I know I’ve often sounded (perhaps unduly to those who haven’t thought about it much) alarmed at how much we live soaked in fiction and how our brains aren’t really designed for it. Particularly visual fiction, because our brains really are designed to believe what they see.
This is a particular problem when you realize that most of the fiction that is made into visible form (most of the written too) and that we see over the course of our lives, including when too young to question it, is made by one particular politico/ideological/philosophical side. What’s more, that side tends to — if anything — consume more fiction than the rest of us, being totally steeped in the narrative arts. (Yeah, okay, guilty as charged, and besides, I have kept a toe in reality by having kids, etc.) And they tend to have startlingly similar backgrounds and life experiences: same colleges, same type of degrees, usually unmarried and childless, though sometimes one of or the other, usually living in urban environments, usually from fairly affluent backgrounds/educated families, etc.
In a way, they are what the regency “ton” or the upper ten thousand was. They are, in fact, an isolated, tight knit village. This is how it’s so easy to blacklist or cancel someone. All it takes is a game of whisper from person to person, and suddenly you find yourself on the outs, which is very much how a village functions. It is also a way to enforce ideological conformity. If everyone you know thinks one thing, then of course, it must be so. Having grown up in a village, by the way, this could mean all your neighbors could be convinced that Spain was in raging civil war, when it was no such thing, because someone misinterpreted something, and it propagated. And then if you tried to pour water on it because you’d been to Spain recently, or knew people there, the first reaction would be to shut you out, because “you think you know more than we do.”
The problem with this is that they are serving up their internal delusion to the rest of the country and to an extent the world. (Witness European leaders reproaching us for our restrictive abortion laws which are in fact more permissive than any of theirs. They get their information from our media, and their idea of what anti-abortion people in the US are like from our media AND entertainment. And it never occurs to them this vision has absolutely no contact with reality.)
Mind you, this strategy was stunningly successful for a very long time. Because there was no way for you to communicate with like minded people — not en masse — if you weren’t part of the party with the megaphone, you were isolated, made to feel insane, and of course you believed at least some of what you were fed. So, your part of the country/city must be the only one without horrible racist right wingers; you must be the only liberty minded/non fundamentalist person; etc. etc. etc. And you knew that you didn’t see any of these things that showed up everywhere, and you wondered if you were the one who was crazy.
Now this is fracturing — thank heavens — and we’re finding that no, our lying eyes are actually right (when not looking at the screen) and that there’s an entire bill of goods there.
And then, suddenly, we find ourselves blinking at a trope we swallowed without thinking before.
This happened the other day, as I was sitting here, on the sofa (I’m here this morning, because son is installing a ceiling fan in my office, and I get tired of “the screw fell under your desk, please move”) and my husband was watching TV which is our normal set up in the evening, while I was writing. As usual, I was absorbing parts of the story without really thinking, and suddenly looked up to a scene of high school guys beating up on a new elementary school kid. There was no reason for it, though the incident was the setup for the plot.
I stared at it puzzled for a while before I said “But that doesn’t happen.”
Look, I grew up in as isolated a community as it comes, and yeah, sure, it was tough for newcomers. There were two families that were “newcomers” after living there for twenty years. But no one — no one — was going to beat you up for being a newcomer. They would ignore you, give you the cold shoulder, might give you barbs about going back where you came from or tell you to shut up about local affairs, but they wouldn’t BEAT you. Prank you and attempt to make fun of you is about the worst you’d get.
And it’s about the worst you get, unless the community has gone utterly feral and robs passerbyes, which has allegedly happened at various times in various places, but is hard to pin down, because most might be legends.
However, this is an absolutely believed, swear-by-it trope in movies and books, and you kind of have to wonder.
If you remember my main objection to If You Were A Dinosaur My Love (other than its being puerile) was that “strangers don’t act that way.” Heck, even if you go to “another color” or “small in group” bar in the middle of nowhere.
