family member. He failed his own honor when he dodged the draft a half dozen times. He proved himself a racist by calling for the death penalty for four black youths — who it turned out were innocent. Trump didn’t really know anything about the case. He just wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to put his “hat in the ring” for being a racist candidate. Just in case anyone slept through Act 1 due to jet lag or too much wine or whatever, Act 2 was ranting and raving about Obama being an African. “I’ve got proof and I’ll show it the day after the day after the day after the day after….” And, let’s think about it. Here’s a guy — Trump — whose known as a golfer, a playboy and a real estate developer. He’s on record supporting many liberal policies like being pro-abortion. Why would he really care whether Obama was born in Africa? This guy who dodged the draft six times and is already cheating on his taxes suddenly becomes outraged at a particular part of the Constitution that says you must be born in America to be President. Seem plausible?
In case the fifteen foot high blinking neon-Nazi sign from Act 1 wasn’t bright enough, let’s put on the fifty foot high blinking neon-Nazi sign in Act 2. Oh, and if that doesn’t do it for you. I mean, if you were really really zonked on for Acts 1 and 2, don’t you worry! The message of this play is simple and if you didn’t notice the neon-Nazi signs before, now they flashing out a new warning on the subway walls: “Civil War! Then, make me dictator of AmeriKKKa!”
It’s evil and it’s horrible, but it’s also pathetic. Imagine how empty and worthless TFG must feel that he wants the support of people, like him, who derive their sense of worth from something like their supposed race (itself a fiction) or their gender or their inherited wealth — and not from anything they’ve ever accomplished.
At this point, an image occurs to me. A black hole, metaphorical but also quite literal, exist at the very center of TFG. In order to fill it, he is compelled to suck every shred of truth and goodness from everyone around him. More and more people get sucked into the vortex. Who knows? Maybe in some parallel universe, it all comes out as beautiful anti-matter. That may be nice for them. Over there. In that universe.
But for us, back here on the earth we’re familiar with, it’s just plain out — terrible. It exacerbates the emptiness disease that TFG has become. It corrupts all those around him. They all know they’re lying and they each know each of the others is lying. Just like the false championships, if anyone famous goes along with the big lie, that action tarnishes everything good these Senators and Representatives and Newscasters ever did. It outweighs everything from the day, 40 years ago, as a cub scout, they helped someone cross the street to the day that they helped craft significant legislation. All of that is gone. And, for what? Nothing. That’s the real hell of it for them. For nothing.
All of them realize that if there is a coup, none of them will ever be safe again. And, they’ve already pledged their allegiance to the dictator. So, they have no real power. They have to do whatever the oligarchs tell Trump to make them do. They were afraid they’d lose power if they acted ethically; so instead, they acted unethically and as a result lost every shred of power. It’s a great dramatic thread for a farce. Unfortunately, it’s embedded in a real tragedy. And that kind of takes the fun out of it, at least for me.
They could, theoretically, have a great awakening and decide as one to throw off the shackles of the oligarchs and rejoin the difficult game of government by democracy. They would have more power than they ever had before because they would be free to work creatively and solve actual problems with actual work. They would help build a better world for their children and for everyone’s children to live in. They would certainly feel cleaner. That would be something that they could be proud of; that they wouldn’t mind the history books touting; a legacy for grandchildren.
I wonder how the Nazis who were still alive in Germany after the war explained their role to their grandchildren.
If a chicken and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, how long does it take ONE chicken to lay ONE egg?
What do you think?
Before we discuss the answer to that one, let’s move on to the American House of Representatives. There are 435 people in the House of Representatives. What is the probability that at least two folks in the House share a birthday?
We will return to these two puzzles shortly. Meanwhile…
Imagine that you are one of our distant ancestors foraging for food. You come across something that looks just like a blackberry bush. On it are what appear to be nice ripe blackberries. They feel like blackberries so you pick one. You pop it in your mouth and it tastes like a blackberry. It has the same seeds that you are used to being in a blackberry fruit. It smells like a blackberry. Chances are extremely good that it is, in fact, a blackberry.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some plants out there that could give you trouble! The deadly poisonous amanita mushrooms are said to taste good. And, the white “death angel” has been mistaken for an ordinary field mushroom with deadly results. A single mushroom will kill you but a half a mushroom may only make you wish you were dead.
In general, however, plants, animals, and situations are redundantly coded right at the surface. A blackberry plant has leaves that look like blackberry leaves. It has thorns that look like blackberry thorns and also feel like blackberry thorns. The fruits look like blackberries! They have a texture of blackberry. They smell like blackberries. They taste like blackberries. Though there are some deadly exceptions, in the natural environment, we are generally clued in to what something is by multiple senses. If it looks like a blackberry and smells like a blackberry and feels like a blackberry and tastes like a blackberry, chances are excellent that it really is a blackberry.
When it comes to things produced by human beings, however, we must be much more cautious.
In some cases, such as the puzzles at the beginning of this blog post, the intention is pedagogic. But in other cases, people mislead you for much more nefarious purposes. Someone could intentionally spray the blackberry patch where you go with an odorless, tasteless, invisible poison. It could poison your body and kill you stone cold dead. Or, they could poison you and make you so sick you wish you were dead. Who would do such a thing? Well, the name “Vladimir Putin” springs to mind. He has arranged for the poisoning of his political foes and critics.
It isn’t only your body that is at risk, however. So is your brain. The tricks that people play are not necessarily all deadly. Often, they just want to take your money. So, they will tell you a drink is “All Natural Fruit Drink” because they know that most people care about their health and the health of their families and “All Natural Fruit Drink” sounds like something natural, healthy, and nutritious. But legally, as it turns out, those words mean absolutely nothing in America. That “all natural” drink may be anything but! It could be mainly water and corn syrup! It might have as little as 5% fruit juice.
What do you think is in “Air Freshener”? “Air Freshener” sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t like fresh air? If you’ve been in a musty cabin waiting for the rain to abate and you step outside into the cool, crisp, fresh air, that is a wonderful sensation. Ah! Breathe in that fresh air. And, of course, when you see a commercial for “Air Freshener” on TV, or read the title which might say, “Ocean Breezes Air Freshener” it reminds your brain perhaps of your first trip to the ocean.
What is really in air fresheners is, in many cases, anything but an air freshener. Do you know what a really good air freshener is? Opening your windows. But the sprays that you buy in the store can contain:
Carcinogens Perfumes Chemicals that mess with your hormones
Chemicals that deaden your sense of smell
Not exactly an “Air Freshener” is it?
In the puzzles above, the description is also misleading, not because I want to steal your money or poison you, but because I care about my fellow citizens being sold their death warrants packaged as something wonderful. Hopefully, if we become aware of how the surface features of a situation can mislead us, we’ll be less prone to fall for such tricks.
