How to Make People Believe Absolutely Anything (In 5 Simple Steps)

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Anyone — yes, even you — can induce people, or at least a large number of people, to believe absolutely anything, no matter how absurd. And there is plenty of living proof out there. Consider Alex Jones, who has a huge following, many of whom believe that 9-11 was an inside job, that Sandy Hook was staged, that children are being abducted and shipped off to a slave colony on Mars, that pigs and gorillas have been given human brains and are running around talking, that a pedophilia ring is being run out of a pizza parlor, and that millions of people voted illegally in the last election. But perhaps the ultimate illustration of how preposterous persuasion works is a man who gets much of his “information” from Jones: his big fan and close ally, the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.

He is undoubtedly the most dishonest, corrupt and inept individual ever to occupy the White House. Yet he has a loyal cult following who still believe that he is honest, forthright and a successful businessman and brilliant leader who is somehow Making America Great Again — and even believe, perhaps most astoundingly of all, that he is a Good Christian. How did we get here?

Many people felt, and still feel, blindsided by the last election. But while the man himself seems to have come out of nowhere, it was inevitable that someone like him would be elected sooner or later. Because the way has been prepared for literally decades by a fringe media consisting of feverish AM talk show hosts, Fox “News” talking heads, and countless newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites. What they have done, anyone can do. And while it may require time and effort, it all boils down to 5 simple steps.

1. Tell them what they already want to hear

Savvy manipulators know that it’s easier to persuade people to wade in up to their necks if you can just convince them to get their feet wet first. Most of us are constantly seeking confirmation of what we already believe (the confirmation bias). When somebody reinforces our beliefs, we tend to regard them as more reliable and trustworthy in general. That’s why manipulators so often make a display of religiosity; committed religious individuals are especially prone to blind trust in anyone they perceive to be ardent followers of the One True Faith — otherwise priests wouldn’t be able to work their boyish charms so successfully. Begin with “Make America Great Again” (whatever the hell that means), and in no time you can work your way up to “millions voted illegally” and “I had a record-breaking victory”.

2. Stoke emotional responses, especially fear and rage

Ronald Reagan was gifted with that proverbial knack for faking sincerity; consequently, he is widely regarded, even today, as a man of impeccable honesty and character, even though he constantly lied through his teeth. (Indeed, with the exception of George W. Bush, it’s likely that no president lied more — until now, when the current White House Occupant dwarfs them both combined). But his sober demeanor was quite unusual among demagogues; they usually realize that while any statement carries more weight if delivered with emotion, the most potent emotions are fear and anger.

Typically, you just don’t hear demagogues speak in a calm, rational tone of voice; it’s more common to hear them sounding like fundamentalist preachers warning of hellfire and damnation than (like Reagan) kindly uncles delivering a homey morality tale. They will raise their voices, they will pound on their desks, they will relate little stories (factual or not) that supposedly validate their point, they will make their voices quiver, they will sometimes even bring themselves to tears.

The most effective message of all is “you are being threatened” or better yet “you are under attack”; particularly since these are messages that many people are already eager to hear. Thus the eternal popularity of silly narratives like transgender bathroom predators, the War on Christmas, and “they’re coming to take your guns”.

There is a part of our brain (the amygdala) that is constantly on the lookout for danger. In caveman days, it was conditioned to be suspicious of anything unknown; after all, that rustling in the bushes very well could be a lion scouting out lunch.  But even though the human race as a whole has long outgrown this mindset, there are still many people (we generally call them “conservatives”) who view the unfamiliar as something to be feared; and view people who promote, represent or advocate for acceptance of anything unfamiliar as enemies to be hated. Political opponents and ideological complements are no longer viewed as mere opponents and complements; they are mortal foes against whom you should prepare for “another civil war”.

3. Find someone to hate

It stands to reason that if you are going to control people effectively with fear and rage, then there must be a “them” to direct the fear and rage toward. You must find a suitable scapegoat to blame for all your (real or imagined) problems. It’s helpful to pinpoint specific individuals (e.g., Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) but entire demographic sectors work even better. In the past, a number of groups have served this purpose well: Muslims, gays, African-Americans, communists, and most notoriously, Jews.

The current White House Occupant targeted brown-skinned foreigners, falsely claiming that Mexicans have driven up crime and that Muslims celebrated in the streets on 9-11. His cult followers certainly jumped on board with those sentiments, but they reserved their most venomous hostility for a much larger and longer established enemy that the right-wing media have hammered away at for years: “liberals”.

