Recently I’ve been included in an email chain that sometimes forwards political viewpoints far distant from my own. The emails contain code words, in-jokes, and propaganda, in snidely performed videos, images, and lists. They assert “facts” somewhat removed from current understanding. Often they purport to tell what’s wrong with people who are expressing discontent.
Sometimes I respond to these emails. I allow myself to think I might correct the falsehoods and repel the nastiness. I “reply all” and try to be polite in rebuttal. I have no way to measure the effect I have, except by the fire drawn from the more avid believers in those viral communications. That’s when they use odd nouns to describe me (“pretzel,” “feather,” “walnut”) and reiterate the original erroneous information and twisted opinions as if I’d missed the point.
What an education! It was General Sun Tzu in China (just before 500 BCE, around the time of building the Second Temple) who taught “Know your enemy.” So I try to understand where folks are coming from when they call me names for what I believe. As a Jew, I’ve been taught by rabbis to look at all sides of any matter, and to reassess what I believe every minute of every day. There should always be a middle ground, I think. So I listen. But I hear only negatives, with no substantiation.
Obviously the propaganda does its intended job: it’s designed to keep supporters marching in lockstep, continually repeating words to one another, until all around them begin mindlessly to join in. (“Birds don’t fly! It’s Fake Science,” they might say, over and over, until they all believe it. Then when someone would say “Birds do fly!” they are conditioned to respond, often with bad grammar, “You’re a twig, a spatula, a pickle!”) Sometimes even elected officials will repeat the tropes, usually so the campaign contributions keep flowing.
Here’s where we should pay attention. I am fairly certain that the ultimate goal of these forwarded packets of disinformation is to benefit those who don’t deserve or need anything extra – criminals, turncoats, wealthy or powerful persons, shady corporations, oligarchs, White Supremacists, other not-nice persons. The slogans these ne’er-do-wells are pushing do the job simply by keeping us at each others’ throats with disagreement, while the beneficiaries rob us blind or do us in – all of us, including those who have bought into and are propagating their lies.
How does it work? (You may fill in your own real instances for my examples.) One of their tactics is declaring that some non-political matter is a life-or-death consideration in the vetting of politicians. (For example, a man with a gravelly voice will fairly spit at the video camera, “Does your candidate eat his hummus with chips or pita? Find out before you vote! Good candidates don’t eat hummus with pita. If they’re really good candidates, they don’t eat hummus at all!”)
Sometimes they ask us to question how our religion is reflected in our politics. (“Every modern religion has ceremonies with palm leaves. Yet Those Protestors want us to stop removing fronds from the very best trees! Your religion is at stake! Vote against Those Protestors!”) At times they encourage us to feel threatened by our neighbors, friends, doctors, government, and others whom we trust. (“Does your dentist use laughing gas? He’s laughing his way to the bank! The Real Candidate For Us will illegalize laughing gas!”)
They often attack sentiments we hold dear, trying to convince us that we’re doomed if we don’t change our minds. (“If you elect your candidate to the Presidency, your local Mayor will be forced to change dog walking policies in your township!” “If you elect your candidate to the Senate, you’ll no longer be able to use seltzer water in your matzo balls!”) Sometimes they even find a way to threaten the past. (“Your candidate will never allow us to go back to glass milk bottles delivered directly to our front porches!”)
Now that we have a pandemic going on — something we all should agree is a common enemy — these uncaring self-righteous individuals have even found ways to divide us about COVID-19. (“Everyone knows a virus can’t make your eyes cross! It’s a hoax!”) They actually have us arguing about whether to protect each other.
I firmly believe that most of us are very, very tired of being divided. We’re naturally social creatures, and generally hold similar morals and ethics – a drive toward life, love, and liberty. The initiative to help each other do better. A need for food and shelter and health. It’s only a small number of individuals, those we somehow have given power and influence, who want us to remain divided.
It isn’t normal, this always being at each others’ throats. We’re being brainwashed by hate and fear, and encouraged to attack. And while our backs are turned those with vested interests are hard at work, doing things that enrich them, empower them further, destroy the earth, or allow people to damage the rest of us or take away rights from fellow citizens.
I don’t want a civil war, do you? While we would fight the war, they would win.
Of course, we all know the solution. We need to come together (virtually for now), have a laugh (or a cry), and get past our divisions. We have to stop sniping at each other and figure out what we need to live our lives. We must stop conferring power and influence on those who misuse it, and stop condoning the abuse of power, regardless the perceived good derived.
Most of all, we need to recognize and embrace the humanity of those around us, and start working toward the common good. Before we forget how.