Jonestown 2020

Supreme Court decision 201211

If you’re keeping score, at last count it’s 56-1 — the win/lost record for suits filed and suits eligible to be heard in the ongoing effort to end the democratic process. The most significant to date is this three-sentence decision issued by the US Supreme Court yesterday. This would be follow-up to an election victory by several million votes, the subsequent certification of vote counts by all states, and the increasingly Chaplin-esque, slapstick performances that are the challenges to same, best placed in the monologues of late-night talk show hosts.

Screen Shot 2020-12-12 at 12.02.03 PMA truly head-scratching question: how many more times will the cat come back? And infinitely more disturbing: what are the long term implications of the widespread and shamelessly political — and populist — support for these challenges?

In November 2016, I’d begun a piece built around ‘Social Learning Theory’, a relative latecomer to the annals of how patterns and styles of behaviour find their way into the repertoires of certain individuals. It posits that, far from needing to be rewarded (operant conditioning) or associated (classical conditioning), we can simply learn by watching — and modelling or imitating what we see — and by the direct instruction issued by the model. The potency of this process is believed to be influenced by the observer’s take on the model: his/her perceived level of power / authority, how respected they are, and a number of qualities that are attributed to the model by the ‘watcher’ (attractiveness, trustworthiness, perceived competence, similarity to the observer).

The piece was triggered by an, at the time, significant uptick in attacks on minority groups immediately following the 2016 election. Endorsement of and fomentation by a ‘potent model’, a newly elected president, to engage in such acts were seen to be underlying, contributing factors. So how to make sense of the 2020 reprise of the above scenario, no longer limited to ‘minority targets’ — but a continuing assault on the process that underpins not just our governing bodies, but our way of life, our value system: democracy?

For four years, the characteristics of ‘model 1’ have been regularly eroded, challenged, disputed, and pilloried. Trustworthy, truthful, competent, attractive are no longer, and for many never were, terms that could be applied to DJT. This should have sufficiently undermined the credibility, the influence of the model as to diminish his impact to the inconsequential. The reverse appears to be the case. The openly expressed fears, anxieties are now framed in the most dire of terms: coup, sedition, autocracy. Questions around how 106 political representatives could willingly buy tickets on this train are wildly more catastrophic than the tragic, but isolated actions of a few marginalized and disenfranchised trolls.

Enter the Stockholm Syndrome. Long identified as an ‘explanation’ for how an individual could behave in ways that not only contravene social norms, but his / her own values. Typically isolation and indoctrination (often via forced commission of acts that are utterly inconsistent with one’s value system) are the levers. The development of sympathy for one’s ‘captor’, the vilifying of and open resistance to authoritative voices of reason challenging one’s ‘captor’, and the identification with a perceived overlap in goals and values are the result. Hmm.

This is not Jonestown or Waco. 74 million voters are not being held hostage in some remote compound, forced to rob banks. The social isolation, alienation is just as palpable, divisive; and the disinformation just as tailored, toxic. The Kool-Aid is just as real — just as lethal.

Alternate Truths

Screen Shot 2020-12-08 at 11.28.48 AMIllusion: an instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception (of a sensory experience).

Delusion: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument; typically a symptom of mental disorder.
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There’s a point when a strongly held conviction, a belief system, or a defining personal style morphs into something else. When an ‘I know this much is true. . .’ moment crosses the watershed into Neverland. When one’s credo becomes abruptly more sinister, more dangerous.

What makes this ‘crossing of the Rubicon’, this passing over the threshold from ‘generally accepted reality’ to a state less firmly tethered to the real world particularly worrisome is just that — that we’ve floated away from the mothership. That we’re no longer able to conduct meaningful ‘reality checks’. The feedback loop that keeps us grounded has breeched . . . and we’re adrift. Worse, we become increasingly attached to a self-referential, alternate universe, a ‘do-loop’ with no hope of fact-based correction.

The two versions of this New Yorker cover remind us that, with ‘selective pruning’, we ‘see’ what we want or are intended to see: the elegant, cocktail-sipping gal that has become the image of a Covid-times poster child. Pull back for for full frame and the rest of the story, the ‘truth’ reveals. Illusion of grace and style is supplanted by unshaven legs, days or weeks of detritus, device distractions, sweats over suits, the cavalier dereliction that displaces discipline. Illusion.

As state after state has certified and re-certified vote counts, suit upon suit has been tossed aside by the judiciary, ‘witnesses’ undone not by crafty examination but by their own ‘weirdness’, and November 3 recedes into the mists with January 20 looming on the horizon, the ‘version of reality’ that has held sway for a truly disturbing number of folks for the last four years has shifted from illusion to delusion.

An election has been won. . . and an election has been lost. I’m reminded of Arthur’s duel with ‘the Black Knight’ in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. As Arthur progressively dismembers his ‘worthy adversary’, BK sinks deeper and deeper into denial. Losing an arm (’Tis but a scratch’), a second arm (BK crows ‘Oh, had enough, eh?’) and confronted with the reality of his armless state (‘just a flesh wound’). Legless (BK’s defiant retort ‘I’ll do you for that’). Progressively, ‘I’m invincible’, ‘the BK always Trumps hurt’ — and ultimately ‘we’ll call it a draw’.

Funny in film, sympathetic in an individual’s psychotic process, tragic and terrifying in a nation’s morality play where near half of the population and an equal proportion of elected officials continue to support and endorse the deluded claim that ‘I won’ — and ‘none shall pass’.

Trump’s Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 2.03.17 PMWhere does one begin? So many layers, so much irony, such glorious timing. DJT’s mentor and role model has been identified: Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov or, if you’re a purist, Сапармырат Атаевич Ныязов. Sap, as his close friends and family affectionately tag him (I’m almost totally, certainly sure of this!), is the President for Life of Turkmenistan and a dog lover! His official moniker — hang on a minute while I make word pro space — ‘His Excellency Saparmurat Türkmenbaşy, President of Turkmenistan and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers’.

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 2.03.42 PMNov. 10th saw Sap unveil a solid gold statue of a much cherished companion, an Alabai shepherd dog — and a bookend to the statue (also gold) of himself which, rotates throughout the day to face the sun. And to put this in context, the average annual earnings is about 25K (CD$) — with the last attempted assassination being 2002.

As the certainty of a ‘post-Trump’ era inches toward the start line, it’s rumoured (‘we have very good proof of this happening from many people’) that, DJT has been facing the East. The window is closing. Time to plan a management strategy for the road forward is ticking down.

Putting (or ‘Putin-ing’) another autocrat in one’s ‘starred’ (☪’d) list of contacts is a great first step. Much of the ground work has been laid already. Sap and Vlad are established good buddies, lifelong appointments to political autocracy is the norm . . . and gold is a favoured colour (skin, dogs, hair. . .). An unconfirmed bit of gossip is that Sap cruised to his 1999 ‘coronation’ on the slogan: MTGA (Make Turkmenistan Great Again). There is the dog, no-dog issue — but that can be spun. And, of course, not having to worry about illegal voting practices, the fickleness of the electorate, 2024, media that are fake or disloyal or both, and the wasted time attached to firing one’s inner circle — when a bullet (or a bit of poison) would suffice — are all so appealing.Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 2.19.04 PM