NY Times PR piece for Amazon

The New York Times ran a piece yesterday entitled Why Amazon Workers Sided With the Company Over a Union . The article purports to explain why Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama sided with Amazon and did not vote for a union in the recent election.

It may be true that less than half of the high turnover Amazon workforce cast a ballot, and, of course, there was a bit of coercion by Amazon (not described beyond a mention in the article), but in the end, Amazon won. The Times concludes that Amazon workers mostly love their company, which is doing its best to take good care of them. The blurb under the headline lays out the bones of their story: Pay, benefits and an aggressive anti-union campaign by the company helped generate votes at a warehouse in Alabama.

The caption under picture of a philosophical looking Amazon worker at the top of the article reads: “I personally didn’t see the need for a union,” said Graham Brooks, an employee at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. “If I was being treated differently, I may have voted differently.”

I really don’t understand the motives of the New York Times in running this kind of student-edited high school newspaper analysis, outside of their reflex to preserve the status quo. Unless they received a direct payment from the world’s richest anti-union man.

I suppose either one is reason enough to run an article that makes no mention of the inhuman productivity demands of a company with an annual 100% attrition rate, forcing workers to endure very limited bathroom breaks and routinely firing and publicly vilifying “troublemakers”. Reason enough to make no mention of the millions of dollars Amazon spent on a relentless coercive campaign (by this platinum company with a solid history of intimidating workers who make complaints) to defeat unionization among their well-paid, health benefit receiving employees, 25% of whom left their excellent, well-paying jobs with benefits during the three month unionization drive in Bessemer, Alabama.

Why not start the article with the highly representative Mr. Brooks, an Amazon worker who loves his job, which pays him $62 a week more than his last employer, and voted against the union? Check. Then, feature the worker with brain cancer, very grateful for the health care Amazon provides every worker from day one, which literally saved her life.

For balance, give the opinion of another worker who would have voted for the union, in spite of a poor sales pitch by the union rep, but quit her job after a few months, along with 25% of the entire workforce during the preceding three month period, because working conditions (not mentioned in the Times article) were so bad she had to quit, even during these economic hard times for so many. She also gave up her health benefits, during a pandemic. We’ll let the Times take it:

Patricia Rivera, who worked at the Bessemer warehouse from September until January, said many of her co-workers in their 20s or younger had opposed the union because they felt pressured by Amazon’s anti-union campaign and felt that the wages and benefits were solid.

“For a younger person, it’s the most money they ever made,” said Ms. Rivera, 62, who would have voted in favor of the union had she stayed. “I give them credit. They start you out and you get insurance right away.”

Ms. Rivera left Amazon because she felt she wasn’t adequately compensated for time she had to take off while quarantining after exposure to Covid-19 at work, she said.

Amazon, in a statement after the election, said, “We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.”

The reader is left with no information about the inadequate compensation Amazon offered Ms. Rivera for taking health precautions after being exposed to Covid-19 at the Amazon warehouse. Was it possibly zero? Bezos famously called on Amazon workers with remaining sick leave to give those days to fellow-workers who were forced to stay home due to Covid-19 infections contracted at Amazon.

At this point in the article, for the sake of fairness, you can mention that the points raised by several interviewed who voted against the union echoed the points endlessly hammered by Amazon at mandatory anti-union meetings. There was the concern that unionization might lead to the end of health and retirement benefits (which Amazon would be forced to do if the workers were allowed to have a union?). Check. Here you go:

Other workers said in interviews that they or their co-workers did not trust unions or had confidence in Amazon’s anti-union message that the workers could change the company from within. Often, in explaining their position, they echoed the arguments that Amazon had made in mandatory meetings, where it stressed its pay, raised doubts about what a union could guarantee and said benefits could be reduced if workers unionized.

When a union representative called her about the vote, Ms. Johnson said, he couldn’t answer a pointed question about what the union could promise to deliver.

“He hung up on me,” she said. “If you try to sell me something, I need you to be able to sell that product.”

So, you see, Times reader, unions themselves can’t justify the need for a union. See for yourself, from the next paragraph.

Danny Eafford, 59, said he had taken every opportunity to tell co-workers at the warehouse that he strongly opposed the union, arguing that it wouldn’t improve their situation. He said he had told colleagues about how a union let him down when he lost a job years ago at the Postal Service.

No reason to mention the consultants Amazon paid $3,200 a day for their expert work defeating the union drive, or the US postal service mail box for ballots Amazon managed to have installed on-site to monitor who was voting, when you can highlight the pro-union former Amazon worker who was turned off by an union representative’s less than convincing pitch on the phone.

Not a sentence about Amazon’s storied history of spending millions to intimidate and vilify workers who are uncomfortable working during a pandemic at a crowded workplace where a significant proportion of workers contract Covid-19 from unsafe working conditions. No mention of the need of tens of thousands of happy, well-paid Amazon workers to urinate in bottles in order to keep up with their demanding production requirements. Here’s as close as the NY Times gets to describing those conditions, quoting Amazon lover Mr. Brooks:

Many of the workers at the warehouse have complaints about Amazon, wanting shorter hours or less obtrusive monitoring of their production. Mr. Brooks and others said they wished their 10-hour shift had a break period longer than 30 minutes because in the vast warehouse, they can spend almost half their break just walking to and from the lunchroom.

Turnout for the vote was low, at only about half of all eligible workers, suggesting that neither Amazon nor the union had overwhelming support.

The article ends on this upbeat note, from the generous Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon:

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said Thursday in his annual letter to investors that the outcome in Bessemer did not bring him “comfort.”

“It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success,” he wrote.

Since neither Amazon nor the union had overwhelming support, why not call the article Why Amazon Workers Sided With the Company Over a Union, you contemptible corporate shills?

The hidden effects of trauma

My father, a survivor of brutal abuse during his childhood (merciless physical and psychological beatings which started in infancy), was not one to examine his own pain, beyond an occasional reference to the personal demons we all must fight. He took positions I now see were predictable for someone holding in so much pain from the unspeakable trauma he’d endured. People can’t change, shrinks are the craziest people in society, therapy is a waste of time, since people can’t really change, and since we can’t change, talking about it is a big waste of time and energy.

“Look at my brother,” he would say, by way of resting his case about the futility of therapy. His brother, who had been in psychoanalysis for years, was arguably even crazier than he was. My father would never concede that he needed help, because people couldn’t be helped, goddamn it! You take people as you find them, with their faults, warts, tics as well as their good points — we are all in each other’s lives on a take it or leave it basis. I am what I am, I’m not going to change, if you have a problem with that, I’m sorry you have a problem.

