Sometimes, you do literally have to push forward against evil that pushes you.
But think. Not always.
What is your opponent’s real target? What do you really have to defend against? Sometimes, if someone charges you, head bent in anger, it’s better to step aside, place your hands on their back and gently help them on their way. Sadly, this sometimes results in their falling on their face, ungratefully as well as ungracefully. But that cannot be blamed on you. You were just trying to help, after all.
I recall a similar trick from cowboy shows and such. Someone comes at you and instead of coming at them, you back away, grab their hands and roll backwards, putting both your feet on their torso. As they rock over you, you push your feet out flinging them behind you. I did actually successfully accomplish this a few times as a kid.
Direct confrontation is also useful because it continues to send a signal that there are others out there equally committed to resisting tyranny. But pick battles carefully. You don’t want to pick battles that will splinter your cause or ones that you will lose both tactically and in such a way that you have lost strategic advantage as well.
Remember not to underestimate your adversary. It is not being orchestrated by the Liar-in-Chief. It is likely being orchestrated by ex-KGB/Russian oligarchs and/or American oligarchs who have already compromised a portion of government. They know what they’re doing. They’ve studied our weaknesses for decades. And now they are exploiting them more than ever.
Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Lack of self-discipline. Greed. Shallow Thinking. Impulsivity. Anti-intellectualism. Etc. The litany could go on. America’s always been a work in progress and we’re no-where near perfect. All these weaknesses have their own inevitable costs to our society, with or without help from Moscow. But they can push on those cracks to make them wider. And, they have been, for decades, trying to sabotage our efforts to have our society become more open, freer, fairer, more just, and productive along with a higher quality of life. Now, the sabotage has moved into the all-out push. With Trump, they have a wrecking ball. They will have him wield the power of the Presidency to destroy as much of America as possible before early January.
In the middle of a pandemic, we must work especially hard at keeping the fabric of society from fraying completely. However much you think you are showing your appreciation for others, especially across all boundaries, double it; triple it. We need to see ourselves as having one objective — not being enslaved by a tyrant.
Once absolute rule were to be instantiated, it would be bloody difficult to revert to democracy.
Let’s imagine what this might be like. One of the first moves, of course, will be to claim criminal charges against all of Trumputin’s political opponents. They will all be show trials, of course, using made up evidence. But how will the jury be sure of that? Run their own forensics tests? No, of course not. You see that once the Justice Department becomes the Injustice Department, absolutely no-one is safe.
Imagine. The local police chief takes a shine to your little girl or boy — away they go. What are you going to do about it? Complain? To whom? Going to tell a reporter? What reporter? Oh, you mean the one put in place by the Misadministration? The one who will be quickly replaced and possibly knee-capped if he writes anything critical of the Misadministration? The one who’s boss, the editor, is also on the take and has to approve everything before it’s printed. That one? I don’t think that reporter will have much to say about the kidnapping. Probably left wing terrorists, doncha know?
Or, let’s say you own a local, home-made donut shop. You really do make damned good donuts and everyone in town, and even the surrounding towns knows it too. Especially the cinnamon sugar! For awhile, it looked as though covid might just destroy your business and the nest egg you’d set up. But, in fact, you made a few changes and reassured all your customers and by god if business hasn’t been better than ever! People don’t feel comfortable dining inside a restaurant, but they can call in their order to you, drive by, and pick up nice tasty fresh donuts. Almost like eating out with far less expense and risk of getting sick.
Well, now under the Trumputin dictatorship, it turns out that a friend of a pretty wealthy Russian oligarch has always wanted to retire and run a donut shop. Yours has great reviews so now it’s his. No, you don’t get money for it. Or maybe you did get half a fair price, but you didn’t really want to give it up for any price. One way or another, you are not happy. This isn’t “free enterprise” or “capitalism” or “competition” — no, it isn’t. What did you expect? Trump is the most cowardly person I can think of — he doesn’t want to compete in a fair contest of any kind. It’s not his thing. Even if he could have won 2020 fairly, he wouldn’t do it. Cheating is what gives him pleasure. If won without cheating, half the fun of destroying America would be gone. That’s the nature of his character and eventually that kind of cheating attitude permeates everything like the smell of a skunk. And, by the way, it turns out the that friend of a pretty wealthy Russian oligarch is both a horrible cook and a horrible manager! The donuts are for $hit and none of the employees are happy. But they are not allowed to quit. And the patrons? If anyone asks their opinion, they had damned well better say these donuts make them get down on their knees and thank GOD that the donut shop changed hands. Want to keep complaining? Fine, the gracious government has secured another spot for you to ply your cooking skills up in some Siberian prison camps. Goodbye.