The tobacco companies were good at such tricks. They would sell you something deadly and addictive but advertised to make you think that smoking their product would make you “manly” or “sexy” or “sophisticated” or “urbane” or “adult.” It wouldn’t make you any of those things. It would harm your lungs and your heart and turn your skin gray and make your breath smell bad. But those aren’t very good selling points, you see. Eventually, the government required cigarette companies to put health warnings on the packages. Do you think that the cigarette companies eagerly complied? Guess again. They fought tooth and nail and paid off politicians for years so they wouldn’t have to own up to what their product was really doing to you.
So, let’s return to the puzzles. In the first puzzle, many people are led by the structure of the language presented to answer wrongly.
“If a chicken and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, how long does it take ONE chicken to lay ONE egg?” The first answer that will likely pop into many minds is “ONE day!” It “seems logical.”
But it’s dead wrong. Consider this analogy: “If nine women can have nine babies in nine months, how long does it take ONE woman to have ONE baby?” One month? No, of course not. It takes nine months. And it will take a day and a half for the one chicken to lay one egg. (Or, a hundred chickens to lay a hundred eggs).
The second puzzle will probably only cause problems if you have been educated about probability.
What? Yes. If you ask a smart ten year old, they will figure it out. Basically, there are only 365 days in a year (or 366 in a leap year). Since the number of Representatives in the House is 435, even if the first 365 people in the House have different birthdays, the next person you look at has to overlap with someone. It’s just like this: Suppose you only have some identical black sox and identical white sox. If you pick three sox in the dark, you have to have at least one match.
If, however, you studied statistics, you may have come across “The Birthday Problem.” As it turns out, if as few as 30 people are in a room, the chances are greater than 50:50 that at least two share a birthday. If the puzzle reminds you of this, your mind runs along lines like this: “Oh, yes, I remember this. It’s “The Birthday Problem” and with even 30 people the odds are good, so with 435 people the probability must be really high. I’d say the odds are 99:1.” No. Wrong. Close, but wrong. There must be at least one match.
It’s very easy for us to rely on the surface of things — including its label or what advertisers say about that thing — as a valid indicator of what’s underneath. And, in nature, that is often true. But in modern society, if you simply believe what someone says, you will certainly lose some money and at some point, you may also lose your entire fortune, your freedom, and your family. It’s happened before. Hitler, to name one famous example, told people he was going to make Germany great and that the “Third Reich” would last a thousand years.
He killed himself in the end. But not before causing the deaths of millions — including millions of Germans. He told people lies that they wanted to hear. He divided people and made people believe that all their troubles would be over if he just had complete power over their lives. Don’t fall for it.
One quarter of the country is prepared to die and have their loved ones die for the sake of what they know or should know to be lies.
But what happens in war?
At least one side, and more typically both sides are willing to die and put their families at risk for what they know or should know to be lies. They don’t typically go into combat for their own benefit! They do it for country. They do it for their religion. They do it to protect their families. They do it in reprisal for some real or imagined actions in the past. But very few would willingly walk into combat hoping to “get more out of it” than they put into it! That would be like running through a rich neighborhood during a heavy lightening storm. Sure, you might be struck by lightening or hit by a falling tree and die or be permanently injured. But — hey! — there’s also a chance you might be able to sue one of these rich suckers and make millions! Yeah. That could happen. But, as I say, that’s not why most people put themselves in harm’s way.
So, to recapitulate, war itself is based, at least partly, on lies.
Are we doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and over and over again?
But consider this:
Suppose there are two teams Purple and Green. These two teams have a competition in something. It doesn’t much matter whether it’s soccer, baseball, debate, ice hockey, figure skating, cheerleading or anything else. What matters is that each side wants to “win.” But it also matters, and more than a little bit, that each side also wants to enjoy themselves. They value other things in addition to winning or losing. Some enjoy the companionship. Some enjoy the challenge. Some enjoy improving. Some enjoy the sunshine. It doesn’t have to be the same value for everyone.
The point is that tennis is not a zero sum game. It’s true that a particular match has one and only one winning team. But there are other benefits. Everyone is a “winner” in the sense of the challenge or the emotional ups & downs or the sheer joy of movement. The score is only one part of the value of the game. The same is true for all sports and for almost all human endeavors in the real world. It is very seldom a zero sum game. We can almost always find some state of affairs as being bad (all out atomic war destroys the entire human species)
Similarly, both the Purple and the Green team want to keep the game going. In most cases, they also want to have cordial social relations with all the other players. So, in the vast majority of cases, people “handle” disagreements about the score, the line calls, etc. within the bounds of civility. Let’s suppose that one person of the four is a narcissistic sociopath who thinks he’s always right and insists he’s always right no matter how egregious his line calls. Eventually, such a person would destroy the game. It wouldn’t take a majority. A single sociopathic teammate could spoil it for everyone. But only if everyone else lets them get away with it.
Have you ever watched an all-out bench-clearing brawl between to baseball teams or two hockey teams? Every time I’ve seen it, it’s really only triggered by one person and accepted by one person. So, two, among those whole teams, are sometimes enough to ignite a kind of “war.” While a brawl isn’t the most pleasant experience I can imagine, it’s even worse among professional athletes. It’s potentially career-ending. For most, it’s a potential financial hit from the world of brand endorsements. There could be legal trouble. For a few, there might be regret. Similarly, guess what? Most people do not benefit from war! It’s so obvious that I hesitate to say it, but it seems as though people do not see it as obvious. A very few people get very very rich. Many people die; many are seriously and permanently injured; many people’s homes are destroyed; families are separated; possessions are destroyed; plans are accomplishments are destroyed; peace of mind is destroyed; forests and wild places are destroyed; innocent animals are destroyed; friendships are destroyed; trust is destroyed…I mean, are you starting to see a pattern here?
War is about destruction. War does not create beauty. War does not feed the hungry. War does not heal the sick. War does not comfort the soul. War benefits the few; never the many.
At the extreme, there is dictatorship which will always be much more incentivized to war than will a democracy. The dictator will use the fact that there’s no free press to whip up hatred against an enemy. Then, he’ll attack (but pretend the other side started it), etc. Now, if attacked, the democracy has little choice but to respond. Encouraging a bully is a losing strategy. Going to war is also losing. War is never about winning. It’s about losing less. And going to war is better than giving in to a bully. If you succumb to the bully, you have no life any more. The bully is a parasite on you; one that you cannot get rid of while he sucks your blood and everyone else’s in the nation. Parasite is just another name for dictator.
In any case, a small number of people can start a war which, in turn, benefits only a small number of people, at most.
That doesn’t seem like a good system to me.
It sounds like “an accident waiting to happen.” And, it has. Over and over and over and over again.
When will we ever learn?
And, while three fourths of America has battled their butts off for over a year and a half — socially distancing, wearing masks, making masks, getting vaccinated, staying healthy — in some cases working heroically — quite literally — heroically to fight the war against COVID. While that’s what’s been happening with about 3/4 of Americans….