It was useless to point out that we make accommodations to people we are care about all the time, important changes if you will. I love my dog and you’re terrified of dogs, I don’t let my dog happily greet you by leaping to lick your face when you come to visit. You find yourself trapped in a situation you don’t want to talk about, no matter what — we don’t need to talk about it. You are offended by coarse language, I don’t need to argue that you are being a needlessly squeamish fuck — “exhibiting a prudish readiness to be nauseated” (in my favorite dictionary phrase of all-time). There are countless examples of things we adjust in ourselves to get along with people.

But that we can all sometimes exert ourselves to get along with others is not really the point. We are traumatized in various ways, and the trauma we’ve experienced colors our world, influences how we see things and how we react. If the trauma is experienced early in life, and repeated consistently, it exerts ongoing influence on our personalities, our choices in life. It is painful to address and difficult to try to resolve.

Trauma is a subtle thing sometimes — it can be something as deniably neutral as remaining stoically silent when someone is pouring their heart out to us. No matter how you try to move me, I will simply not be moved, waiting for you to make the next move, doing nothing you can really blame me for, unless you’re just trying to blame me for your own pathetic problems. The consistent withholding of sympathy is a great way to traumatize a young person and it has the additional advantage of making it seem like the little bastard’s own fault, it will cause the kid to question everything about herself.

I can see the sometimes crippling effects of my father’s often abusive behavior on others in the family more easily than I can see them in myself. Still, I realize that I’ve had to overcome senseless pain that more fortunate people, people whose parents weren’t themselves traumatized, did not have to experience. I think of that great lyric from Albert King “I can’t read, I can hardly write, my whole life’s been one long fight.” I spent decades fighting, for reasons I could barely understand. I understand those reasons much better now, though the reactions I had to struggle against cost me virtually every job I’ve ever had. There came a time when a boss would tell me “this is not a discussion, you do not get a say” and I’d be compelled to be witty.

“Not even ‘fuck you’, sir?”

You can take every mass shooter, like the several in recent days, any police officer who shoots a seventh grader with his hands up, complying with his orders, Derek Chauvin, hands in pockets as he slowly chokes a man to death, or the now indicted officer who trained other officers in the use of force who yelled “taser! taser!” as she shot a man to death after they found out he had an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor arrest. Take any of these folks and examine their life, and I’d pretty much guarantee they were survivors of some kind of life-altering trauma. It doesn’t excuse their depraved indifference to human life, of course, but it explains how they could act so callously toward others.

I’ve spent time in therapy at various points in my life. I believe it helped me more than it helped my uncle (though, of course, it could hardly have helped less). One breakthrough I had was letting go of much of my anger toward my father when I understood he had done the best he could, based on how he was shaped by his own trauma.

I was far from being able to forgive him, of course, for being such a relentlessly destructive dick, but I came to an emotional understanding that was very important to my belated growth as a person. Once I realized it hadn’t strictly been his choice to be such an abusive parent, once I learned of his abuse and grasped how the whippings he’d taken as a two year-old had warped his world, I was able to let go of a certain amount of anger. If he’d apologized, I could actually have forgiven him, but his position remained as un-nuanced as it always had been — take it or leave it, I am what I am, you got a problem with that it’s your problem.

When I got the sudden news that he was dying, of end-stage liver cancer that had not been diagnosed until he had six days to live, I got on a plane and went to his Florida hospital room. I was in a position that nobody else in the family was in — I’d had important understandings about my father’s life and how it affected my own. I was present in a way nobody else there could be. My father told me, moments after I arrived, “you’re the only one who knows what’s going on.”

I understood that this was about my father’s rapidly approaching death, not about my fear of losing my father, settling a score with him or anything else. He was the one who was dying, not me. I don’t know that I’d have grasped this so clearly if I’d still held so much anger against him, if I hadn’t achieved a level of empathy for the abuse he’d survived.

It is easy enough to scoff at what I’m going to tell next, and, of course, you’re free to. Because I was not standing in judgment of my difficult father, or in denial about his rapidly approaching death (his brother buttonholed his doctor in the hall and asked about a liver transplant for his 80 year-old older brother), or still trying to prosecute my grievances, my father and I were finally able to have a real conversation. I mostly listened.

When I arrived at his deathbed at one a.m. on what turned out to be the last night of his life, he was waiting for me, his thoughts all in order, as he’d promised they would be. He began by alluding to the demon he’d been avoiding his whole life, the childhood abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his violent little mother. “Everything Eli told you about my childhood was true,” he said, referring to the many discussions I’d had with his seventeen years older first cousin, “but he probably spared you the worst of it.”

This was a striking way to begin, it got my attention and summarized hours of discussion into a few words. He’d always insisted that Eli was full of shit, an unreliable historian who distorted everything to his own crazy ends. Now, in a few words, Eli had been truthful, and thoughtful too, in not painting the horrific picture as brutally as it had actually occurred. It got my attention, and required no response from me.

“My life was pretty much over by the time I was two,” my father said.

Again, this was something I knew to be the case. I’d often thought of him as emotionally trapped as a two year-old. Though he was brilliant in many areas, his emotional reactions, within the family, particularly his wildly uncontrolled temper, were those of a two-year old. There was no reason to say anything about this either.

He went on to acknowledge how wrong he’d been to place obstacles in front of my sister and me, life being hard enough without a father making it harder still by being a “horse’s ass”. I’d never heard him use this phrase, but he described himself as a horse’s ass at least twice in the course of apologizing for having behaved badly, in a misguided attempt to feel “in control” that placed gratuitous burdens on my sister and me. It was the only time I can ever remember my father apologizing for anything. I had only one comment, as he berated himself.

“You can’t kick yourself now, you did the best you could do, at the time.” I believed this was true, I understood why he’d acted the way he did, recognized that he could also have done worse — nothing but some kind of innate restraint kept him from beating me and my sister as he’d been beaten.

The point of this little piece is how brutally the hidden effects of unaddressed trauma can act upon us, as individuals and as a society. The 87,000 desperate American souls who killed themselves with drug overdoses last year, every single one of them, was wrestling with traumas that they felt they could only deal with by numbing themselves to death. As a society we ignore trauma — we are not an empathetic society, we spend a million times more on state violence than on addressing the causes of violence. As a culture we extoll the mythical rugged individual, the largely imaginary hero who, without any help or advantage, overcomes all adversity and defeats every challenge to “win.” In a falsely black and white world of winners and losers, it is not necessary to address the pressing problems of “losers.”

Our society is an over-boiling caldron of trauma. Is the constant danger of death from an invisible air-borne virus not traumatic? Is the very real prospect of irreversible destruction of our biosphere not traumatic? Are the fears of millions, probably billions worldwide, that cause masses to cling to insane, often violent, beliefs not born in trauma? People react as they must.