The cancerous corruption that starts at the top, of course, eventually filters down to state governments, local governments, societies, book clubs, bowling leagues. As in Stalin’s Russia, no-one trusts anyone. Kids betray their parents. Parents betray each other. Step out of line, you die. Maybe you die at once. Maybe we sent you to Siberia to die slowly as with ex-cooks who complain. Either way, you die. Either way, by stealing you out of the fabric of your neighborhood, your family, and your network of friends & colleagues, the Trumputin Misadministration has damaged all of those fabrics as well. They have reinforced the message that the only thing you can really count on is a government who will always be there for you. Until you don’t behave exactly and precisely as you’re told to. If you fight, then the entire force of that gigantic faceless stone will be crushed down your face.
And, you will not be able to go to reporter. And you will not be looking for a good lawyer because everyone knows the conclusion of your trial is already pre-determined. And you will not get on social media and complain because nearly all of social media is bot-$hit crazy propaganda supporting the Misadministration.
Oh, and guns? That will, of course, be one of the most ironic parts of this whole debacle. “Guns Rights” advocates, who for millennia (it feels like) have complained that liberals want to take their guns away — will, in fact, have their guns taken away. This will not be done by the left — who didn’t want to do it anyway, but by the dictatorship. Dictatorships really do take guns away. Yeah! That you were right about all along. The part where it all went sideways though was that although the NRA kept spewing the line that a well-armed citizenry kept us from tyranny, in actual practice, the guys in camo who donned their assault rifles did not stand up to actual terrorists or unmarked private militias. It was more fun, apparently, to stand up to unarmed nurses protesting to get needed equipment in order to save lives or to storm the capital building and protest legislators doing their jobs to save lives. Anyway, you won’t have any more right to own a gun than do Russian citizens. Maybe a few special hunting licenses for “special friends” of the Grand Supreme Leader. That’s it.
Everything is so horrible and absolute power is so absolute you probably think — good god, this will never change. Why did I bring children into this world? But things do change. The first major change of the Trumputin Misadministration is very minor wording change. It will be known henceforth in the shorter version — Putin Misadministration. Trump unfortunately had to be temporarily removed from duty to deal with a strange illness. Doctors think it is not COVID19 where the US death toll is now the best in the world. In a recent press conference Trump was able to inform the AmeriKKKan public that “supplemental autopsies” confirmed that the US only had three total COVID19 deaths while the rest (1.5 million) were all part of a liberal hoax. And those three would have been saved if only they had let the Stable Genius Savior puteth his hands upon them and administereth bleach unto them.
After Trump and his co-traitors all die of similar strange diseases within days of each other, Grand Supreme Leader Putin graciously names replacements for various Senators, Judges, and Cabinet Heads. Everyone in Congress is asked to swear a loyalty pledge to Putin. Those who refuse are never heard from again.
Nothing in this grim scenario is inevitable. If enough people wake up soon enough to see what is afoot, the overthrow of America can be avoided. I hope for everyone’s sake that will happen. Even if not, eventually life, creativity, freedom, fairness — these forces will prevail. The philosophy of hate, like cancer in the human body, can only have temporary victory. In the end, fascism is incompatible with life. Like cancer, it will not create anything useful to the whole, and once it kills its host, it too will die.
“Be steadfast in purpose and flexible in tactics.”
Dmitry felt a lump in his throat. His turn was coming next. Even now, after all those months of work, the thumping in his heart might yet make him turn chicken. He couldn’t even hear the idea of his comrade Ilya.
“Dmitry?” He turned toward the facilitator. It proved difficult, but he swallowed that lump in his throat and lunged forward. “I’ve been studying suicidal death cults.” He could hear the sighs and snickers but continued. “At first, it’s easy to dismiss them as groups of crazy people. But that is not accurate. Only the person in charge is typically crazy, in the usual senses of the word. But the people who follow along — even to the death — fall under his spell.”
The Commissar cut him short, “Yes, yes. But what does any of this have to do with … what’s the point of this? How does it help us achieve our objective.”
Dmitry realized that having started, he had the courage to finish. “It’s predictable. It’s controllable. I think we can actually create a death cult.”
Dmitry smiled appreciatively and nodded at his comrades. “I know it sounds crazy, but let’s look at the data.” Dmitry tapped a few keys on his laptop and a correlation matrix appeared. He talked people through it. He then switched to a causal model with associated strength parameters based on his data. “Then, I applied this same model to two new countries in different societies. It works.”
The Commissar nodded. “OK, Dmitry. Nice work. But so what? Our enemy already has death cults popping up from time to time. How is our adding one or two more going to help? Are you saying we can make them into suicide bombers?”