One fourth of America has decided to join in the War on COVID — on the side of the virus! They refuse to get vaccinated; refuse to wear a mask; refuse to socially distance. Why? Because they’ve been ordered to by the leaders of a death cult. Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with personal freedom. If it were about personal freedom, there might be as many as seventeen people nationwide who would prefer to be intubated for weeks than to wear a mask for minutes. If it were really about personal freedom, the vast vast majority would choose a few moments of discomfort rather than dying or being permanently disabled. Ironically, most of the cult leaders have been vaccinated, and when they’ve fallen ill, they’ve received expensive top notch care that you or I or the COVIDites will not be likely to receive.
Something there is that doesn’t love a war, not even a war on truth.
You must understand one thing about the current crop of voter restriction laws.
One thing is vital.
One thing is central.
One thing is crucial to understand and it is not often mentioned in the press or on social media.
Voter suppression is not only about making it harder for people in the Armed Services to vote.
Voter suppression is not only about making it harder for people of color to vote.
These restrictions are not only about making it harder for the elderly or disabled to vote.
These restrictions are not only aimed at making it harder for Native Americans to vote or people who *must* go to work every day to vote.
These voter suppression tactics may look right now as though they are basically aimed at Democrats so that Republicans can win more easily despite being the minority party. If you’re a Democrat, you think that’s unfair. If you’re a Republican, you might think it doesn’t matter if it’s unfair so long as Republicans get voted in.
There is something else more fundamental even than being fair or reinforcing the big lie.
Voting restriction laws are aimed at allowing crooks to hold public office.
Voting restriction laws are aimed at allowing incompetent people to hold public office.
Voting restriction laws are aimed at allowing unpopular a$$holes to hold public office.
Let’s say you live in a city with a crooked mayor who takes your tax dollars and uses it to line his or her own pockets. What is your recourse? Vote him or her out of office?
All the crooked politician has to do, to stay in power under the new laws in Georgia, say, is to use some of their graft money to pay off key state legislators. Even if 90% of the people voted to get this person out of office, the crooked state legislators can set aside those election results and keep the crooked politician in power. Such as that will continue to stay in power and continue to steal your tax dollars and continue to pay off state legislators to keep themselves in power.
What peaceful recourse do you have to get rid of crooked or completely incompetent public officials if you cannot vote them out?
There is another crucial reason that is a bit more subtle than the way voting restrictions encourage bad government. They also encourage unpopular government programs. That, in and of itself, causes strife and ineptitude.
Let’s say for instance, that you live in a small town with a beautiful public park on the river. Ninety per cent of the people love the public park. But the mayor of your small town is paid a bribe to replace the public park with a condo development project. Ninety per cent of the people in your small town are against the project. They would rather keep the public park. The mayor, however, doesn’t get a big kickback from the public park. The major doesn’t give a damn how unpopular the new proposal is. They know they can’t be voted out so they will go ahead with the project.
As a result, ninety per cent of the people in the town are pissed off. Because of the draconian voter suppression laws, they feel they have no recourse at the ballot box. All the energy that went into healthy outdoor recreational activity can no longer be released in the public park and instead is redirected to other pursuits, some of it petty crime. Some of it is vandalism aimed at the offending condos or the residents. Sure, the mayor may react by putting more cops on the job or raising the penalties for petty crimes. It won’t help. The town has been put on a downward spiral. Having 90% of the population being pissed off will put everyone on edge. Bad moods and nastiness begets nastiness and more bad moods. Having people arrested won’t help that. It will simply make people even more negative. Over time, more people will leave town. Property values will decline. Even the condos may eventually be a money sink.
Voter suppression is not about simply disenfranchising a group of voters you don’t happen to agree with.
Voter suppression is about enabling and encouraging inept government, crooked government, and unpopular government. It’s an express train straight to destruction, decay, and decadence.
Eventually, voter suppression may lead to even more outrageous outcomes. Dictators know they can’t win free and fair elections so they are always paranoid about being ousted by force. As a result, they wage wars, divide their citizenry, lie about their actions, and focus on preventing violence against their crooked, inept, and unpopular decisions by using more force. Citizens end up being taxed more for police and the military and the surveillance of citizens.
In a nutshell, it’s horrible to live under a dictatorship. That is why people risk their lives every single day to leave dictatorships for the opportunity to live in a democracy. People who leave dictatorships are not deluded into thinking that everything will be easy in a democracy or that they will always get their own way. No-one always gets their own way. But in a democracy, they will have a chance to make their ideas heard. They will have a chance to convince others that they have a good idea. There is a chance to succeed wildly. And there’s a very good chance to succeed a little.
In a dictatorship, everything is stacked against you. Is it worth it? What is the record for dictatorships?
Mao is responsible for the deaths of 40-80 million of his own countrymen.
Stalin killed 6 to 9 million of his own countrymen.
Hitler killed 6 million Jews as well as many additional of his own non-Jewish countrymen. His absurd ambitions caused the death of many American, Russian, allied and German soldiers as well. All told, about 40 million soldiers were killed in World War Two and 75 million people total.
Massive death and destruction are the predictable results of having a government with no accountability for their actions at the ballot box.
How could it be otherwise?
Dictatorships are sought by cruel, paranoid, inept people who care only about themselves. And, it isn’t only the person with the most power in the country who becomes inept and crooked. Every governor, mayor, city official, dog catcher is free to do be crooked and capricious so long as they pay off the people in power. You won’t be able to hire a competent plumber, teacher, or doctor based on their price and effectiveness. All these people will be appointed for you by those in power.
Voter suppression is the suppression of competence.
Voter suppression is the suppression of honesty.
Voter suppression is the suppression of life itself.
The dictator wants you to behave like a machine, not like a living being with free choice. How can a dictator have the desired complete control if people are free to choose? They can’t.
If you support voter suppression, please understand what exactly you are encouraging: incompetence, dishonesty, cruelty, and the destruction of your own freedom — along with, quite possibly, your own life.
That’s what history shows has happened. That’s what logic shows must happen.
But if you’re not convinced, try it out! Move to Cuba, North Korea, Russia, and see how you like it. Perhaps you’ll thrive once your freedom is throttled. Come back in a few years and tell us all how it went!
Oh, there is one teeny little sticking point. They may not let you come back to America. Dictators don’t want people to leave their country and report on how bad life actually is there.
As you might expect, crooks are using the opportunities afforded by the COVID19 pandemic to increase the number and severity of identify thefts in America. Here are a few sites with statistics on the scope of the problem and some practical steps that you can take to help prevent you from becoming the victim of identify theft.
Although statistics are excellent for helping us get a feel for the frequency and scope of a problem, to get a feel for what it means for the individual who is the victim of identify theft, it might help to imagine what goes on in one particular case.
Ted was about to close the best deal of his life. He handed the papers over to his customer — or perhaps it was his father — or older brother — when, as bad luck would have it, the fire alarm went off. Somehow the fire department arrived immediately but instead of hoses, they were spitting on the fire through tiny straws. He began to scream at them for their inefficiency.
Ted wondered How do they know my name?
“TED! Wake up! You’re having a nightmare!”
Groggily, Ted wrinkled up his eyes and stared at someone who looked remarkably like his wife. He thought, You look just like my wife! Just like! Wait. You are my wife. “Darla?” he said aloud. “What is that blasted noise?”