When Robert Evans called Naziism “at its heart a conspiracist theology” he was putting his finger on something very deep and horrifying.

You can look at a conspiracist religion as a predictable reaction to trauma, terror, humiliation. What are the tenets of this kind of religion? You are hurt, and absolutely right to feel hurt, you’re a victim, and the people who hurt you are going to fucking suffer and die.

Here’s what you have to do — sign up to this theory, this theology. Now you can join us in painting the world in good and evil, ascribe all good to your fight for revenge against the evil ones, and all evil to … duh! The evil ones! The godless inner-city thugs who want to rape your wives, mistresses, mothers, daughters, grandmothers. Etc. And best of all, no personal pain need be felt when you externalize it onto a hated enemy who is completely to blame while you are totally innocent.

A religion of conspiracy, a faith that explains everything you cannot understand and provides a simple, clear answer, to the burning question of why you feel so traumatized, why you are in so much pain. If you subscribe to our muscular, proactive theology, and march with the rest of us, you will soon be joyously trampling the evil enemies who brought all this hurt on you. And we will love you for it, and all live happily ever after, amen.

The End.

Excellent analysis of Conspiracism (Robert Evans)

There are conspiracy theories, often fed by government opacity or some other infernal thing, that are reasonable attempts to explain things that don’t seem to be adequately explained. Conspiracy theories sometimes turn out to be true, like the suspicions that the FBI had been running a program called COINTELPRO for years, infiltrating political organizations and fomenting violence that justified government clampdowns on otherwise legal, peaceful political groups. The revelation of this covert FBI program, after a Congressional investigation, explained much of the violence and several of the assassinations of the Civil Rights and Anti-war movements of the 1960s.

Then there is conspiracism, a deeply held belief that everything evil in the world is the result of an evil conspiracy. Conspiracists see a powerful secret cabal at work, usually blood drinking pedophile child-murderer types, very powerful, ruthless and always plotting satanically evil shit. Marjorie Taylor Green, with her cabal of satanic Democrat [sic] cannibal pedophiles (revealed by anonymous patriot anti-pedophile Q) and wild fire causing Jewish space lasers, is an example of a conspiracist, as are millions in her party.

Conspiracy theories often arise when credible information is kept hidden from the public. Conspiracism is a faith-based, global worldview that posits a titanic struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness and offers a one-stop explanation for all evil in the world. The specific details are crucial for conspiracy theorists, not really necessary for conspiracists who know what they know in their guts.

Here is an example of why people who are not conspiracists might develop a conspiracy theory to explain unexplained, or sloppily explained, phenomena. When terrorists attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 a lot of unexplained things happened on that day, the several days before and in the days that followed. Pure coincidence, in the “shit happens” vein, or evidence of a larger plan at work on that day that will live in infamy?

The man in charge of NORAD, the agency that scrambles Air Force fighter jets to intercept any threat in the air, was on his first day on the job on that fateful September 11. There were also war games being conducted, involving numerous jet planes, on September 11. There was confusion at NORAD about whether reports of passenger jets highjacked and off-course were part of these war games or really happening. The delay in figuring this out was fatal to thousands. There was massive secret stock market activity, specifically the selling of airline shares, early on September 11– among parties who have never been identified, parties who made a killing based on advance knowledge of the attack.

Early in the post 9-11 period when no flights were allowed in US air space, a plane full of Saudis (almost all of the 9/11 suicide terrorists were Saudi), including relatives of Osama bin Laden, was given special permission to quietly leave the country — nobody on board was interviewed by the FBI. The gigantic, far-reaching Patriot Act, longtime dream of the neo-con group Project For A New American Century, was ready to be voted within days of the terrifying 9-11 attack. The administration blocked formation of a 9/11 Commission, and, when it was finally convened, the president refused to take an oath to tell the truth, or even to speak to the Commission without his vice president, Dick Cheney, present — on further condition that nothing they talked about in that secret session could ever be revealed.

The answer to why a frantic late August presidential security briefing entitled “bin Laden determined to use commercial airliners to strike buildings for mass casualty event” was never acted on went into the dustbin of history like the rest of these never to be answered questions. And so on.

All these things lead to the suspicion that powerful motherfuckers in the US government, whose power was greatly enhanced by the attack, or were cynically advancing larger ideological goals (the Patriot Act, its Project for A New American Century authors acknowledged, might take a generation to implement, absent a dramatic Pearl Harbor scale national catastrophe) knew the attack was coming and let it happen (if they weren’t even more intimately involved).

Conspiracism applies this kind of scrutiny to everything, without the necessity for all the details. It is a simplified world view, based on good and evil. If I lost my job, there is somebody to blame, a cabal of evil globalists, by God! Those who want to restrict gun ownership — clearly part of a cabal of child-blood drinking communists who want to take our guns so we can’t defend our children! Those who want black and brown people to be able to freely vote in huge numbers are for the Great Replacement, the plot to negate the rights of White People by replacing them with black and brown voters obedient to evil globalists who hate our God-given freedom. Ask Tucker, if you have any questions about that last one.

Robert Evans, a brilliant young journalist with a darkly mischievous sense of humor, hosts a podcast called Behind The Bastards. It’s an in depth look at some of the major scumbags in history, past and present. Evans researches the featured bastard and writes a script that he reads (sometimes quickly) as his guest reacts to the information he’s setting out. It is a great format, since the reactions of the guests so often mirror the reaction of the listener, and sometimes lead to great asides and surprising insights.

There is also frequent laughter about truly horrific details, which I find very welcome. How many people died building the Suez Canal? They look it up. 120,000! And Evans bursts out laughing. As I did, hearing his reaction to how fucked up that is.

This week the bastard that Evans is discussing is not a person but a thing: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This infamous and influential 1904 Czarist forgery continues to exert great power in the world and forms the basis for a conspiracist world view. One of the best history books I’ve ever read, Pogrom:  Kishniev and the Tilt of History, scrupulously researched and beautifully written by Steven J. Zipperstein,  does a great job setting out the origins of this hateful and pervasive myth.

Robert Evans makes the case that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the mother of conspiracism. He offers this concise exposition (which I will transcribe below) drawing a line back in time from the Nazi cult of mythologically powerful evil Jews to the Protocols, and before that, the birthplace of modern antisemitic conspiracy theory, the French Revolution. His guests interjections are also great, as is Evans’s little laugh at the end:

Robert Evans:

Naziism at its heart was a conspiracist theology. All of Germany’s problems could be laid at the feet of international Jewry who were responsible not just for the German defeat in World War One but for the overthrow of the Czars and the establishment of the USSR. When the war turned against the Nazis, Hitler and his high command diverted crucial war resources towards fueling the extermination camps in the east because eliminating the Jews was for them a military priority.