Dmitry saw a chance to ingratiate himself to his Commissar so he took it. “That’s an even better idea but I hadn’t thought of it. What I was talking about was a large scale death cult. There is no theoretical reason to limit a cult to a few score people. The math says that we can … that we can do it with millions. We can get millions of them to commit suicide, but even better, we can get many of them — not quite so many — but likely 100,000 to be suicide fighters. Maybe more. It would take a whole program of historical research to find the relevant instances, Commissar.”
Olga shook her head. She could stand no more. “This is all theory. How the — it’s ridiculous. Only a few very disturbed people would go along with being in a death cult. You’d have to set up a whole infrastructure, institutions, philosophy. It would take decades to grow it to a million people and all along the way, people not in the cult would point out to them,
‘Hey, you! You’re getting involved in a death cult! Is that what you really want to do?’
And, most of them would wake up and realize what would happening.”
“You raise good points Olga, but I am not suggesting we grow a death cult from scratch. I am suggesting we turn a large existing institution — which already has power and money — into a death cult. They have the language, the social media presence, the lists, the talking points.”
The Commissar broke in, “What are you talking about? What institution? The KKK?”
“No, Commissar, I am talking about the Republican Party.”
Silence crept in on titanic tank treads. Just as it had in Hungary. And East Germany. Before the damned Americans had ruined everything.
The gears were turning in the Commissar’s head. A plan, still vague, but forged with the realism that a half century of trying to destroy the Capitalist Dogs, had rendered in delightful deadly detail of doable mis-deeds. He mumbled under his breath, “Holy Mother of God! This might just work!”
The room broke out in a general and quite unruly discussion for a few moments before the Commissar banged on the table. “SILENCE!”
The Commissar continued, “Thank you. Now, this may or may not work but it’s the newest damned idea to come out of this unit in years. No-one talks about this once you leave this room. No exceptions. Not even your lover. Not your mother. Not your two month old. Not even your frigging dog! We’re going to develop this idea and then present it to our glorious President Putin.”
Olga frowned. “But Commissar, forgive me for stating the obvious, but they are not an illiterate people. It’s not like spreading lies used to be in some parts of the Middle East or Southeast Asia. They’re too educated to fall for it.”
Dmitry glanced at the Commissar who seemed to be signaling that Dmitry was on his own with this answer. “Olga, I’m glad you brought this up. It’s an important issue. But this is the beauty of using the Republican Party. They have already spent decades getting the “base” to listen only to their propaganda channel and only read the sources that are approved. So, for example, many of them go along with a whole raft of lies about climate change. In a way, that’s already a death cult! All I am doing is suggesting how we can speed it up. They already deny reality. They already defend unethical behavior among their own. They accept their media sources and I doubt they will even notice when we start pumping out the propaganda.”
Olga shook her head. “Who would we find to lead such a death cult? Some one so desperate that they would be willing to sell the lives of their own citizens? That doesn’t really sound feasible.”
Silence again descended upon the room like barrages of heavy artillery — but without the noise, of course.
Then, Ilya spoke up, “Many of them hate their countrymen with black skin or brown skin or red skin or yellow skin. We’ll pick someone with no ethics and no experience as a success. Someone who has failed at nearly everything he’s ever tried. Someone desperate for attention and adulation. And we can give him that. For that, he’ll lead the death cult. We can have the cult first turn their rage toward others. They will learn to follow that lead, killing mindlessly and with encouragement from their social media and television. Then, we just get them to turn all that anger and killing on themselves. I really think it can be done. Somewhere, in that vast land of greed, there has to be someone who’s a big enough loser to swallow the bait. I really think it can be done.”
“I think so too,” said Dmitry.
“I really think it can be done as well,” said the Commissar.
“I really don’t think we can get millions of Americans to kill themselves,” said Olga.
What do you think, fellow citizen of the planet? What do you think?
It makes you realize how bad your own breath smells.
Not wearing a mask may set you apart from your master, Vladimir Putin and his puppy, Donald J. Trump. After all, they don’t wear masks.
A mask reminds you of the outlaws in the Old West. A mask marks you as someone who reads. A mask marks you as someone who listens to science.
And science is hard. You maybe didn’t do too well in science. Or, maybe you’re just fed up with science because it tells you that Cheetos and beer is not a well-balanced and healthy diet. Or, maybe you’re fed up with science because it tells you that if we keep paying no attention to our carbon footprint, we will end up destroying a lot of the ecosystem we rely on to survive. We are melting the polar ice caps. We are killing the forests. We are killing the bees. We are killing all the fish. We are destroying the Coral Reefs. We will have more and more pandemics in the future. People living on seacoasts will be under water. Salt water. Meanwhile, potable drinking water supplies are shrinking.
Why? It’s the fault of science, damn it! If we didn’t have science, we wouldn’t know those things! If we didn’t test people for COVID19, we wouldn’t have any cases! If we didn’t do X-rays, we wouldn’t have any broken bones! If it weren’t for science, you couldn’t be electrocuted! If it weren’t for science, which says we need to breathe air, people wouldn’t drown! If it weren’t for science, people could jump off cliffs and fall 500 feet onto hard rocks and they wouldn’t even get scratched!