“Liberals” are always an ideal target because they are a motley and loosely defined assortment that constitutes at least half the population of the United States, including many people all around you — friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers. Yet they are supposedly people who hate America, want to kill you and enslave you (not necessarily in that order), and want to sacrifice unbaptized babies on an altar devoted to the worship of Hollywood celebrities.

4. Project your own sins onto others

The quickest and most effective way to divert attention away from your true motives, flaws and misdeeds is to accuse someone else of the same thing — as loudly, and as quickly as possible, before people start realizing it’s really you who are the guilty party. Thus during the campaign the future White House Occupant made a point of branding his opponent as a liar and a crook, even while he himself was breaking all records for dishonesty and corruption. He was following the lead of his harbingers and cheerleaders in the right-wing media who have been howling for decades about how (all other) media is extremely biased and untrustworthy.

People with legitimate adult criticism usually focus on the specific complaint rather than making a broad generalization. When a person repeatedly applies derogatory labels or vague accusations to someone else, it’s usually a sign that you should examine the behavior of the person doing the applying.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat

The more frequently people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. So don’t just state your claims and make your case once. Proclaim them over and over and over, day after day after day. Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary. Fake news, fake news, fake news. Liberal media, liberal media, liberal media. Worship me, worship me, worship me.

And there you have it. It may not be a quick and easy process, but this simple 5-step plan is guaranteed to produce results if you pursue it diligently and patiently. I look forward to seeing you in the White House.

 

 

 

The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 7)

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At long last, we come to the end of this lengthy series on NRA propaganda (though I can’t guarantee there won’t be another series in the future — the gun culture keeps firing plenty of propaganda to go around). In previous installments, we examined what we have termed the Chicago gambit, which consists of cherry picking statistics to make it appear that strict gun laws correlate with higher crime;  the DC gambit, which tries to make the case that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime; the particular case of the latter in Kennesaw, GA; the attempt to corroborate that tenet with national trends in crime and gun sales; and  the comparison gambit, which juxtaposes cherry-picked cities and countries.

As you might have realized, all of these “gambits” are really just variations on a theme. They all involve drawing false equivalence between various sets of gun statistics. But another tactic is to make a false equivalence between guns themselves and various other instruments of harm. Thus we come to:

4. The kitchen sink gambit

The almighty gun has been proclaimed by its devotees as being less harmful than anything and everything else — though maybe not literally the kitchen sink. At least not so far.

Here’s one example that made the rounds on social media not long ago:

Capture

Let’s not even bother dissecting the accuracy of the numbers, although there’s plenty to dissect: that isn’t the primary focus of our discussion here.  The more critical offense, at least for the moment, is comparing apples and giraffes.  Only one of these purported causes of death — the final one on the list, which the gunsters are trying desperately to defend — entails a deliberate harmful action against another person. Yes, that includes the first action listed.

We must assume, based on the (apparently inflated) figure given that “death” from abortion in this case means a terminated fetus. It probably does not refer to the death of a pregnant woman or teenage girl, which has not been a matter of great concern to “pro-life” fanatics — who are often in favor of capital punishment, aggressive warfare and, as in the case here, the unrestricted proliferation of handheld killing machines. In short, this graphic evidently assumes that life begins at conception, or during intercourse, or maybe with the first twinkle in someone’s eye. In any case, it’s based on an arrogant presumption that a personal belief is an inviolable fact that should be mandated into law for everyone.

But even if we grant that belief to be true — even if, in other words, we assume that terminating a fetus is equivalent to killing a breathing viable person — it still would not be true that “abortion is murder”, because there is no intent to kill. The purpose of abortion is not to kill but to end a problem pregnancy, and sometimes even to save a life. Doctors who perform them are not doing so to harm, but to help. No matter what angle you approach it from, abortion does not belong in the same room as “murder by gun”.

And note that the gun deaths include only murder, and not the 20,000 or so gun suicides per year.  (Gunsters tend to omit or downplay suicides when discussing gun deaths, on the apparent assumption that suicide victims are less dead.) Nor, since the list is only about death, does it mention the approximately 70,000 annual nonfatal gun injuries or the 400,000 crimes committed yearly with a gun.

All of the causes of death listed are, to some degree, preventable. But only one is both malicious and utterly inexcusable.