Not all conspiracist beliefs center around the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy, but conspiracism itself has its origins intricately tied to antisemitism and the most successful conspiracy theory ever made in human history: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Guest:

(with feeling) hmmmm!

Evans:

The concept of grand conspiracies is not very old, as these things go. Conspiracy theories, grand conspiracy theories, go back about nine hundred years and have only really become operational in the last two hundred years. The inciting incident for all modern grand conspiracy theories is the French Revolution.

This makes sense, when you really think about it. One of the world’s great powers, the most powerful military force in the world at the time, the most established monarchy in the world, is overthrown, seemingly overnight, and replaced with a radical left-wing government. Blood letting and chaos ensues.

Many people felt the changes that swept France couldn’t possibly be the result of long-simmering unrest and kingly incompetence. It couldn’t be the king was dumb, he fucked up, people took their chance and they got lucky and things just worked out and they overthrew the government. It couldn’t be that, it has to be some cabal was plotting this.

Guest:

(laughs)

Evans:

And unfortunately for just a whole lot of people, the birth of modern conspiracy theory happened to very neatly coincide with something else — the birth of modern antisemitism. So these two things are really happening right at the same time. When I talk about modern antisemitism, I’m not just talking about, like… it’s, what is the difference between racism and antisemitism?

Antisemitism is a type of racism but not all different groups of people have the same thing that Jewish people go through with antisemitism, which is antisemitism isn’t just bigotry against Jewish people, it’s belief that they control the entire world, right? That’s not a thing that is universal in racism, it’s a thing that exists beyond that, but that’s a specific thing.

Guest:

Yeah, with black people they’re never worried we’re in charge.

Evans:

(chuckling) Yeah, yeah

source

I highly recommend this episode, the first of a two part presentation on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols detail the plans of people just like me, religious rabbis who are actually secular humanists, to dominate the world by destroying Christianity through the inculcation of by anti-monarchism, secularism, liberalism and socialism — including the virus of human “equality” (for the most cynical of purposes), into the masses, by any means necessary. The very personification of the enemies of men like William Pelham “Bagpiper” Barr.

The wildly influential forgery (exposed as such soon after its publication) has been in continuous publication since the Czar’s secret police had it written more than a hundred years ago. Its mad, chilling storyline (the Jewish plan for world domination is stitched together from a number of sources, whole sections plagiarized from previous novels about Satanist and anti-monarchist plans), has been translated into countless languages and continues to be one of the best selling books in history, rivaled only by the New Testament, (and possibly Mein Kampf, a book owned by many Nazis, if read by few — try it sometime…)

Ninety second pandemic drill

No time now for anything but a cursory post, and I’m rattled, a little pressed for time.

Just a few words for today — this too shall pass. That goes for the pandemic, hopefully, if we can reach herd immunity through the vaccine, rather than the “herd mentality” promised by the former president. Though it looks like a toss-up at the moment, with every reasonable health precaution weaponized by murderous imbeciles, we are heading toward immunity, if unthinking “mentality” doesn’t win the race.

I’m thinking of this race against time in the context of my own unsettled mood, as I watch democracy here, there and everywhere teetering on the brink. Democracy is the worst system of government ever tried, except for every other system, as some wit once cracked (Churchill?). Still, there’s a lot of opportunity in this crisis moment for unscrupulous, I’ll be blunt and just say Nazi-types, to advance their authoritarian agendas. Bolsonaro in Brazil, who got elected in Brazil by literally locking up his opponent (who was expected to easily win) during the election, is destroying the Amazon rain forest, the lungs of the planet, at a record clip, and his fascist buddies elsewhere have been tireless in their infernal efforts too.

Every so often the news reports on how widespread our fear, malaise and hopelessness actually are. A few months back there was a big story about the epidemic of despair in the youth worldwide. Today the NY Times runs a story informing us, surprise, that drug overdose deaths have surged in the USA, 87,000 succumbed to deaths of despair during this disorienting pandemic, desperate people trying to numb pain and terror in a way that led to their last breath.

Despair is not the answer. Productive action is the answer, though how to take it at this unsettling moment is often hard to put your finger on. There are more good people than bad people, I’m with Anne Frank on that one. Of course, Anne’s optimism about human nature was not rewarded very well. Ours will hopefully lead us to a better fate.

Whoops, time to start jumping…

Public Relations and lying that’s perfectly cool

The biggest, most dangerous lies we have to contend with, the most far-reaching in their effects, are promulgated by experts in spreading information that favors one party to the detriment of all others. This is called Public Relations, PR. PR is the art of telling the public selected things that will make them accept “externalities” like poverty wages, dead babies, toxic drinking water, thousands of bankrupted farmers dead by suicide. Best of all, from a PR perspective, is to make this ugly shit disappear entirely, so we can have harmony, prosperity and a good business climate. Yer proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats (except for the many already submerged and out of sight, which goes without saying).

There is a term in the law that excuses a certain kind of blustering lying, it is called “puffery”. Presumably you puff yourself up to make your threat look bigger and more terrible than it is, to make the other party back down. There’s no crime in puffery, nor has any lawyer been punished in any way for what can be justified as mere puffery. Puffery is your proverbial slippery slope down to a trough of shit, and many an outright public lie has been defended as mere puffery.

Public Relations is closely related to commercial advertising, indistinguishable from it, actually. The techniques of Public Relations, creating a desirable one-sided story to influence the public to accept whatever it is you’re trying to do, are identical to the ones used by propagandists. Propaganda, most people believe, is a bad thing, since it hides the truth and makes a false case for things like war, discrimination, genocide.

But Public Relations, you understand, is a completely different field, and basically morally neutral, clean, even its dirty little sibling political advertising. One key thing about successful public relations messages — they should be as ubiquitous as possible. I offer a couple of examples that spring to mind.

I just heard a great episode of Krista Tippett’s insightful On Being. Every week she engages in discussion with someone putting spiritual insight into practice to make the world a better place. She spoke to the co-founder and director of Theatre of War, a group that stages ancient Greek tragedies to foster audience discussion of our own traumas [1]. It is a moving discussion, very pertinent in our traumatic moment in history, and I recommend it.

In thanking her sponsors at the end, Krista reads this perfectly articulated 8 second PR message from a billionaire philanthropist named Charles Koch:

Well-born, iron-willed billionaire engineer Charles Koch has done more than perhaps anyone in US history to bring about a violently divided society where the 0.01% percent have as much wealth as the bottom 80%, enshrining his inherited advantages in perpetuity through canny political action, funding dozens of “think tanks” and other politically influential institutions, aided by an army of lawyers and ruthlessly effective PR. Now, as his death approaches, he wants to be remembered as a generous and courageous collaborator dedicated to discovering and elevating tools to cure intolerance and bridge differences.

