Make Noise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am conflicted. I wrote a version of this post and then tossed it away. I’m trying to be less argumentative in my daily writing. And then, Toni Morrison collided with Albert Einstein:

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent… This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison, No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear

I am an artist. Is it argumentative, is it confrontational, to write what I see? Yes. Sometimes. Once, I saw a park service truck, on a trail, quickly backing up. The driver did not see the man in the wheelchair right behind his truck. I screamed and ran and banged on the side of truck until the driver stopped, a few inches from hitting the man in the wheelchair. Sometimes it is necessary to shout and make noise.

All of my life I’ve understood the first rule of being educated, namely, to check your sources, as simple sage advice. It’s a good idea, if you are going to anchor your identity in a narrative, to make sure that your narrative-of-choice is solidly anchored in verifiable substance. Doubt and questioning, used properly, are necessary tools of an engaged mind.

Years ago, Robert Cialdini wrote, “The world abounds with cults populated by dependent people who are led by a charismatic figure.” In other words, people are easily led and – as we have recently witnessed – with disastrous results. All that people ever need do to avoid a nasty drink of purple Kool-Aid is to check their sources. In our day and age it is almost easier to check the veracity of the story-we-are-being-fed than it is to be misled. Almost. One must first desire to be fed the truth, even if the truth challenges rabidly-held belief.

Checking takes less than a minute.

Just ask the now-jailed-and-soon-to-be-tried capitol insurrectionists claiming that they were led astray by a flimflam-president-man. The Big Lie was easy to check. It remains easy to check. Yet, none cared to check it or perhaps refused to believe what they found. Checking the lie, listening to the data, would undermine the tightly held power-narrative of an entire political party. A pathological lies requires more and more effort, more and more outrageous lies, to sustain itself. It should have been easier to check the story than it was to storm the capitol.

Now I see the first rule of being educated, the necessity of checking sources to verify fact, as a dire necessity. It is the flashing red warning signal to these de-united-united-states that there is a cliff ahead. It is no longer a sweet bit of sage advice; it is a survival imperative. Respect for the line – truth or fiction – will determine whether we as a nation unite and grow or divide and collapse.

Many years ago, Robert Cialdini also wrote,“Audiences have been successfully manipulated by those who use social evidence, even when that evidence has been openly falsified.” Openly falsified. He wrote those words decades before tweets, Fox News, and the mega-amplification of all the openly falsified big lies. His words might now serve as the sad single credo of the Republican party.

It is not shocking that a political party lies. It is most shocking how little the followers of the party care to check the sources of the enraged hype it daily swallows like so much anger-candy. Dependent people. Easily led. Believe wholeheartedly. Ever expanding lie. No facts necessary. It is far beyond Einstein’s observation of people doing nothing in the face of evil; our nation is in peril because the evil we face is an openly falsified narrative. So many of our people, so many of our leaders, know it is a lie, feed the division, and actively look the other way.

read Kerri’s blog post about DOING NOTHING

Cope Another Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ~ Mark Twain

From the national department of absurdity, I read in my morning news trawl that people-on-the-right were fleeing their tried-and-true social media platforms because they are tired of having their facts checked. They’re tired of being flagged for hate speech. They’re moving to a new platform that allows them to claim as true any old thing that fuels their fantasy. Of course, their new platform purports to have standards. In the absence of truth, they will be monitoring and censoring pornography and nudity. Bare bodies are shunned but bare lies are encouraged.

Google the question “Why Do We Lie?” and you might stumble across this phrase: lying is a ‘maladaptive coping mechanism.‘ Why are the good folks on the right fleeing from fact-checkers in search of an inadequate coping mechanism? Why are they – and, therefore, we – so deliberately racing from the truth? Truth is, after all, supposed to be the glue that holds a society together.

Perhaps, in our case, truth is not the glue that has held our young nation together. Perhaps the current hunger to lie is because we are [once again] confronting our truth? Division, not truth, is our glue. We know it. And we pretend it isn’t true. Denial of the truth is a lie by another name.

Plato reminds us that Zeus feared the power of the original humans so he split them into two separate parts. Our forefathers feared the power of a united working class so, taking a page from Zeus’ handbook, they split their budding society along the color line. And, in an “improvement” on Zeus’ original recipe for division, our god-fathers, in a single action, as a single action, reduced the black faces to less-than-human while simultaneously granting extra privileges to the white faces. They linked the privilege of the whites to the suppression of the blacks. White supremacy and Black Lives Matter are inextricably linked. It is the sad gravity that binds us.

It’s the truth we have never been able to face and, historically, when we dare to part the veil and have a look, there is a concerted effort by the working whites – those on the other side of the diploma divide [so many false divisions…] to run for the comfort of the supremacy-lie. It’s a safe space.

We embrace our maladaptive coping mechanism because we are afraid of facing the consequences of our truth. Great fear of status loss drives the wearers of red-hats to the lie-saloon where they can drink their fill, amp their anger, and fight progress. Fact-checking gets in the way. It’s how the system works.

Fueling the supremacy-lie is the central appeal – it’s the only appeal – of the outgoing titanic Liar-In-Chief. Supremacy stories, after all, require the supremacists to think they are victims. Facts become assaults. News becomes fake. Deep states and conspiracy theories abound. A good victim story is necessary for an Us and Them world. A good victim story is necessary to hold onto the promise-lie of white supremacy.

Division by design.

“The lie” crumbles in a social media space that checks facts and flags hate speech. What could be a better alternative than a gossip-circle-social-media-space where lies are called truths and truths are branded as lies?

