Ask, “What’s Really Happening?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of Occam’s Razor, you know, that simple but useful little principle that, in the presence of two explanations that account for facts, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. In our current national spin, the corrosive and stupidly-complex justifications are overrunning the simple explanation every time. For instance, is it more likely that the “Democrat” leaders are conspiring to inflate the pandemic numbers in a worldwide conspiracy (yes, 195 countries that rarely agree on anything are united in collusion with the American Democratic party!) to bring down the president – or – did the man botch the job and that’s why our numbers are so high? I’m going with botched job since I still have sight of Occam with plenty of data sharpening that simple razor.

Sometimes when I am sifting my too-many-thoughts-for-a-post I’ll jump into the Google pool in the hope that I’ll hit my head on a Google rock and clarity or at least some sense will come. Today I typed in a question: what conspiracy theories helped bring down the Roman Empire? There’s plenty to read if the fall of Rome is on your mind. I went down the rabbit hole and bumbled upon this fun phrase embedded in the List Of Conspiracy Theories page on Wikipedia [sidebar: there are more inane conspiracy theories than you might imagine and most find their place on the “What were we thinking” shelf-of-shame after a year or two passes. We can only hope that the good folks at Q or the pandemic deniers take their place high on the shelf before too long and too many people are hurt or killed from their delusion. Occam would cut them to ribbons if he weren’t laughing/crying so hard].

I digress. Here’s the phrase: Psychologists attribute finding a conspiracy theory where there is none to a mental illness called illusory pattern perception. Illusory Pattern Perception. It’s a “phenomenon in which observers see patterns that do not exist.” The epicenter of the illness that drives folks to see what is not there: lack of control. It’s existential, this American decline.

We are rapidly becoming the poster child for “a nation divided cannot stand.” As a lover of pattern, perception, and metaphor I find it profoundly sad that our latest chapter of lack of control has led us to division and mental illness. Seeing patterns where none exist. Making up horror stories about each other rather than letting Occam’s razor slice away the absurd and elucidate some simple truth.

Lack of control, as we know from the stories we just shared about 9/11, can also unite us. Lack of control can clarify us. It can inspire us to run into burning buildings, link arms with fellow passengers to rush a cockpit – knowing full well your action will bring a plane down and your life to an end – and do it anyway because your action will save the lives of people you’ll never meet or know. The lack of control can inspire us to stand in the hot fires of injustice (injustice is a control mechanism) and declare it wrong.

Unity, goodness, self-sacrifice – all of these virtues are exposed – or can be – in moments when control abandons us. Our path need not be ugly, vicious, divisive, or inhumane. The mental illness that blinds us is not natural to this nation – or to humanity. It’s what happens when frightened people, feeling out of control, meet a salesman of snake-oil solutions, a weaver of dark places in the public mind, rather than link arms and ask, “What’s really happening?”

read Kerri’s blog post about AMERICAN DECLINE

Question It [on KS Friday]

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Mist covers the mountain and the mountain disappears.

I just learned a new term: astroturfing: “…the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.” ~wikipedia

This morning I stumbled onto this term because someone we love has swallowed the bait and jumped enthusiastically into a conspiracy sink hole. It took us less than 30 seconds to research the organization and discover its connection to Russian bots. It’s a mirage meant to attract the lazy-minded and whip them into malcontents. Pull the curtain and Oz is revealed as nothing more than a 2nd rate magician who understands the power of slight of hand. Look over there.

I feel as though I could and should use this quote every day:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ~ Isaac Asimov

The real problem of our nation in these times is a dedication to ignorance. It took us less than 30 seconds to pull the curtain on this cult-sham-of-angry-misinformation meant to influence our elections. Yet, we know that no amount of love or appeal matters. Our loved one is lost. It is the nature of cults to provide absolute answers to the fearful. The cult provides the appearance of comfort and community. “Welcome!” The organizing principle is always Us versus Them with the not-so-subtle doctrine that Us is superior to Them. It is the nature of cults to isolate their members, play on their low self-esteem, steel them against fact or reason or the appeals of loved ones to open their eyes. It is an aspect of cults that the adherents have no idea that they are in a cult.

There’s no use shouting, “Wait! Look! Open your eyes!” We have become the enemy, Them. We are inferior and data and fact are an an assault on the comfort, the easy answer, a threat to new-found absolute superiority. The tub of purple Koolaid has already been distributed and consumed by the faithful.

I remember teaching students to check their sources. It’s become even more important in the age of the internet and social media. Kerri and I hold ourselves to that standard. We check our media. We check the sources of our media checks. It is a simple basic: don’t believe everything you hear. Check it. It is the hard line separating ignorance from knowledge. We cannot have a debate of ideas and ideals without it. We cannot build a bridge to the center, to compromise and collaboration, if astro-turf  manipulation is so easily embraced as a grassroots movement, if dedicated ignorance is comparable to research, study and questioning.

30 seconds. It seems like such a small thing to ask, a simple kick of the tire. Check what your hear. Question what you are being sold. A question is never an assault on belief.

Yet, it seems too much to ask. We watch as the mist descends. The mountain disappears.

 

 

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