Thursday, January 14, 2021

Vintage Post: The Idiots Are Winning

There have been so many times over the past four years when I've thought about re-posting this piece from September 2010. I can't fully name why I've always thought twice, although among the chief reasons was probably my own denial that a lot of this turned out to be correct. Then the events of January 6th and all the subsequent attempts at deflection and misinformation happened--not to mention the incredible amount of whipped up paranoia and conspiracy theories that spurred it on--and I finally decided that this is worth a revisit. If I wrote this post now, I'd reword some of the stuff near the end about sex work and about Islamic belief (the benefit of 10+ years of learning and hindsight), so please go into this with that recognition. I still can't find new words that I'd write about what's been happening, so for now this will have to do.

A couple years ago I watched the movie Idiocracy for the first time. Here's my analysis from an old Roundup:
[The movie stars] Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph as two subjects of an Army sleep experiment who end up sleeping for 500 years. When they wake up, they find that somehow the world is completely populated by morons. Crowds are easily riled up and manipulated by someone yelling or by explosions, a Gatorade-type corporation has taken over the FDA and heavily influenced what people eat, Wilson's character takes an aptitude test that includes questions such as, "If you have one bucket that holds two gallons, and another bucket that holds five gallons, how many buckets do you have?" We also find that Costco has become as big as a city and that most chain restaurants now feature prostitution. Anyway, because of Wilson's high score on the aptitude test (he becomes known as the smartest person in the world), he's whisked off to serve on the President's Cabinet to help them solve the country's problems, among them being a lack of crops due to them being irrigated with the Gatorade-type stuff. This future world is excessive, violent, overtaken by a handful of corporations, and the population has become so incredibly lazy that they're unable to consider what's really happening.
I've bolded the reasons why this movie has been on my mind the past few months. It took me a while to figure out whether I liked it; to decide whether it was just stupid lowbrow comedy or brilliant satire. Over time, I've come to see it as the latter. Sure, it's over-the-top, but there are some indications that we aren't that far off from a similar reality. 

I want to lift up two books that I've read this year that have been on my mind for similar reasons. The first is Idiot America by Charles Pierce, which looks into the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind recent major events such as the Iraq war and the outcry over Terry Schiavo. In each of these cases, Pierce argues, people go to great lengths to denounce or marginalize experts in order to come to pre-conceived conclusions and pursue political goals. 

Sometimes, like with Terry Schiavo, the public's anger gets whipped up regardless of what those who have actually examined the matter closely have to say. In those cases, it doesn't matter because I'm ANGRY AND CONVINCED, DAMMIT! STOP IT WITH YOUR SORCERER'S WAYS!! Ultimately, Pierce argues that we are becoming a society increasingly governed by emotion rather than calm reasoning, in no small part because the people who actually know something about the subject are deemed "elitists." It's what I feel that matters, which is based on intellectual laziness and reactionary thinking, if any thinking at all. No, we'll let politicians, pundits, and the media think for us. 

The other book that has been on my mind ever since I read it is Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, which is her personal account of surviving the Rwandan genocide. First off, I'm going to go ahead and send up a cry for help here, because I really think that I need to process this book with somebody. It's been over a month, and not a day has gone by without me thinking about it. I cannot fathom how human beings can treat one another like this, and it has caused no small amount of concern within me for those for whom this is a daily reality, as well as whether something like this could ever happen in the United States. 

Ilibagiza tells of how first Rwanda's European occupiers and later higher-ups in her own government were able to rile up fellow citizens, including friends and neighbors, to take up machetes and guns and kill their own people. She repeatedly mentions the frenzy in their eyes, the chants that they yell, the affects of alcohol and drug use that perhaps emboldened them to carry out the government's wishes. All of this based on made-up differences and designations that people bought into in the name of ethnic purity and loyalty to country. 

If you can't yet see the parallels to current events, I'll go ahead and spell them out. 

There's a guy in Florida named Terry Jones. He's pastor of a church called Dove World Outreach Center. You've probably heard of him, because he'd announced a plan to have a Qu'ran burning on September 11th. This sparked statements of outrage and condemnation from all over the world, including from Muslim countries, President Obama, General Patraeus, the Pope, and the National Council of Churches, among so many others. Jones proclaimed that Islam is of the devil and the Qu'ran is an evil book, and thus must be burned. It was pointed out to him how disrespectful such an event would be, how anti-Christian it would be, and how horrible an effect it would have both on the United States' reputation and on the lives of Americans in other countries. 

Jones' eventual response? "Well, I'll pray about it, and if they decide to move the Ground Zero mosque, we won't do it." That's paraphrased, but it's the basic reason that he gave. Okay, let's dissect this statement. The gist here is that if God provides this very specific "sign," which also happens to be something I want to happen besides, I won't carry on with an act that will cause an international shitstorm. I'll ignore all the reasoning provided by world political and religious leaders, and base my decision on whether God gives me this sign. What if the provided reasoning based on our God-given ability to think is the sign?! Why do you need God to do divine jumping jacks and fulfill your preconceived desire? It hardly ever works like that. Read your Bible to find out more. 

The Daily Show showed a clip of him being interviewed by Soledad O'Brien, where he had the gall to suggest that moderate Muslims should be supportive of his burning the Qu'ran. She flat out said that that notion was silly. The man has little to no understanding of Islam, but such an understanding matters little to people unwilling to use reason to begin with. 

Fortunately, Jones was eventually talked out of going through with his plans. According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, a spiritual advisor was finally able to convince him of the good rational reasons not to do it. Unfortunately, it also contains this nugget:
Pastor Jones, dressed in a dark suit, said at a press conference Friday that he had never read the book he intended to burn. "I have never read the Quran," he said. His opposition to the book, he said, was rooted in his belief that it doesn't contain the truths of the Bible.
Again, there is no understanding of Islam shown here. In fact, he outright admits that he has none. Instead, there was only ever an emotion-based, knee-jerk reaction that he and his supporters thought was good enough. 

Speaking of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," it is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque. It is planned to be over two blocks away from Ground Zero (a radius that already includes sanctifying edifices such as strip clubs and fast food restaurants), and will actually be a community center that will have a Muslim prayer space but will be open to groups and activities of multiple faiths. Read the Who We Are section on their website. Yeah, these guys sound awful. 

The reasoning being used against it? First off, it will tarnish sacred ground. Again: strip clubs. Second, a mosque that close to Ground Zero will tarnish the memory of 9/11 victims. As it turns out, there's already a mosque close by. Finally comes the blanket belief that all Muslims are terrorists. The group planning this center are of the Sufi strand of Islam, which is very mystical and tolerant. The group planning the center wish, among other things, to bridge and heal relations between Muslims and the West. They are a far cry from the Islamists who carried out the 9/11 attacks. But nobody wants to learn enough in order to make the distinction. All Muslims are terrorists, I'm already ANGRY, and I can't be bothered to look into it more than that. 

Hopefully you can already see where Idiocracy and Idiot America apply in each of these scenarios. People's emotions are being whipped up with hardly any appeal to reason, facts, or potential implications. An entire religion is being demonized with hardly any understanding of or desire to understand Islam's basic tenets nor its various strands. 

And with all of this based in feelings of anger, resentment, and fear, without any signs that people who've been taken in by emotion related to these issues may ever appeal to calm reasoning or evaluative decision-making, how far off are we from a scenario like Left to Tell? Is it really that extreme of a question? Rwandans were induced to violence on fellow citizens based on these same things. 

More than ever, I am incredibly fearful that the idiots are winning. God help us all.