And you know it’s bullshit.
If Trump tells you that “his gut tells him” it’s okay for you to jump off a cliff because gravity is a liberal hoax, are you going to jump?
Science doesn’t cause gravity. Science doesn’t cause human ills like Global Climate Change. It allows us to understand things at a deeper level so that we can take appropriate action. Science isn’t the reason you need to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the deadly pandemic. The reason has to do with the nature of the novel coronavirus and the nature of human life. We breathe. We must breathe to live. We breathe air in — and as we do so, germs come in with the air. We breathe out. As we do so, germs come out.
That has been true since life forms climbed out of the ocean onto the land 500 million years ago. It didn’t start being true once we developed science.
But there’s some good news! Properly wearing a mask will work to protect you — even if you don’t like science. A mask will work to protect your family, even if you don’t like science. Properly wearing a mask will work to protect your friends — even if you don’t like science. Wearing a mask will help prevent the spread of the virus and allow us to minimize the economic impact — even if you don’t believe in science. Conversely, not wearing a mask will help the pandemic spread costing more American lives and losing more American jobs even if you believe the pandemic is a liberal hoax. The virus doesn’t give a damn about your politics.
Are you the sort of person who yells and screams and insists that you have a right to defecate in public? To walk naked? To have intercourse in public? To throw rocks at people who walk by you, provided you’re throwing the rocks from your own property or on public property? How about a flame thrower? That might be fun! Stand in your front yard and toast people who walk by. You should be allowed to do that! Right? So long as you and the flame thrower are on your own property. Do you have the right to try to build a nuclear reactor so long as it’s on your own property? Do you have the right to burn poison ivy vines in your own back yard and let the toxic smoke drift into your neighbor’s yard?
If you’re wearing a mask when you’re close to others, you are sending a message.
The message is not: “I hate Trump.”
The message is not: “I am a democrat.”
The message is simply this: “I care about my health and the health of my family, friends, and fellow Americans.” That’s it. That’s the message.
Of course, you can add more messages if you like. You can wear a mask that says something additional. You can put hearts on it or pictures of cute kittens or put photos of the coronavirus on it. But the main message is the same: “I care about human life.”
And, if you don’t wear a mask in situations where it’s appropriate, it also sends a message.
The message says, “I care more about my momentary comfort than I care about your life.” Just remember, if you want to walk around in public wearing that message, you can expect people to respond accordingly.
Let’s suppose someone has been very careful for months. They rarely go out. They go to the grocery store once every two weeks, wear a mask, wash their hands frequently. So far as they know, they have come in contact with no-one who’s sick. One day they go the grocery store and meet YOU. And YOU decide that YOUR comfort is more important than anyone else’s life so you don’t wear a mask. The shopper goes home and two weeks later, his parents both get COVID19. Two weeks after that, they both die. One of the shopper’s kids had just finished chemotherapy for leukemia. That child got sick with COVID19 and died as well. The shopper could not be with any of his or her loved ones in their last moments.
How do you think they will react when they go back to the store and see you again — and once again, you’re without a mask?
How would you react if your loved ones were killed by COVID19 and you could trace it back to someone not wearing a mask in a place where it was required?
Would you say, “Oh, well. Everyone should be free to do what they want. After all, everyone dies eventually anyway. At least, people can go to the beauty parlor and go bar-hopping. Who cares if kids fighting cancer or grandparents die?”
Character is revealed by choices under pressure.
What choices are you making? What messages are you sending to your fellow Americans? You can choose to do whatever “Der Fooler” tells you to do. You can choose to believe whatever “Der Fooler” tells you to believe. If you do, then, you may as well buy a Trumputin mask and wear it 24×7. Because your face, your individuality, your identify no longer means anything. To you, your life means nothing, because it means nothing to Trump and Putin. To you, the lives of your loved ones mean nothing, because you are going along with actions dictated by Putin and Trump — and those actions are predicated on the lives of Americans meaning nothing.
Trump is unmasked as a puppy of Putin.
You are unmasked as a puppy of Trump.
You are not a “freedom fighter” because you refuse to wear a mask any more than a tramp who defecates in the path on a public park is a “freedom fighter.”
You will have zero freedom under a Trumputin dictatorship.
You will have zero freedom when you’re lying face down in a semi-coma with a ventilator stuck down your throat.