It’s also a common tactic to compare gun homicides to homicides by other means. Sometimes you’ll even hear people claim that gun murders are outnumbered by knife murders or hammer murders, or teaspoon murders or whatever — which isn’t even close to accurate. For 2014 (the most recent year for which such data are available), the numbers are as follows: gun murders, 8124; knife murders 1567; blunt instrument murders, 435.

More important, such comparisons are meaningless because the other objects are designed for practical purposes that do not involve killing, while guns are designed specifically to kill.  When a hammer is used to kill, it’s being misused. When a gun is used to kill, it’s being used “properly”.

Sometimes they will get more specific and say that knives kill more people than rifles do. Which is actually true. But what’s the point? A rifle is not the main type of firearm used in gun violence; but assault rifles/ assault weapons (see previous post for the gun culture’s silly quibbling over labels) have a potential to be deadly on a massive scale. How many more Sandy Hooks are you willing to put up with?

Shortly after that massacre, in which 27 people were slaughtered, a deranged man with a knife attacked school children in China, wounding 22 students. Aha! said the gunsters, why not go after knives instead of the sacred thunderstick. If you really can’t tell the difference between 27 dead and 22 injured, perhaps you should leave the lethal weapons for the big boys to play with.

Inevitably, we get around to the big enchilada: the automobile. Cars kill more people than guns, they say. And furthermore, there are more guns in America than cars. So there.

This is true as far it goes. So what? It’s another pointless comparison. The automobile is not designed to kill. The gun is. Auto manufacturers improve their products by making them safer and safer. Firearms manufacturers improve their products by making them deadlier and deadlier. The gunsters don’t even seem to realize that in making this comparison they are seriously undermining their own case: “gun control” activists would be tickled as an NRA board member in Jesse James’s hideout if firearms were regulated anywhere nearly as strictly as automobiles.

Furthermore, the numbers mentioned don’t tell the whole story. While there may be more guns than automobiles, they are in fewer hands. (Car owners may own 2 or 3 vehicles, but they rarely have a whole trunk full of them.)  About 9 out of 10 households have access to an automobile, while only about a third have access to firearms. Additionally, automobiles are in constant usage, as you can verify by looking out the window of your own, if not the window of your home. Automobiles often are used for hours at a time; outside of hunting, the same is rarely true of guns.

Using a gun, in the strictest sense, means pulling the trigger. But in all fairness, we also should include aiming it or holding it in such a manner that it readily could be fired. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. Should gun use also include simply wearing one strapped to your hip in public? That doesn’t make sense any more than having a car parked on a public street constitutes driving. It certainly doesn’t count as gun use simply to have one hanging on your wall. (The so-called “statistics” about defensive gun use often include incidents in which the gun owner simply tells someone he has a gun!)

Despite all this, traffic fatalities have fallen sharply, while gun deaths have risen slightly. Here’s a graph provided by the Violence Policy Center:

gun vs car deaths

The VPC also notes that gun deaths have actually surpassed traffic deaths in 21 states plus the District Of Columbia.

As you might expect, the gun culture cries foul over the VPC’s figures.  Writing for Investors Business Daily, “gun rights” activist John Lott (who is about as responsible with data as Ted Nugent is with rhetoric and Dick Cheney is with a hunting rifle), declares:

Over and over again, the VPC has been caught misreporting numbers. [Like anyone else we know?] It is surprising that anyone, let alone the Associated Press, still takes it seriously…The VPC somehow managed to incorrectly add up the firearm deaths for 20 of the 21 states where firearm deaths supposedly exceeded motor vehicle deaths! The mistakes always made firearm deaths appear much larger than they actually were.

Lott is outraged that the VPC includes in its tally those firearm deaths that are “justifiable” (As we’ve mentioned before, the “justifiable” in such shootings is often questionable). And he states that eliminating them reduces the number of states from 21 to 14. Oh, only 14? Well hey, let’s fire off a few rounds in celebration . Other than that, Lott doesn’t go into any detail about how exactly the VPC figures are wrong, or where one might obtain more accurate figures (except from him, of course).

The one state he singles out is Tennessee, in which he claims there were “only” 978 gun deaths in 2014 as opposed to the VPC’s reported 1020. The VPC figure, however, jibes with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted total of 1016 for that state, which still exceeds the number of vehicular fatalities (994 according to CDC).

