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.


How Trump Trumps

Lots of news lately about "The Donald" as he runs for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.  He has a different style than traditional candidates.  He is particularly aggressive and combative, quick to attack both his political opponents and, in policy terms, groups and ideas he opposes.  He uses blunt, brutish language without nuance or complexity, admits he's not yet knowledgeable in areas that haven't been relevant to his work so far, and seems as far from "intelligent" in traditional political conceptualizations as possible.

Yet one of his favorite insults is to call his opponents stupid.  To say he is far smarter than they are.  And in some ways, he's right.  A few thoughts to synthesize--scary ones, since it's Halloween after all:

"Sticks and stones may break my bones," as they say in the Middle Worlds, but with the right words you can build a world and make yourself the king of it.  King, or even god. . . .

That's how religions and histories make their way into the world, not through battles and conquests, but through poems and kennings and songs, passed through the generations and written down by scholars and scribes.  And that's how, five hundred years later or so, a new religion with its new god came to supplant us--not through war, but through books and stories and words.

After all, words are what remain when all the deeds have been done.  Words can shatter faith, start a war, change the course of history.  A story can make your heart beat faster, topple walls, scale mountains--Hey, a story can even raise the dead.  And that's why the King of Stories ended up being King of the gods, because writing history and making history are only the breadth of a page apart.

― Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki

Emotional Intelligence for Sharks: The Manual. Or, How to Create Friends and Influence Everyone to Your Greatest Personal Advantage. Or, Social Skills for Social Climbers. Or, "How to Make Trouble without Getting in Trouble, Rule the School, and Be the Man."

That last is the title of the first chapter of "The Book." It teaches readers that social status is all a matter of perception and how they can manipulate perceptions among their classmates so that they are top dog. Key to being on top is creating and defining a bottom. It means turning some unlucky classmate into "The Grunt" and making that person the butt of everyone's negative attention. With everyone unified about whom to mock, they'll be equally unified about whom to admire.

That's what Eric has to deal with--only he doesn't know it; because "The Book" is a secret, known only to a select few, passed down each year from one set of ruling sixth graders to the hand-chosen next. All Eric knows is that suddenly everything has changed with the start of sixth grade. Without reason or explanation, the class bully has suddenly singled him out as his prime victim, his (former) best friend has turned on him, and all of his classmates seem to be joining in. He has become the target of a coordinated campaign of terror, undermined constantly in ways that turn even the adults against him. Without violence or physical threat, simply using social tactics.

It nearly destroys Eric, as he lives in constant fear and begins to believe what everyone is saying about him. Luckily, a few hints are dropped and he begins to see there is more to this than random chance. He doesn't know what it is, but he learns there exists a "Book" directing everything and that he is not the first "Grunt." Unfortunately, as he investigates he stumbles upon previous Grunts and learns they have never recovered, that they are haunted, isolated social misfits, and he can't find a way to throw off the label. He is determined not to become like them, but he has no idea how to stop it from happening.

I think what I appreciated most about this book is what it accomplishes without ever feeling preachy or didactic. First and foremost, it is a gripping story. Second, it is honest about the insidious depth and cruelty of bully realities. The brief pages of "The Book" are interspersed with sections of Eric's journal, alternating the shark wisdom with the perspective of the victim. It was so much more effective and enlightening than I ever thought it could be when I picked it out based on the cover.


"Eric. We were friends. But you're the Grunt now. I'm cool and you're not. You can't talk to me, and you can't touch me."


"It's not me, Eric," he said. "I swear. It's The Book."

"It is you, Donovan. You're the one doing it."

"It's The Book!" His face reddened. "It's the one that chose you, not me. We've got no choice who's the Grunt!"

"I don't understand what you're saying."

"You're the only one that fit the description. I told them not to choose you, but you're the only one that fits the Grunt. It's in The Book!"


I shouldn't have talked back to Donovan. Mom always said, "Even if you don't agree with the laws, even if you think they're crazy, you follow them or you get into trouble." She was right. I could think The Bully Book was as dumb as I liked, but I'm living in their world now. They make the rules.

Being Myself

I've been telling you to do things differently. It's probably not what you're used to. It's not how people make friends on TV.

Everybody says to find people you can be yourself around. What they don't tell you is who "yourself" is. This never worked for me. Whenever I tried to "be myself," I could never come up with anything to say.

I think I know why this is.

You're told who you are by the people around you. People act the way they're expected to.

Everyone acts different around different friends. With some friends you're goofy, with some friends you're cool. You act different with your mom and dad than you do with your grandma.

Everyone is telling you who to be. This isn't bad if everyone expects you to be the coolest kid in class. Then, being happy and popular is easy.

But some people are expected to be losers, or idiots, or punching bags, and because they don't know any better, that's how they act.

I did.

But not anymore. I realized being yourself isn't something that just happens. You have to create yourself. And to keep yourself safe, you have to create other people too, like the Grunt.

Make them how you want them to be.
My review of Eric Kahn Gale's The Bully Book

And--spoiler alert--not from my review, Eric learns at the end that The Book's instruction for choosing the Grunt is to pick out the classmate with the fewest defining characteristics.  The blandest one, so to speak, because he or she is the one with the most malleable outside perspective.  It's all about whose narrative is easiest to control.  Take over their narrative, show yourself to be the one in charge of the narrative, and suddenly you are able to take over all the narratives, proving yourself to be the one in charge of everything.

PolitiFact quickly rated his claim false, without qualification. But the Republican base doesn’t want to hear about it, and the candidate apparently believes, probably correctly, that he can simply brazen it out. These days, in his party, being an obvious grifter isn’t a liability, and may even be an asset. . . .

You might think that such revelations would be politically devastating. But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted, that when it reports negative stories about conservative heroes it’s just out to suppress people who are telling the real truth. It’s a closed information loop, and can’t be broken.

And a lot of people live inside that closed loop. Current estimates say that Mr. Carson, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz together have the support of around 60 percent of Republican voters.

Furthermore, the success of the grifters has a profound effect on the whole party. As I said, it defines respectability down. . . .

The point is that we shouldn’t ask whether the G.O.P. will eventually nominate someone in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably untrue, and counting on political loyalists not to notice. The only question is what kind of scam it will be.

― Paul Krugman, Springtime for Grifters

If they think it's the truth, then they believe it, and if they believe it long enough, then it becomes the truth.

― Jason Carter Eaton, The Facttracker

(Alternately: using such power for good instead of evil.)


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