“That blasted noise is the alarm you set for yourself last night. Remember? You set it early so you’d have time to work on your presentation for your ZOOM meeting this afternoon. Turn it off. I’ll go make coffee. I’ll take it to your office.”
Ted flung his hand over to the nice big, easy-to-slap switch atop his BOSE. He swung his still-athletic body back to the left in time to catch a glimpse of his wife’s wonderful frame silhouetted beneath her sheer nightgown. He smiled. “Perhaps…” he muttered, “but no. I have to get going on that damned presentation.”
By the time Ted sat at his home computer with a hot cup of coffee beside him, he was ready to dive in. “Oh, yes. I wanted to check the news for some timely item to use as an intro.” Ted usually talked aloud as he worked. That was one main reason why, after the kids moved out, they had decided to convert both of the rooms the kiddos had to home offices. As Ted waited for the online WSJ to appear, a broken image shard of firefighters blowing spitballs appeared in his mind’s eye. A frown flickered across his face briefly but he ignored it. “What the f-fudge” he muttered at the fact that they to pick this moment to ask him to enter his userid and password. “Crap! I don’t have time for this.” He gritted his teeth and realized there was no way he remembered his password. Of course not. He thought, I never have to enter the damned thing. He shook his head trying to imagine whether it would be faster to look the damned thing up in his notebook, find the file where he kept his passwords or have them send him a new password via email. Now, what the hell did I call that file? Important stuff? I know I didn’t call it passwords. It’s under documents, personal. Or, documents, work? I — oh screw it. I’ll have them send me e-mail. But which e-mail? Is it my gmail or hotmail account?
Ted knew enough about himself to realize that he needed to stay calm and not let trivialities put him in a bad mood. I’ll try one then the other, he thought. “Easy enough, Ted. Just be patient,” he said aloud. And he was patient.
At least he was patient till he discovered he could not log into either account. Maybe I used my work email, he thought. But that didn’t work either.
Darla had always been able to concentrate pretty well at her own work and ignore Ted’s mutterings. At first, this morning was no different. She delved into her work deeply. Eventually, however, she noticed that he was muttering more loudly and angrily than usual. She sighed, got up and walked over to his office door. Without opening it, she asked, “Ted? Is everything okay? Would you like another cup? Maybe some toast? Ted?”
Ted meanwhile, glanced at his coffee cup, no longer steaming beside him. “Darla? Can you come in a moment?”
Darla came in and knew immediately something was wrong. “What’s up, Ted? You haven’t touched your coffee.”
“Can you get on your computer okay?”
“What? Sure. Something wrong with yours?”
Ted considered. “Well. No, I mean, the computer seems to work, but I can’t get into any of my online accounts. Not the Times; not the Journal; not even either of my email accounts. I mean, I can’t even do my remote log-in to my work account. How is that even possible?”
Darla had read about people suddenly becoming pale and she had always thought it was some sort of literary device. But no. She felt herself go pale and cold. “Ted. Have you tried to log on to our online banking?”
Ted sounded annoyed. “What? No. I don’t have time for that crap. I’ve got to get this presentation ready. That’s the whole reason I got up early. I can’t…you don’t think…oh, crap. Let me try.”
Darla moved in close. She placed a gentle hand on Ted’s shoulder as she peered at his keyboard.
She clenched her teeth; pursed her lips. She sighed.
Just then, Ted’s cellphone rang. “Just what I need. Another interruption!” Ted glanced at the screen. No double someone asking for another charity or political contribution or explaining to me how much I want to buy car repair insurance, he thought. But something made him take the call.
Darla’s hearing was still quite good. She heard both sides. One of their credit cards had been compromised. They had agreed to put a stop on it and another one would be mailed forthwith. Ted had no sooner clicked the call off when another came. Their other credit card was also being misused.
The financial loss and inconvenience of identify theft is certainly bad enough. No need to make it worse.
But let’s nonetheless imagine that it is even worse — much worse.
Identity Theft 2.0:
The doorbell rang. In their current state of confusion and anger, the doorbell felt like a painful electrical shock.
Darla spoke gently to Ted. “I’ll get it.”
Ted meanwhile gulped down his cold coffee. He was too upset to bother to walk the twenty steps it would have taken to warm it up in the microwave. He hoped the cold coffee would at least allow him some clarity to get this straightened out. After all, he still had a presentation to prepare.
Darla re-appeared at the door of Ted’s home office a few moments later. “Ted? There’s a guy at the door who claims to be the real you.”
“WHAT? Well, call the police! Don’t let him in! He’s either in on the Identify Theft or he’s a nut case.”
Darla tilted her head. “Keep your voice down, Ted. He can hear you. He’s in the entry way.”
Ted’s eyes widened. “What?! Are you … what are you talking about? You let a stranger into our house?”
Darla said, “Well, he swears that he is the real Ted and that you are just a fraud. He says he will make everything all right. That we’ll be richer than ever if we play along with him.”
Ted craned his head forward and stared at Darla. His mouth moved but no words came out for awhile. “Are you nuts! Who is this guy?”
“You, Ted. At least that’s what he claims. He’s better than you and richer than you. And, says he’s the real you and you’re the fraud.”
“Darla? Is — does he look like me?” Ted was no shaking his head like a grizzly on the horizon, hoping that motion parallax will clarify the fuzzy images.
Darla smiled, “Oh, no. He doesn’t look anything like you really. He’s much older and overweight. And, he has a — you know — hair thingy.”
Ted wondered for a moment if he was in a nightmare. Or having a psychotic break. He glanced into the corner and his eyes alit on his high school baseball bat. He thought perhaps he should have a weapon. Maybe this interloper was armed. But why they hell had Darla let him in? Claims to be me but doesn’t even look like me? WTAF?
“Darla — let me get this straight. Some stranger comes to the door. He doesn’t look anything like me. He obviously is not me. And, yet you let him into the house? And now you’re not sure whether he’s me or I’m me? Are you nuts? Are you having an affair with him? What’s going on?”
“No, Ted. We’re not having an affair yet. But would it really be an affair if — you know — if he’s you? I know he doesn’t look like you. He doesn’t sound much like you either. But he says he’s you and that you are a fraud, so who’s to know really?”
And it’s precisely the kind of Identity that is happening in America right this very minute. Just because someone claims to be the Republican Party doesn’t mean that they are the Republican Party.
And America’s liberals, sadly, are fostering this preposterous lie. A short few months ago, we had a secure, free, fair election in America. That election was not supervised just by Democrats. It was supervised, as always, by Republicans and Democrats working together all across the country. The election was contested by absurd lawsuits thrown out by both Republican and Democratic judges.
A very small, but consistently lying group of people are claiming that they are the “real Republicans” while Democrats and Liberals are saying, “See you can’t trust the Republicans!”
You can’t trust insurrectionists. You can’t trust liars. And one of the things that they lie about is that they are Republicans. They are not. They do not have a platform, or a set of programs, or a philosophy that is consistent with a conservative take on America.
