Sunday, January 17, 2021

When the broken people see the light.

 

Gerd Altmann | Pixabay
Now that we've had a week and a half or so to settle our thoughts after the debacle at the US Capitol on January 6th, I'm starting to see some anecdotal evidence that some people -- particularly some of the folks who fell for the QAnon conspiracy mess -- are beginning to come around. 

Maybe it's not a lot of people yet. But at least a few folks who fell down the rabbit hole into Trumplandia or the QAnon insanity saw the anarchy on TV that day, learned that people died because of it, and realized what they'd gotten themselves into.

Getting themselves into it was easier than you might think. A game developer wrote a very interesting Medium post that explains how QAnon appeals to people. He says it follows the basic structure of an alternate-reality game: a mysterious stranger hands a player a clue in the form of a puzzle; solving that puzzle gives the player another puzzle; and on and on through the game. Players have to free-associate to solve the puzzles (the author says there's a term for that: apophenia, or seeing a meaningful pattern in random thoughts or ideas). Sometimes players band together in groups to discuss possible solutions. 

The difference is that in an alternate-reality game, the players know it's just a game. With QAnon, people were led to believe it was real. In the author's words, QAnon is "[a] game that plays people. (cue ominous music)"

I'm not a gamer, but I do write fiction, and I'm confident I've used the trope of the mysterious stranger a time or two. But I'm making stuff up. I'm not sending readers off on a real-life snipe hunt -- certainly not one that could get anybody killed.

So let's go back to the QAnon believers who watched the storming of the Capitol on January 6th and woke up to what they were involved in. What should be done about them?

I vote for compassion.

That's not to say that everybody involved in the riot should get a pass. Those who broke the law -- by breaking windows, ignoring law enforcement orders to stop, beating cops with flagpoles, stealing from congressional offices, defecating in the halls of Congress, and all the rest -- should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any members of Congress who assisted the anarchists should also be prosecuted, and it would be really swell if they also lost their jobs. And those at the top who encouraged this -- up to and including President Trump -- should pay a price for what they've done. Trump has already been impeached a second time for encouraging his followers to storm the Capitol; I hope this time the Senate convicts him and makes sure he can never hold office again.

But what about Mom and Pop at home? They've seen the results of all the stuff they've been led to believe, and maybe it's not sitting too well with them now. What should we do? 

I suggest giving them space to grieve. They were all-in on a common cause. They probably made friends -- and I am here to tell you that online friendships are every bit as real as in-person friendships, and it hurts just as badly when they fall apart. Losing all of that is going to be tough. Give them room to process it, but be there if they want to talk about it, and be kind to them when they do. 

Because just like the people who were killed and injured at the Capitol on the 6th, these folks are victims. They were taken in by accomplished liars. They're already going to be kicking themselves. Don't make it worse by making fun of them or practicing some kind of tough love. Because that will drive them away at the precise moment when we want to bring them home to reality.

This, my friends, is how we're going to heal our country: by granting forgiveness to those who have seen the light, one broken person at a time.

***

In other news: I should have mentioned this earlier, but my Facebook author page is kaput. After I fought so hard to get the page back from the scammers in November, I thought maybe I'd keep it around. But the final straw was when I got a couple of requests to join the Woo-Woo Team from folks with seriously sketchy Facebook profiles. (One said she was from New York, Florida; then she changed her location to Botswana. Uh-huh.) It felt to me like the scammers were trying to get into the back end of my page via the group, which is not a thing I would ever allow and I'm not sure how it would even work. In any case, the author page is now gone for good. But the Woo-Woo Team still exists - yay! And we're still taking members -- double yay! 

In still more news: I need to get busy on editing the NaNo novel, which still doesn't have a title. I expect it will be slow going, now that I'm working as a proofreader for the New Mexico Legislature. This year's session starts Tuesday and I'll be working seven days a week (remotely, thank the gods) until it's over on March 20th -- which also happens to be Ostara. Normally I'd release a new book around that date, but this time I'm going to shoot for Beltane or thereabouts, and we can all be pleasantly surprised if it's done sooner.

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These moments of compassionate blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. You know the drill -- mask up, social distance, and wash your hands!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

In which I propose a way to bring America together again.

I had to tempt the Universe with last week's post, didn't I? "Keep calm until there's real news," I said. Should have kept my mouth shut.

Not that I'm taking responsibility for the insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday. A crowd of President Trump's supporters, egged on by Trump himself, marched on the Capitol building as members of Congress and Senators inside were validating the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Hundreds of them broke into the building itself, and some of them went on a hunt through the building for lawmakers. Among their targets, reportedly, was Vice President Pence, because he would not acquiesce to Trump's demand that he figure out a way -- legal or not -- to invalidate the election returns and declare Trump president for another four years.

No, the blame for this, as far as I'm concerned, is all on Trump. He's responsible for the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer (and possibly another Capitol Police officer who died yesterday, reportedly by suicide). He's responsible for the physical damage his supporters caused to the historic building during their rampage. He's responsible for the emotional trauma he caused the members of Congress who were locked down for hours while the building was cleared -- and who then had to go back to work and finish their job. And if anyone who works at the Capitol -- lawmakers and staff -- catches the virus due to the maskless yahoos who forced their way into the building, I'm holding him responsible for that, too.

And he's leaving an even bigger mess for Biden once he takes office. Not only must he get a handle on the spread of the virus, oversee distribution of the vaccines, and turn the economy around, but now he needs to consider whether to direct the Justice Department to go after his predecessor for his crimes.

Biden promised to unify Americans, and Trump's not interested in making it easy for him.

But it's this idea of unity that interests me tonight, and what it would take to get us there. 

Some commentators have called Trump's hardcore followers a cult. If that's true -- and I think there's a lot to recommend that view -- then it follows that to truly bring the nation back together, deprogramming is in order. But where to start?

I believe we may have to go back to the very founding of our nation. 

I shared this post on Facebook earlier today, and it got me thinking. The post is about four years old, but the author describes himself as poor Mexican who grew up in a rural town in Oklahoma. He observes that poor, white Americans don't see themselves as poor, but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." "It is shameful to be poor," he says. "Most men, especially, think they could be Trump were it not for the unfair obstacles put in their way." And when people like Trump point fingers at immigrants or Blacks or Muslims as undeserving, poor folks go along with it because "it takes all the shame and blame away."

"If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn't stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different," he says. "To fail to transcend poverty, and to admit you are poor, is to admit you are neither hardworking (n)or clever. It's cultural brainwashing."

Wikipedia | Public Domain
Where does this belief come from? From the very first immigrants to our shores. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber proposed the idea that Protestantism, and in particular Calvinism, created the seeds of capitalism by praising hard work and discipline as virtues. Of course, many of America's earliest settlers were Protestants fleeing religious persecution in Europe. Unfortunately, they brought their own brand of religious persecution with them; it's a short step from "hard work is a virtue" to judging people who can't get ahead as lazy. And that brings on the kind of self-loathing that the Facebook post above describes -- as well as a desire to find someone, anyone, to blame one's perceived failure on.

Moreover, in recent decades, certain Protestant preachers have made a lot of money touting prosperity theology -- the idea that God wants you to be rich, and therefore happy. Not only is it okay to want to be rich, they proclaim, but if you're not -- well. It's a personal failing. You need to believe harder. And sliding the preacher some cash couldn't hurt.

When I shared that Facebook post, I said, "Just think: If our culture (including the allegedly Christian preachers who tout their 'prosperity gospel') had never made poverty a moral failing, Trump wouldn't have been able to gain a toehold in the first place." Because what he did was to hand poor folks a whole host of targets to transfer their self-loathing to -- immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, and "Mexicans."

It's a sickness, for sure. And it's ingrained so deeply in American culture that it may well take something like deprogramming to root out.

A friend asked me what I thought it would take to get it done. I replied that we'd need "a repudiation of the disinformation by those who've been spreading it, for starters -- not shutting down Fox News/OANN/whoever, but convincing them to admit it's all been a hoax. But the churches that have been preaching damnation for the lazy poor, and the ones preaching that Jesus favors the rich, need to admit their part in it, too.

"And then we need to have a big ol' program in place to help folks sort through the cognitive dissonance when everything they've been led to believe has been cut out from under them."

And I said doing what needed to be done to get the right-wing media and the prosperity-gospel peddlers on board would probably be unconstitutional. It's clear to me they wouldn't do it willingly -- they're making too much money by fleecing these folks.

