Disinformation, Rumor and Gossip

I’ve been reading lately about the perpetuation of disinformation that social media has allowed to spread quickly and widely these days. Sometimes, deliberately conjured false narratives based on non-existent facts and perpetrated by bad actors are sought out for various reasons from entertainment to reinforcement of intuited beliefs of deep state conspiracy.

It occurs to me the inclination for many of us to spread gossip is ingrained behavior. Intentions are not necessarily malevolent, but, even so, rumors that may start harmlessly: interpretations of neighborly idiosyncrasies, maybe, have always had the potential to devolve into dangerous fictions that may cause great harm: thousands of ‘witches’ were burned or hung across Europe in the 16th century, rumor and innuendo have led to the demonization of minority communities today and on-line threats of rape and murder directed toward victims of disinformation are commonplace.

Whether those guilty of spreading disinformation are fear driven or just mean-spirited it’s hard to take a liberal stance on speech freedoms while aware of the potential harms rumor, gossip and disinformation can cause.

Mortification of the Flesh

As I anticipate the oncoming winter, the discomfort of cold winds and ice-covered streets, the extended darkness of shorter days and the ugliness of dirt covered snowdrifts, it’s clear to me a certain amount of suffering is soon to be expected.

To set the tone, I’ve been reading about the medieval practice of mortification of the flesh, a not uncommon behavior of the extremely pious seeking union with God. Such behavior was all about suffering, as it might involve ascetic denial, living in seclusion, vows of silence and might grow to include flagellation and other self-imposed harms to one’s physical body.

It should be noted that those who engaged in such activities needed to maintain purity of motive: to accept physical pain in order to grow closer to and become more deserving of God’s benevolence. Pridefulness or exhibitionism must not be in the equation.

So, as I anticipate the suffering I will have to endure in the coming winter, I must avoid poking fun at the snowbirds who flee to the south, remain committed to my stoic resolve and hope to be rewarded by a celestial embrace in April or May.

Expanding the Mind

I’ve been reading, recently, about the experiments with the drug mescalin Aldous Huxley performed in the 1950’s. He determined that the drug will ‘open the door’ of one’s perceptions, allow one to pass through the wall of harsh reality and for most everyone with proper introduction and guidance, will produce expanding insights, an increasing ability to see more deeply and observe the world ego-free. Being able to embrace the ‘isness’ of our visible world, the stuff of experience that has by survival instinct been reduced to labeled objects, would make everything we see more significant as the drug inhibits self-consciousness.

There are caveats. A sound, stable mind grounded and free of anxiety is essential. AH points out the drug may induce schizophrenic response, scare the user into interpreting his surroundings as cosmic malevolence, begin viewing experiences as conspiratorial, as a plot to destroy him.

Which has me thinking about the alternative realities so prevalent in the public sphere these days. How so many of us have caved to conspiratorial narratives, have fallen into the dark world of the ‘deep state’ even without experiencing the negative effects of a mind-altering drug.

Even so, it seems to me cracking open some of those ‘doors’, gain at least a glimpse beyond our limiting realities would gain us a worthwhile perspective. Maybe, if one really tried one could will the expansion without the drug.

Vision Serpent

The Attraction of Authoritarianism

I’ve been trying to understand the fluctuations in the world order these days with populist movements arising around the world ushering in strongman politicians, spinning narratives of restorative nostalgia, remembrance of times past when everything was better than it now is despite the relative affluence most of us realize.

There are always, I suppose, folks of ambition but mediocre talent who don’t achieve desired advancement, who might seek a less competitive structure than the socio-economic system that promotes the best and most able and insures the system functions as effectively as possible. And then there are those of modest ambition who may fear disenfranchisement and the disfavor of the strongman who climb on the bandwagon.

The problem is that the strongman, assuming free reign, may begin to make up his own rules, begin suppressing opposition, placing restrictions on access to information until there’s only one narrative. And, with only one narrative truth can be stretched, people demonized, scapegoats created to be blamed when things go awry.

Better I think to have a sometimes messy and chaotic pluralism where everyone has a say even if considerable energy may be required in public debate.

Evil as Natural Inclination

I’ve been reading, lately, a treatise by the 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant in which he determines through his meticulous thought processes that man is evil by nature. He reasons that, while man is aware of moral laws, that there are morally acceptable behaviors toward others one knows should be followed, there is at the same time a natural inclination to favor personal interests above moral concerns for others that may, when push comes to shove, result in evil behaviors.

So, I guess everyone is naturally inclined to be evil, although I suppose one could quantify degrees of evilness: whether one’s self-interest completely undermines rules of morality resulting in despicable behaviors, as opposed to those of us who occasionally find ourselves exaggerating reality for personal gain if we think we can get away with it. The latter doesn’t seem to me to be evil, exactly, but probably merits a certain sense of shame, at least a guilty conscience.

I wonder if Kant thought himself to be evil in any sense. I understand he was pretty reclusive, hardly left his home but for a daily walk around the neighborhood. He probably didn’t have the opportunity to be too evil.

