Tag Archives: fake news

Adventures in Living: Mr. Trumplikin

Thursday, October 3, 2019—At Starbucks yesterday, I sat next to a 60ish age white blowhard, a “Trumplikin” who exuded anger through all his pores.  He started by telling me how the Dems had fixated on yet another bogus issue with which to crucify Trump.  In an hour-plus rant, he regurgitated TV issues, but with the Trump camp’s slant.  He raged over the wall, Kavanaugh, China’s “theft” of intellectual property, the Confederate statues, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and probably other things that I’ve forgotten.  Oh.  Capital punishment:  kill them fast and make it hurt a little.

He is in manufacturing, has been to China twelve times.  His company makes hydrophilic sponges, I think he said, such as for applying make-up.  I guess the Chinese government restrains waste of chemicals, for instance, by making companies account for everything they use and taxing heavily their excesses.  It was hard to get a clear picture of what he meant, but it sounded like that system works differently (and perhaps better) than the EPA.  He thinks it’s fine that Chinese workers live in dormitories, work 18 hours/day, six days a week for $1/hour.  It saves so much money that it’s worth it to ship the product across the world for sale.  He could not understand that US employers in the US might want to hire illegals here, since that way they can also pay low wages without responsibility.  The only difference is that the Chinese government allows these manufacturers to do it legally.

No one but me sees a middle ground.  I wouldn’t want to be an employer in the US or China, because both exploit their citizens, but in different ways.  I’m surprised at all the costs government imposes—both regulatory and actual—on employers here.  The GM strike, which involves 45,000 workers, is for faster wage increases for new hires, better health care benefits, and to keep some plants open that are slated for closure.  This in the face of declining sales worldwide.

Never mind that I think the industry itself is too big.  “That’s capitalism,” the saying goes.  In the current definition of “capitalism” the do-nothings profit from others’ toil, so I don’t blame the toilers for resenting it.

Mr. Trumplikin can rant at Starbucks, but I rant in my journal.  The system itself creates people like him, so there is no reasoning with him about justice and fair play.  When he claimed he has nothing against immigrants, just go through the proper channels, and I suggested even US citizens are living under bridges and in the streets, so there’s no intrinsic advantage to being a citizen, his response was something to the effect of “create jobs.”  This from a man whose company moved to China to exploit labor, because they can’t do it here and churn stock on Wall Street at the same time.  Oh . . . and we don’t approve of athletes who beat their wives and other women.  Nor do we approve of actresses who bribe college officials to admit their children on athletic scholarships.

I contributed nothing to this monologue, except an occasional “Er . . .” or “But . . .” and allowed Mr. Trumplikin to exorcise his demons, as I monitored my internal blood pressure gauge and tried to deflect the negativity.  He doesn’t like the federal government but didn’t go into specifics.  He agreed with me that (other) Americans are too intolerant.  He thinks video games and social media are responsible for mass shootings.  He conceded the media focus encourages would-be shooters with the fantasy of instant fame.  He conceded that the controversy over Trump is stimulating conversation about politics like never before, even though he thinks Trump should desist from overuse of Twitter.  But Trump says what he thinks, by golly.  You know where he stands.

I left wondering how to reason with people like that.  He has no insight into how heavily he is influenced by the mind control exerted through television, yet he also ranted about “fake news.”

Mr. Trumplikin’s intolerance stands at the opposite pole from my brother-in-law’s intolerance, yet they together personify the “polarization” the media exacerbates by emphasizing and lamenting it.  Last night, S. said he watched three hours or so of the House of Representative’s “discussion” about impeachment.  S. watches Trump’s long speeches (two hours) and I should  too.  That way, I can pick the best candidate in elections.  I said I prefer a two-minute summary, that my opinion doesn’t matter to them.  They are going to do what they are going to do.  My perpetual “None of the above” is never on the ballot, so it translates into my not wasting time at the voting booth.  S. gives the standard response that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain.  I said I no longer complain, and I don’t.  Complaining does no more good than voting.

