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Truth Ache
The truth has been taking its lumps recently. As recently as the late 90s there seemed to be a consensus, at least in this country, about what was a fact, what was conjecture, and what was total bullshit. Those days are gone now, and made-up stuff competes in the same league with provable truth for believability. Maybe it was always a phantom, this consensus, but if it ever existed, that tacit agreement ended with the advent of the Information Age. How ironic.

Huntley, Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite, who used to dispense versions of reality that had been researched by people whose job depended on getting it right, are long gone. They have been replaced by anyone with a a computer. Some of those people are trustworthy (ahem) but many offer nothing more than suspicions of truth that are decorated with shiny objects spun from pure imagination. And yet, a lot of our fellow citizens choose to accept these fevered hypotheticals as gospel.

How do we explain why these people — many of them well-educated — come to believe assertions for which there is no good proof? Assertions, in fact, that are easily disproven? How did these folks find their ways into this alternate “reality?” Are they fated to be gullible or do they choose to be? What, exactly, is their trip?

People who live in the provable reality are understandably concerned about these questions. For one thing, people who inhabit that alternate universe actually vote in this one. Their decisions, in and out of politics, directly effect us — mostly for the worse.

There have been attempts to answer these questions. Last spring, there was a flurry of articles about the The Authoritarian Personality. Psychologists have been looking at this phenomenon for decades, but it has resurfaced as a popular topic over the last year. The mind in question there was not mind of the authoritarian himself, but of his followers. Among their attributes is a tendency to accept whatever they are told by their leaders. They don’t even look for proof. In fact, they prefer the simplicity offered by utter acceptance of authority. Often, they prefer superstition over observable fact because mystical explanations do not require proof.

This analysis rings true, but we are still left to ask, Why? What makes people be this way, in spite of the obvious danger to their own well-being? How did the poor schmucks of the People’s Temple or Heaven’s Gate ever get to the point of absolute, unquestioning obedience?

Another analysis that’s popped up over the last year points to distinctions between conservatives and liberals, not just as as matter of politics, but across the cultural board. On the right (so the theory goes) faith and intuition are given a standing above actual evidence. These “conclusions” are not mere errors of judgment, but illusions. Perception itself is influenced by a need for consistency and order. Anything that disturbs that state is rejected — not because it’s wrong, but because it’s upsetting to the status quo. And that would mean chaos.

That’s why it’s been such a hard road for truth. It can make a dent in the chaos, but it takes time and patience and work to pull it off. Make-believe, by comparison, has it easy.

Until the rent comes due, that is. And the rent has to be paid in this universe.
God Help Us
You know, Paul Ryan might be right. Maybe prayer does work. For instance, we could pray that all the people slaughtered in our country with assault rifles and other weapons of mass murder be brought back to life. God could do that, right?

Maybe we could beseech the Lord to go back in time and do a tiny tweak on the Second Amendment. You know, just enough so that even an archconservative Supreme Court couldn’t find a way to twist the language to make it guarantee the gun madness we’re living with now? Surely God would be up for some light editing if it saved the lives of so many innocents.

We could even ask Him to destroy weapons of war everywhere. Assault rifles, nukes, poison gas, anything we use to murder each other in large numbers. Surely He’d be down for that if we really, really wanted Him to do it. Wouldn’t He?

Heck, as long as we’re praying big, maybe we could call on heaven to help Congress grow a pair.

Or is that too much?
Little Big Man
The last time I was 5'6" tall I was an eighth grader. That's not exceptionally tall for a boy of that age, but it's above average. I remember hoping at the time that the trend would continue and I would grow up to be six feet plus as a man.

Well, here I am now, all grown up. And though I sometimes fantasize about being twelve or thirteen again, I never wish that I would shrink back down to my height at that age. It's better to be tall, I've always thought, no matter what.

But now - or at least this week - I have reconsidered my position. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be five feet, six inches. Or even five-five, as long as I was Jose Altuve.
UsToo
Something big is happening with women right now, and it gives me hope. The #MeToo phenomenon, which started in Hollywood among the beautiful and famous, has now spilled out into the wider world. Three female U.S. senators shared their stories of harassment with the media yesterday. A cohort of Miss Americas have posted accounts of their experiences. More importantly, there appears to be a new willingness among the rest of us to talk about these things — with each other and with the world at large.

I’m still not sure where I fit into this movement, if that’s what it is. I can only say that these stories of abuse and humiliation and the leveraging of fear have had an effect on me. They make me feel uncomfortable. I presume they make others feel uncomfortable too, and I am beginning to think that this a time when we need to feel that way until the problem is solved.

What is heartening about these revelations is the mutual awareness, solidarity, righteousness, and resolve exhibited by these women. That is such an admirable and positive collection of human traits. Their response has its roots in the same fundamental tradition that undergirds all free societies: equality for all of us. To me, this unity represents one of the most promising forces for good at work in our society today. It opens a door that maybe, just maybe, might lead to a more enlightened society — something that this shrinking, increasingly afflicted planet so sorely needs.

That’s a lot of expectation to load on the back of a cause that’s just barely cleared the runway, but I can’t help myself. Tina Brown, a past editor of the New Yorker and other high-end publications, presented a compelling analysis of the phenomenon during an interview on Charlie Rose. She traced its genesis back through the Weinstein charges, to the worldwide Women’s March, and finally to the Access Hollywood tape. Brown thought that that incident, especially since it did not result in stopping Trump from being elected, was the proximate cause of the persistent outrage we are witnessing now. It goes back further than that, of course, including to the episodes around Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, and Bill Clinton. By her reckoning, though, the “pussy-grab” video was the event that activated so many women to rise up and fight back together. But is this culmination of the history of the Women’s rights push strong enough to pull the rest of us along with it?

One reason that I am so hopeful about that possibility is that the women’s movement is the most purely egalitarian cause I can think of. I will dare to say that feminism itself is not just about equality for women, but for all of us. If anything can lift us up and transform us into a truly enlightened society, this is it.

So yes, I’d like to help, but what can a man do? We are certainly getting a clear picture now, for those who didn’t know already, of what we are not supposed to do. Ideally, men should already be there, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. But what else? Finn Wolfhard, the 14-year-old lead of Netflix’ Stranger Things, may have given grown men a clue by firing his agent. The man is alleged to have committed sexual assault against two young men, so Wolfhard cut him loose. The point I take here is that I need to be willing to act, just as Wolfhard did. If it is in my power, I need to stop the jerks, or at least try. That is what so many of the men (and yes, women) of Hollywood failed to do when they had the chance. Shame on them, shame on us.

It is important to recognize that whatever we set ourselves to do, it will not be easy to reverse a culture that his existed since history began. Dominance, control, abuse, and cruelty toward women has been going on a long time. Subjugation of human beings in general, no matter what their gender, has been with us from the beginning, and it will take a whole lot of solidarity and resolve to put even a small dent in that kind of tradition.

But that shouldn’t stop any of us. Maybe my hope and optimism are misplaced, but if humans are destined to continue as a viable species, we’ll need a more holistic concept of what it means to be human. Focussing on gender or ethnicity or any other minor differences we might use to divide ourselves will only undermine our humanity. Every person is different, but so what? We are all parts of the whole. Time to get it together, people, and take a cue from the women. MeToo? UsToo!
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee