SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2021
Taylor Greene speaks to the House: How do we the people come to believe crazy things?
On a somewhat simpler level, how do we humans come to believe things which are bogus, false, wrong?
Regarding belief in things which are basically crazy, we've seen several attempts, this past week, to interview people who once believed in QAnon.
On Monday night, Don Lemon interviewed a disillusioned former Sanders supporter who came to believe in QAnon. Two days earlier, the New York Times had reported an interview with this same person, exploring how she came to believe in QAnon's crazy claims.
To our ear, this person sounded much better in print. Seeing her on CNN, it seemed to us that her overall mental processes were perhaps a bit fuzzy, even now, after she has renounced her prior crazy beliefs.
On Wednesday night, Chris Cuomo broadcast an interview with a second former QAnon believer. To our ear, this second former believer seemed alert and articulate. She described a very unsophisticated intellectual background, out of which she was able to form belief in claims which might strike others as crazy.
We've now read a third account of how a person came to believe QAnon's crazy claims. That account was offered by Marjorie Taylor Greene, speaking on the floor of the House on Thursday.
For the record, Greene has said, or has seemed to say, a lot of crazy things. She has also done some inexcusable things, seeming to encourage violence against pols with whom she disagrees.
In her occasional tendency to revel in violence, Greene makes it seem that she might fit in better in Hollywood than in the halls of Congress. Or she might fit in at the New York Times, authoring weird endorsements of paeans to slaughter like the trio of John Wick films, the sleazy Keanu Reeve vehicles.
Why are actors willing to star in such films? We have no idea. Nor do we know why upper-end film critics are willing to shower Reeves with praise for having chosen to do so.
At any rate, we thought Greene's speech to the House was well worth reviewing. First, though, let's get clear on one point:
We the people often believe things which aren't true, even here in the streets of Our Town!
Here in Our Town, to cite one example, we all believe that women are paid 78 cents on the dollar as compared to men for doing "the exact same work." We believe this because various people we've come to trust keep repeating the claim to us, even though they almost surely know that the claim is flatly false or is, at best, grossly misleading.
People we trust tell us these things. When they do, we don't know that we're being misled. Along the way, we may thrill to presentations like this, without being struck by the way the journalist, a person we trust, has perhaps behaved in the past:
MAJOR COLUMNIST (2/6/21): A clear indication that Marjorie Taylor Greene was more than a dabbler in QAnon was her 2018 endorsement of “Frazzledrip,” one of the most grotesque tendrils of the movement’s mythology. You “have to go down a number of rabbit holes to get that far,” said Mike Rothschild, whose book about QAnon, “The Storm Is Upon Us,” comes out later this year.
The lurid fantasy of Frazzledrip refers to an imaginary video said to show Hillary Clinton and her former aide, Huma Abedin, assaulting and disfiguring a young girl, and drinking her blood. It holds that several cops saw the video, and Clinton had them killed.
We'd never heard of Frazzledrip until this very morning. The journalist who describes it today goes on to offer this assessment:
"Contemplating Frazzledrip, it occurred to me that QAnon is the obscene apotheosis of three decades of Clinton demonization."
QAnon isn't restricted to "Clinton demonization," but that statement by that journalist is basically accurate. That said, we couldn't help thinking of the way that journalist rolled over and died during the years of Clinton demonization—specifically, when the journalist failed to blow the whistle on the lunatic report about Uranium One in the New York Times.
That stupid, amazingly lengthy report appeared on the Times' front page on April 24, 2015. That evening, the journalist of whom we speak joined Chris Hayes in failing to say how crazy/stupid it was—in failing to stand up to this example of the rolling demonization which had been underway for several decades at that point.
They even called it a "bombshell report." Truly, that's what happened.
In fairness, there's a happy ending to the story—the journalist ended up with a job as a columnist at the New York Times! She ended up with one of the most coveted jobs in all of upper-end journalism.
Also, Donald J. Trump ended up in the White House. But when spectacular jobs at good pay hanf in the balance, we may have to take the disastrous along with the good.
We in Our Town have been treated this way by our "thought leaders" for decades. At various times, we may come to believe things which are false. We may trust the wrong people.
The two people interviewed for CNN described the process by which they came to believe in the general QAnon tale. On Thursday, Rep. Greene told a third version of that story.
We thought her account was quite instructive. Eventually, we'll call your attention to something she told the House which was plainly wrong.
First, though, a small confession:
We'll admit it! This morning, we read the full text of Greene's remarks, thanks to the people at Rev. In the earlier parts of Greene's remarks, we found ourselves thinking of Plato's Seventh Letter.
In that document, Plato described the process by which, as a young man first encountering the workings of politics in Athens, he "was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times."
We'll admit it! We thought of the narrative arc of that famous document as Greene's remarks began:
GREENE (2/4/21): What you need to know about me is I’m a very regular American, just like the people I represent in my district. And most people across the country, I never, ever considered to run for Congress or even get involved in politics.
As a matter of fact, I wasn’t a political person until I found a candidate that I really liked, and his name is Donald J. Trump when he ran for president. To me, he was someone I could relate to, someone that I enjoyed his plain talk, not the offensive things, but just the way he talked normally. And I thought, “Finally, maybe this is someone that will do something about the things that deeply bother me.”
So when we elected President Trump, and then I started seeing things in the news that didn’t make sense to me, like Russian collusion, which are conspiracy theories also, and have been proven so, these things bothered me deeply, and I realized just watching CNN or Fox News, I may not find the truth.
