"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Flapdoodle, Confabulation, And Fake News–Life Would Be Very, Very Boring Without Them

The Devil in Ivan Karamazov’s dream is a vaudevillian, a self-proclaimed comedian who injects himself into life to make it more bearable, more appealing and more fun. 

So against the grain I serve to produce events and do what's irrational because I am commanded to. For all their indisputable intelligence, men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy. They suffer, of course … but then they live, they live a real life, not a fantastic one, for suffering is life. Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? It would be transformed into an endless church service; it would be holy, but tedious

Image result for images ivan karamazov's devil

Who can argue with that? A Hobbesian short, nasty, and brutal life needs some levity.  Shakespeare always introduced comic relief in his tragedies, for who could watch the evil of Goneril and Regan, the psychological disassembly of Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello without pause? Even the vilest stories are only episodes in a finely varied life; and clowns, bawds, and fools are just as common as villains. 

The principle of comic relief, or not taking the world too seriously has been ignored in today’s sanctimonious age.  The world is too seriously in danger for laughs say progressives.  There is no room for bombast, vaudeville, or tall tales.  Only the painful truth will do.  Fake news – the distortion of such truth and the received wisdom of its prophets – is the work of naysayers, climate deniers, and homophobes. 

According to these latter day prophets, Donald Trump was the embodiment of lies, distortion, misinformation, and exaggeration.  Everything he said was fake news, but everything haters leveled at him was no different.  There might have been a scintilla of truth in what both said, but it was so hidden in magnificent confabulations that no one even tried to find it.  To be honest, no one really cared.  No one was interested in some Cartesian conclusion.  Logic is irrelevant to subjective political reality.  Spreadsheets, graphs, and technical minutia about air pressure, ocean currents, atmospheric events, and sunspots are tedious.  Why bother to dig when you know that global warming is a fact, undeniable, and settled?  Why fuss with social equations about demographics, mobility, indicators of social dysfunction, opportunity margins, and marginal cost-benefit when you know that the inner city is a product of white privilege, a persistent legacy of slavery, and a racist gulag?

Image result for images donald trump fake news

The elaborate quilt of fake news is colorful, intricate and appealing.  Every new bit of news about hurricanes, rainfall, and water temperature adds a thread; each dire warning is fancy embroidery.  A footnoted, peer-reviewed, objectively-argued paper on heat differentials and Artic ocean currents is grey, featureless, and boring.  Will global warming be the apocalyptic Armageddon environmentalists predict? Doubtful; but the possibility is enticing.  In fact the images of a burnt, blackened, and scarred landscape still smoldering amidst the ruins of civilization are important to the movement.  Without such dire and frightening prophecies, few people would join up.

Image result for images of environmental armageddon

Does anyone take the morose predictors of doom seriously? Is there nothing comic about the whingeing and caterwauling of  ‘I am the future’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Or the Johnny-on-the-Spot, ‘no act of racism is too small’, dour, mulleted, ambulance-chaser Al Sharpton? Of course there is; and not only that, their self-absorption, faux seriousness, and bald ambition only add to the side show. 

Mark Oppenheimer, writing in The New Republic, shared his bemusement as he recounted a birthday party for one of his young daughter’s friends:

Like any moral panic, nobody was immune to its contagion. Soon, I was fretting—but for different reasons. For all I knew, some of these kids weren’t immunized, and they were fed only unpasteurized milk. The other parents were worried about germs and microbes and genetically modified apricots—I was worried about the parents. I was surrounded by the new Puritans: self-righteous, aspiring toward a utopian perfectionism, therefore condemned to perpetual anxiety—and in their anxiety, a threat to me and my children.

Oppenheimer offers these clues to liberal angst:

The Puritan parents I encounter are nearly all liberals, and they represent the persistence of two unfortunate tendencies liberals have inherited from the Puritans, queered along the way by Progressive-era reformers. The first is the fun-smothering tendency of Progressive-era moral uplift, the tendency that brought us Prohibition and the first laws proscribing opiates and narcotics.

‘Fun-smothering moral uplift’ – that says it all.  A life of unremitting seriousness and righteousness, while most Americans are smoking and drinking, chasing poontang, and pulling up their skirts between quittin’ time and rise and hangover time,  paying no mind to climate or cross-dressing, making do and moving on, having as much fun as possible and nary a thought to the consequences. 

Fake news is real news, blather and sermonizing the rule, fact and fiction are two sides of the same counterfeit bill, and Las Vegas, Hollywood, daytime television, and the pulpit – not Washington – are America.  We listen to hawkers, preachers, and snake oil salesmen.  We pray to Jesus, listen to used car salesmen, clip coupons, and buy wrinkle creams.  The world will end soon enough. Only the final accounting counts and that is a matter of divine election not how much we polluted or hot dogs on the grill.

Image result for images snake oil salesman

In any case, reality is a tricky business.   Philosophers from Aristotle to Paul Weiss have considered the nature of reality, whether such a thing exists, and how meaning can be derived from what may be fictitious.  Phenomenologists like Bishop Berkeley even suggested that reality is created by perception – i.e.  only if a tree falls in the forest someone is there to hear it fall does the sound of its falling exist. Plato has Socrates describe a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners' reality.

Behavioral psychologists have always been aware of the impossibility of pinning down reality.  Browning, Durrell, and Kurosawa all wrote about or produced works which displayed the subjectivity of the observer – different stories told by different people who had presumably experienced the same event.  Behaviorists who studied the phenomenon of the ‘eye witness’ concluded the same thing – people witnessing an alleged crime will report seeing it differently. 

Image result for images movie rashomon

Common wisdom and philosophical reasoning join in fake news.  Both the Walmart greeter and the metaphysician know that not only can one never distinguish between fact and fiction, it is not even worth trying.  Truth and reality have always been relative terms, sliding from one end of the perceptual scale to the other without ever settling in one place.

So better to loose the tethers of objectivity, take things as they come without too much concern for their certificates of origin and authenticity, have a good laugh with the rubes who fall for shell games or who pay good money for pasties, glitz, and glamour. We are all in the circus tent, sometimes the performers, sometimes the observers.  We are either bearded ladies and two headed babies or gawkers at them.  Either the sky is falling or it is an illusion; so why bump out dining rooms or redo kitchens?  Too much practicality in case the sky is actually falling is not a good thing.

Bella figura, la dolce vita, Barnum&Bailey, and the runways of Vegas, are all better options.                                               

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