[I wrote this satire when I was Executive Director of the AI lab at NYNEX back in the 1990’s. At that time, “Business Process Re-engineering” was a huge management fad. Here’s how it worked, in short. Consultants would ask top executives how their part of the organization worked. Then, the consultants would make a map of one of the processes of the organization. This was called the “As Is” map. Then, the consultants would simplify that to produce the map of the ideal (and supposedly more efficient) process. Then, the executives would pay the consultants a bunch of money and insist that their organizations stop using the “As Is” map and instead do things according to the “Should Be” map. In a few cases, there were some inefficient processes that were replaced with better ones. But in many cases, the “As Is” map was made based on a fantasy of what was going on in the organization. Unless the executive had “worked their way up the ranks” by actually doing the jobs, these “As Is” maps were almost certain to be ridiculous over-simplifications. Even if the executives had worked their way up, they could still be way off because markets change, technology changes, and workers change. Despite the fact that I wrote this about 25 years ago, to me, it seems much like the kind of ignorant and egomaniacal over-simplified mis-thinking that is rampant in the Trumputin Misadministration. So, I thought it appropriate to publish. (And, I miss baseball).]
In a surprise move today, the take-over executive known affectionately as B. S. announced a take-over of the New York Yankees.
B.S.: “The Yankees are facing new competitive pressures, and we will be bringing our management skills to the team to help them deal with those pressures and increase shareholder value while maintaining player morale and improving customer service.”
Reporter: “So, what exactly will you be doing?”
B.S.: “First, we brought in an outside Management Consulting Firm. Just between you and me, we paid them big bucks! But it was worth it.”
Reporter:”Worth it how? What will you be doing?”
B.S.:”Well, for starters, we’re downsizing the on-the-field team from nine to six players.”
Reporter:”Uh….did these management consultants actually know how to play baseball?”
B.S.”Probably. Maybe. I don’t really know. But that’s not the point. They are top-notch accountants. We plan to increase our operating efficiency 33%.”
Reporter:”Fascinating. Any other plans.”
B.S.:”We have to be willing to change, you know, flow with the times. Once, spring training made sense. But in today’s highly competitive economy, we won’t be able to afford frills like that.”
Reporter: “Cool. No training. That should save some bucks!”
B.S.:”You said it! We have to pay for our big executive bonuses somehow. After all, we deserve to make more money for … well … for being rich.”
Reporter: “Any other productivity measures?”
B.S.: “Well, this inventory of bats, balls, mitts — I mean that has just gotten completely out of hand. Sure, I suppose we should keep a bat for the team, but having all those individual bats? Nonsense. And, don’t get me started on mitts!”
Reporter:”No mitts? Won’t that decrease your fielding effectiveness?”
B.S.:”No, we have a Quality Process to improve our fielding effectiveness. Besides our management consultants pointed out that cricket fielders don’t use mitts.”
Reporter: “Well, Mr. B.S., I think the Yankee fans are in for a real — a really different experience this season.”
B.S.: “Thanks! And, believe me, Wall Street has already taken notice. The Market to Book value is up 10% already. Just wait till we move into the football market.”
B.S.:”Sure. There’s no reason at all these ball-players can’t make themselves useful in the off-season by playing football.”
Reporter:”Well, with a few exceptions, it takes a different set of skills — and a different body type even to —“
B.S.:”B*** S***! That’s what those nambly-pambly unions would like you to believe. Didn’t you play football and baseball when you were a kid? Huh?”
Reporter: “Well, yes, but not at a professional level. I mean….”
B.S.”Well, we’re going to increase shareholder value. Period. End of discussion.”
Reporter: “So, B.S., how is your plan going?”
B.S.: “Great! Fantastic!”
Reporter: “So, you’re winning ball games then?”
B.S. “We are meeting all our financial targets for cost-containment. In fact, our top-notch accounting team has uncovered another big cost savings.”
Reporter: “Really? What?”
B.S.:”We’re going to outsource our pitching. No more high-paid prima donnas! Nope. We’ve found a vendor who can provide pitching for 1/10 of our current costs!”
Reporter: “Hmmm. I don’t know. They say, pitching is 80% of baseball.”
B.S.: “Exactly, my point, boy!”
Reporter: “Well, are you actually winning games?”
B. S. “I already told you, our costs are down significantly!”
Reporter: “Yes, but when you actually get out on the field, do you score more points than your opponents?”
B.S. “There are some temporary performance anomalies — mostly due to bad weather — and the lack of cooperation on the part of the Umpire’s Union.”
Reporter: “Lack of cooperation?”
B.S. “Yes, the Umpire’s haven’t quite adjusted to the new realities of competition. Once they make the proper adjustments to the strike zone, I have every confidence that we will be fully compatible run-wise with others in our segment of the league.”
Reporter: “I see….”
B.S.:”Meanwhile, we’re also improving and upgrading our capital infrastructure.”
Reporter: “You mean…the stadium?”
B.S.”Exactly. We’re replacing the concrete with much newer high-tech polypropylene glycol embedded styrene.”
