08.01.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction


Today's soundtrack is Five Finger Death Punch: And Justice For None, which is as basic as a pumpkin spice latte but so, so delicious (to my ears).

This evening, I'm reading the third chapter of Brooke Gladstone's The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time, "Out There."

Thought Crime

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley both painted grim pictures of a dystopian future: in the former, "we are crushed by a merciless oppression imposed [on us] by others, whereas in [the latter], we are seduced, sedated, and satiated" (p. 19). In Orwell's vision, we are oppressed by others; in Huxley's prophesy, we oppress ourselves as a form of escapism. Orwell predicted a future of pain; Huxley feared a future of mind-numbing pleasure. So who was right? Well, it depends on what part of history we look at. Nazi Germany threatened the kind of world that Orwell warned us of; modern-day entertainment fits the predictions of Huxley.

How have we come to this? Why do we live in a world where truth loses to entertainment? Part of the problem, says Gladstone, is that "[t]he laws of human nature do not provide for the triumph of reason" (p. 23). We've set up a system where we expect the media to provide us honest news, but the media is stuck between a rock and a hard place - if they were government-funded, we would question their impartiality; since they are funded by advertisers and stockholders, they try to sell what sells. And what sells? Entertainment. And what entertains us? The demagogues: those who "pose as a mirror for the masses; ignite waves of intense emotion; use that emotion for political gain; and break the rules that govern us" (p. 27). Enter Donald Trump. Part of the reason for our feeling of disconnect, of disbelief, is that nobody actually believed he would be elected. And part of the problem there is that we "are all primed to find an explanation that preserves our web" (p. 35), whether that be a belief that nobody as stupid as Donald Trump could ever be elected, or a belief that America would be better with a gigantic wall at the border.

So how well did Trump follow the demagogue playbook? Very well. He appealed to the oppressed white people who feared what might happen if they became a minority. He gave people a scapegoat: immigrants. He appealed to something deep and dark and scary that had been hidden deep inside: xenophobia. Trump made xenophobia acceptable again. The scary part is that most people in America aren't xenophoboic; rather, most people in America believe that nobody who incites racial violence would be voted as president of the United States, and most people in America are jaded politically - burnt out from all the political drama that ends up just giving them more of the same for the next for years. What happens when Trump presents a simple reality with a simple scapegoat? Non-political xenophobes become political. What happens when that little group of xenophobes votes in an election held in a country of non-xenophobic non-voters?

Trump wins.

Five Finger Death Punch: And Justice For None

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