The insurrectionists are nothing more than an extended Crime Family. That’s bad enough. But don’t put wind in their sails by agreeing that these insurrectionist liars constitute the Republican Party. They don’t. Sadly, they’ve screamed the lie so insistently and consistently that many — but by no means all — Republicans now believe that pack of lies. Importantly, most of the Republicans who were actually involved in running the election do not believe in the big lie.
The Big Lie, of course, is a classic technique that dictators use to come to power including dictators of the Communist stripe like Stalin and dictators of the Fascist stripe like Mussolini and Hitler. Don’t fall for the Big Lie. But don’t fall for the Identify Theft either. Most of the people who believe the Big Lie only do so because the Big Lie is claimed by people who claim that they are Republicans. But they are not.
No previous POTUS, Republican or Democrat, made every important decision so that it benefited a foreign dictator. No previous POTUS, Republican or Democrat, actively worked to isolate us from our allies. No previous POTUS, Democrat or Republican, steeped themselves in corruption from stem to stern; from left to right; from top to bottom. No previous POTUS of any party replaced experienced, patriotic experts throughout government with inept lackeys. No previous POTUS, Republican or Democrat, ignored facts in order to promote lies that killed Americans by the hundreds of thousands.
Once upon a time, it is true, some of the Trumputinists were Republicans. But just because they once were does not mean that they legitimately get to keep calling themselves “Republicans.” I was once a teenager. That doesn’t make it true to call myself one now.
They have no Republican platform. They have no Republican philosophy. They have no commitment to American Democracy. They are not Republicans. They merely want to steal the Identity of the Republican Party so that they will have grass roots support from people who have been life-long Republicans.
Don’t support; don’t vote for; don’t send money to Trumputinists out to destroy our democracy simply because they call themselves “Republicans.” The Trumputinists are a Crime Family.
Of course, Identify Theft in the political domain is not new. The dictatorial Stalinist empire was called “The USSR — The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” It wasn’t really a union at all. None of the constituents were themselves actual republics. And all of them ceded wealth and power to Russia. Similarly mis-named are the names of most dictatorships today which generally contain the word “Republic.” They are not. North Korea goes so far as to call itself a “Democratic Republic.” It’s not a Republic nor does it have more than the thinnest thread of democracy. At least the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just comes right out and says it: “Kingdom.”
As a matter of fact, the Trumputinists who call themselves the “Republican Party” are lying about both words. Not only are they not Republicans; they are not a Party either!
It isn’t really a “Party” when only one person is invited and everyone else is there to serve that one guest!
Two very different things. But perhaps they are different only in the very short term.
When you try to do something that benefits you in some practical way, for best results, use empathy for best results.
If you are a farmer and eat your own breakfast first, you’ll feel sluggish and you will not be so tuned in to your animals. Sometimes, you might not even do it till much later in the day — when you get around to it. When you feel like it. And sometimes, you won’t feel like it at all. And, the animals might go hungry. But what the hell? They’re just animals, after all.
Feed them a little less. Feed them a little more irregularly. They’re only animals, after all.
You may think you are being “practical” but are you? Are you really? Is it so hard to see that caring — really caring about your animals will tend to keep them healthier and easier to deal with?
Maybe the same thing could be said for the animal in you. Is it possible that sometimes you get so busy with things that you forget to eat right or get enough exercise or take enough time to pet your cats or tell your loved ones that they are your loved ones? Of course, there are emergencies where you do have to go without sleep, or food, and maybe you cannot even see your friends. But is your whole life really just one long emergency? Do the sirens ever stop blaring? Do the drums of war ever stop beating?
My mother’s father and my mother’s mother were both brought up on farms. Many people lived on farms back then.
My grandfather was practical, and empathic. He was an engineer. He was also an artist.
He worked hard. And so did my dad. But neither of them felt obligated to work until well into the evening and take work-related phone calls on the weekends.
Things change. I get that. But are we so busy making a living that we forget to make a life?
Think about it. Some life-forms, like us, move through space. Other life-forms, like redwoods don’t walk about the forest. (Only ents do that!). But, internally, they move all the time. And, over a larger time scale, they move through a larger scale of space. But insects, trees, humans, fish — we all have phases.
When it comes to humans, the first nine months are a whirlwind of change! Perhaps, part of the reason we can “get away with” such a fast sequence of transitions is that we follow a modification of an evolutionary pathway. (Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny).
An evolutionary pathway is highly constrained as compared with what humans can produce. We can build an automobile-producing plant that produces finished automobiles that “work.” But at almost every point before that final assembly, the car doesn’t “work” at least as a car. Some hunks of metal, I suppose could serve as a doorstop. When it comes to life though, every single generation has to have some survivors. You can’t “invest” so much in one generation that the next one goes extinct. Well, you can, but if you do, your strain, species, etc. will die out.
Life, of course, is extremely diverse! There is life in Antarctica. And there is life in the Sahara Desert. Life flourishes in the Brazilian rain forest, and the jungles of Hawaii and the Outer Banks of the Carolinas and the Canadian tundra and even in boiling sulphur springs in the ocean depths at pressures that would crush you or me!
Every single one of these life forms has phases.
Let that sink in.
Life forms in all these absurdly diverse environments has found it “necessary” to go through phases.
When I consider human beings, it seems clear that we not only go through phases of a biological nature. We also go through phases in our subjective life and in our behavior. The two are related of course. When we’re born, unlike most species, we have very little clue as to how we are to behave vis a vis others of our species.
Very soon, we are (hopefully) bonded through love with our parents, siblings, and others. But at young age, there is no reasonable expectation that we will do the “right thing” or “be considerate” of others. Very young children are capable of empathy. But they’re also capable of rage or behaving in a rigid, self-defeating way and stubbornly stick to it.
In America, people are not deemed fully responsible to vote until they are 18, or drink alcohol until they are 21, or drive a car until they are at least 16. It isn’t that people are physically incapable of voting, or driving, or drinking at a much earlier age. It is that we realize it is necessary to learn from experience that it is better for everyone, including you, but also including people you care about.
Most people, myself included, “try out” some pretty selfish behavior in their early teens. And, most people, myself included, learn from these experiences, that it’s far better to be decent. Eventually, you discover that things like the “Golden Rule” actually make a lot of sense. As inconvenient as it may seem at first, as there are more and more people in the world, we have to make more and more accommodations to others.
Our bodies change over time. There are “phases” at long time scales as we go from infancy to childhood to puberty to adulthood to old age. There are phases at shorter time scales as we go from hunger to satiation and wakefulness to sleep. There are phases at still shorter time scale as we breathe and have our hearts beat.
We have both cyclical and non-cyclical phases. Hunger, breathing, and sleep are cyclical. Our height however grows in one direction for most of our lives and then, in old age, we may shrink slightly.
Our psychological maturity generally grows in one direction, but we can “revert” to an earlier phase of life. If we identify with a sociopath who has never learned how to trust and be trustworthy and who refuses to be fair or follow rules, then we too become as a child. Ironically, as psychological toddlers, we will insist on our rights ever more strongly even as we refuse to take any responsibility.