Curiously he also presents a graph of “corrected” data that actually makes the gun culture’s tenets look even more dubious — even though he is slyly including only accidental gun deaths:

Traffic vs. Firarm

And once again, he tries to downplay suicide by firearm. Acknowledging that gun suicides have been on the upswing, he hastens to add that suicides in general have been on the upswing, so maybe we should let guns off the hook.  But as we mentioned previously , there is evidence that making a quick and easy method of death more difficult to obtain causes the would-be suicides to reconsider. Which is to say, making gun laws stricter could save a lot of lives. Just don’t expect to hear anything that rational and informed coming from the gun culture anytime soon.

Whether distorting facts, making them up, citing them selectively or ripping them out of context, the NRA and its accomplices seldom shoot straight with figures. Whenever you hear them quote one, it’s a very good bet that it’s either inaccurate,  incomplete or misleading.

 

 

NRA Achieves New Low

Many years ago, I wrote a satirical (or so I thought) skit in which the NRA owned its own TV network. Such a network has been a reality for many years now; it’s becoming increasingly difficult for satire to keep pace with reality. (I more recently had an idea for a script about the gun lobby marketing to children; turns out the NRA’s already working on that one.)

The NRA’s most recent nadir of tastelessness is an ad that denounces those who disapprove of the current insanity in Washington (that’s the majority of Americans, folks) as violent, anti-American troublemakers, and implying that we should be suppressed with armed force. (It also calls us liars, which is really rich considering they’re supporting a politician who’s already shattered all records of dishonesty.) Its pious hand-wringing over some people likening the White House Occupant to Hitler is a double-barreled irony.

Not only did the NRA and its accomplices (with zero justification) declare President Obama to be the reincarnation of Der Fuhrer on a daily basis for 8 years, but they are speaking about “liberals” in a manner very similar to the way the Nazis spoke about Jews.

This is the kind of rhetoric that prompted George Bush, Sr. to renounce his lifetime membership in the group. But that was back in a distant age when some of the NRA’s Washington constituents actually possessed a modicum of character

The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”

 

 

CNN

He’s at it again. Apparently immune to self-humiliation, a certain self-described “citizen journalist” with a long history of producing dishonest and deceptively edited videos has released another one. His previous efforts have gotten him arrested, sued, forced to pay $100,000, and repeatedly debunked and proclaimed a sham even by (some of) his fellow right-wing fanatics. But he still gets plenty of media exposure for being a fraudulent hack, so he still keeps doing it.  And this time he has a target that his fans are particularly eager to pounce on: CNN.

It’s astounding, and slightly amusing in a perverse way, to hear how often people peg CNN as a staunchly “liberal” network, whatever that means. Mention to one of your right-wing friends or relatives what a cesspool Fox “News” is, and chances are the Pavlovian response will be something like “Oh yeah? Well what about CNN?” During the recent presidential campaign it was common for reactionaries to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. And the current White House Occupant himself, who simply parrots brainlessly whatever he hears from the loony fringe media, has declared the network to be “fake news” and barred it from media conferences.

All of which is supremely ironic; CNN is also a frequent target of criticism by Media Matters, which is devoted to exposing “conservative misinformation”.  In fact, almost every day, Media Matters documents at least one instance of right-wing bias at CNN — evidently the highest frequency of any non-Fox media source. Furthermore, CNN has hired two of the White House Occupant’s lackeys as commentators. And lest we forget, it gave us a decade or so of Lou Dobbs, who, while nominally a centrist, railed against President Obama in a manner reminiscent of Father Coughlin railing against FDR, and now has found a home at Fox. CNN also has offered a frequent platform to the likes of George Will, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Jonah Goldberg, Tucker Carlson, and even Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter.

Of course, the network also has its instances of left-wing bias. But that’s just the point. Whatever its shortcomings may be as a journalistic source (and it does indeed have some) it’s rather balanced ideologically.  The Pew Research Center ranked it slightly left of center based on the ideology of the average viewer:

Network bias

And bear in mind that such a criterion as viewership probably makes CNN seem more left-leaning that it really is, since progressive (“liberal”) viewers face more limited options — as witness the domination of the media landscape by a rabid Fox,  which sends other networks scrambling to match its strides.