Best to do “Process Commentary,” as my blog claims and as I was trained to do as a group therapist.  The process behind the intolerance intrigues me.  I relate intolerance to insecurity, the self-doubt that comes with ambivalence over beliefs.

Both Mr. Trumplikin and my brother-in-law believe in government over the people, just as many people believe in organized religion.  They need that structure to feel safe, the reassurance that someone or something more powerful than the individual cares and is acting in their best interests.  They presume the focus is on the “higher good,” but they are willing to overlook the fact that a different set of rules apply to the “out group,” as Joseph Campbell might claim.  Exploiting Chinese workers is okay, but it’s not okay to exploit illegals in the US.  They should go back to Guatemala to be exploited.  It’s harder to exploit US citizens, so we leave them under bridges and take our jobs to China.

Mr. Trumplikin insisted everything comes down to money.  It’s so trite, yet if everyone believes it, and the system itself is predicated on commerce, money becomes its heart and soul.  This leads to my single biggest contention with the system’s claim to legitimacy.

Like a Sphere in Flatland

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A man in my e-mail group asked to be excluded from my responses.  He said I was “negative” and “liberal.”  I had merely mentioned I don’t believe in war, that it is barbaric, institutionalized murder.  I said I don’t believe in standing armies, either.

It really hurt my feelings that he called me “liberal.”  Liberals don’t like me, either.  In fact, on the political continuum from the various “ism’s” at the extremes and including “liberal” and “conservative,” I don’t fit anywhere.  I feel like a sphere in Flatland.

For those who haven’t read this charming classic satire, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott (1884), it is well worth reading, and only 160 pages.   In it, narrator A. Square describes a planar world in which the social hierarchy is determined by how many angles you have.  When Lord Sphere makes himself known to A. Square, he is incredulous until taken on a visit to “Spaceland.”  His attempts to convince his fellow Flatlanders of the existence of a third dimension only gets him in trouble, and he ends up in jail for his lunacy.

Another image, maybe more appropriate to the linear liberal-conservative standard and its limitations, is of trying to assess the validity of a book by the scientific method.  The scientific method is the holy grail of modern scientific dogma, but it is limited by its linear approach. Scientists believe this makes it superior to other methods of assessing truth.

The scientific method presumes cause and effect, yes-and-no, good and bad, right and wrong.  It sneers at extraneous information, abstractions, symbols, and patterns. Logic is linear:  words must come out in sequential fashion.  Those who relate this to the left brain–the seat of verbal thinking and expression in most people–claim superiority of this hemisphere because of its lock-step method of reasoning.  The right brain is associated with symbols, patterns, dreams, and appreciation for art and music.

However, the brain is wired such that incoming sensory information travels through the thalamus, the pain center, then through the limbic system, the emotional center, before it reaches left or right brain.  In other words, every thought is colored by physical and emotional input before it becomes conscious.  Even the most logical and rational analysis is founded on emotional bias.

The scientific, linear mode presumes to be objective, insofar as is humanly possible, yet the choice of study subject is based on emotional factors.  The idea that artificial intelligence, with its binary code, can eventually surpass the human brain’s abilities discounts the spontaneous creativity of the right brain and its symbolic language of patterns and associations.

The recent preoccupation with what’s called “fake news” shows how easy it is to confuse the “rational” mind.  Misinformation, propaganda, distortions, opinion, gossip, libel, and slander have always been around.  Assumptions presumed to be factual have fallen apart over and over in light of new evidence.  The earth used to be flat, remember, and the sun revolved around it.  Now there’s a widespread concern that people don’t know whom or what to trust, with “trust” seemingly synonymous with blind faith in the source.