Sure, after a lifetime dedicated to hobbling democracy, suppressing wages, fighting integration, destroying the environment and all ecological regulation, creating influential far-right organizations, funding the Tea Party “revolution,” sowing the ground for Trump, packing the federal courts with judges of his extreme political stripe — why not take a bow as a man dedicated to curing intolerance?

Depending on your political orientation you may be sad or happy about the recent defeat of the unionizing efforts in an Alabama sweatshop run by the world’s wealthiest man. It was a one-sided loss for the union advocates. Most Amazon workers in the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted not to unionize, after Amazon spent millions in what many see as a coordinated effort to intimidate its workers. The anti-union effort worked beautifully. Now is the time for continued PR.

The turnover rate for Jeff Bezos’s wonderful, well-paid warehouse jobs (who doesn’t enjoy pissing in a bottle?) is around 100% a year, we learn. These great, very demanding jobs burn people out pretty quickly, apparently. But pay no attention to that, PR to the rescue. You can watch smiling actors of all colors and genders talk about how great it is to work for the world’s richest man, how it has enriched their lives and given them a brighter future. These ads are ubiquitous, as are Amazon’s messages of support for a $15 minimum wage from a wealthy man who already voluntarily pays that large hourly sum to his well-paid, happy workers.

I love the way the Amazon swoosh, as carelessly artless a swoosh as there is in the world of branding, idiotically, and likely unintentionally, slashes and defaces the word “wages”. It also seems to put a crudely drawn question mark at the end. Talk about Freudian slips. But the point is made. A company that clawed back its generous $2/hr hazard pay increase two months into the pandemic, fired and vilified workers who protested against unhealthy working conditions during the pandemic, and paid dozens of expert consultants $3,200 a day to help crush an attempt to unionize an Amazon warehouse (success!), is very generous and changing lives for the better for more than a million low-skilled, low-paid workers.

To round out this PR piece, let’s go to former Attorney General Bill Barr and his boss, the former president who, very much like George Washington before him, could not tell a lie.

You will recall that in their attempt to hold on to power leading up to the rigged 2020 election they were working on an American Carnage scenario. Their story was that irrationally enraged Blacks and their radical allies were overrunning Anarchist Jurisdictions, where hopelessly liberal mayors and governors were allowing these massive demonstrations, these riots, and showing terrible disloyalty to the President. The spin was that these out of control mobs, rampaging for absolutely no reason and seemingly enraged at overwhelming police force arrayed against them, were threatening life as we know it and it was likely that martial law would have to be invoked to protect democracy, or some cherished right wing version of it.

Barr sent federal troops to protect a federal building in Portland, Oregon, pursuant to an Executive Order about protecting federal property from violence. Violence escalated immediately, once the anti-riot forces arrived on the scene. You recall the unmarked shock troops jumping out of unmarked rented vans to grab protesters, who they drove around, handcuffed and hooded, and released without charges. It was a radical experiment, to see if federal forces could be widely deployed to put down this threatening Black revolution. Black Lives Matter was portrayed as a violent terrorist group, as was antifa. People who claimed that police killings of unarmed Blacks is a serious ongoing problem in America were themselves the serious ongoing problem in America. These lawless rioters would not be tolerated.

Recall how things escalated in Portland. Trump supporters began staging counter protests in Portland. An armed Trump supporter was shot to death one night by a violent “antifa terrorist”. Four days later, the suspected anitfa killer was found 120 miles from Portland and quickly died in a hail of police bullets when federal marshals staged a raid. The story of the original murder of the Trump supporter, was reported, by the Washington Post, at the very end of the article about the police killing of his suspected murderer, this way:.

The incident came after a caravan of Trump supporters, including members of the Patriot Prayer group, made their way through Portland, sparking skirmishes with those who objected to their presence. Portland has seen more than three months of often violent protests after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, and the shooting seemed to intensify the persistent tension.

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As for the police killing of the suspected killer of the Trump supporter? From that same article in the Washington Post:

A vocal proponent of the far-left antifa movement who was suspected of fatally shooting a supporter of a far-right group in Portland, Ore., this weekend was shot and killed in a confrontation with law enforcement Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

Investigators were seeking to take Michael Forest Reinoehl into custody in connection with the fatal shooting of 39-year-old Aaron J. Danielson on Saturday after confrontations between supporters of President Trump and Black Lives Matter counterprotesters.

The agency said Reinoehl was shot by police near Olympia, Wash., after drawing a weapon as officers tried to arrest him.

“The fugitive task force located Reinoehl in Olympia and attempted to peacefully arrest him,” said Jurgen R. Soekhoe, a U.S. Marshals spokesman, in a statement. “Initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers. Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene.”

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The attempt to peacefully arrest him was accomplished when officers jumped out of two SUVs that had sped to the scene, cut off Reinhoel’s parked car and opened fire on the left-wing suspect, killing him in a barrage of 37 bullets. Here’s Barr, about the “confrontation” between Reinoehl and the officers who attempted to peacefully apprehend him and, in his estimation, justifiably opened fire on the dangerous fugitive:

In a statement Friday, Attorney General William P. Barr called Reinoehl a “a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer,” who was shot by law enforcement after he “attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm.”

“The streets of our cities are safer with this violent agitator removed, and the actions that led to his location are an unmistakable demonstration that the United States will be governed by law, not violent mobs,” Barr said.

A few days later, a more accurate picture of how admitted Antifa member Reinoehl was killed came out. But not before Trump weighed in. The NY Times reported:

The U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment for this article, citing the pending investigation. The agency previously said that it had attempted to “peacefully arrest” Mr. Reinoehl and that he had threatened the lives of law enforcement officers.

President Trump, who has described the racial justice protests that have roiled the nation as the work of lawless criminals, praised the operation.

“This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him,” the president told Fox News. “And I will tell you something, that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”

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Kill one of ours, the government will kill one of yours. Hammurabi.

The Times article cited above details what actually happened in the “confrontation” that led to Reinoehl’s killing. Witnesses thought it was a mob hit, or a drug cartel execution. Reinoehl was walking toward his car, holding a cell phone and a bag of candy when the “confrontation” began. Two SUVs sped to the scene, cutting off Reinoehl’s car, four armed men leapt out and immediately opened fire. Nobody heard anyone identify themselves as police or yell anything else at the suspect. An unfired handgun was found in a pocket of Reinhoehl’s bullet riddled corpse, (proof that his killing by government agents was totally justified, as police investigators later found.)

