Gaslighting? Really?

A couple of very dear friends posted this article on Facebook recently. At first glance, it seemed like a well-written essay. A bit wordy here and there, somewhat redundant in other places. Not world-class, but certainly literate. The author has a good command of the language, and he writes with engaging passion and enthusiasm. I found myself for a moment getting caught up in it and thinking to myself “Yeah…, yeah!”

[At this point, you really should stop and read the article in the link above, or you will not understand what I’m saying here. Please read it carefully. It’s long but worthy of consideration.]

At first I thought I agreed with it, then I read it again and thought I disagreed with it, then I read it a third time and thought “Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute here!” 

Let’s go through it carefully. First paragraph, second paragraph, OK, I understand that advertising and marketing have been increasingly intrusive on modern life, and for well over the 100 years the author says it has. OK, I get it.

But so what? Haven’t we learned to filter that out by now? OK, so we’re getting hyped by advertising. I don’t see it as a big conspiracy, but OK. Fine. So, I read on.

Then we get to the third paragraph, the first few sentences of which I quote here: “What the trauma has shown us, though, cannot be unseen. A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge. These are the postcard images of what the world might be like if we could find a way to have a less deadly daily effect on the planet. “

The author calls these “postcard images” that we should enjoy. Wait, … what? They seem like images from post-apocalyptic movies! No industry, no commerce, no travel, no nothing. Does Julio not realize that these images are the result of a catastrophic shutdown of economic activity? That people are out of work? That people are dying? Is this really something we should celebrate?

Oh, great, Julio! Let’s have some more people dying, more people out of work and more businesses shut down so we can once more see coyotes on the Golden Gate Bridge and hear birds on Madison Avenue. That will be ever so satisfying. And worth every penny, right?

Except for one thing, Julio. Some of those cars that you don’t see on the road, those were the ones who were taking medical researchers to their laboratories where they were working to understand how to combat viruses like COVID-19. Some of those cars were carrying children to day-care so their parents could work. Some of those vehicles were ambulances. Some were school buses. Some of those cars were carrying the workers who made the computer that you wrote your article on. Some of the trucks on that road carried the food you filled your belly with at breakfast.

Wouldn’t it be be great if they were all off the road so we could see more coyotes on city streets?

“Oh, NO!” Julio replies. He just wants us to “…find a way to have a less deadly daily effect on the planet.” He has no plan to do that, however, and is probably unwilling to kill the required 80% of the population in order to do so.

Oh, gosh, Julio. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just find a way to live together without consuming resources or damaging anything, even the grass we walk on? Well, guess what. We, the entire human race, are trying to live the best way we know how. In our own way, in our own time, in accordance with what we as a species are capable of doing at this point in time.

Julio, if you have a better plan, please submit your name and your plan in writing so we can vote for you as the new Emperor of the World. Until then you’ll just have to be content with the way people muddle along, doing the best they can.  Your bitching just isn’t helping. Do you understand?

But let’s move on to some of the more egregious parts of his essay. In the second part of the third paragraph, he writes (his emphasis, not mine) ” What’s not fit for a postcard are the other scenes we have witnessed: a healthcare system that cannot provide basic protective equipment for its front line; small businesses — and very large ones — that do not have enough cash to pay their rent or workers, sending over 16 million people to seek unemployment benefits; a government that has so severely damaged the credibility of our media that 300 million people don’t know who to listen to for basic facts that can save their own lives.

Now, let’s stop and analyze these assertions for a moment. I’ve numbered them for handy reference. Julio claims that we have:

  1. a healthcare system that cannot provide basic protective equipment for its front line,
  2. businesses that do not have enough cash to pay their rent or workers, and
  3. a government that has so severely damaged the credibility of our media that 300 million people don’t know who to listen to for basic facts that can save their own lives.

We’ll start with number 1. In fact, Julio, we do have a health care system that provides basic protective equipment for its front line. I’ve seen doctors and nurses on news shows wearing such things. And so have you! You can make your own, if you wish. I have! And nothing prevented you from buying your own and donating it to a hospital. But you didn’t do that, did you?

So, Julio, you are dead wrong. 0 for 1 so far. Passing off blatant falsehoods is not a good start. Whether we have sufficient equipment for everyone who claims they might need it in this particular emergency at this particular time is debatable. Yet if Julio is not on record as having said loudly and clearly long ago that we must have sufficient PPE for any possible emergency, then he is just Monday-morning-armchair-quarter-backing this whole thing, and rather badly at that.