What is truth, after all, and does it matter?  If this trend leads to a greater tendency to question authority or formerly trusted sources, or to more critical thinking, it might result in the revolution in consciousness that some people imagine.  We will not achieve it through the scientific method, which requires an artificial situation that attempts to reduce variables to one.  In life there is always infinitely more than one variable to consider.  Thus, trying to place anyone on a linear political scale reduces her dimensionality to a pitiful caricature, but we see it all the time:  the blacks, the women, the illegals, the racists, the poor, the 0.1 percent, and on and on.  The so-called advocates, whether members of the identified group or not, posture themselves as knowing the condition, needs, and wants of the group.

Labeling of groups dehumanizes them, clumps them into an agglutinated mass of undifferentiated genetic material that serves only to concentrate emotion into an identifiable target for support or attack.  Advocates tend to use that emotionally laden grouping to promote their agendas, which may be personal or may be backed by yet other groups.

I can only know my own truth, and even that changes moment to moment or as soon as I turn my head.  Truth is a slippery little rascal.  Like a sphere in Flatland, or a book whose value defies the scientific method, I can see from above or below the plane, or even with the plane, but at least I know the difference between a line and a circle.  The scientific method might judge based on emotionally based standards of comparison, but patterns make no judgments and have no beginnings or ends, no cause-and-effect, and reveal no ultimate truth.

My dislike for war, and for fighting, compels me to avoid arguing, recognizing as I do that my choice is emotional, as is my detractor’s.  Energy goes out of me when I’m drawn into conflictual situations.  I believe this happens with others, too, but I could be wrong.  The relentless focus on competition and struggle, on differences cemented by stifling labels, only feeds the problems, generating parallel, linear, universes with no spherical perspective.

Fake News and George Orwell’s 1984

There’s a lot written lately about “fake news,” the widespread dissemination of misinformation.  This is nothing new.  Fake news has been around at least as long as gossip and probably longer.  No one can know more than her own perspective, and to presume otherwise leads to trouble.

Seven years ago, I re-read George Orwell’s classic dystopic novel, 1984, published in 1949.  In this book, history was deliberately re-written on a regular basis by the Party of the infamous Big Brother.

1984 opens with protagonist Winston Smith going home at lunch to write in the secret diary he bought on the black market.  He works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying old news accounts.

Author George Orwell gets right to the point and packs the desolation of the times into the first few pages, describing the old, worn apartment building Winston lives in, Victory Mansions, with elevator that rarely works, the smell of boiled cabbage, the leaky roof, suspicious, deadened people.  We hear about Hate Week and Two Minutes Hate being a part of the daily routine.

The telescreen in his living room transmits both ways, and you can’t turn it off.  Smith lives in the world of the eternal present, in which the past is continually re-written  People disappear, and all record of them expunged.  There is perpetual war.  Smith lives in Oceania, which is currently at war with Eurasia and at peace with Eastasia, but despite obliterated history, Winston remembers only four years ago, Eastasia was the enemy and Eurasia the friend.

Posters, stamps, coins, cigarettes and myriad other things bear Big Brother’s face and the ominous “Big Brother is watching you.”  We have Thought Police.  We have the party’s slogans:  “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”  News is so disconnected from what’s really happening that it is a farce, yet no one remembers clearly whether things have ever been different.

Language defines thought, and 1984 speaks to this more succinctly than anything I’ve ever read.  The point of Newspeak was to reduce the number of words, to constrict thought, render it homogeneous and controllable.

Midway through the novel, Smith is having an affair with Julia, a Party member who passed him a note saying “I love you,” when she fell in the hall and he helped her up.  She is 15 years his junior and content to live a double life of hating the Party while pretending to be a model member.  She is purely sensual, uninterested in politics except as it affects her life.  She believes war is frustrated sexual desire and that sexually satisfied people have no need or desire to fight.  This, she says, is why the Party outlaws it except between husband and wife, and only for the purpose of having children, and providing no one enjoys it.