A nation of toddlers only will not long survive.
Trump refuses to take any responsibility for his actions in inciting a riot. He’s a toddler.
Trump’s followers who stormed the Capitol point their fingers at Trump. They are toddlers.
The lawyers who are charged with “defending” Trump give up because it’s too hard. So instead, they lie and use fallacious reasoning or no reasoning at all. They are toddlers.
The GOP Senators who don’t even pay attention to the trial are toddlers as well.
Those GOP Senators who refuse to take their oath of office seriously and who hand their souls and minds over to Trump for his personal use are Toddlers who are deluded into thinking they can hold on to power this way. They have no power. They are slaves of Trump.
They say “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
But I can guarantee you that a political party of toddlers with no adult supervision will vote for candy over healthy food no matter how many teeth fall out.
One of the first card games I ever learned to play was “Hearts.” It’s actually quite a fun game. Unlike bridge, which requires four people to play “normally”, Hearts, in my opinion, is even more fun with three. (If you like, you can read about the game before going on, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to understand the rest of this essay. The first link talks about the general rules and the second link gives some hints about “Shooting the Moon.”)
Three was a good number (besides being prime, and a triangular number) because I was an only child for the first 11 years of my life. My parents taught me to play Hearts and Bridge at a fairly young age. I was young enough, for instance, that I looked carefully at each face card to try to understand the personalities of the people peering out! I liked the Jack of Diamonds and the Jack of Spades the best. I desperately wanted to meet them! (I wonder whether Roger Zelazny felt the same because in his rather wonderful “Amber” series…).
The back of the cards also fascinated me. I wondered what it would feel like to ride one of those bikes! I was particularly interested when one of the cards developed a flaw or bend mark. Even knowing the identity of one of your opponent’s hidden cards could be a tremendous advantage.
Anyway, the game of hearts has an interesting payoff structure. You get a point counted against you for every heart that you take. You get 13 points against you if you end up taking a trick with the Queen of Spades in it. There’s a catch though. If you manage to take all thirteen hearts and the Queen of Spades, you get zero points against you. Your opponents each get twenty-six points against them.
The player then is often faced with a dilemma: “Should I try to Shoot the Moon? If I do try, and fail, I will likely end up with many points scored against me. On the other hand, if I succeed, it is a huge advantage for me.”
It isn’t only the points. At a young age, I could handle rules and strategy, but if I tried and just barely failed to “Shoot the Moon,” I would feel extremely frustrated. I didn’t initially try to hide it either! I would literally see red and the top of my head felt is though it were floating away. I would accuse my parents of cheating although I don’t think they ever did. I simply made a false assumption or miscounted or miscalculated. Often, I took a reasonable risk, but the cards just didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. At that point, my view of the world was still primitive: someone was at fault whenever I failed, and I desperately did not want it to be me who was at fault.
Luckily for me, throwing temper tantrums at the outcome of a hand of Hearts was not the sort of nonsense up with which my parents put. I soon learned to hide my rage and eventually not to feel it at all unless there really was evidence of cheating. I didn’t “declare” cheating on my parents or friends just because I didn’t like the outcome — at least not past the age of 7 or 8.
In hearts, it often happens that the cards you are dealt will obviously not let you “Shoot the Moon.” In those cases, your strategy for the hand is clear. Avoid taking as many hearts as possible. However, if I weren’t careful, I could easily end up helping my Mom or Dad “Shoot the Moon.” Better to take one heart or even four hearts or even the dreaded Queen of Spades than to let them “Shoot the Moon” and end up with 26 points!
It is extremely rare, in my experience to be dealt a hand in Hearts that makes it obvious that you will Shoot the Moon so long as you don’t slip up. Generally, the most you can expect to get every round or two is a hand that might let you “Shoot the Moon.” In accomplishing this goal, it is important that you not let your opponents guess that you are trying to Shoot the Moon. The sooner they “catch on”, the lower your chances of succeeding.
At a very young age, I learned to “fake” my reactions to help my chances. For instance, the first time I took a trick in which someone laid a heart on me, I might grimace and growl and shoot the person with my dagger eyes. These ploys worked better against my friends than with my parents who quickly learned to read these fakes. Then, I learned to make them more subtle. Instead of grimacing and growling and shooting the person a nasty look, I would let the slightest hint of disappointment flash over my face quickly and then vanish like morning fog. It reminds me of toasting a marshmallow to perfection without letting it catch fire.
I learned to judge more accurately whether I had a hand that would likely allow me to “Shoot the Moon” or a hand that would only allow me to “Shoot the Moon” if I were very lucky. If there was any chance at all, I would play for awhile and see how things went. After every trick I would “recalculate” my odds in some non-numeric kiddish way. I would often try and sometimes succeed. When I failed, I would try to learn from it. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, my parents would show me how I had messed up. For me, I discovered that it was more fun to try and fail than not to try at all, especially because I could learn from my failures.
September 12, 1962: John F. Kennedy declared that “We choose to go to the moon.”
The United States of America, literally decided to “Shoot for the Moon.” And succeeded.
During my working life, I have far more often heard so-called “leaders” in many different organizations encourage their workers to “Find the Low-hanging Fruit” than I have heard them encourage people to “Shoot the Moon.” What “leaders” will sometimes do is set a “stretch goal” for the workers to fulfill without any provision of the necessary time, resources, or personnel to achieve that goal. If the workers achieve the goal, the manager (not an actual leader) scores 26 points against his or her opponents. They shot the moon. But if, as a worker, you come up one heart short; if you fail to “Shoot the Moon”, then 25 points will be scored against the you theworker who failed. It is the worker who fails to “Shoot the Moon.”
Since the late 1960’s, the real wages of workers have hardly moved at all. During that same time, because workers learned new methods, procedures, and technologies, productivity soared. In the past, the wealth created from increases in productivity had been split between the workers and the owners. Since, the 1960’s however, the increased wealth that accrued from increased productivity has gone completely to owners and virtually none of it has gone to the workers who increased their productivity.
At the same time, and perhaps not coincidentally, most businesses, even pre-COVID, were not trying to “Shoot the Moon” — they were searching for “Low-Hanging Fruit.”
What happened, America?
When do go for it again?
When do we try to “Shoot the Moon” again?
When do we reshape our society to allocate windfall profits to the people who actually work for a living — and not just for the people who watch their wealth increase by simply owning stuff?
I do not think these two changes are unrelated. The people who actually do the work are willing to take risks to build something better. They are invested in the product or service they provide. They would like to be fairly paid, but it isn’t only about the money. It’s also about doing something really cool and providing value for the society as a whole.
The people who simply move money around from stock to stock to make money don’t want to take risks. They don’t really care whether their money is being spent to cure cancer or to develop a new toothpaste that comes out of the tube and whistles “Dixie” while it does so. They want a decent return on investment. They may be willing to invest some of their capital in a portfolio of high risk/high benefit investments but most of them will abandon backing the attempt to cure cancer to invest in the whistling toothpaste if that’s what the “numbers dictate.”
