Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Imminent Dire Calamity

There's running and shuffling and shambling and flying and so much more than mere walking . . .

This blog is for sharing whatever is on my mind, often in the form of things I have recently consumed.  Two topics that show up frequently are stories and politics.  Often there is an implied connection, but usually the two are not combined.  Not so today.

I have seen many news stories recently about how our politics are more divided and bipartisan than ever, with less and less middle ground.  One of the things I've seen in all of this is that not only has the vehemence grown, so has the urgency.  There is a very explicit sense, particularly on the right (from my biased perspective), that if things don't go their way politically then it will spell doom.  The end times will be nigh--well, they are nigh, and the wrong political result will herald them in.

This, it seems, is not an accident, but a very deliberate political strategy intended to garner votes.  As I've said so many times before, stories are powerful.  Stories have power.  And many influential voices have been telling the story that voting against them will be apocalyptic.

Consider this Salon article about Donald Trump's current presidential stumping:
How did this monster get created? The decades of GOP lies that brought us Donald Trump, Republican front-runner

 . . . Nixon’s handlers used new media to play to Schlafly’s script. They ignored people’s brains and went for their guts.

“Voters are basically lazy,” one Nixon media adviser wrote. “Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we… seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable….” Nixon’s people hired advertising executive Harry Treleaven, who believed the new medium of television had changed the nature of politics. For him, politicians were no longer policy wonks; they were actors with a narrative.

Under Treleaven, Nixon’s people ignored policy positions and instead used television to create a candidate with a simple message: America was on the brink of disaster, and only Nixon could save it. They hired a brilliant young photographer to put together a series of television ads from stock photographs strung together to create a sense of doom; at the end a voice intoned “Nixon” over an iconic image of the nation. At the end of every ad ran the words: “Vote like your whole world depended on it.” . . .

And so, after 1968, Republicans increasingly relied on their apocalyptic redemption story. America was in terrible trouble, because grasping minorities, women and workers wanted government policies that would suck tax dollars from hardworking white people. Democrats backed those policies because they would do anything to buy votes. It was up to Republicans to restore America to its former glory. In a time of dramatic economic and social upheaval, this story reassured voters left behind in the new conditions that the answers to their problems were simple, and that coming up with those answers required no great education or thought. It simply required the right principles. . . .

By the time of the George W. Bush administration, the Movement Conservatives had erased the line between image and reality. In 2004, a senior adviser to Bush famously dismissed “the reality-based community” to journalist Ron Suskind. Gone were the days when politicians could find solutions based on their observations of the careful study of discernible reality. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore…. When we act, we create our own reality…. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do,” he said.

This disregard for fact in favor of narrative appears to have become so accepted in the Republican Party that it is now openly driving Republican presidential candidates. Trump’s celebrity candidacy follows the formula. According to him, America is in free fall, with GDP below zero, unemployment at 18-20 percent, and the country overrun by minorities—his venom reserved primarily for Mexicans who, he says, are drug dealers, criminals and rapists. . . . 
Stories have power.

Irrationality and the squishiness of facts is another area of consideration that has shown up on this blog with some frequency, by the way.

Consider also this BloombergView article about the narrative that has permeated our gun culture:
NRA Promises Apocalypse Now

National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre . . . "Do you trust this government really to protect you and your family?" he asked in a 2014 speech at the NRA's annual convention. "We're on our own," LaPierre told his pack. "That's a certainty." 

LaPierre's gunslinger, abandoned by government, fighting off the apocalypse, is under attack from every conceivable side. No place is safe from "terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, car jackers, 'knock-out' gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse a society that sustains us all," LaPierre said in that same 2014 speech. . . .

Yet despite all its success, the NRA cannot keep the monsters away.

For nearly seven years now, the president has forced his transformation down America's throat, and our nation is choking on it. As he prepares to leave office, and leave his final legacy, there's no telling how far President Obama will go to dismantle our freedoms and reshape America into an America that you and I will not even recognize.

Paranoia and rage must be nurtured and stoked, and ex-presidents make poor bogeymen. Which is why LaPierre has gotten a jump on his presidential transition. "Hillary Rodham Clinton will bring a permanent darkness of deceit," LaPierre warned at this year's NRA convention.

For Houser, darkness had already descended. "They are now in control of spending and the printing of money," he is reported to have written online, in a paragraph citing welfare benefits and affirmative action. America had become a "filth farm," he declared. When a man has his finger on the trigger of an apocalypse, somebody's bound to get shot.
With those kinds of stories informing the Republican presidential candidates--with their desire to embody that message--it's no wonder that Ted Cruz sees Rorschach from Alan Moore's book Watchmen as one of his favorite superheroes.  My introduction for sharing this article about it on Facebook:
Yes, Rorschach is highly entertaining and fun to admire for his extreme pursuit of his convictions, but it's an extremeness that can only exist as a good thing in a fictional world. In reality, his uncompromising adherence to his absolute, black-and-white moral code has driven him insane. No one can or will ever measure up as righteous according to his code, so all of existence is evil and deserving of his (generally violent) condemnation. He can only live in the fringes of society, never a part of it (he's homeless and jobless, remember). His position as arbiter of justice allows him to break his own rules, though, so a society of Rorschachs would never work since they would in the end all kill each other and all that would remain would be a few hostile individuals living in isolation.

(Of course, he was never intended to be admired, as the article states.)
If we are going to escape the power of this end times narrative, we are going to have to start telling some equally powerful stories of our own.

Links to a few previous posts on related topics:

  • I Am My Stories: Or, If You Want to Change Your Perspective, Mood, Habits, and Outcomes, Figure Out What Stories You Are Telling Yourself and Create New Ones to Replace Them
  • Spin and Empathy: Know Your Story, Dwell in Others' Stories
  • Connections: Or, Synthesizing Some Thoughts Related to Vulnerability, Empathy, Story, and Finitude
  • Evolution or Revolution? - The world was supposed to end a few days ago, on May 21. I know this mainly because I was invited to numerous post-Rapture events through Facebook, but it was a big deal because someone spent easily $100 million on an ad campaign, including more than 5000 billboards, telling everyone so. It's possible, even with all the ads, the message could have gotten lost in the noise, except this seems a topic Americans find interesting and timely. According to a Pew Research poll last year, 41% of Americans think it will happen in their lifetimes, within the next 40 years.
  • Only Refractions - Presented without much comment except the reference to the metaphorical name of this blog as explained above, a recent article describing the malleable nature of memory, two previous posts covering related territory, and a recent article describing the malleable nature of perspective.
  • So Tired of Being Called "Negative" - For the past few years I've had a fascinating and fun journey working my way through a good collection of titles about how thinking works; more specifically, about how thinking doesn't work the way we think it works. That we are constantly lying to, misleading, and deluding ourselves. That our knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, memories, and actions aren't nearly as rational and reasonable as we like to think. That many of our decisions, both the little, daily ones and the big, life-changing ones aren't as sound and carefully reasoned as we believe.
  • It's Only Water in a Stranger's Tears: Or, We Do Not Take Care of One Another
  • Love, not Shame; Compassion, not Fear
  • Why I Vote


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