Reporter: “Oh. Will you be replacing those hard seats?”
B.S. “Seats? Don’t be ridiculous. That would be way too expensive.”
Reporter: “Well, how will the stadium be different — from the fan’s perspective?”
B.S.: “Fans? Oh, fans. It will be a much more modern, more high-tech stadium.”
Reporter: “So, how will the actual experience of the fans be different?”
B.S. “Did I mention that our stock price has risen 5%? Wall Street knows what’s best for baseball!”
Reporter: “Perhaps, but according to our wire service, you lost last night to Cleveland, 26-0. That’s….”
B.S.:”That’s a temporary aberration! I told you! The Umpires have got to get on board here. We’re only asking a proportional shrinkage in the strike zone to match our cost-containment figures. Our new policies are a success. We don’t need to be questioned by nay-sayers spouting statistics. This interview is over!”
Reporter: “So, BS, I hear your team has surpassed the opening losing streak record of the Pittsburg….”
BS:”Bah! Our expenses are down! Our stock price is UP!”
Reporter: “How about the fans? How’s the attendance?”
BS: “Attendance? It takes time for our end users to adjust to the interface changes, but they will. After all, what are they going to do, take a ride to Seattle just to watch a live ballgame?”
Reporter: “Well — or, maybe across town.”
BS: “Get serious. It takes less time to get to Seattle. Anyway, we have taken some of the surplus and hired some systems analysts to help us out. We should be on a winning streak in no time!”
Reporter: “Wouldn’t it maybe make more sense to hire some — you know, outfielders, say?”
BS: “You obviously don’t know anything about business. That’s why they hired me. Ever hear of the expression ‘a level playing field’?”
Reporter: “Yes, but what … ?”
BS: “Well, we are not going to have one! Not much longer! Our system analysts have designed a system to tilt the entire stadium on command. So — in short, our ball-players will be hitting DOWNSLOPE while the opposition will be hitting UPHILL! Come on. Tell me I’m brilliant! And, we are moving the stadium to a place where the tax rate is less and the real estate is cheaper! Go ahead! Tell me I’m brilliant!”
Reporter: “Uh, you’re brilliant, but — ah — won’t your opponents object?”
BS: “Who cares? Our lawyers have combed the rule book and the UCC and NOWHERE does it mention anything about not tilting the earth!”
Reporter: “Well, maybe not specifically, but surely on the basic principles of fair play….”
BS: “Ha hah hahahahhh! Oh, you really crack me up! ‘Basic Principles of Fair Play!’ Oh, that’s rich. That’s realllllly rich. Yes. Good one. Listen, sucker, if you can get away with it, it’s what you do! Have you been asleep? Ever hear of tobacco companies? How about the Ford Pinto? Billionaire Milliken? Get real!”
Reporter: “Still….somehow, I always thought of baseball as a sport.”
BS: “Oh, right. And, I always thought of Howard Stern as Marilyn Monroe. Geez. Our profits will soar! Our profits will soar! Oh, so many plans. Fewer squares! Fewer innings! Fines for foul balls! Fines for run homes! Fines….”
Reporter: “Excuse me, did you say ‘run homes’?”
BS: “Yeah, those things — don’t you call them run homes — where the guy loses the baseball? Talk about waste!”
Reporter: “Those are Home Runs. That’s one good way to win ball games.”
BS: “Yeah, whatever. Maybe to you. To me, they are an unnecessary waste. Just like second square.”
Reporter: “Second square? You mean, ‘second base’?”
BS: “Whatever. That little square bag out there in the middle of the sandyfield.”
Reporter: “Have you ever actually played baseball?”
BS: “Me? I was too busy for frills, my friend. Too busy making my first million. And I did it through hard work and ingenuity. I did it in high school. It wasn’t easy either. Do you know how many of those little first grade brats you have to shake down for lunch money just to get a thousand bucks?”
A Tale of Two Table Tennis Tables
One of the fun things for me personally about beginning to work at the IBM research Eero Saarinen building — a fascinating building for numerous reasons. For one thing, it was a 22nd century flying saucer of a Sci-Fi vibe filled with dark glass, concrete and steel. However — it walls were studded everywhere with a huge amount of beautiful and variegated natural stone. I make no claim that this has anything to do with the actual design rationale for the building, but to me, it represented the idea that the future (symbolized by the sleek design, the glass, the steel) would be achieved on a foundation that was strong; it consisted of a great number of individuals from a great diversity of background in terms of age, gender, national origin, religious backgrounds, and academic disciplines. I liked that. It made me feel good to drive to work knowing that I would be entering a building with that symbolism, a symbolism reflected in the reality of the actual working environment.