Winston knows from the beginning he is doomed, just doesn’t know when his time will come.  Every move is watched, every facial expression, every sound transmitted over the telescreen.  Solitude is suspicious, as is unaccounted-for time.

Smith eventually takes Julia to meet with O’Brien, an inner party member he believes is a member of a subversive organization, the Brotherhood.  This organization is reputed to be headed by an Emanuel Goldstein, the demonized “Enemy of the People.”  O’Brian says he is indeed a member of the Brotherhood and enlists Winston’s participation, exacting promises to do whatever is necessary, on command, without asking questions, and expecting no rewards or acknowledgement.

 

Smith loses my allegiance when he says he is willing to abase himself to defeat Big Brother.  He dehumanizes himself with that commitment, and becomes no better than those he condemns.  He is willing to trade one overlord for another, perpetuating the cycle.

After meeting with O’Brien, Winston gets the forbidden Goldstein book and begins to read it, but he is then arrested in his hideaway just before reading the “Why?” of the party’s obsession.

The rest of the book is about Winston’s capture, imprisonment, torture, and re-education by O’Brien.  O’Brien says the party decides what reality is, and a lone individual like O’Brien cannot contest it.  The party is immortal.  He says the party did not make the mistake of previous dictatorships, (thereby admitting a past before the Party):  socialist governments that pretended to claim power merely long enough to establish justice and equality.  No.  The party wants power for its own sake, and it wants to use that power to crush all individuality and potential resistance. But even Winston Smith, during his interrogation, protests that such a brutal power structure as O’Brien describes could not sustain itself and would self-destruct.

In the end, of course, when O’Brien threatens to put a rat cage over Winston’s face, he commits the ultimate betrayal:  he begs to have them sick the rats on Julia, instead.

And, of course, the final two sentences—which I’ve remembered for 30 years, verbatim:  “He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother.”

Although George Orwell is uncannily prescient in some of his observations, like the muddying of language, the telescreen, and the homogenization of individuals into a mass mind where individuality is a crime, he cannot account for factors that make totalitarianism unsustainable.  We are now seeing the disintegration of the power structure that bleeds individuals to support itself.  It boils down to the simple fact that armed or violent resistance only reinforces the power structure, but non-participation and withdrawal deplete it.  Orwell is looking at an urban population dependent on infrastructure and easily controlled supply chains.

Also, while Orwell claims history is being wiped out by revisions in books, statues, streets, churches, and newspapers, he overlooks the fact that the dilapidated architecture itself bespeaks a more competent society, because those buildings were once new, with roofs and plumbing in good working order.

Orwell also deprives his characters of any curiosity outside politics or basic amenities.  In his first rendez-vous with Julia in the country, Winston is transfixed by the song of a thrush.  There is no other evidence of anyone doing anything useful, and the appreciation for the bird is an exception.

The characterization of perpetual war merely for the purpose of destroying excessive production, the three entities perpetually at odds with each other, the control of people by controlling their minds, is uncanny.  There’s a reference to 1914 as the turning point in history.

Doublethink, the ability to hold two mutually exclusive views at the same time and believe them both, is crucial.

 

But men have always thought in terms of violent revolutions that are manipulated simply to switch one power elite for another.  They do not recognize that these systems disintegrate from within because those in power can’t trust each other.  I believe the violence comes later, once people see how weak the structure has become.

I say you control by controlling the food and water supplies, and the product lines, a much more fundamental and practical method, if power is your aim.  Of course the power brokers know that, and all this talk about controlling minds is intellectual camouflage.  It’s hard to imagine Big Brother having much power in a rural area where people have more resources at their disposal.

George Orwell, pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, died a year after 1984 was published, at the age of 46.  He had lived through both world wars, the Depression, and had lived in poverty through much of his adult life.  He foresaw much of what is happening now, and he was discouraged about the future of mankind.  But in the final analysis, 1984 is a masterpiece of tight prose, excellent descriptions, good character development, and interesting plot, well worth reading.