Frankly, we confess. To our ear, the way that passage tracks basic aspects of Plato's text is almost uncanny. For what it'd worth, we agree with that statement about CNN and Fox.
Along the way, Greene listed the basic concerns which lie at the heart of her politics. We were struck by how much of her statement involved religious belief, and especially opposition to abortion:
GREENE: Here’s what I can tell you. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and I’ll tell you why. I believe in God with all my heart and I’m so grateful to be humbled, to be reminded that I’m a sinner and that Jesus died on the cross to forgive me for my sins. And this is something that I absolutely rejoice in today to tell you all, and I think it’s important for all of us to remember none of us are perfect, none of us are. And none of us can even come close to earning our way into heaven just by our acts and our works, but it’s only through the grace of God.
And this is why I will tell you as a member of this Congress, the 117th Congress, I am a passionate, I’m a competitor, I’m a fighter. I will work with you for good things for the people of this country but the things I will not stand for is abortion. I think it’s the worst thing this country has ever committed. And if we’re to say in God we trust, how do we murder God’s creation in the womb?
For ourselves, we don't share Greene's religious views. In the policy sphere, we don't share her views on abortion. (We also aren't offended by the fact that she, along with many other people, holds these basic views.)
For the most part, we don't share other of Greene's political views. That said, here's an early part of her speech, the part we edited out above. We agree with several of her statements here:
GREENE: ...And I thought, “Finally, maybe this is someone that will do something about the things that deeply bother me.”
Like the fact that we’re so deeply in debt, that our country has murdered over 62 million people in the womb. The fact that our borders are open and some of my friends have had their children murdered by illegal aliens, or perhaps that maybe we can stop sending our sons and daughters to fight in foreign wars and be used as the world’s police, basically. Or maybe that our government would stand up for our American businesses and our American jobs and make the American people and the American taxpayers their focus. These are the things that I care about deeply.
At one time, not long ago, it was us liberals, right here in Our Town, who were railing, rightly or wrongly, against the decision to keep "sending our sons and daughters to fight in foreign wars."
We'd also like to see the government "make the American people and the American taxpayers their focus" as opposed, let's say, to American high-end earners and American corporate interests. Mainly, though, we'd agree with this assessment:
"I realized just watching CNN or Fox News, I may not find the truth."
Here in Our Town, we already know that about Fox News. Concerning CNN and MSNBC (and the New York Times), quite possibly not so much.
Like the two people interviewed on CNN, Greene described the process by which she came to believe in QAnon. All three of these people described the same new, paradigm-shattering process. Once again, here's the way Greene described it:
"And so, what I did is I started looking up things on the Internet, asking questions, like most people do every day, use Google. And I stumbled across something and this was at the end of 2017 called QAnon."
Like the two people interviewed on CNN, Greene began looking things up for herself! Before long, all three of these people were believing the craziest things in the world, in much the way we in Our Town believe the things Rachel tells us.
How do people come to believe the craziest things in the world? The three people we're discussing here present quite different profiles:
Greene could probably be classified as a highly religious Christian conservative. One of the CNN subjects was a former Sanders supporter. The other had been raised as a Republican, but at the age of 27, had apparently never been involved in politics at all.
All three began to look things up for themselves, on the Internet and through social media. That's where the trouble began.
Not all that long ago, the Internet didn't exist. There was no social media. It was hard to encounter crazy ideas—and if you never encounter crazy ideas, your human discernment won't be tested by any such crazy ideas.
It's all different today. In the basic realm of human discernment, we're facing a brand new, daunting challenge—a challenge driven by the Internet, by social media, by talk radio and by "cable news."
We think Greene's speech is worth reading. It may differ in some ways from the excerpts to which you're being exposed. Quoting Greene again, "big media companies can take teeny tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us and to someone that we’re not, and that is wrong."
Of course, we humans can also portray ourselves in ways which may not be accurate. Here's the largest misstatement in what Greene said to the House:
GREENE: The problem with that is though, is I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them. And that is absolutely what I regret, because if it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong.
I decided to run for Congress because I wanted to help our country, I want Americans to have our American dream. I want to protect our freedoms. This is what I ran for Congress on. I never once said during my entire campaign, QAnon. I never once said any of the things that I am being accused of today during my campaign. I never said any of these things since I have been elected for Congress. These were words of the past and these things do not represent me. They do not represent my district and they do not represent my values.
Congressional representative, please! Actually, it was while Greene was running for Congress last fall that she posted the photo of herself with the AR-15—the photo in which she seemed perhaps to be threatening three sitting members of Congress.
In running that ad, and on other occasions, Greene betrayed a tendency to mix her belief in crazy things with some very poor judgment about intimations of violence.
Such intimations are fine in Hollywood, where they help boost profits, or at the New York Times, where heralded critics cheer such intimations on.
The posting of that Facebook photo represented very poor judgment in the realm of politics. Given the scattershot criticisms directed at Greene for her many ridiculous statements, there's no way to assess her possible thoughts on that particular matter.
We humans believe the darnedest things, now more than so than ever. Crazy belief is everywhere now. Sometimes, crazy belief links up with violence, and very bad conduct may follow.
Given our species-wide lack of perfect discernment, we humans often believe things which are crazy or false.
Greene has asserted a boatload of crazy beliefs. Does she also have a violent streak floating around in her noggin?