A short walk from that Eero Saarinen building lay various recreational facilities. Bernen House, for instance, had two rooms, each containing a ping pong table. Around noon, about 8-15 people would typically gather to play. If you won, you got to stay and take on the next challenger. If you won three in a row, you had to step aside any way. I’ve always been decent at table tennis. But, now I found myself playing with an entirely different class of player. These folks were excellent. As in the Research Center itself, these folks came from many different places including America, but also India, Japan, China, Middle East — all over the world, really. And, of course, playing each other was a lot of fun just because there was such a variety of playing styles.
At some point, the administration decided to use part of Bernen House for administrative offices. So, one but not both, of these ping pong tables was taken away. Whereas with two ping pong tables bringing out 8-15 players, you might think one ping pong table might bring out 4-8 players. Or, you might think people would be willing to wait longer and we would still have 8-15 players. Or, you might think it would be somewhere in between, say 6-12 players. What actually happened was this: after a few weeks, there were typically zero players.
Yes, you read that correctly. Zero players. How can that be? I can’t say for certain, but here is an analysis copied from an earlier post: (https://petersironwood.com/2018/12/20/non-linearity/)
Here’s what happened. The first day after this change happened, I went over and about fifteen people showed up. I, like everyone else, waited a long time for a game. Our “official” lunch hour was actually 42 minutes and the building was a five minute walk away. So, if you had to wait a half hour for your chance to play, it really wasn’t that much fun. In addition, there were some more subtle effects. All the players were good, but there some substantial differences in skill level. People tried to arrange it so that they played someone at about the same level. With only one table, this was trickier. In addition, when a relatively large number of people showed up, it was too crowded for everyone to see the match without interfering with play. It happened that I was too busy to go for a few days. The next time I showed up, no-one was there. Some of us talked about trying to “organize” the ping pong to insure that enough people showed up but everyone was busy and no-one wanted to take this on. Scheduling researchers is harder than you might think. It was hard for people to make a commitment to show up at noon because a meeting might run over, their manager might give them extra work, etc. The number of people showing up swung wildly for about two weeks and then stabilized.
The Death By Many Cuts
It was considered quite a torture actually: the death by many cuts. And, if you think about it closely enough to get mildly nauseous, you’ll understand why. But notice that everyone cuts themselves occasionally. I have cut myself shaving. I’ve cut myself using a kitchen knife. I’ve cut myself on sharp paper. I’ve cut myself with my own tennis racquet. I’ve obviously lived to tell the tale. A minor cut is not fatal. But a thousand will be.
If you were chained in a cold, damp prison cell and each day, someone came in and cut you badly enough that it took awhile for the bleeding to stop, it would be difficult to think of anything terribly pleasant, but you might as well, if you possibly could. Anyway, every living thing is like this — there is a range in which it is able to recover and recuperate and a point beyond which death is the outcome. That’s true about temperature, dehydration, infection — any insult to the system eventually becomes fatal. It’s true of dogs, cats, humans, birds, teams, corporations, nations, and coalitions. It’s hard to predict precisely which straw will break the camel’s back, but it is certain that the back will break eventually.
But let’s not leave you in that dark, dank cell, chained to the wall without at least doing you the courtesy of delving into your fate. I think you would find it rather annoying to be cut each day, knowing full well that at some point, you will die, but having no idea when. Your torturer might be a novice and accidentally cut an artery the very first day. Or, you might get a bad infection that kills you in a few days, long before you were supposed to bleed to death. In any case, the outcome is certain, barring some miracle.
Now, imagine that you are in that stony cell, and the torturer tells you that they will destroy you, one piece at a time. He adds though, that before you’re cut, even once, you are shown a button on the wall, well within reach. It is explained that if you push that button, you’ll be free to go, no hard feelings and not a single scar. But if you didn’t push the button, you’d be cut. After that, if you felt like it, you could push the button and leave with just one scar.
Apparently, some people in that position would be curious. “Well, it’s only one cut. Let’s see how bad that really is. If it’s bad, I’ll just quit. One scar. No big deal.” The torturer comes in and slices them. Now, they look over at the button and they think, “Well, I’ve come this far. It’s kind of interesting trying to figure out where he’s going to cut me next.”
The next day, in this scenario, the blue button is once again appealing, and yet — that hypothetical prisoner (certainly not you, right?) chooses instead, another slice be taken. He feels comfort in the idea that he could, at any time, end this if he chooses, simply by pressing the button. Maybe he will see just how far he can go. But he’ll stop one short of killing himself.
I suspect you’re thinking that no-one would possibly do such a thing; that it’s ridiculous.
No-one would do such a thing?
