Our online profiles will eventually become who we are — for better or worse

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Jake Angeli, aka the QAnon Shaman, at in Washington, D.C. January 6, 2020. image via Blink O’fanaye Flickr

If you find it difficult now to tell where the sprawling tentacles of the QAnon/5G/anti-vaccine conspiracy theories end and support for Donald Trump — and the erroneous claims of election fraud — begin, you’re not alone. More and more, it seems there is no separating them. The two camps, if they ever really were distinct, have bled together. If the Q posters and t-shirts at Trump events weren’t enough, then the list of those arrested for their roles in the break-in at the Capitol on January 6 make the point.

One way to explain the sprawling Q-Trump delusional universe that caught on in 2020, following a series of anti-lockdown/mandatory masking protests. It was compared to both alternate reality games, or ARGs, and to live-action role-playing, aka LARPing, where people adopt a character to act out a game whose plot is usually guided by a gamemaster. It might be a bit of both. The ARG analogy is compelling, but the comparison to LARPing that seems to stick best when it comes to the transformation people appear to undergo when they descend down the internet conspiracy rabbit hole. …


A reconsideration of Lindsey Graham’s prediction

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Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

Watching footage of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham being accosted this week by hardcore Trump supporters in an airport probably offered, for some, a moment of schadenfreude. Here, it seemed, were the chickens finally coming home to roost. All the aggressive fealty, the dogma, the conspiracy, and the violence Graham helped enable as he defended Trump for the last few years had finally been directed back at him. “Traitor!” the crowd shouted in his face. “You know it was rigged!” one woman screamed at him, as he tried to walk through the terminal.

If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it,” Graham tweeted in May, 2016, a couple months before the Republicans did just that. In the early days of the Trump presidency, Graham’s tweet seemed like proof that, despite everything, there was still sanity within the Republican party. Perhaps, we might have assumed early on, such clarity about Trump would mean that he would be curtailed, that at least some Republicans weren’t fooled. Clearly, that was wrong. More recently, as Graham — like many of his colleagues — morphed into a sycophantic Trump apologist toady, his tweet stands out as evidence of a deep moral and ideological rot at the heart of the GOP. …


Will the majority of Americans see these images as a historically dark day?

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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the most deeply unnerving part of Wednesday’s insurrectionist spectacle in Washington, D.C., was the posing. Having breached the Capitol building, the mob proceeded to lounge and loot. They kicked back in the Senate chamber. They put their feet up in the speaker’s office. They held the Confederate flag aloft. They screamed from the gallery and hauled away whatever wasn’t bolted down, smiling like some extremist Waldos wandering through bizarro chaos. Of the entire sad event, these were among the most ghoulish moments and the photos of them the most macabre images of democracy’s (near) death.

But the most troublesome end to all of this is knowing that, for many, these images and countless more will mean exactly the opposite. For those who believe a violent, patriotic revolt is necessary to undo November’s election, these images will further validate their beliefs—and perspective counts for a lot. It can even prompt someone to break into a government building in an attempt to upend democracy. As one rioter put it to the U.K.’s ITV News when asked why they were storming the Capitol: The politicians inside “don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” …


Having kids is gambling that tomorrow will be better than today. Will that bet pay off?

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Fifteen years ago this month, novelist Michael Chabon wondered what happened to the future. Contemplating the Clock of the Long Now — a clock designed to keep time for the next 10,000 years installed deep inside a mountain in western Texas — Chabon waxed nostalgic about a past version of the future in an essay for Details magazine. That old future, the one he heard about during his childhood in the mid-20th Century, was the future of the Jetsons, Tomorrowland, space travel, or even hydroponics, Chabon remembered. It was weird and new and imaginative. …


We’ve had to learn that in the pandemic, time means something new

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Photo: yuanyuan yan/Getty Images

March, the first month of the lockdowns, felt like it lasted an eternity. Then April slipped past like it never happened. June, July, August were punctured with protests and emotional exhaustion as the summer seemed to simply evaporate. Suddenly, it was November, and there was an election again. Week after week, month after month, people gathering at a distance or on myriad video conferencing apps agreed: In 2020, it was impossible to tell what day it was. Time — that dependable, quantifiable metric of life — had become unpredictable.

How could this be?