So why would the right-wing punditocracy single out such a relatively middle-of-the-road network to externally brand as the flagship of the legendary (and largely mythical) librulmedia? Simple: precisely because it is relatively middle-of-the-road. Establishing CNN as a benchmark for “liberal bias” by playing up its leftward tilts and ignoring its rightward tilts, the manipulators hope to utterly discredit anything even slightly left of center.

Immediately after the fraudulent anti-CNN video was released, White House spokesbot Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that any media criticizing her president is “fake news” and in almost the same breath urged everyone to watch the video, “whether it’s accurate or not”. The head can’t stop reeling from the bombardment of irony these days.

Meanwhile, the White House exploited the video in a fundraising letter (Fundraising?? Wasn’t the point of electing a pampered billionaire so the president wouldn’t be so dependent on the public’s money?), citing it as proof that CNN is “pushing phony news stories to boost their ratings, rile up their (wait for it) rabid liberal base, and take us down”.

It’s a tactic that Eric Alterman describes nicely in his book What Liberal Media?, which is well summed up in a column at The Nation. (It is Alterman, by the way, from whom I have borrowed the strikingly appropriate term punditocracy.) He quotes then-chair of the GOP Rich Bond:

If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.

Right-wingers have carried this strategy to outrageous extremes. They howl about the “liberal bias” of the media any time there is a news report that does not reinforce their narratives and beliefs. It’s all part of a strategy to work the refs, shift the goalposts and tilt the playing field. And it’s paying off handsomely.

The ultimate objectives in crying wolf over the librulmedia are twofold: first, to bully media outlets into being even more right-leaning than they already are, and second, to have mainstream news outlets branded as radically leftist in the mind of the public; and by comparison, then, an unhinged right-wing outlet like Fox will be perceived as … well, fair and balanced.  And we’ve already traveled very far down that Orwellian road.

 

“Why Does God Allow Suffering?” Still No Answer After All These Years

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Like the proverbial ghost of a murder victim hanging around and crying out to be mollified, the question of why God would allow humans to suffer as they do is one that has haunted theologians and religious philosophers for millennia. Nobody ever has been able to provide a satisfactory answer; some seem to believe they have done so, but all they have done is provide some very faulty reasoning — usually red herrings or circular logic invoking biblical passages. But a satisfactory answer is demanded if we are going to allow the possibility of a deity at all.

Why? Because one of the primary attributes of a supreme being is benevolence. God, we are told, is good. But suffering, by definition, is bad; thus a benevolent deity would not allow it unless He had a benevolent reason. This assumes that such a being would be (a) aware of the suffering and (b) able to stop or prevent it.   And indeed the other major attributes of divinity include omniscience and omnipotence. (Which are in fact inseparable — omnipotence would include the power of being omniscient, and omniscience would include the knowledge of how to be omnipotent.)

Parenthetically, the very concept of omnipotence is inherently self-contradictory. If God can do anything, can He will Himself out of existence? Can He do so in such a manner that He never will have existed in the first place? Can He create an object so heavy that even He can’t lift it? If there is even one such task He can’t perform, then He is not omnipotent. And yet, if there is even one such task He can perform, he also is not omnipotent.

I suppose one might respond that God’s omnipotence includes the ability to resolve such apparent paradoxes, but that really reeks of moving the goalposts. It’s one thing to assume that a supreme being would have the means to actualize the things that we perceive to be true or plausible; it’s quite another to assume that such a being would have the means to obviate what we perceive to be false or contradictory. And if we grant Him an exemption from being required to have the potential for acts that are self-negating, then we are saying it’s okay if He can’t do certain things that we mere mortals can do — e.g., commit suicide.

But for now, let’s treat such complications the way religionists usually do: let’s ignore them. What we cannot ignore, however, is the unavoidable conclusion that if we grant the existence of an omnipotent/ omniscient God, then it isn’t merely a matter of allowing suffering, but of causing it. An omnipotent/ omniscient God would be a creator of all things, including suffering and evil — and their more immediate agents (Satan, etc.).

Some people have tried to skirt around this by suggesting that after He created the universe, God adopted a hands-off policy and just let things unfold on their own.  Doesn’t make any difference; if He set things in motion knowing how every little thing was going to turn out, it’s effectually no different from personally bombing every airport and gassing every holocaust victim.

So why would a benevolent God cause/ allow suffering? The answers that have always been presented fall essentially into one of 6 categories, each of which is quite faulty.