Imaginings

I’ve been reading in the news lately political pundits and others in the know are suggesting, warning in some cases, that we are in danger of experiencing another civil war. The crux of the concern seems to be that with large numbers of us polarized as to what we perceive to be true, supported as we are by our chosen information sources, contradictory one side to the other, finding common ground seems unlikely. We find ourselves living in alternate realities and the more firmly we embrace our beliefs the more we fear the other. It’s common these days to see opponents demonized and violence perpetrated.

But, on the positive side there have recently been those on the political fringes calling for state secession. One can imagine a red state/blue state divide although I suppose there’d have to be some voluntary resettlement in order to consolidate realities. Once everyone was on their chosen side of the new international border it would seem peace would be obtainable. Narratives would evolve reflecting relative realities. There will of course be differing perspectives: a democracy on one side, totalitarianism on the other; one state operating according to logic and reason the other embracing the dictates of authority; basic trust in the peace and goodness of humanity on the one hand, paranoia driven preparation for armed conflict on the other. Family get-togethers will be difficult for those on opposite; sides of the fence and given the opposing opinions of the efficacy of science I guess another pandemic will not be good for the red staters.

Imagining a red/blue divide could produce a modicum of peace is hopeful, I suppose, but what is more likely, the mistrust inherent in such a philosophical chasm will feed the human need to demonize each other further.

It’s hard not to imagine mankind’s self-destruction.

Balancing Risk and Desire

I’ve been reading about balancing risk and desire when the desire is fed by the risk. As I think about my wayward college days when smoking marijuana was as much about defying the man as it was about enjoying the effects of the drug, I realize ‘toking up’ made me feel like a solid member of the anti-establishment, anti-war hippy crowd even though inhaling was about as far as my social protest went.

Now, as I age, my desires are tempered, more thoughtful, I’m less inclined toward risky behaviors. But then I think about why risks are taken in the first place. It’s because risks successfully taken are life affirming, adrenaline pumping, provide a glimpse of (imagined) immortality, experiences sorely lacking in my present daily existence.

So, today I did something I’ve never done before. My mother always warned me about thin ice, so I tried some early season skating anyway. I fell through the ice. The experience was fairly unpleasant but it did alter my usual mundane routine.

The Market

So, as I understand it the market depends on the consumer whose purchasing power depends on the sale of goods produced by the consumer whose wages ensure the consumers’ purchasing power which ensures the product will be purchased.

Everything proceeds along okay as long as there aren’t any linkage problems in the chain, like interruptions in acquiring the necessary pieces required to produce the product which might result in job layoffs which then reduce the consumers’ purchasing power, and which eventually, considerably increases the cost of the unavailable pieces the products’ manufacture require making the product more expensive and perhaps out of reach of the consumers’ now limited resources. The product is no longer affordable, manufacture shuts down: no wages, no consumers, no product.

Thought about in such terms, life seems pretty tenuous dependent as it is on the cooperation of a population of independent souls often at odds with each other. It may be time to thank my neighbor for his part in keeping the chain in tact.

Impending Doom

I guess this time of year invites morbid thoughts: nature receding into dormancy as it is, temperatures dropping to inhospitable levels. Then there’s the growing disaster of climate change that our politicos seem unwilling or unable to address in any meaningful way, the partisan reality disconnect dividing us into hostile tribes and who can forget the ominous persistence of the dreaded virus.

What I need is a catharsis, a jolt of adrenalin to lift me from this debilitating depression. I was reading that the horror genre is beneficial as a means of escaping the sense of gloom one finds oneself in at times; that horror films can help one find a fresh outlook. Seeing Jason about to slice up an unaware teenager and the like produces an adrenalin rush, so the article suggests, ushering in a revival of energy to go along with a thankfulness one is in one’s living room rather than in a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake.

It makes sense to me; I think I’ll revisit some of the films that have terrified me in the past; maybe start with Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Betty Davis’ take on insanity caused me nightmares for quite some time.

The Mythological Us

I’ve been reading about the ancient Spartans and how research has determined they weren’t as ‘spartan’ as mythology would suggest, that, in fact, they were as unwilling to put themselves in life-threatening situations as anyone else and that they appreciated the arts of poetry and music.

This revelation has me thinking about what sort of mythology might evolve from our contemporary reality in, say, 2000 years’ time. Given that history is a narrative and stories are interpreted and change, one wonders how we’ll be seen. I’m thinking the images of our modern selves won’t be all that wonderful. There will be good things to think about us I suppose: our intellectual energy producing, as we have, wonders in medicine, science and communication technologies, but any overview of contemporary us by our future descendants will have to take into account the dubious ethical behaviors we’ve engaged in the fight to control the earth’s resources and claim the wealth as our own.

Whatever future mythology develops about us from the actions of our twenty-first century selves is pretty hard to guess; I’m just hoping there are folks still around to make an evaluation.