This will be the only time I visit the current political nightmare that is the US right now on this blog.
The two front running candidates for the most televised political office in the country (and possibly the western world) are essentially human disaster zones, both so tangled in their own petty drama, their personal flaws, and their past screw-ups that I don’t actually think that either one of them should be allowed to make or influence a single decision about our country’s future.
I am not alone.
The media circus surrounding these two defectives has hit unprecedented lows, and has dragged the conversation in this country down to the level of soundbytes and emotionally charged memes.
Lately I’ve been just as guilty as the next person.
This is what finally kicked me into writing this here. If I had taken a time out before letting my past trauma and emotionally scarred brain (no, seriously, and I’ve got the diagnosis to prove it) run away at the keyboard, I might have avoided seriously hurting someone I consider both a good friend and a valuable community member. But I didn’t. This one’s on me. I knew I was upset and that I should have taken a time out and I didn’t do it. Definitely mea culpa. Now, I know better than to think ill of this individual and after we talked things through I think we’ll be ok, but it still happened.
But why did I even bring this up? Because yet again, I am not alone. I’ve seen this same situation play out almost a dozen different times now and I wish that was hyperbole. In every case it has come back to a memeversation about politics, usually the walking garbage bags currently posing as presidential candidates.
Unfortunately for friendships, both campaigns have gotten scary good at deliberate emotional manipulation by what passes for media. I’m usually pretty good at spotting manipulative soundbytes. It’s one thing that scar-brain is good for. As arrogant as it may sound, if I can be that completely sucker-punched by a soundbyte- or memebyte, if you will- then someone in the background has seriously upped their game. I of course maintain that it’s not arrogance if it’s true, but that’s a different post. The advent of politically based memes has made sorting through the manipulative language harder, since now that language is in picture form and being used to create propaganda posters of such a quality and effectiveness as to make old Nazis weep nostalgic tears.
This has been compounded by the slow but complete drowning out of extended conversations via steadily increasing pressure of memes and other highly abbreviated info-bytes instead of even the short articles that had previously been part of election strategies. We are ourselves largely to blame for that. Who knew that cats wanting cheezburgers would spawn such a perfect propaganda tool?
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. We are looking not at a political debate but at a propaganda war. It’s not even subtle anymore. The truth is that a propaganda war is, at its twisted heart, a race to see who can make their target audience accumulate the most and most useful emotional associations in the least amount of time. The more the people pulling the strings can set friends against each other, the more vulnerable each individual- now bereft of the support of friends- becomes to further attacks on their belief system and emotional stability. In normal marketing, a bandwagon appeal might work. When marketing turd sandwiches, divide and conquer works better.
We are also being totally distracted.
What do you think is going to happen when either of these two wastes of oxygen is elected to a position requiring polite interaction with sometimes-prickly world leaders? If you answered ‘world war three’ you’re quite likely to be proven right in the next 2 to 3 years. How do you think we’re going to survive the (possibly literal) fallout from that? If you answered ‘well we probably won’t but if we have half a chance it will be because we’ve got a solid local community that can pull together in an emergency’ then you’ll probably be proven right in 2 to 3 years plus a few days.
I don’t want to say “ignore the presidential race because it doesn’t matter” but on some levels, it is time to ignore the presidential race because in our every day lives it really doesn’t matter.
The desperation with which “news” (and I use the term loosely) media, advertising, commercial entities, and the entertainment industry are all trying to distract us mirrors the distopian visions of such works as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. We are being alienated from one another, divested of the social tools necessary to express our concerns, and drugged into acceptance by an unending parade of mindlessly petty entertainment. We are drowning in propaganda and the play by play relay of two utterly unacceptable people attempting to gain access to our military and nuclear assets. We are feeling it personally this time as we find ourselves confronted with “there’s no way they really meant everything that meme implies, did they?” and realizing that there’s no way to fix the damage a few words and an unrelated picture can do when there is no recourse to better or more nuanced conversation.
The carnival of horrors that have been written in countless fiction novels as ‘might come one day if we don’t fix it’ are in fact already here and I can’t tell which has me more upset; that it’s happening to everyone or that it happened to me. Fortunately, I am blessed (indeed, by the gods, blessed) with friends and family who are able to take that step back and reach out for more nuanced conversation. (And tell me when I’m the one who needs to take a time out.)