Every sort of preparedness is a compromise between preparing for this emergency versus that emergency, and between preparing for the worst and getting on with the business of daily life. Suppose we had been sufficiently overstocked with PPE for this or an even greater pandemic, but instead were confronted by a series of catastrophic earthquakes.  Would Julio now be saying “Shame on you for having all that PPE equipment sitting uselessly in warehouses, unused, unneeded and forgotten. What we needed was earth-moving equipment to dig out earthquake survivors!” Sadly, I bet he would, and he’d be writing about it just as foolishly, with 20-20 hindsight.

So tell me, Julio, now that you are armed with a retrospectoscope in which you see the past quite clearly — exactly how much basic protective equipment must a health care system have on hand in order to satisfy your desire for perfect preparation? I eagerly await your detailed plan, including your calculations for risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis, carefully tailored for the entire health-care system of this country. Hmmm….. I guess you haven’t thought that one through, eh?

Now on to point #2, where Julio says businesses “… do not have enough cash on hand to pay their rent or workers.” Hmmm…. Well, Julio, just as a matter of curiosity, how much cash do you think a business of, say, $10 million dollars a year should have on hand to handle a crisis like this? Or the next (larger) one? Are you a businessman? Do you personally live and die based on decisions like this? How much cash do you have on hand right now? Do you run a business? Do you have any business experience?

Do you propose to make decisions for all businesses about how much cash they should have on hand? If you do run a business, how long do you plan to be able to pay your employees when the government shuts you down? One month? Three months? Six months? How do you decide how much is enough? And does your decision apply to all businesses?

Are people in a free country sufficiently free to decide these things for themselves, or do you think that we should have a central authority (like you) to decide for them? And how will you enforce these decisions of yours? Remember what Chairman Mao said: “All political power comes from the point of a gun.” Be careful what you choose.

Sorry, Julio, but you are wrong again. Businesses do have enough cash to pay their rent and their employees. That’s how they stay in business. Businesses that can’t do that are no longer in business. But even the best businesses don’t have enough cash on hand to do it indefinitely when the government has shut their businesses down! What do you expect? What? You’re 0 for 2 now, Julio.

And finally, on to point #3, where Julio says we have “…a government that has so severely damaged the credibility of our media that 300 million people don’t know who to listen to for basic facts that can save their own lives.”

I hardly know where to start with that one. OUR media? Huh? I take neither ownership of, nor responsibility for, any of CNN, MSNBC or even FOX news for that matter. Furthermore, the government has not damaged the credibility of anything, much less “our” media. That’s not what governments do. They govern, pass laws, raise taxes, waste money, build roads, keep the Armed Forces intact, save the snail darter and so on. Yes, Trump himself has called out some organizations like CNN and the New York Times for fake news and biased reporting, and I think he’s right to do so. That doesn’t damage their credibility — they’ve done that all by themselves. And Trump is not our ‘government’ — he is our duly elected President. Don’t conflate the two. [Julio — someone who can write as well as you do also knows when he’s using cheap rhetorical tricks to dupe his audience. Cut it out.]

And what is to be made of the second clause of that jam-packed sentence: “…300 million people don’t know who to listen to for basic facts that can save their lives.” Uh, Julio, what part of “6 feet apart and wear a mask, or stay at home” don’t you understand? Are you living under a rock? What else do you want to know? [Here’s a good tip: don’t bend over to inhale bus exhaust fumes.] If we really have a nation of 300 million people who don’t know what to think or how to do it, we are well and truly screwed. If our population is indeed as stupid as Julio suggests, then we are unfit for democracy and should just invite the Chinese to bring their totalitarian government, wet markets and badly copied machine tools over here.

So, Julio, it looks to me like you struck out — 0 for 3. And that’s just in one paragraph! Let’s read on, folks, to find out what’s in store.

Julio says our current situation is “inexplicably incredible.”  In other words, he’s saying that it can’t be explained why it can’t be believed — think about that for a minute. In only 9 syllables, Julio has revealed his true purpose.  He doesn’t want you to think — he wants you to admire his poetry.  Meaningless words jumbled together make such a pleasant tinkling sound.

But in fact, the current crisis is actually pretty well understood. There’s a new virus in town, something that is more dangerous than the flu, less contagious and less deadly than ebola, less deadly than smallpox or a host of other diseases that have ravaged mankind through the centuries. [Julio — here’s a pro tip for you — read up on the Antonine plague. Then maybe you’ll calm down a bit.]

Unlike our predecessors, we understand a great deal about how such things spread and how to control them. Furthermore, we have social structures in place to help us deal with the events unfolding now. True, they’re not perfect, but who among us can afford to live in a perfect world?  It’s very expensive, I hear.