Dan and I were childless for six years after our marriage. Also by virtue of my growing up abroad and his growing up mostly in math, we were innocent babes in the wood type of people. And we did a lot of driving around, because I wanted to see the country. We had breakdowns in places where — in my dad’s parlance — even Judas wouldn’t lose his boots. We went into holes in the wall in the middle of nowhere, trying to get a meal. We ate at more biker bars, and stopped in more neighborhoods where Dan’s pallor was conspicuous than I care to mention.
The worst we met with was mockery or attempts to pick on us, which could be handled by more or less ignoring them, or pretending not to understand them. (To be fair, sometimes we really didn’t, just caught the tone.) But those were actually rare. Most of the time, we approached people courteously, explained our situation (mostly being lost) and asked for help, and more often than not we were met not only with help, but with people going out of their way to be nice to us. Meals were provided in dubious bars, long after the kitchen had nominally closed. We were told about potential road hazards on the way back, and ways to avoid them. Or told of places to stay the night where we’d “be all right.”
Now maybe we’re made of shiny and people naturally love us, but I don’t think so.
So what is being reflected in these stories and movies where people, for no reason, turn on the small and helpless?
When I made my protest Dan said “It’s because it’s what the left would do.”
And of course there is something to that. The left are widely convinced of being mind-readers, but actually they seem to be looking into the mirror when they “read” what’s in “our” minds.
But there must be something deeper, something that started the rumor, and made it into a meme in the community that makes movies and tv. And it occurred to me, probably, it was that a few of them went out into the “wilds” (which probably means suburbs) and were insufferably rude to the locals. In fact, I heard from a friend who lives kind of rural about a female academic coming to town, supposedly for a legitimate purpose but spending her time lecturing everyone everywhere about pronouns and never even noticing the locals were rolling their eyes so hard they had to meet in the evening to trade accidentally swapped eyeballs.
I can see the lore of “strangers will attack you for no good reason” growing from idiots who escalated from lecturing to starting fights. Or even I can see the lore growing from idiots who ran their mouths, were mocked or rebutted, and had no clue how to handle it, so they remember it as violence against them.
And of course, they would be mad and want to beat these “savages” which in projection became “they wanted to beat me. I barely escaped.”
It is part of insular cultures to assume that you are the top of the chain and doing things correctly, and therefore you should teach “savages” what to do.
It is also part of highly ritualized cultures to mistake the required utterances/etc for a fact of life and their violation as actual violence.
Our left is nothing new. They are simply an extremely insular elite who mistakes the customs of their tribe for laws of nature, and who have been lulled into a false sense of power and influence due to their — brief, in the long wrong, probably — monopoly over means of mass communication and entertainment.
Thing is, as that breaks apart and the fundamentals of their world view are shaken (and this has been going on for a while, but definitely visibly since 2016) they feel as if they personally are under attack.
Yes, of course, they want to hurt us. We are taking them apart with our bare hands. Or at least that’s what it feels like. And they can’t understand where these ideas none of their friends believe in are coming from. They must be crazy, evil, pernicious.
There is more projected there. Like, as they blindly try to protect their power and influence (not sure about what is shaking it, mind you) they reflexively accuse those attacking them of fighting to maintain patriarchal white supremacy, which in their deluded little heads is what goes on outside their circles. Even though white supremacy is small, fringe, and mostly FBI, and patriarchy in the US was always fairly laughable outside small, isolated enclaves. (This is a whole other post, probably entitled “How I became a white Mormon male with a great rack.)
Yeah, it’s going to get much, much worse. I waver almost daily on exactly how bad it will get, and what comes after, so I won’t inflict it on you.
It’s never pretty when a tiny elite with illusions of superiority falls. I mean, really, in France they washed the cities in blood before they were done.
And they are falling. They are falling because the ubiquity of the ability to communicate en masse without their permission can’t be put back in the bottle.
Their pretty house of mirrors was impregnable, but fragile. It can’t withstand any external input, and is cracking.
To them it feels like reality is coming apart, and they’ll try to break the world to keep the mirrors.
Our job is to make the fall of this bizarre house of assumptions and lies and fast and painless as possible. And to build on reality to replace it.
Be not afraid. We win, they lose. But be not stupid. It’s going to get scary.