Division, running from truth, pretending the division isn’t there, has worked well as a national glue if you are a god-father. It kicks the can down the road. Perhaps it’s time we sent Zeus and our forefathers a note. If we want to grow up as a nation, if we want a united people dedicated to ideals like freedom and justice for all, we need to look at our shadow and seek shared truth. Unity is a much better glue than our comfortable age-old division.

We need to cease fleeing into our maladaptive coping mechanism, look at ourselves, our leaders, and, together, begin telling – and expecting – and guarding – some truth.

read Kerri’s blog post on HUNGRY FOR LIES

Practice Thinking [on KS Friday]

“The capacity to think astutely is often undervalued in the world of action. But philosopher Hannah Arendt identified the capacity to think as the foundation of a healthy and resilient democracy. Having experienced totalitarianism in Nazi Germany, then having fled it, she devoted much of her life to studying it and its opposite, democracy. She believed that thinking thoughtfully in public deliberations and acting democratically were intertwined and that totalitarianism is built upon and sustained by deceit and thought control. In order to resist efforts by the powerful to deceive and control thinking, Arendt believed that people needed to practice thinking.” Westley, Zimmerman, Patton, Getting To Maybe: How The World Is Changed

If thinking clearly is the hard line between democracy and totalitarianism, then we in these once-united-states are in a world of trouble.

For evidence, look no further than this past week. I begin with a single word: debate. Full stop. To assume thought is to assume too much. It was painful to watch conservative pundits attempt to spin sense and justification into 90 minutes of lie-vomit and fact-abuse. It was even more painful to watch thinking people, already exhausted by years of gaslighting, grasp for some sense of what they had just witnessed. The transience of the American experiment.

I shook my head during a post-debate-news segment when a woman cloaked in MAGA swag said that there shouldn’t be fact checkers at the debates because, “People should be able to say their truth.” Where-oh-where has our thought-practice gone?

Beneath the noise of the debate was a ruling in a slander case brought against Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame. The court ruled in Fox’s favor citing,”… that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, that any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.” It has not been my experience that watchers of Fox News are necessarily awash in reason or any amount of skepticism. They believe the spin they hear in that big bubble of fantasy. The judge wrote, “The “‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ “

O accountability, where is thy sting? O thought, where is thy champion?

Democracy is dependent upon our capacity to discern between exaggeration and fact, lie and truth. We are now a nation that cannot grasp the simplicity of science in a pandemic. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Those two actions could have saved thousands of lives. They still could save thousands of lives. I shook my head in despair when people I love repeated with gusto the claim that our numbers of infection are so high because we do so many tests. I thought but did not say, “Think! For god’s sake, just think about what you are saying!” It is too much to ask.

Kerri and I have met walls of angry criticism when we ask folks to check their media sources. How dare we suggest that propaganda isn’t news! It’s easy to check whether or not you are being led by the nose if you care to do it. And that, I fear, is where the line between democracy and totalitarianism dissolves. The care to do it. We would rather be comfy and fixed in our news bubbles, gloating in our mutual agreement, than practice thinking.

Without that hard line, the foundation of our healthy and resilient democracy can only crumble.

TRANSIENCE on the album RIGHT NOW is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSIENCE

transience/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Dare To Read The Label [on Bonus Saturday]

I was awake much of the night staring at the ceiling fan and I had a mini revelation.

Earlier in the evening I had a conversation with my mother about medication and the need to check labels. The doctor had prescribed something for my father that would have been harmful for him to take. We discussed the need not only to be vigilant but your own advocate when dealing with healthcare.

And then our conversation wandered into the swamp of politics and current events. Tumbling out of her came a river of Fox News scare topics – “SOCIALISM” she cried! “MEXICANS WILL POUR ACROSS THE BORDER” she howled, “AND MY MONEY WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR HEALTH CARE!” “I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!” she bayed. “WE GOTTA OPEN THIS COUNTRY BACK UP!” she yelped. “THEY’RE PAYING PEOPLE TO RIOT!” And, my personal favorite, “THERE’S EVIL POURING ACROSS THIS GREAT NATION!”

You’ll not be surprised to learn that I pushed back. Mexicans pouring over the border was her response to my question, “What do you mean by socialism?” Someday I will learn that it is impossible to reason with the absurd.

And so, I found myself staring at the ceiling fan, asking myself the same question over and over: why would someone be vigilant about checking the labels on their medication and not apply the same vigilance to the stories they consume? Why would they check the efficacy of what they put into their body but not check the truthfulness of what they infuse into their thought?

That is perhaps the single most important question we as a nation should ask. Why are so many of us so willing to swallow poison?

As I’ve previously written, Fox News will kill someone I love, so egregious is their dedication to misinformation. In a pandemic, it’s only a matter of time. Go here to read the label on their bottle. Here’s a snippet: strongly biased toward conservative causes through story selection and/or political affiliation. They may utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Some sources in this category may be untrustworthy.

Misleading reports. Influence by appeal to emotion or stereotypes (in other words, scare tactics). Untrustworthy. It’s propaganda, brainwashing, hype, and (my personal favorite synonym) the big lie.

Why would anyone swallow the big lie when the warning on the label is written in big bold red letters? Or, more to the point, why work so hard to ignore the label?

My revelation watching the ceiling fan go round and round: I can’t possibly fathom why. Nor do I need to. I’ve pushed back again and again and whirl to nowhere just like the ceiling fan. I can let it go now. No one is forcing the angry fearmongering down their throats or coloring their sight with so much hate. It’s a choice, their choice, her choice to ignore the warnings so clearly printed on the label.

read Kerri’s Bonus Saturday Donkey Wowza-Paluzza