What do we do now? I wish I had some answers to that question. I don’t. I’m not talking about the question as I used to ask it of my childhood friend, Bob, after he had spray painted the body of his model car for the fourth time to achieve just the right, perfectly-even coat of paint. I’m talking about the collective “we,” that includes all people who are concerned about the dangerous direction that we have taken as a larger society.
Now that truth is an abstraction that can be easily manipulated to prove anything at all, now that we can no longer tell fact from fiction, any cockamamie idea might be put forth. Photo-shopped evidence can be supplied and suddenly we have “proof” of all sorts of things. We also have a large, eager audience ready to swallow it whole, like the giant shark leaping out of the water to swallow the soldier dangling from a helicopter tether. That would be okay if we had just suspended our disbelief in order to go on a make-believe, adventurous, cinematic journey. At the movies, I’ve been along for the ride to fantastic places where no man has gone before and enjoyed it. But then I walked out of the theatre and resumed a normal, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, walking along the concrete sidewalk, starting to think about some mundane reality.
But now, in a time when everyone’s lives have become totally open books to government and various spy agencies, evidence of serious wrong-doing can be cooked up, enhanced, and photo-shopped. The evidence of this capacity is all around us and if we don’t check in with ourselves from time-to-time about true believability, we will be caught up in the highly entertaining but essentially socially destroying, world of awesome make-believe, not as isolated entertainment, but as an accepted part of our lives. The U.S., with a little help from the KGB, probably elected a president based on such fear and fantasy.
Now that the fantasy has been given license to continue, I gaze not into my crystal ball, but into my mind. I search for meaning, and I search for logical outcomes. I confess that my view is less than rosy.
With the rise of infotainment as “news,” comes the opportunity to selectively prosecute anyone whose political views and whose voice is deemed by certain powers to need silencing. A voice that presents challenging views to those in power can be discredited with manufactured evidence that the person is seriously deviant, subversive, acting in league with enemies, you name it. Loss of credibility equals loss of influence. It is galling therefore that the man who has proven himself, many times, to be a liar, cheater, nefarious, ugly xenophobe (who claims not to be any of those things) has used his ability to manipulate truth to entertain so many people into cheering him on in the WWE arena of American politics. What’s next? I’m imagining tabloid pictures with black bars across critical areas showing the Pope and the Queen sexually engaged along with the www address where you can see the uncensored version on-line. Truth.
A seemingly disconnected set of computer algorithms constantly tracks your searches and all your clicks, feeds it to a data base and gives you more of what seems to interest you. Good idea? To an extent, yes. But the dark side is that in giving you more of what you already want and what you already believe, it is not giving you the other side of things. It is simply offering confirmation of your expressed beliefs and interests. In the words of a brilliant, local columnist, Eric Shepperd, this situation means that, “Without challenging influences, truth stops mattering.” Challenging influences and fact-based debate are critical to our ability to navigate our way toward reason and compassion in this rapidly changing world. One must seek them out because your computer and your Twitter feed will not offer much that’s substantive, those sources will only confirm that which you already believe. But giving thoughtful consideration to what you don’t believe is critical to understanding the whole. You might prefer the image on one side of the Loonie (coin) but the coin has two sides, and they are inseparable.
The reason why the far-right holds sway with the poor and the uneducated is that they do not challenge those folks to seek out truth nor even to think at all. The far-right picked up on the far-reaching power of trash-talk long ago and has been using it to defeat more thoughtful approaches to problem solving for decades. Kerry was a “flip-flop,” for example. Once that supposedly derogatory term was applied to him and repeated widely among people who really didn’t want to engage in the trouble of sorting through information and thinking, they could feel that they were seen as being thoughtful by simply repeating the phrase. “Oh, Kerry? He’s a ‘flip-flop’.” Case closed.
Trump labelled her “Crooked Hillary.” The name stuck and did its damage. “Crooked Hillary,” was easy to repeat and better still, one didn’t have to think about it at all. Turn our backs on promise of real democratic process, embrace the figure-head who instead regularly turns truth on its head, and offers only humiliating commentary so that the non-thinkers can all laugh along with him and follow him like many Germans followed the Fürer, unquestioningly. He had the answers, so we don’t have to think. He’s the hero. We simply follow him. We think as he thinks.
Voices of opposition must not be silenced! When bright, honest journalists are singled out and prosecuted for “crimes” supported by fake evidence, the purge will be underway. Then, more voices must rise in opposition. Fascism showed us the need to differentiate between good Germans who were silenced and fanatics who went on an inhumane slaughter of innocents. I only hope that those who supported Trump will somehow sense the limits to which such power might be applied and join the doubters when he advocates eliminating those who are in one way or another “proven” to be unworthy.