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Archive for January 16th, 2021

The PT Barnum of “ Fake News”

The last four years of the Trump anti-leadership era have amplified the delusion that those with facts and data are delusional.

What is real and verifiable is called “fake” while irrational conspiracy theories are touted as the real. When the chief conspiracy theorist is the President, an unstable accelerant is poured out on the perpetual fires stoked by crackpots and political manipulators. The Bully Pulpit provided Trump a vehicle for continuous reinforcement of hatred, vitreol, and conspiracy theories

Since the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the majority of Americans are profoundly distressed and appalled at the bloody insurrection founded on “ the Big Lie” of Trump’s imagined victory. Nonetheless, recent polls show the majority of the Republican Party still believing the election was stolen. They hold tenaciously to this stance despite all evidence to the contrary. More striking still, Trump’s approval rating, though very low in historical terms, remains essentially unchanged even after the Capitol assault.

How can so many hold onto these bizarre views in the face of more than 60 court cases, most all thrown out by the courts as lacking any merit, and the numerous repeated official pronouncements of a fair and secure election, many from Republican state officials ? After the repeated and compelling refutation of their narrative, one can only conclude it is a case of malicious and willful ignorance.

What we are witnessing is the mutation of a lie into a presumed dark truth elevated to the level of a Creed. The believers are Americans who have either become part of a systematic brainwashing given their emotional susceptibility (and a President that made the lie into a truth), or members of extremist groups newly empowered and activated by an unhinged President and his sycophantic party. Either way, they represent a danger to the Republic and need to be managed with a firm, focused and strategic hand.

All of this is the outcome of a highly successful PSYOPS campaign likely funded by both foreign and domestic adversaries of democracy. The Co-conspirators include congresspeople and extremists with voices undeservedly amplified by the megaphone of social media.

PSYOPS is said to be of three kinds: white (mostly truth) , grey ( a mix of truth and lie), and black ( overt and covert propaganda of deception). Grey and black forms have been at work on our country on steroids since Trump was “elected”.

Republicans are now even talking of civil war as belief in the Lie snowballs into a toxic creed. Bans of Trump (and many of his more rabid supporters) from major social media platforms have afforded us a moment’s reprieve, though the insurrectionists are fleeing swiftly to encrypted sites. The challenge ahead becomes more complex as the evil finds its way to the back alleys of the internet.

Beyond the critical need for an aggressive, coherent multi-agency strategy of domestic counter-terrorism, what more can be done? Those fully brainwashed, the hardcore conspiracy theorists, are likely beyond recovery. They will need to be countered by a strong offense of surveillance and targeted police action.

Treatment for the “lemming” caucus and the corrupted citizenry will need to be informed by what we have learned from the Skinnerian radical behaviorism of the 1950s and 60s. Speeches and appeals to truth (attempting reasoned argument) will go nowhere as this audience lack “ears to hear”.

While Biden stresses American foundational values (unity, civility, equality under the law and decency), there must be a clear and consistently applied reinforcement schedule implemented by the Justice Department: an extinction schedule, a special case of non-intermittent reinforcement.

The incentive for the behavior we are watching has been a continuous positive reinforcement (largely via Trump’s social media following on Twitter, Facebook and Parler). Air time on demand gave a lunatic executive as much space as he wanted to pollute the thinking of the confused, marginalized and disaffected.

Legislation will now be needed to ensure that social media companies clamp down fast and hard on hate speech and incitement to violence. A consistent and aggressive campaign of flagging what is the actually fake news ( i.e., aggressive fact checking) must become the standard.

Hate groups promoting violence should be outlawed. Nazis should not be allowed a voice in America ( and they should never have been given one). Spokespersons who recover from their addiction to hate and who speak out for rationality, on the other hand, should be positively recognized and celebrated ( like congresspeople who feel shame and offer apology).

Invoking one of the core principles of learning theory, behavior lacking a linked reward, and/ or receiving punishment, will lead to a significant reduction ( if not extinction) of the offending behavior.

This social project takes on critical importance as we open a new corrective Administration. In the meantime, the rest of us, the majority, need to role model the values of civil discourse, listening, and respect for those who are inclined toward healthy debate.

Our only recourse, in the case of those who wrap themselves in the “delusion delusion,” is to deliberately shun them, walk away, and relate to their behavior as we do any noxious noise to be squelched. It’s the behavior we must denounce while wishing them speedy recovery from the disease of extremist delusion.

Clear reinforcement contingencies are the only way to restore right order when it comes to anarchists, fear-mongers, liars, criminals, cheats and misanthropes. Walking away in such cases, while holding them fully accountable for misdeeds, is an authentic demonstration of caring.

Appeasement and effortful attempts to convert them to the truth simply feeds the beast. Better to starve it and treat it with clear consequences. This is what we do in all other instances of acting out and misguided, malicious action.

What we are seeing today is the outcome of a pernicious moral relativism. Now, facts are considered to be relative to the person’s experiences ( i.e., all in the eyes of the beholders). In giving credence to this distortion, we fail to assert the unarguable dignity of what is verifiable fact.

We created what we are seeing by tolerating the intolerable. Now is the time to return to the basics of clear boundaries, decisive definition of acceptable and unacceptable community behavior, and the fundamentals of democratic governance. Otherwise, the American experiment will devolve toward dictatorship.

The times call for a vision of hope to be sure. However, hope must be supported by clear contingencies for adherence to rules of decency and mutual regard. Provisions for unrelenting punitive measures for the corrupt and mean -spirited is the flip side of the coin of civilized society. At the same time, we need to insist on competent and accountable leadership at all levels that models the way.

Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm”

Joe Clark

© The Harried Mystic, 2021 and Br. Anton, TSSF. of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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