This is obviously not true of everyone who is rich, but it’s more often true than not. Those, like Bill Gates, or George Soros or Mike Bloomberg who do contribute enormous sums to good causes are pilloried. Is it by other billionaires because they don’t want to look bad by comparison? Is it by foreign actors who simply want to sow dissent and distrust within America? I don’t really know.
Here’s an interesting thing about the way we learn. And, when I say “we” I don’t just mean all my 7.5 billion human brothers and sisters out there but also other, more distant cousins. What creatures tend to do is put particular emphasis on their first experiences. In my culture, we memorialize this truth with comments such as: “Now, make sure you look nice on your first day. It’s important to make a good first impression.” Given the prevalence of this kind of advice, I think most people seem aware of this effect when they go on job interviews, first dates, etc.
There seems to be an interesting asymmetry about our folk wisdom though. While most of us seem quite aware of how we can influence others by first impressions, we seem fairly oblivious to the impacts that others are making on us.
“I can’t understand it. They seemed so nice on our first date. And, then, every one of our six dates since, they treat me like trash. I might have to break up.”
Imagine instead someone saying this: “I can’t understand it. They treated me like trash on the first date. And on the second. And on the third. And every one of our first six dates. And, now, on the seventh, they seemed so nice!”
Many studies confirm the primacy effect under a wide variety of circumstances. In this case, the folk wisdom about the importance of first impressions is confirmed by science.
This has an interesting ramification for propaganda effects.
Let’s suppose that you live in a country where there are two competing parties. Each of them typically likes to put a certain “spin” on events. For instance, let’s say that there’s a big plane crash in the Colorado desert or a hurricane in Florida. These events are reported on the media. Now, the two parties might frame or reinterpret these events in different ways. One party might try to say that the crash was likely due to drug use on the part of the pilot and that drug use among pilots is because pot is legal in Colorado. And, they might claim that even though there is no real evidence. In fact, subsequent events actually confirm that the pilot was not on drugs, nor has there been any uptick in drug usage among pilots (they would lose their jobs) and these particular pilots lived in NY and just came from NY. They did not suddenly score a joint 30,000 feet in the air. But because people in the audience heard that story about pot usage being responsible first, some of them may recall it even years later — and are much less likely to recall the actual facts that came out later.
Conversely, let’s imagine another party puts out a statement that blames the crash on lax standards for air safety. It blames these lax standards on the other party. It further points out that the airlines who pushed for the lax standards were heavy campaign donors to the party who fought for the lax standards. If you hear this version of the story first, you will have a different first impression. It will be just as “uncomfortable” for you to now consider evidence that perhaps the pilots were high than it will be for the people in the scenario above to consider that lax safety standard were involved.
Similarly, one party might relate the hurricane and mention that global climate change makes for more and more severe hurricanes. Another party might use the opportunity to request funding to put up a hurricane fence around the Gulf of Mexico to keep hurricanes out. One of these explanations would be supported by the vast majority of scientists. Of course, no-one is saying that a particular hurricane could not possibly have happened without global climate change. But warming waters mean more energy goes into hurricanes in general. On the other hand, no real scientist would imagine a hurricane fence would do much to keep a hurricane out!
But if you hear about the hurricane fence story first, and then find that scientists think such a strategy is absurd, instead of rejecting the idea for the bunkum it is, you might check the Internet for someone to support the idea. And — given the nature of the Internet, you will definitely find someone to support the idea — a Russian troll, a nutcase, or an operative for the other party. Rather than using the Internet as a way of determining whether a particular idea is or is not reasonable given the balance of evidence, it will be tempting instead to use the Internet to find a way to reinforce your first impression rather than challenge it. Who gets the story out first has a big advantage.
You can see why parties compete to get their own version of stories out first.
The above scenarios were examples of reactions to external facts that “happened.”
But what if your party is not only reacting to disasters — what if they are intentionally creating disasters? This gives them a crucial and perhaps crushing advantage. Because they are creating the crisis, they can have a narrative for every story worked out ahead of time. They can release it contemporaneously or even slightly before an event occurs. In this way, they will be able to frame the narrative first every single time. And, equally importantly, people who eventually hear both sides of the story will underestimate how much they are swayed by the primacy effect.
You do not actually have a generic right to impinge on the rights of others.
If someone is trying to convince you that you do — they are peddling you Happy Talk Lies and trying either:
to make a buck or gain power by playing to your “angels” — and not the better ones — or,
trying to destroy our civil society.
Let’s consider just a few common examples. You can go into your house and play music. And you can play music not at all, or you can play it 24 x 7. You can listen only to Mozart or only to Philip Glass or leave the radio on all day or play CD’s. You have a huge range of freedoms. This huge range of freedoms that you enjoy, by the way, depends partly on government; it also depends on science. Without science, you would, as a practical matter be far more limited in your freedom.
What you cannot do is play your music so loud that it disturbs others. How loud is too loud? It depends on context. If you are living in a thin-walled apartment complex, you might start to disturb others even when the music is played softly. On the other hand, if you live in the middle of nowhere, you can crank your amps up so far you’ll destroy your own hearing. In some cases, there may be some objective standard about noise levels, but generally it’s a question of having people complain. If one person complains about the noise, the police generally don’t do anything. But if several people complain, they will come and tell people to stop partying so loud. This isn’t “communism” or “socialism” or “Big Bad Government” — this is just people getting along with each other. You don’t have the freedom to impinge on others just because you feel like it.
That may seem like a pain in the neck. But you have to realize that other people don’t have the right to impinge on your rights either. And, that is much more valuable to you than whatever inconvenience you have from not being able to impinge on the rights of others. Why? Because there are many more others than there are of you. And, regardless of laws, regulations, customs, power, eventually, if you try to impinge on the rights of others, they will eventually get together and impinge on yours — big time. Guillotine sized big time.
The area of what you can do without infringing on the rights of others typically gets smaller as population becomes more dense. I suspect this may be one reason why people from the wide open spaces feel more as though wearing a mask is an unnecessary inconvenience as compared to city dwellers. City dwellers are much more used to curtailing their rights so as not to infringe on the rights of others than are people in the rural areas. You literally cannot even walk down the sidewalk in a busy city without “negotiating space” with all those around you.
I believe there is also a difference in the quality of how people in rural and urban areas see rights interacting and potentially infringing. To city folks, it makes a lot of sense to enforce speed limits, noise ordinances and mandatory mask wearing. On the other hand, it generally makes no sense to urbanites to try to enforce restrictions on other people’s sexual preferences. Why would you want to massively restrict the freedom of others to avoid a temporary feeling of discomfort in yourself? Who cares whether Bob Jones in Des Moines marries Maria Santos or Mario Santos? That’s the sentiment I agree with. I think people from small towns view it much more personally.
