Sunday, August 20, 2017

How to stay sane during a mass panic

I've been arguing for a while that progressives and those further left made an enormous error in adopting the strategy of demonizing rather than engaging opponents.  Labeling opposition as "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic -- you name it" might seem like a useful strategy.  After all, as soon as you can get opponents defensively denying it, they lose the debate.  But while there's something to that, this is just part of the effect.  If this is practiced continually, one starts believing one's own propaganda, with the result that one's opponents really do appear as demons, with demonic powers, and also one begins to lose the ability to debate, or even see, the arguments of one's opponents.  In other words, pursuing this strategy will simultaneously make one stupid and drive one mad.  And if many cultivate -- inadvertently -- an inability to think clearly and to retain equanimity, it's almost inevitable they'll be vulnerable to mass hysteria and panic.

That's all prelude to my post.  I received a couple of emails this morning from very good friends of mine, call them X and Y.  They live outside the U.S. much of the year, and are currently outside the country.  They are very sensible people, both highly educated (Ph.D.s), and also well to the left of me politically.   The first email, from X, was links to videos about Charlotte and the rise of neo-Nazism in the U.S., facilitated by Trump.  The second, from Y, follows (I've changed names, of course):

"Got up late this morning (8:30) to find X on couch watching computer video (I thought).  Touched her and she jumped out of her skin.  She had been watching film of the Charlottesville debacle.  She's convinced the SS is on the march.  (I'm convinced they've the IQs of squirrels and have two left feet that would never allow them to march in a convincing manner.)  On the other hand, I saw this sort of stuff during civil rights, and tilt towards the Kinky Friedman approach:  'They don't make Jews, like Jesus anymore, they don't turn the other cheek, the way they done before.. '  While not being Jewish, I still feel the need to pony up.   (I will be consulting you shortly for pointers on the use of AR-14s and such.)"

It strikes me as weird that anyone would seriously think neo-Nazism is on the rise, or that Trump sees neo-Nazis favorably, or that he courts them.  Here's my response (again, edited a bit for UC):

"Good grief. The SS on the march? The main thing that is going on is mass hysteria. Pretty much all 'news' media today is devoted to manufacturing it. 'Fake news' is a pleonasm these days. A gang of neo-Marxists rumbled with a gang of neo-Nazis, neither of whom represent the views of 1% of the country, and now it's 'Springtime for Hitler.' (No, wait, that was Mel Brooks, maybe I'm thinking of Heidi Riefenstahl.) Trump condemns both (correctly) with his usual eloquence (that is, ineloquence, I think you get it but these days it doesn't hurt to be pleonastic) and now he's the reincarnation of Ernst Rom."

"I don't mean to make light of peoples' fears, but it really is just hysteria driven by pushing peoples hot buttons. Here's a sort of combination test and therapy that sometimes works. When someone is in such state, ask them calmly for clear predictions, with time frames, of what they think is going to happen. Sometimes this makes people engage the more rational, less emotional parts of the mind and helps restore equanimity."

Wise, don't you think?  Well, I think so, at least.  So, if you're flipping out over Charlotte, here's Dr. Steele's Patent Panic Remedy™: 

Sit down, take a deep breath, and write what you think will happen in 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years (basically next election). FEMA camps filled with whom? What purges? Specifically, how will Trump or the Republicans or the alt-right freaks change the American institutions? Lay it out clearly, on paper, and explain why.

Specify your fears and they will almost always shrink.  This works for much more than the current panic, of course.

Perhaps you want a second opinion.  OK, here is Dr. Scott Adam's test for How to Know Whether You're in a Mass Hysteria Bubble.  I endorse completely.  You need to read it.

For takes that I find sensible on Charlotte, here are two.  They disagree, but both are rational and worth reading.

Andrew McCarthy's "On Charlottesville, Trump, and Anti-Americanism." From a perceptive former federal prosecutor who is unsympathetic to Trump and doesn't mind removal of Confederate statues.

Arthur Herman's "Confederate Statues Honor Timeless Virtues — Let Them Stay."  From a pro-Union historian who defends the statues.

Now, having studied this, readers of Unforeseen Contingencies will have no excuses for going crazy just because the end of the world is coming.

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