Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dies Irae

"I'd hate to think there's a national discussion going on that I'm not part of" 

says the man in pajamas with a laptop, in bed next to his sleepy wife. It's a cartoon in the New Yorker but it could be you, it could be me, obsessively Facebooking and thinking that it really was a place of  national discussion and we really were part of it.  But it isn't. It's a place designed to seem like the real thing: perhaps like Westworld where the people around you are not what they seem.  Indeed, some are just software. Some are paid to influence you. Some just want an audience they couldn't otherwise have or the feeling of having one as they shout into the void or shoot at people who don't actually die. 

In any event, the people who will read the comments you make, see the pictures and political messages you share and post are mostly selected for the purpose and so are your contributions that appear to a selected audience.  We preach mostly to the converted and they to us and so the challenges and questions and contrary observations rarely force us to explain or question ourselves. If such things do appear the various "safe spaces" often erupt into a stacatto of bump stock accusations, poorly aimed but deadly.

It's not a national discussion but a vast group of warring states, whose internal stability (if not quite the peace) is regulated by witch hunts, ritual condemnations, excoriations and maledictions --  and the phatic bleating of  self-congratulatory sheep. "We alone know the truth, for are we not men?" (or Women or gun lovers or gun haters or black or white or gender fluid Druids.)

Woe betide he who wanders in from the outside, for should he perhaps share the passion for the group's position, yet not bleat with the same accent, yet make an observation that is not congruent with the call and response ritual of the group, and he becomes the scapegoat, the enemy, the witch. It's necessary to use the scripted arguments, no matter how inaccurate. It's necessary to stick to the generalizations and to avoid specifics. It's necessary not to amend, update, clarify or question doctrine. It's necessary to run the gantlet, giving the right responses to the right gods lest your soul be cast down. If the goal is "sensible" don't ever say the word effective or you're the beast.  Entropy increases and inevitably, the problem is to keep the group together and anonymous rather than to achieve any goal and have the group disperse.

Deliberately or inadvertently, that becomes more and more likely as the hermetic groups drift inwardly and inevitably toward zealotry or anger mongering, with all the sophistry, misrepresentation and passionate oversimplification attendant thereto. 

One may not offer any new proposal or question any old statistics, offer new data or seek old data. If you suggest, for instance, banning some device, you're a "gun grabber" and expect to be slandered. if you spell guns correctly you're suspect in another group and God help you if you suggest that the numbers are wrong by a factor of two, even if they are. It doesn't matter how much you hate racism, despise wanton violence, plutocracy or unregulated capitalism.   One is not saved by good works or deeds. Salvation comes only from the grace of the group. Believe in the sanctity and brotherhood of all life and you're not only racist, but approve of police brutality.

Hyperbole, like entropy, increases. A statistically supported observation soon spreads out like ripples in a pond or radiation in space, but no faster or more slowly than a bogus one. If  white southern males over 70 have a higher proportion of  some property, it's inevitable that the problem is caused by and exclusively by all white males, be they 17 and living in Lapland or an American Attorney General and god help you if you disagree even though the property in question is disliked by all present. You may hate racism with all your heart and soul and all your might, but just as Lon Chany Jr could become a wolf under the full moon, in a Facebook group one becomes what the group hates. It's dog eat dog while the bowl of Alpo goes untouched.

The speed with which  Harvey Weinstein became the straw everyman would puzzle Einstein. You may agree about his villainy, but disagree that all men share it and you're suddenly part of the problem and a misogynist. Say he's that way because he's a Jew and many will applaud and few will defend.  You click "like" on a cartoon of Kim Jun Un and you're a racist, not an enemy of Kim or tyranny.

Facebook seems often to have become the problem itself: a petri dish for every pathogen, a pyre for every perceived witch and a battleground for the universal war with no end: every element within evolving toward greater isolation and animosity and where the most narrow-minded and furious predominate, where all the days are days of rage, where friends become enemies, where debate dies and  nothing is ever achieved. 

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