Let’s posit that any hint of homosexuality in certain communities has always been viewed with shame and suspicion. Of course, a large part of this probably stems from people repressing the complexity of their own feelings. They feel safe when homosexuality is criminalized because that way they know they themselves won’t be tempted (or at least, as tempted). Now, if the Federal Government mandates that you cannot any longer be wantonly cruel to people or fire them because they’re gay, what do such people think?
Some of them are in a real panic. Felix thinks, maybe my male friend Oscar, whom I dearly love, secretly has a crush on me and wants to have sex?Worse, what if I … the government shouldn’t be forcing us to adopt this gay lifestyle! That’s what I think! Have them mind their own business and if they want to fill up New York and San Francisco and DC with gays, let them have at it. But not out here in our town. Since gays have always been ostracized here, they believe, in a strange way, that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it! The government, is in effect, forcing them to face the fact that homosexuality actually does exist.
Original drawing by Pierce Morgan
Looked at from this perspective, there’s a commonality with the dangerous idea that testing causes COVID19 rather than reveals it. Not testing is a close cousin to the Happy Talk Lies that Trump has peddled since day one of the pandemic. He doesn’t care whether he actually kills Americans. What he wants is for his base to feel better because he talks to them and gives a lame excuse for his actions which are actually killing them. They don’t want to think about the economic devastation or the likelihood that they or someone they love is going to die. Trump acts, for them, as a kind of “anti-therapist.” Instead of attempting to show someone the benefits of taking a more honest look at life, the Anti-Therapist colludes in the fantasies of the Id. Since he talks to the infant in the base, it isn’t necessary to provide an adult rationale. In fact, doing so would be counter-productive. Such a move would “wake up” the adult in the heads of his audience and they might start asking themselves questions such as —
Is this guy telling the truth? Is there any evidence for that? Does that really correspond with what I already know about the world? Doesn’t this directly contradict what he just said ten minutes ago? Is this making any sense at all?
Why would Trump want his audience to ask any of those questions? He wouldn’t. Instead, he wants to keep their inner infant enthralled. He will play “Patty-Cake” with his audience. (Trump is not the first politician to do this). Leading them in hate chants is essentially playing Patty-Cake. The words can’t be complex. And they don’t have to relate to reality. When he says, “Who’s going to pay for the wall?” and the audience all chants, “Mexico!” it doesn’t mean that they are going to keep tabs on whether that turns out to be true. But the infant does want reassurance. So, Trump will give some idiotic lie or excuse that no rational person would buy. But he’s not talking to the adult in these people. He’s talking to the infant. And the infant (or Id, or inner child) in all of us is superficial and hungry for something right now!
Similarly, when Trump tells his base that COVID19 is a liberal hoax or that it’s all going away in the warm weather, it makes the base feel good for a moment. But, there’s a catch. They can only feel better if they believe his lies. If they hear his pronouncement that the virus is going away in the warm weather and think:
“Really? That’s weird. Because all the scientists are saying they don’t know. And some places where it is already warm weather, the pandemic is growing uncontrollably.”
No. That’s no good. That doesn’t make the person feel better at that moment. Indeed, it makes them feel worse. Not only is COVID19 possibly going to kill them, the President of the United States is lying! So, we must understand, it’s much more comfortable to believe everything he says. His lies are always designed to make his audience feel better at that moment if and only if they believe his lies. Like many other drugs — heroine, cocaine, alcohol — it will take more and more over time to get the same high.
Believing the Happy Talk Lies is addictive. And, from Trump’s point of view, it’s much better than telling the truth. Telling the truth would take work and he feels work is beneath him. So, there’s that. In addition, he can always say something that will make the base feel better — not just when there actually is good news. And — understand — when the actual news is bad news — a pandemic that’s killed 125,000 Americans, most of them needlessly; or the worst economic downturn in history; or Trump’s own evident treason — guess what? When the actual news is bad news, his lies are even more effective as an addictive drug.
Imagine for a moment that you are a Trump fan. You have believed almost everything he’s said up to this point. Robert Mueller comes out with a report that shows how the Russians interfered with our election to help Donald Trump. How does it make you feel to think that Donald Trump is a traitor and that our country is now beholden to Putin!? Good? I think not! You will feel terrible! You voted for the man, for God’s sake! Now it turns out he’s a traitor! That’s a horrible thing to bear. But wait — Trump himself — or Bilious Barr can provide a HappyTalk Lie instead. “The report shows there was no collusion. It’s no big deal.” Whew! Thank you! That was close! For a moment there, it looked as though I was going to be extremely uncomfortable. Thank goodness Trump and his spokes-liars gave an alternative view. Now I feel better again.
The reason for Trump’s tweeting is not so much the chance to spew forth fear and hate and best of all — redemption for the believers in the lies — though, that is useful and fun. More importantly, it seeds a community of like-minded believers. Heroine alleys, opium dens, local bars where the cheap drinks are plentiful share the same purpose as on-line groups based on reinforcing each other for addictive behavior. If you’re high all the time, “ordinary people” begin to give you grief. “Have you thought about what this is doing to your life and the lives of those around you?” If everyone in your life said that, you might well have to confront the fact that the addiction was not good for you. Instead, it’s so much nicer to have a group who understands; that is to say, they’ve made the same decision to forgo their life and responsibilities in order to satisfy their momentary pleasures that you have. So, you agree not to challenge them. And, they agree not to challenge you. Instead, you will work together to repeat and spread the lies ofthe addicted. In the case of support groups for Trump, people repeat and spread the lies of “Der Fooler” and doing so gives another nice little hit of endorphins.
Now, in June of 2020, these little hits of endorphins are not just coming from hearing “Happy Talk” lies, or repeating them. Now, the base are all being encouraged to go out and spread the coronavirus. And they are. And, I have to guess that they feel good doing it even though they themselves could sicken and die; even though they could be the cause of their best friend dying, or their child, or their parent. Because they feel as though they are part of a “feel good” movement and everyone else is just a party pooper. Everyone who thinks 125,000 dead Americans is a horrible tragedy is just trying to rain on the parade, a real Debbie Downer, Eeyore, Sad Sack, a wallflower.
What do you do in a society when perhaps one third of the voting age population is addicted to Happy Talk Lies? Maybe a few of them will spontaneously quit. Perhaps some will take up tennis and become addicted to that instead. What else? An addiction is always hard to break — and that’s even if the person wants to.
It may seem hopeless, but I don’t think it is. As a society, we used to have many more people addicted to nicotine than we do today. And the tobacco companies fought like a wounded warthog to keep enough people addicted to keep the tobacco barons rolling in dough. So, I”m still hopeful that we can evolve beyond Happy Talk Addiction. If we do, then, we have a real shot at keeping the American death total below a million, not to mention keeping us away from the abyss of Nazism. People will be willing to not only look at the truth but take actions that are consistent with the truth such as only going out when necessary and using a mask. People will reject the notion that they have and should exercise unlimited license to do what they feel like regardless of the impact on others. In other words, people will grow up and fulfill their responsibility to vote as an adult, not as a small child might.
But it won’t be easy. Because it means giving up the addiction to Happy Talk Lies.