The Job Response

Written around 2500 years ago, the beautifully poetical Book Of Job tells a story in which God and Satan essentially indulge in a bet about what will happen if God’s faithful servant Job is subjected to extreme suffering.  Some people have interpreted this as an experiment on God’s part to learn for himself what effect suffering will produce. But this is absurd on the face of it; an omniscient being would never have any reason to experiment.

Of course, there is another explanation for Job’s torments…

The Nietzsche Response

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously remarked,”that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. And many religionists have adopted a similar attitude to rationalize the existence of suffering. In doing so, they (and perhaps Nietzsche as well) are conflating suffering with adversity.

It’s true that our muscles (physical and otherwise) grow stronger with resistance, and it’s human nature to enjoy challenge and its conquest. But suffering is not merely adversity. It’s pain, torment, agony. Very often, it consists of challenges that cannot be overcome, but merely endured as they get worse and worse. And there are at least 5 problems with pegging suffering as a stepping stone to personal growth.

1. It’s a post facto conclusion

Yes, there are times when we prevail over suffering, and we feel the stronger for it. But to conclude that this must be the reason the suffering exists is to put the cart before the horse. Particularly since…

2. It doesn’t always work.

Suffering doesn’t always leave us stronger.  Very often, it leaves us quite broken. And yes, Mr. Nietzsche, it often leaves us very dead.

3. It’s inequitably distributed.

We all know people who already are perfectly strong and of sound moral character, and yet have had to endure horrible ordeals. Yet we also know, or at least are familiar with, individuals who are irresponsible, shady and downright evil who lead charmed lives, are born rich, scarcely ever endure a day of pain, and even are elected president. If God had designed suffering as a tool for fortification, surely there would be considerably more justice and reason to it.

4. Opportunity is often denied.

There are many, many people who endure horrible suffering in their lives, but have no chance to reap any benefit from it. Many children, for instance, are the victims of terrible violence, disease or calamity. They feel the pain, but they do not have the potential to develop any more strongly because of that — particularly if they die in infancy.

5. It’s all unnecessary.

Even if none of these objections held true, it still would be quite unnecessary for an omnipotent and omniscient God to subject His subjects to torture. Because anything that possibly can be achieved by suffering can also be achieved by other means — indeed by any of an infinite number of other means — just as effectively — indeed even more effectively. After all, He supposedly can do anything, right?  So clearly, He inflicts suffering on us only because He wants us to suffer. And this is hardly the hallmark of benevolence. In other words, it appears that God is either omnipotent/ omniscient, or else He is benevolent — but He can’t be all of “thee above”.

The half-full glass response

Whether or not we derive any other benefit, say some religionists, suffering at least affords us the chance to appreciate our blessings (assuming we actually have any). But the same 5 objections apply to this premise. Above all, God certainly could install in us an innate appreciation for our blessings that wouldn’t require any agony to acquire.

The Black and White Response

Even if you don’t need suffering to appreciate your blessings better, maybe it will at least enable you to tell the difference, eh? So some would argue. But it’s an incredibly silly example of begging the question. If suffering didn’t even exist, why on earth would you need to tell the difference?

The Karmic Response

This one comes from Eastern religious traditions, which have a much broader concept of God than does Christianity. The basic idea is that if you lose an eye, for example, it’s payback for your having cost someone else an eye in a past life. Okay, but that still doesn’t explain why the potential for you to have cost someone else an eye existed in the first place.

The Man Behind the Curtain Response

If all else fails, the religionist is likely to respond that God inflicts suffering just because He does, and it’s not our place to question why; it’s our lot merely to trust that there must be a reason for it, even if there evidently isn’t.

But if God indeed created us, then He created our minds, with their insatiable curiosity. We want to know where we came from, where we’re going, how the universe ticks. How do we benefit in this regard by simply stacking one layer of mystery on top of another? How does it help to say that God created the universe if we don’t know what God is or where He came from? How does it help to say that God wants us to suffer if we have no understanding of the reason?

Of course, Official Explanation is only one of God’s intended functions, but it’s a very, very major one. Another is Succor in Time of Need (although that’s a very problematic proposition too, as we shall see in a future discussion) and in that capacity, His inscrutability actually might be regarded as an asset; in other words, one might believe that it takes an unfathomable being to solve unfathomable problems.

But even that role is secondary to His supposed role as Creator and therefore Official Explanation. And regarding that role, and given the presence of suffering, our (admittedly limited) reason must conclude that one of the following must be true: (a) God does not exist at all; (b) His powers are limited; or (c) He is inexcusably cruel. None of which is a possibility that religionists particularly want to consider.