Most of the angry posts I see (and there are few enough of them that I think I can still count them on my fingers, sad to say) stop here. Everything sucks, we’re screwed, the end. I’m going to keep going a bit, but I don’t have a magic fix for this. There is no movie-magic fix for any of it. I do, however, know a few places where you might start.
This is far from being the only option out there, but I have found that Politics1 is a good starting point (key word there, starting point) for researching Representatives, Senators, and State politicians. You’ll have to revert to smaller sites for things like county commissioners, school board positions, and the like. Remember high school civics? Congress writes laws. Start there. You can also go to vote-md.org and, using your postal zip code, get a look at who’s on your local as well as state and federal ballots in Maryland. GO DO THE THING. Go one step closer to home, St Mary’s County-ites. Get to know who your county commissioners are. Go to the town hall meetings (when they happen…) and speak up about things. I still have, nearly twenty years after the fact, lodged in my brain what a former state Delegate told me about how he made decisions on proposed laws. He said “if I get six phone calls, then I know it’s a big deal and I will change my position. That’s how few people actually call in to let me know.”
Six. Fucking. Phone. Calls.
Do. The. Thing. Learn the names. Learn the process. Make the calls. Go to the open meetings. There are 100,000 people in this county. Open meetings (like the recent conversation about MetCom, for example) set at most two dozen chairs and rarely use them all. That’s just embarrassing. I am guilty of only attending the things I expect to have the most economic impact on my life (looking at you, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission folks!) but just think what would change if a few more people did even that much.
I’m not actually certain that any of us matter at the Federal level. But we damned sure matter to the county and the state we live in. SMADC is moving forward with their biggest project and it will be the difference between needing a second job or not. THAT’S how much it can matter.
And none of this can be expressed in a meme.
But this is only half of the solution. The distract-and-propaganda game is so intense at this point that even those of us who usually don’t fall for it are having exactly the kind of friend-hurting reactions that the turd sandwich marketers want. Fortunately, I’ve got some pretty bad-ass friends who are willing to tell me when I need to chill the fuck out. I saw the latest round of blog posts whining about how community is so hard and it’s ok to sit back and stay out of it and dammit I think those posts were not only wrong but harmful. Community is hard. Community is what keeps you alive when even the local organizations have completely broken down and yes, I think that a TEOTWAWKI situation is more likely now than ever. My community contains skills and knowledge and resources and I believe and trust that even if it all came crashing down this evening we could pull together and keep ourselves going for a very long time.
Our next Southern Maryland/St Mary’s (because they both fit the acronym) Pagan Community event will be Sunday, 23rd October. We are having a split meetup this week as many of us will be at RenFest for the final day and the infamous Day of Wrong. (the staff hate it, we adore it, guess who wins.) Come hang out with us, we’re meeting at the Dragon. The rest of the SMPC will be meeting at our regular coffee place in town.
Thursday November 3rd is our next Occult Knowledge Discussion- because if you can get away with using the word ‘occult’ you really should. It’s a fun word. 1700hrs (5:45 PM) at the Leonardtown Library. Topics vary, come and play.
Friday, 11th November, starting around 1900 unless you hear otherwise between now and then, at Chancellor’s Point: bring a drum and some snacks to share. Bring tips for the guy who brews our beer. There’s a $5 fee for adults and we try to grin and bear it because I know we’re being under-charged according to the last fee schedule I saw because they like us and they like the way we clean up after ourselves and isn’t that a huge part of community interaction? Building a reputation that lets us get a deal like that?
Keep the weekend of December 9-11th clear because FrostFest is happening. There will be fire and magic and drumming and awesome, awesome things around the fire circle. More info coming very soon.
So here’s my plan after all of this rambling. I’m going to make a conscious effort to keep my focus local. I’m going to keep pouring all of this effort and energy into the SMPC because we are awesome people and we have a serious gestalt situation going on here. I’m going to make a deliberate effort to choose real conversation over pop-speak and the even more insipid meme-speak, because I have more respect for myself and my friends than that. I’m also going to keep asking more people to do these things as well.
We’re better than this.