How about an alcoholic or drug addict who regularly takes a dose that is very nearly lethal? How about a person who spends most of their life in a job that saps their soul because it’s never quite the right time to leave? How about the gambler who, from anyone else’s perspective, will eventually gamble away his fortune, his family, and his future — but they gamble it away regardless of every friend’s warning. They’d rather lose their friends than keep hearing the bad news about how destructive their behavior is. They’ll find new friends. Those friends will likely share the same addiction. And, rather than challenge his beliefs about how he just needs to get that one good break and he’ll be successful & famous, they’ll be agreeing with this unlikely scenario. Oh, my yes, he’ll be the one heading the parade and he’ll be made of money and all the people who laughed at him before will be singing his praises. He might say, just in so many words: “I just need that one good break!” And his new pals will say, “I know! I know!” Because they have very similar delusions.
Of course, if there is a dollar to be made, there will be people aiding and abetting in the creation and propagation of such illusions. For example, the casino advertisements will show people winning and jumping up with joy. I’ve been to Los Vegas for a conference and in my observation, the winners at the slot machines did not jump for joy. Instead, they would wordlessly take their new stack of quarters and begin feeding them back to the machine. How many jumps for joy did I see? Zero. I didn’t even see a change of expression.
And here’s the thing. Numbers matter. Occasionally being subjected to information that is erroneous will likely not move your opinion all that much. On the other hand, if you are subjected to relentless, targeted, misinformation all targeted at keeping you addicted to whatever it is: alcohol, tobacco, firearms, gambling, fast food, opioids, etc., it makes it that much harder to stop being self-destructive.
In the “best case,” you’ll convince enough people to become addicted, that people will do much of your “advertising” for you. For instance, how many sit-com episodes have you seen in which someone is emotionally upset about something and their friend says something on the order of: “You know what we need to do? We need to get drunk!” Dealing with problems in this matter has become normalized in the culture.
What you see much less of are relentless, targeted, misinformation campaigns telling you about the benefits of chess, say, or playing a musical instrument, or dancing, or reading widely, or learning a foreign language. There’s a bit of advertising and perhaps a claim may be exaggerated here or there.
It is nothing like the campaigns to get you to do self-destructive things. Chess, music, dancing etc. all have actual benefits. When it comes to self-destructive behaviors, you need illusions to keep you hooked. You may be able to generate those all by yourself, but it certainly helps to have friends who share your illusions and your collective illusions are much more likely to gel with a large enough community of the like-minded if it is all jump-started with a large infusion of cash whether it’s from a consortium of casinos, pharmacy companies, or Russian oil oligarchs.
Are we, as Neil Postman claims “Amusing Ourselves to Death“?
In some ways, the Mueller testimony was disappointing. In other ways, it was very damning for Trump, though in a completely undramatic way. Then, I got to thinking: what could Mueller have said or done to change the minds of Trump’s supporters?
I really can’t think of anything. He could have said, for instance, “Well, Trump came to me and said that he thought the American public were stupid and it was his right to fool them because they were so stupid they deserve to be fooled. Of course, I got help from Russian! How the hell else could I have been elected. But you ain’t see nothing yet. I’m going to win in a landslide next time. You guys are losers! I’m a winner and I’m going to be dictator!”
Trump’s supporters would simply say that Mueller was lying; that Trump never said that.
Suppose Mueller said, “Well, actually there were 5000 witnesses to the meeting. Here are their names and phone numbers.”
Those people would immediately be decried as part of the effort to “get Trump.” In fact, at least one person on Fox News would suggest they were being paid to say that by George Soros and that they would be better off dead. They would all be seen as part of a vast conspiracy.
Does that sound too ridiculous? It is ridiculous, but many of the base already think that global warming and its attendant increase in flooding, drought, climate-related deaths, species extinction, sea level rising, worse forest fires, etc. — is a conspiracy — a conspiracy which require millions of people to be “on board” with faking data, photos, eye witness accounts, etc.
These are not just random people either. In tens of thousands of cases, these are scientists for whom truth is the highest value. They have dedicated their lives to finding the truth and yet, somehow, they’ve been corrupted in a single stroke.
So, I’m forced to conclude that Trumpism has gone beyond a religion to replace Christianity. It is indeed a cult. To me, the distinction is not in the sheer numbers of people, but the extent to which their belief is impervious to feedback from the real world.
There are many people who hold traditional faiths very much in reverence, whether it is Christianity or something else. But these religions focus on things that are spiritual in nature. The mainstream of such religions do not ask their adherents to believe things that are provably wrong about the physical world. The Catholic church, for instance, does not insist that the Earth is the center of the Universe just because they once believed it. They are very conservative, but they are not impervious to facts — not in the long run.
Here are links to some popular articles about religious cults. It would seem that Nazi Germany under Hitler was also something of a giant cult. Anyway, I wonder whether anyone is aware of first hand accounts of people from Germany who initially welcomed Hitler and Nazism and later realized the horrible and horrendous error of their ways.
If video is more your style.