The likelihood of any of this happening is vanishingly small. But as I said to my friend, "I can dream, can't I?"

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These moments of dreamy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep those masks on and keep staying home!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Keep calm until there's real news.

I had a topic for this post all picked out and researched and everything, and then this afternoon the Washington Post threw a monkey wrench into my plans. Well, phooey on them. I'm gonna write this post anyway -- and I'll work in their bombshell, too. 

***

Best Graphics dot com | CC0 | Pixabay

It was Wednesday, November 25, 1987 - the day before Thanksgiving. I was at my brother's house in a northwest suburb of Chicago, baby Kitty in tow. (Her father was in the Navy, and I think he must have been on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea.) At the time I was working for WTAR-AM in Norfolk, VA. I'd been a news anchor and reporter for about nine years.

We had the TV on, and the noon news featured a breaking story: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington had collapsed at his desk at City Hall. He was transported to a hospital, where he died that afternoon.

The early evening news ran the story at the top of the show. The story topped the 10:00pm show, too. 

When it was still leading the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, my mother complained aloud: "Are we going to have to listen to this same story all weekend?"

To which I replied, "Of course. It's a holiday weekend and this is an honest-to-goodness news story. The only other things they have to talk about are the holiday traffic death toll and Toys for Tots."

I mean, I don't recall my exact words, but I'm sure that was the gist of it. I had worked enough holidays by then to know the feeling of desperation a newsperson gets when you have to put together a newscast but you have nothing but evergreen stories and wire copy to fill it with. However people might have felt about Harold Washington as Chicago's mayor, his death was a blessing for every reporter and anchor in town who had to work that weekend.

Now, 1987 was toward the beginning of the phenomenon known as the 24-hour news cycle. If we had trouble filling a five-minute radio newscast on a holiday in those days, imagine what it's like for a producer at a cable news network today, looking down the gaping maw of a news-free holiday weekend. What do you do? Well, you have your reporters record a bunch of evergreen stories ahead of time and parcel them out over the next several days. You also have your reporters do what are called pre-writes, or the "this is what's coming up next week, once everybody gets back to work" stories.

Right now today, we are at the tail end of the holidays, the grimmest two-week period for anybody in news anywhere. So many people with regular jobs are on vacation that even when it's not Christmas Day or New Year's Day, reporters have trouble getting hold of sources. So especially now, right after New Year's Day, news organizations run a lot of pre-writes. 

And what's coming up? Big political stuff! Two Georgia Senate elections on Tuesday! Congress meeting to certify the presidential election results on Wednesday! So we're getting a lot of "news" stories about these two events. I've put "news" in quotes because a lot of what we're getting is actually speculation -- and a lot of the speculation sounds scary. 

Here's an example: The Proud Boys are coming to DC on Wednesday, but they're going to wear black so no one can tell them from Antifa! We don't know how many will come, but still! Scary!!!

And then there's all the political theater surrounding the joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Do the Republicans challenging the results have enough votes to keep Joe Biden from winning? (Nope.) Can Vice President Pence refuse to certify the Electoral College results because other electors in certain states want their votes counted instead? (Again, nope.) But what about that lawyer in Georgia who tweeted that Pence should be executed by firing squad if he doesn't declare Trump the winner? It's all so scary!!!

Yes, it is. It's meant to be. That's how 24-hour news operations keep hold of your eyeballs so their advertisers can sell you stuff. 

***

I was going to end this post by advising us all to use our heads over the next few days -- to carefully consider the likelihood of certain things happening, and to spend time, if at all possible, looking for a news story with a calmer point of view. I was going to close by saying we'd all know a real bombshell when we saw it.

And then WaPo went and proved my point. They got hold of tape of a phone call President Trump made yesterday to Georgia's secretary of state, pleading with and badgering the guy into "finding" enough ballots to overturn the state's election results and give the win to Trump. I listened to excerpts this afternoon. I'm no lawyer, but it sure sounded to me like Trump is trying to get Brad Raffensparger to throw the election. 

That's illegal. Someone found guilty of that crime could face a sentence of up to five years in federal prison.

So my original advice still stands: Don't let the scaremongering distract you from real news.

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These moments of calming blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and keep social distancing!