It seems that poor Julio has never had an opportunity to sit down and ask himself “What is the meaning of life? What should I do in this world? How should I live my life?” Not only that, but he assumes that you and I have joined him in his self-imposed ignorance and never asked ourselves how we should live our lives. I cannot speak for others, but I have often paused to ask myself such questions. Perhaps Julio could benefit from my experience. Have him give me a call.

Let’s consider this sentence about America : “… its flaws have been laid bare for all to see. It doesn’t work for everyone. It’s responsible for great destruction. It is so unevenly distributed in its benefit that three men own more wealth than 150 million people. Its intentions have been perverted and the protection it offers has disappeared. In fact, it’s been brought to its knees by one pangolin.

What are we to make of this? True, it doesn’t “work for everyone” although I’m not really sure just what that phrase really means. Show me one country in the entire history of the world that had a system that “worked for everyone.” Just one. Please????? …. Hmm… I thought not.

Is the measure of an economic system the extent to which it distributes its benefits equally to all? I certainly hope not, because if that’s the case we’re going to have a helluva time finding people who are willing to put their life savings into starting a business, only to be paid at the rate of the lowest wage earner they hire. Is Julio really saying that equality of opportunity is not sufficient, and we must have equality of outcome before some sort of “social justice” has been served?

“Its intentions have been perverted and the protection it offers has disappeared.” Wow. Who, pray tell, has perverted its intentions? Who are these evil malefactors? And what protections does Julio speak of that have disappeared? We still have courts, we still have laws, we still have free speech and the right to vote and — for a while, anyway — the Constitutionally protected natural right to keep and bear arms. What protections do you speak of, Julio? Anybody? Hello?

And what about America being “brought to its knees by one pangolin?” No, Julio, no.  Just … no.  Stop it.  

He goes on to say “If we want our neighbors and friends to earn a dignified income, we can make that happen.” Stop! What the hell does that mean? How can I make my neighbor or my friend earn anything at all? If we are all free to decide how to live our lives, how can I decide for my neighbor or my friend what he should do to provide for his family? And how shall I determine how much he shall be paid so that he will feel “dignified?”

But wait! There’s more! Who will decide what is ‘a dignified income’? Who is “we?” And exactly how are “we” going to make this happen? By gentle entreaty, or by force of arms? Who the hell ever said that an income was ‘dignified’ in the first place? [Look this word up if you’re not completely certain about its meaning. C’mon folks — words really do have meanings, and Julio is messing with your mind here.] As free men we walk the earth and trade our labor and thought and effort for what we consider fair compensation, and do so (or not) of our own free will.

Julio, dude, lighten up! My first job at 16 years of age was working on a Christmas tree farm, shearing trees with a machete all day long in the hot sun. I got $1.15 per hour, and was glad to get it it. It was damned hard work, but the the respect I earned from my employer for doing a good job gave me pride. Not “dignity”, mind you, but pride. I had earned it. It was a shit job. But I loved it. Dignity is not something someone gives you in a paycheck. Maybe your early life experiences made you feel somehow entitled. Or something. Try getting a real job, Julio. And grow the fuck up. “Dignified income?” Really?

Julio goes on to say that we probably feel as he does, which is “… devastated, depressed, and heartbroken.”  Julio must have lived a very pampered life indeed to find himself in such dire straits right now.  What Julio needs is a bit of a kick in the pants.  He needs to man up.  Grow a pair. Get on with the business of life.

By this point in Julio’s essay, I’d gotten picture loud and clear –underneath all the anguished moaning and wailing, it’s just another cheap piece of Trump-bashing, thinly disguised as friendly advice on how to live an examined life.

I read on. Sorry, Julio. You’re just whining now. Let’s skip a couple of boring paragraphs and get to the conclusion: “And as a good people, we want to define — on our own terms — what this country looks like in five, ten, fifty years. This is our chance to do that, the biggest one we have ever gotten. And the best one we’ll ever get. We can do that on a personal scale in our homes, in how we choose to spend our family time on nights and weekends, what we watch, what we listen to, what we eat, and what we choose to spend our dollars on and where. We can do it locally in our communities, in what organizations we support, what truths we tell, and what events we attend. And we can do it nationally in our government, in which leaders we vote in and to whom we give power.

Bravo! Yes, Julio, we’ve been doing that for a couple of hundred years now, thank you very much. We’ll keep on doing it, too. I’m surprised you never found yourself able to do the same, but I’m glad that now you understand that you can choose how to spend your time, what you watch, what you listen to, what you eat, who you vote for and how to spend your money.

The rest of us have been waiting for you. Welcome!

 

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