Of course, who are you going to believe, the Lying New York Times, and twenty-two so-called “witnesses” who were interviewed by the paper, or men of unimpeachable integrity like Bill Barr and a president who, try as he might, simply cannot tell a lie?

George Grosz “Shot While Escaping”

[1]

Krista’s opening:

“Remember,” Bryan Doerries likes to say in both physical and virtual gatherings, “you are not alone in this room — and you are not alone across time.” With his public health project, Theater of War, he is activating an old alchemy for our young century. Ancient stories, and texts that have stood the test of time, can be portals to honest and dignified grappling with present wounds and longings and callings that we aren’t able to muster in our official places now. It’s an embodiment of the good Greek word catharsis — releasing both insight and emotions that have had no place to go, and creating an energizing relief. And it is now unfolding in the “amphitheater” of Zoom that Sophocles could not have imagined.

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A Good Conversation (2)

Thinking more about a good conversation, the kind of talk we remember years later, it is the mutual readiness to listen, to really hear the other person, that makes these exchanges so memorable. In a world that famously doesn’t care about your feelings or ideas, it is a great comfort to experience tender care for those things from the person you are talking to.

“Your business is very important to us, please continue to hold…” the mantra of the modern industrialized world, reinforces our essential aloneness in an often hostile universe. Let’s face it, in a transactional culture based on material gain at any cost, we are just customers, manipulated with ever greater sophistication, who most often take what we can get, are allowed to have, if we can wrest it from others with more power. This eternal vying for advantage is the opposite of a good conversation.

In a good talk there is always mutuality. Something you raise reminds me of something I experienced. We compare and contrast, the things on one level very much the same, on another quite different. There is great nuance in our infinitely gradated world, we feel this when we are in a good conversation with someone we trust.

A bad conversation, on the other hand, is marked by caution, by obscuring certain things that would be necessary for an open exchange, by deliberately avoiding subjects, limiting the topics that can be talked about openly. These talks are exhausting. Because much is hidden, and both parties are trying their best simply to survive an uncomfortable exchange intact, there is little possibility for a beneficial exchange of ideas. At best, we “agree to disagree,” in that most odious phrase, since, in a conversation held in darkness, with light forbidden, that is often the only alternative to open hostility.

A good conversation is the opposite of a zero sum talk. In a zero sum world everything is measured by who wins and who loses, there is no middle ground. Life may not really be this way, but seeing it as zero sum makes it so. A clever construction, the zero sum machine.

If I concede to you that I was in the wrong, that diminishes me and gives you an advantage I can easily deny you by merely conceding nothing. Long friendships can be quickly killed if one friend reduces a conflict to a zero sum game. In the end, “I will prevail and you will lose, loser,” is a recipe for estrangement or consent to continue in a kind of living hell.

My aunt was a difficult woman. What I learned about her life explained a bit of why she was that way. When she became demented, toward the end of her life, she went through a Terrible Two kind of period when she was reflexively contrary. I visited her when my cousin was there, to prevent him from killing her as they organized the house to get it ready to sell.

One morning, entering the kitchen where breakfast was in progress, my cousin and my aunt silently eating, I said “good morning, Aunt Barbara”.

“No,” she said, her jaw set firmly.

My cousin and I later had laughs about this. Not good? Not morning? Not my aunt?

“No,” my aunt insisted.

Fortunately this Terrible Two phase eventually passed. As her dementia progressed my aunt became more and more docile. Sekhnet and I remember the last time we saw my aunt and her son together. He had his arm around her as they waved goodbye and turned to walk back into the nursing home where my aunt was now living. It was a tenderness we could not have imagined while my aunt was in control of her faculties.

It was a tenderness I’d experienced myself with my troubled aunt, decades earlier. Staying over at my parents’ place after some holiday meal, everyone else upstairs in bed, my aunt and I had one remarkably candid conversation in the late night living room of my parents’ house. The tenderness I felt for her during that talk, and for long after that talk, I cannot really describe.

Well-done, Frank Bruni

My mother always loved Frank Bruni’s writing. A fan of clear prose, attuned to wry touches, a savorer of wit, my opinionated mother loved the opinionated Bruni’s craft. I don’t know why I remember this so clearly, and my mother died more than ten years ago, but I remember her telling me she’d started reading him when he was a restaurant critic and had always liked his style. Maybe she’d given me an op-ed of his to read, and I’d agreed it was very good. I remember her smile, glad that I appreciated the same kind of writing she did.

In today’s New York Times Frank Bruni puts his finger on the cruelty of current GOP politics. A party increasingly desperate to suppress the vote, and drive maddening wedges between voters, the unprincipled extremists now openly in charge of the party have found a nasty new culture war issue: making laws to prevent parents of transsexual kids from legally consenting to their adolescent children having medical treatments recommended by their doctors.

That no hypocrisy phases the GOP is a reality too obvious to need further demonstration, just think of anything McConnell or Graham have said in the last year or so, but this extreme right version of the party of the wealthy is the party of Individual Liberty and freedom from all government “coercion”, starving government of taxes to shrink it small enough to drown in a bathtub, passing laws that force people who have wrestled with the difficult decision of letting a trans child transition to another gender, to simply give up that liberty and freedom from government coercion. Because, you know, their children, that miniscule fraction of all children, are hateful monsters that our most passionately bigoted voters love to fucking hate.

A few years ago, when Cheney and Dubya won a second term in 2004, the inflammatory wedge issue that drove their victory was homosexual marriage. It was going to destroy the nation, millions of religious people were very worked up about it. The idea of two gay people, people of the same sex (the same sex!), having a sexual and civic union sanctioned by the government drove millions of homophobes to the polls. It was probably the single issue most responsible for bringing a second term to those deserving funsters Cheney and Bush.

Today relatively few people get that worked up about whether gay people can get married or not. Gay marriage has no bad effect on anyone, except perhaps unhappily married gay people and their social circle. The president finally embraced gay marriage as a civil rights issue, the Supreme Court OK’d it. Allowing homosexuals to marry, and have all the rights of other married couples, became the law of the land. People soon forgot their rage against homosexuals being allowed to marry, went on to be mad about other things. The GOP is always looking for the next thing to make millions of people enraged enough to vote for an extremist party that promises to wipe that thing they hate OUT.

Let’s let Frank Bruni tell it, he once again does a beautiful job. His op-ed is called Republicans Have Found Their Cruel New Culture War.

Straight people have often asked me what I, a gay man, have in common with someone who’s trans. Gay people have often put that question to themselves. There are many answers. Here’s one: I know what it’s like to have my identity, my dignity — my very hold on happiness — pressed into partisan battle and fashioned into a political weapon.

I know what it’s like to be used.

And right now, trans people are being used, cruelly.