As Reuters explained in July, variables like repetition, emotion, and memory distortion can mess with our subjective concept of time. Over at Vox a month earlier, philosophy professor Adrian Bardon, PhD, of Wake Forest University offered a similar explanation as to why it felt as though days or weeks were endless, but entire months seemed to zip by. By disrupting our routines, the pandemic skewed our interpretation of time — both as it was happening and how we interpreted it retrospectively, Bardon explained. It also filled us with anxiety. “The combination of negative emotion and inward-directed attention makes your moment-to-moment life seem intolerable and burdensome,” he continued. Yet, “when we look back on our day, we say, ‘Where did the day go? Nothing got done.’” In other words: The pandemic added new stresses and forced us to ruminate. …


America rode ironic detachment to the brink. Now, it must regain its good faith.

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Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Just as Donald Trump won’t leave us quietly, nor will the sense of irony his presence amplified in American life. Among the many cultural reckonings we must make in the wake of an election where Trump still received over 70 million votes, there are few more pressing than the sense of detachment that helped him take his place at the helm of the American political psyche for four long years. Ironic detachment is at the heart of the Trump story. It’s central to how he was, and continues to be, able to present himself as a viable leadership choice for millions of Americans. But it’s also central to the American story for the last 30 years. …


The pandemic revealed our society’s failings. We’re running out of time to fix them.

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Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Earlier in 2020, as the lockdowns arrived, time started to feel warped. We began to ask ourselves whether we were living in the past or the present or whether we were caught somewhere in between. This feeling of inertia was a function of recognizing a time lag between when the virus arrived and when we realized it was here.

The coronavirus case counts we saw updated every morning were already history — reality as it was two weeks prior. What was happening had already happened but also had not happened yet. …


Why shutting down Twitter accounts or limiting Facebook groups won’t solve our problem

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Photo: ETA+/Unsplash

In February, after the United States Senate voted to acquit President Donald Trump of impeachment charges, Sean Illing at Vox described why nobody seemed to care. “Despite all the incontrovertible facts at the center of this story,” Illing wrote, “it was always inevitable that this process would change very few minds.”

At the heart of this obvious problem, Illing argued, was “a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information” and is frequently and deliberately manipulated to the point where it’s impossible to tell what’s accurate and what’s fabricated. Illing pointed to Steve Bannon, a purveyor of information chaos, to describe what happens: To counteract the narrative of reality, Bannon reportedly said in 2018, is to “flood the zone with shit.” Overwhelming information exhausts people, Illing noted. …


A study of men in Hitler’s Germany shows how people allow tyranny to spread

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German soldiers entering Saaz, 1938. Image: Wikimedia Commons/German Federal Archive

Shortly after the Second World War ended, American journalist Milton Mayer set out to investigate how Germany had become a totalitarian state. Mayer wanted to know why, as Adolf Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Party slowly amassed power and drove the country to war, Germans didn’t stand up for their rights. He’d long earlier realized that the answer to this question would be better found by speaking frankly to Germans, rather than examining or interviewing former Nazi officials. So Mayer decided to focus on Germany’s “little men.”

These “little men,” Mayer wrote, weren’t only “the men for whom the mass media and the campaign speeches are everywhere designed but, specifically in sharply stratified societies like Germany, the men who think of themselves in that way.” Mayer found 10 of them in the town of Marburg (which Mayer called “Kronenberg”), near Frankfurt. He became friendly with them. He interviewed them many times over several months. …


To free itself from a viral conspiracy, America must reexamine its history

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David Geitgey Sierralupe via creative commons

In a corner of the sprawling QAnon ur-conspiracy that alleges Donald Trump is waging a secret war with a cabal of globalist child sex traffickers, humanity-controllers, and the “deep state,” is a theory about time manipulation.

One early message from ‘Q’, the anonymous, supposedly highly-placed operative whose cryptic notes have convinced many Americans of a coming “storm” in which the cabal will be arrested and put on trial, wrote a simple phrase: “Future proves past.” Follow that thread and very quickly you end up at a January 2012 interview with Bill Wood, aka Bill Brockbrader (per the Idaho States Attorney’s Office, Brockbrader was convicted of three sexual offenses against a minor in 1998, and then arrested again in 2012 for failing to register as a sex offender in Idaho). In the video, Wood/Brockbrader, claims to have been part of a secretive Navy SEAL team with psychic abilities. …

About

Colin Horgan

writer.

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