 

 

 

American Tribalism

Gene Autry

I see a lot of really bad Internet memes and blog posts come down the pike, but an especially egregious one that caught my eye recently invokes the spirit of that great political philosopher and sage prophet… Gene Autry. Yes, that’s right: the Great Singing Cowboy, according  to this titanically silly article, “eerily predicted everything Trump is saying in 1942”. Really? Everything?  Like “I am the greatest at everything, including things I’ve never done” or “Nobody has been more persecuted than me” or “Hillary is a crook?”

Well, let’s assume that they’re using a little poetic license here, and when they say “everything”, they really mean “a couple of things”. In which case, there is sort of a half grain of truth to the caption (but that’s just about the only truth you’ll find in the entire post).

The allusion to Gene Autry involves a song called “Don’t Bite the Hand That’s Feeding You”, which he sang in the film The Bells Of Capistrano. Released when the U.S. was embroiled in World War II, the jingoism of lines such as these is understandable:

If you don’t like your uncle Sammy than go back to your home over the sea, to the land from where you came, whatever be its name, but don’t be ungrateful to me!

But even that is a far cry from what the current White House Occupant and his cult following would have you believe: namely, that (a) dark-skinned foreigners are causing a great many of our problems, and (b) anyone who says otherwise is un-American.

You get a very good inkling of this from the very first sentence of the article:

Patriots, if you ever hear a liberal complain about our country, then just sing them a song.

Notice the very first word: “patriots”.  The piece is supposedly addressed to patriots, but it’s actually addressed to Trumpsters. In the mind of the author, the two are one and the same.  The implication is that everyone who supports the current White House Occupant is a patriot, and anyone who doesn’t is a “liberal” and hates the whole country. This is an old tried and true propaganda tactic called flag waving, which we’ve examined more than once.

What’s really exceptional about this piece of Internet propaganda is that it is constructed almost entirely of straw men. (Please read the previous examination of that propaganda technique if you haven’t already done so.) Herewith is a sampling of the straw found therein:

…we see more and more liberals complaining about our great nation.

There are immigrants who come to our country only to complain about it.

…they tell us how we should live…

Under eight years of Obama, we had a president who did not care about our veterans.

Obama hated our country so much that he literally ignored the pleas of our veterans.

Why does the Left hate our military so much?

Do the Democrats understand that if it were not for our great veterans, they wouldn’t have a platform to spew their awful hatred?

We need to hold the media accountable for ignoring our veterans.

The Democrats love government spending, except when it comes to keeping America safe.

The Left loves wielding the Hollywood sword to try and cut us down, but we have smartened up.

And not that the author has “smartened up” enough to actually care about getting facts straight or anything, but he also has it backward about which party and which politicians have treated veterans most shamefully.

What this article does, in short, is advance the cause of tribalism: the schism of society into clashing ideological or sociological divides. And it is far from the only example. You will hear it over and over and over again from the Cult Of Trumpery: “Liberals hate America”; “Liberals are evil”; “Liberals are stupid”; “Liberals want to destroy you”.

The distinct impression you get is that the main reason, if not the only reason, that a great many of them voted for 45 was simply to “pay back liberals” for some imagined offense or other.  Some have said something like, “Well, we suffered for 8 years under Obama, so now it’s your turn to suffer.”  (To which someone penned an excellent response in an effort to get to the bottom of the “suffering” under Obama.) It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these folks that in their obsession with making “liberals” suffer, they are making everyone suffer, including themselves — for the present, and quite likely for generations to come.

Tribalism defies all reason.  And while it has always been with us, and is perhaps inevitable, what’s really different now is the extreme, deliberate crusade that one particular tribe is waging to make the rift broader, deeper and more toxic.

As it happens, I recently saw another old movie, for the first time in years: Tribes, a film made for TV in 1970. (It’s been sadly neglected and forgotten for decades, despite winning 3 Emmy awards and distinctly influencing later military flicks that are better known, such as Full Metal Jacket and Heartbreak Ridge.) It deals with a hippie (Jan Michael Vincent) who is drafted into the Marine Corps and butts heads with a rock-ribbed drill sergeant (Darren McGavin).

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In addition to being a powerful drama well worth watching, Tribes is a thought-provoking rumination on the problem of tribalism, which we thought was bad in 1970, but is arguably worse now. At one point, the hippie draftee says, “We’re from different tribes, sergeant. Two completely different worlds. You don’t understand mine, yet you force me to accept yours”. To his credit, the sergeant actually does try to understand the other side of the divide. But another sergeant (Earl Holliman) has nothing but hostility for the young man. He embodies, in other words, the attitude of Trumpsters — talk about “eerily” prescient.

When they were “suffering” under Obama, they were full of rage and loathing. Now that (they think) they are getting everything they want, they are… full of rage and loathing. Perhaps even more so. It’s hard to reason with people who seemingly just live for rage and loathing.

We previously listed some strategies for overcoming the plague of Trumpery, and among them was the importance of trying to “cross the bridge” — i.e., the gap between ourselves and those on the other side of the ideological divide. (Back  in the era when Tribes was made, for example, I recall reading about a softball game between hippies and police. ) Unfortunately, you may find that’s an uphill battle when you’re dealing with people who are obsessed with blowing up the bridges and building higher walls.

“Snowflake”: Anatomy of a Slur

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The popularity of “snowflake” as the cutesy insult du jour is both very interesting and rather disturbing. It’s used, of course, by the Cult Of Trumpery to belittle those who refuse to join the cult, but it’s particularly intended to single out them librulz — on the apparent assumption that nobody else possibly could be alarmed by the rise of fascism in America.

One fascinating thing about this epithet is its astronomical irony. Calling someone a snowflake is meant mainly to suggest that they are fragile, overly sensitive, easily damaged or offended. But the people applying the label are doing so in defense of a petulant toddler who, among many other things, threw a tantrum against Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s merchandise; against the cast of Hamilton for supposedly booing Mike Pence (they didn’t); against Saturday Night Live for lampooning him almost as well as he lampoons himself; and against the media and even the National Park Service for accurately reporting the size of his inauguration crowd (just let that one sink in).

And his fans themselves are often prone to gross overreactions even as they berate other people for being “snowflakes”. Recently there was a viral story about a Massachusetts man who wrote a letter to the editor of his local paper expressing his disgust with a yard sign that said “Hate has no home here”.  A 13-year-old boy penned a response that was absolutely priceless, and gives a person hope that the U.S. may have a future after all. He closes his letter by pointing out the absurdity of someone (supposedly an adult) becoming unhinged over a benevolent yard sign, and then disparaging others for their “snowflake sensitivity”.

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Another characteristic of (literal) snowflakes that may be suggested by this appellation is their uniqueness — it’s become proverbial that no two of them are alike. And there is speculation that the current application of the word was inspired by a line from the 1999 film Fight Club (based on the vastly superior Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name):

You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

And consider the irony of this: if members of the Cult Of Trumpery really are ridiculing dissenters for their supposedly vain perception of personal specialness, they also are tacitly acknowledging that they themselves subscribe to a mindless herd mentality.

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What’s most disturbing about “snowflake”, however, is its white nationalist connotations. It has been widely reported that the term originated in Nazi Germany, where it was applied derisively to Jews because the ash from the crematoriums reminded soldiers of snow falling.

Mind you, there is no solid evidence that this story is true. But then, the Cult Of Trumpery has been more than willing to buy into all manner of unfounded beliefs and rumors: Obama is a Kenyan Muslim; Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi; the Clinton Foundation committed fraud; climate change is a hoax; millions voted illegally; Muslims cheered on 9-11; immigrants pose a threat to the economy and to safety; Obama “apology tour”; death panels; etc., etc., etc., etc. So it’s not very likely that they’ve questioned this myth, either. In other words, it appears that many of them have called people “snowflakes” while believing that the term has its roots in the Third Reich.

Furthermore, there is a troubling etymology that is much more substantially documented. During the Civil War era, it was common for white racists to refer sarcastically to African-Americans as “snowballs” — a usage which already had been around for a century or so — and this later morphed into “snowflakes”. Unlike the Nazi narrative, this one is unquestionably true. (We might note that abolitionists also applied the term to those who supported slavery; but in this usage it was deriding people who perceived themselves as superior rather than deriding people whom the user of the label perceived as inferior.)

So the big question here (aside from why such folks consider it so important to ridicule other people at all) is this: given the widely reported belief that “snowflake” is of Nazi origin, and given its unquestionable racist associations, why do so many people nonetheless embrace it so wholeheartedly?