You probably heard about what happened in Arkansas. On Tuesday, state lawmakers there voted overwhelmingly, by a three-to-one ratio, to override a veto from the Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, and effectively ban gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for trans youth under the age of 18.

It doesn’t matter if those youth are pleading for this kind of help or have already begun receiving it and found it to be lifesaving. It doesn’t matter if their parents, having wrestled hard with the situation and done extensive research, believe that therapy is crucial. It doesn’t matter if physicians have concluded it’s in the youths’ best interest. Politicians know best.

And they’re expert at identifying vulnerable, marginalized populations and demonizing them in the interest of political gain. That’s what Republicans in Arkansas, in Alabama and in dozens of other states are doing with scores of active bills, many of which focus on denying trans youth gender-affirming treatments and dictating how they may or may not participate in sports.

They’re inventing a problem to whip up a culture war that they’re convinced will redound to their benefit. Worried that their party can’t retain or wrest power with its positions on the economy and prescriptions (or lack thereof) for health care, they’re fighting on other turf, with no pause to contemplate the need for their offensives and no thought for the casualties.

Back in the early aughts, they put gays and lesbians in their sights, railing against nascent progress toward marriage equality and deciding that for the good of the republic — for its very survival! — it was necessary to outright outlaw same-sex marriage via ballot referendums and amendments to state constitutions. This was all the Republican rage in 2004, which just happened to coincide with President George W. Bush’s re-election effort.

The legally recognized weddings of two men or two women had no negative practical effect on the straight people around them, who might be offended by the idea but were hardly so much as inconvenienced by the reality. It wasn’t as if the gay or lesbian couples were going to stop being gay and lesbian couples if they couldn’t put their names on marriage licenses. And their vows were as much an affirmation of traditional values, such as commitment and monogamy, as they were a repudiation of them.

But many Republicans — aided, to be fair, by many Democrats’ support in 1996 for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which President Bill Clinton signed — cast those vows as cultural death knells. Many Republicans portrayed me and my kind as leches, even child molesters, laundering perversion into propriety. It’s a hell of a thing: to hear words from civic “leaders” that openly or tacitly encourage people to hate you, maybe even to strike out at you. It puts fear in your heart and rage in your brain.

And it’s happening to trans people. Republicans’ response to their party’s political failures at the ballot box in 2018 and 2020 is to find an issue that they believe paints Democrats as convention-smashing libertines and themselves as the defenders of innocent children and a moral order. It’s to name monsters out there and take up torches against them. The issue is trans equality. The monsters are trans people.

Not by accident, they made an uncharacteristically prominent appearance in Donald Trump’s first big speech after his exile from the White House, when he and other disappointed Republicans were regrouping and trying to figure out the path forward.

“Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy women’s sports,” he told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida in late February. An overnight feminist, he added that young girls and women “are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males.”

Leaving aside his loaded language and reductive description, he was suggesting that a relatively rare scenario was pervasive. That’s a classic wedge-issue strategy. Similarly, Republican lawmakers in the many red states pushing measures like Arkansas’ raise the specter of irreparably damaged, even abused children — the Arkansas law is the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act — without much if any proof of that.

“There’s no evidence being presented, no evidence being pretended,” Mara Keisling, the founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told me. That’s a big clue that this is about political theater more than public welfare.

Other clues: The rapid metastasizing of often like-worded laws around the country and the sudden urgency of lawmakers intoning the same dark warnings. That smacks of coordination from some misanthropic mother ship.

When Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, grandstands in a Senate hearing by comparing surgery elected by trans people to the “genital mutilation” — a phrase he used repeatedly — of girls in cultures that seek to subjugate women by stamping out their sexual pleasure, that’s not an honest policy debate. That’s just a storm of nasty words distracting voters from the governmental and societal failures really standing between them and the American dream. Trans people aren’t the impediment.

The arrogance of Republican lawmakers at the state level is stunning. They’re overriding parents’ considered decisions regarding their own children, whom they surely care and fret about more than any stranger does. If you read or listen to interviews with them, what’s most striking is how much research and reflection they’ve done, how thoroughly they’ve considered what their children confront and what their children need.

Lawmakers are getting between physicians and patients. They’re staging a medical intervention, on the grounds that one group of people (doctors, parents) must be controlled for the protection of another (children). If that’s OK in this case, why not when Covid-blasé Americans reject masks or refuse vaccines, putting other Americans at risk? Some of the same Republicans who claim that they’re coming to the rescue of children receiving testosterone are just fine letting the rest of us marinate in the coronavirus.

They’re opportunists. They’re extremists. Don’t take my word for it. Take Hutchinson’s. The governor of Arkansas is hardly anyone’s idea of a moderate Republican. He recently signed legislation allowing Arkansas physicians to cite religious objections in refusing to provide treatment. He also signed into law a bill barring trans women and girls from competing against other women and girls in sports.

But he has said repeatedly over the past week that the bill regarding medical care for trans youth was reckless and uncompassionate. In an interview with The Times’s Lisa Lerer, he conceded that as part of “the cultural wars that we’re engaged in,” Republicans were often “acting out of fear of what could happen, or what our imagination says might happen, versus something that’s real and tangible.”

He finally, in this instance, drew a line and took a stand. My own fear is that it will be a lonely one, and that a great many people will suffer because of that.

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A good conversation

My aunt, an often contrary woman my mother dreaded having to spend time with, a mother hated by the son she adored (she doted on him when he was a baby, anyway), was, to put it kindly, something of a pain in the ass. Growing up in a very small family, she was my only aunt. Her husband, my father’s brother, (the only sibling of either of my parents) was my one uncle. We saw them at holidays every year, and the gatherings were always electric with uncomfortable, crudely buried emotions.

My uncle, a smallish, slight man who looked like Stephen Colbert, often flinched around his much larger older brother. He’d laugh nervously after each flinch, remembering that they were both adults now, I suppose, but you could see his discomfort whenever my father moved or spoke in a certain way. My uncle had a corny sense of humor, a surprisingly effective disguise for a temper he kept hidden from me, somehow, until I was close to forty.

I’ll never forget his tour-de-force of raving tyranny one year when my sister and I went to visit him and our aunt. It was like watching a cute small dog suddenly lunge, teeth bared, at another dog’s throat, then another, persisting wildly until all the other dogs were bloody heaps. My mother and my first cousin, long wary of my uncle, were shocked that it took me so long to see this angry, dictatorial side of the mild-mannered fellow, but, as I said, he never showed any sign of it to me, until he did.

I am thinking of a good conversation, the remarkable meeting of the minds and hearts we don’t have very often. It is an exchange of honest reactions, where both parties are sometimes vulnerable and both are interested and open to learning something new from the other, if only how they truly feel. We always learn something in these kind of talks, if only that somebody else understands something we have only just started to be able to express. I had a couple of interesting chats with my uncle over the years, mainly about politics (we were pretty much in sync on our political views) but nothing I’d classify as a memorably good conversation. It was partly my uncle’s aversion to the personal, I suppose.

