MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021
We live in extremely strange times: As you've probably noticed by now, we live in extremely strange times.
If our only goals are anthropological, we live in interesting times. A Chinese proverb is said to have warned us against that.
We live in a time when people seem to be crazier—perhaps more deluded—than people have ever been in the past. Or it may just be that the widespread rewards are too darn high, and that people are hugely dishonest.
It's hard to say just how it works, but we'll offer two current examples:
Donald J. Trump's lunatic comments at yesterday's CPAC session. For a summary of those remarks, just click here.
Also, Rep. Madison Cawthorn's ongoing gruesome behavior, as described in a front-page report in today's Washington Post. The gentleman is "a new pro-Trump star of the far right," the Post headline points out.
Due to new technologies, there has never been a time when it was so easy to spread so many bogus claims on such a mass scale. As an example of what we mean, consider the start of this morning's front-page report in the New York Times :
GRYNBAUM ET AL (3/1/21): At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol—and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”
Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”
What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.
It entered the head of a right-wing host that the invaders were Antifa. Or maybe BLM!
In the words of Grynbaum et al., "What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of" the ability to spread bogus ideas and ridiculous claims, given the power of certain modern technologies and media.
It increasingly seems that our human discernment is extremely poor. This surprising fact is being put on display in a remarkable way, due to the ease with which we the humans can now be confronted with ridiculous claims straight outta La-La Land.
Does Trump believe the various claims he bruited at CPAC? We don't have the slightest idea. But ten minutes after he made the claims, millions of others did!
Lack of discernment and sociopathy seem to make excellent partners. For what it's worth, Donald J. Trump is 74, Cawthorn just 25.
In many locales, their bogus claims are accepted on face. As a basic matter of basic persuasion, how do we undermine this process?
Inquiring minds need to figure that out. Also, whose possibly imperfect claims do we possibly buy Over Here? According to major credentialed experts, the lack of discernment isn't restricted to one set of human towns.
They have at heart our not getting lost! They come to us in the dead of night and dance their disconsolate waltz.