One night, in the living room of my parents house in Queens, everybody else had gone up to bed, and my aunt and I were in the living room. I was probably around thirty at the time. I’ve always been a night owl, my aunt and uncle were generally in their pajamas before ten. In fact, it was my uncle’s demand that we all get ready for bed at 10 pm, when my sister and I visited him years later as adults, that served as his first shot across the bow, the opening salvo of what the next day would erupt into full blown crazy autocratic rage.

In the living room of my parents’ house, on that quiet tree-lined street, my aunt and I had a remarkable conversation. I recall nothing specific about our long ago talk, other than the closeness I felt to my aunt as we revealed ourselves to each other. Knowing that she had the capacity for this kind of openness made me feel differently about her.

My cousin, when I mentioned this chat to him, always scoffed. To him his mother was a devious master-manipulator, certainly she’d picked up on and played off some vulnerability I’d shown her. Seeing the emotional opening, she’d sympathetically slipped in to ingratiate herself, to cunningly arm and situate herself for future harm she was already planning.

People do this kind of thing, pretend to care with their eye on some other prize, though I remain unconvinced that my aunt was doing that the night of that striking conversation we had. What I recall was how personal our talk was. My aunt told me personal details of her life as I shared details of my own inner life. We were on the same page, as they say (and for good reason).

I have an amusing, short anecdote about my demanding aunt, but it will have to wait. I am focusing on those rare, therefore precious, conversations we have with others that actually exert some change on our lives. They can be illusions, as the one with my aunt may have been (being a one-off, for one thing), but these conversations serve as reminders of what we can be, if we are honest, and open, and truly curious about another person’s inner life.

Seeking the essence of this kind of exchange, this emerging shared knowledge of something deeper, beyond the surface, every day world, is one big reason we read. It is also a gigantic reason many of us write.

Incoherence is no problem

The obvious problem with an incoherent position — one that relies on nothing but the right to take any position you want– is that, as long as the incoherence persists, there is no hope of solving any disagreement. We can only persuade each other if we reach a basic agreement about the facts in front of us. An incoherent argument doesn’t depend on facts, agreement or anything else– it’s an illogical position that closes the mind to persuasion.

I’ll give you one example, the argument over the filibuster, to stand in for the rest, as we navigate this “alternative fact” world we are living in post-Trump.

A lie, which can be shown to be a lie, can now be openly cited to prove that the policy you favor is necessary. That it is a demonstrable lie is no longer a problem, for purposes of partisan position-taking. You can call the well-publicized lie a “widely believed allegation”, which makes it sound much more reasonable. The same goes for any glittering generality pulled out of one’s nether sphincter — it’s good enough to support an otherwise incoherent argument.

Most Americans get their news from partisan sources. On the right people say that PBS, MSNBC and CNN are just as distorted, prejudiced and untruthful as FOX, Newsmax and OANN. It’s a flimsy claim, unsupported by actual evidence. Media on the right frequently highlights conspiratorial claims as though they are mainstream beliefs — when pressed on airing false claims they call the promotion of fringe ideas “entertainment” rather than factual “news” which has a much higher standard of “truth”.

Even the wildest ideas quickly become mainstream beliefs, like the widespread belief among conservatives that the 2020 presidential election may well have been stolen by massive fraud. A large percentage of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump and that the January 6th riot at the Capitol was understandable, peaceful, non-threatening and perfectly legal [1].

Here’s one example of circular incoherence in public debate about restricting or getting rid of the peculiar institution known as the filibuster.

The problem is that a party with a razor thin Senate majority needs to find ten votes, in a disciplined opposition party that votes as a block, in order to pass almost any law. This is because the burden, in a filibuster, is on the majority party to reach 60 votes to end debate (even if there is no actual debate) and vote on a bill becoming a law.

Why is the burden not on the minority party filibustering to kill a proposed law? Why are 41 filibustering members not required to be present to maintain a filibuster rather than the majority party having to find ten votes among the filibustering party to stop this form of obstruction? There is no coherent explanation offered. It’s just the way it is.

Why is nobody in the minority party now required to stand and talk non-stop to keep a filibuster going? No coherent explanation is offered — outside of the small change in the rules that makes announcing the intent to filibuster good enough to infinitely block debate on any bill.

Those who advocate neither changing filibuster rules nor abolishing the parliamentary practice outright claim this obstruction technique encourages bipartisanship by making people more willing to compromise.

We don’t need to change anything about the filibuster, say conservatives like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, what we need is more bipartisanship, more compromise, more trust between political parties that have become armed camps. We need more faith in the integrity of American elections that tens of millions now have lost faith in. We need this faith because our confidence in the fairness of our own democracy has been, rightly or wrongly. so badly undermined — and it’s a bipartisan problem.

That the argument is incoherent, in a nation where one party is committed to a lie about widespread voting fraud (and cast not a single vote to relieve the suffering of millions of Americans during a pandemic), is not a problem. Listen to Manchin being interviewed, read his op-ed in the Washington Post. Nobody will press him on the essential incoherence of his position, which he states as calmly and reasonably as can be, and which amounts to: the answer to racism is for people to stop being so damned racist.

The role of incoherence in human, particularly American, life is hard to overstate. Why do racists hate the people they hate? Ask ’em, they’ll tell you. It’s not all of ’em, you see, there are good ones, even among them. It’s really mostly the bad ones we hate, the angry ones, the ones who are violent, the ones who don’t denounce the violent ones, the quiet ones nobody can tell which side they’re actually on. Am I making sense? If not, maybe you need to think harder. We got this sturdy rope here, and the mob is pretty worked up, so think hard before you answer that you understand what I’m saying, since there’s none of them around to string up right this minute and people’s blood is getting hot, been getting hot, I can tell you for sure.

I keep thinking of a very neurotic guy I was friends with since grade school, his eyelid twitching as he nervously accused me of trying to deliberately destroy his troubled marriage. When he was done explaining his insane claim I was able to straighten things out a bit, but, you know, seriously– what the fuck?

Incoherence is particularly attractive when you’re very, very angry. Takes nothing particularly persuasive to convince oneself of the righteousness of one’s own rage. Anger can always justify itself, as long as you stay mad.

[1]

There is no PROOF that the people chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” were NOT actually skillfully disguised antifa provocateurs, rather than Trump supporters, nor that the policeman killed, or the one who lost an eye, were not attacked by these same BLM activists, disguised as Confederate flag waving insurrectionists. Listen to this: