Mar 30 • 15M


Trying to see past infectious propaganda

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 I can be breathtakingly delusional when it comes to my personal life. 

My brain’s ability to lie to itself in order to see and hear only what I want to see and hear — to ignore all mounting evidence and perceive what I want to perceive, instead of what actually is — has always been completely confounding.

I only know I am making this mistake later, in retrospect.  While I am in thrall to this kind of self-hypnosis, my brain winds around fantastic scenic roads of Dr. Seussian loopiness to make long-winded excuses for people I like, so I don’t have to stop liking them. 

The guy I was seeing was politically ridiculous and held beliefs I find screamingly wrong and absurd.  I managed to ignore this for just over a year, until the evidence was so overwhelming it was like someone putting a wastebasket over my head and hitting it with an aluminum bat. 

Like most middle-aged white women, I was on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Reno to see a Snoop Dogg concert.  Burning Man had just commenced, and the hotel was filled with sunburnt, red-eyed girls braided up with yarn corn-rows wearing midriffs and sarongs, and loud, filthy young men in dusty black shorts with vertical hair and lots of leather jewelry, shimmering with the acrid energy that comes of not having slept or come down in the last 9 or so days.  

Sometime after midnight at the bar nearest the slot machines, I spotted Jared (not his real name) for the first time, holding court over plastic-cupped cocktails amid a musky sprawl of other assorted, colorful burners. 

He too was a Burner:  one of those people who makes most sense on the Burning Man playa in flip-flops, with the horizon line vibrating in his eyeballs and a stack of glow-stick necklaces piled on his chest like a radioactive Slinky.  

I found myself taking the empty seat next to him.  He had warm and jovial energy - a terrific voice, a robust vocabulary, and a big jolly laugh.

On a purely animal level I was drawn to his fabulous, waist-long, uncontrolled dreadlocks - hardcore, Steel Pulse dreadlocks in big flat sheets like a Barbary fig cactus or a pirate— not the expertly-rolled, hanging cigars of consistent thickness you’d see on a prettyboy like Terrence Trent D’Arby or Whoopie Goldberg.

Jared and I ended up holding hands and walking for hours around the hotel, having long, esoteric conversations.  I was impressed that he was carrying around an antique hardback copy of a hermetic text called “The Divine Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus” which I had once studied in a college humanities class.  We chatted about everything from Madame Blavatsky to Zoroastrianism until early in the morning, feeling as if we’d known each other for a long time.  Finally he had a plane to catch.  As we said goodbye, he placed a few rough opals in my palm from the bottom of his dust-caked backpack. 

Then he missed two planes, and kept showing up back at the hotel.  In what I figured was a true libertarian fashion, he refused to have a photo ID, insisting that he didn’t legally need one to get on a plane— just a birth certificate.  He complained about needing to argue this point with TSA agents until planes invariably left without him.  It struck me as a bold and unconventional, if difficult, way to go through life — with no real legal identification. 

For a while, we were long-distance dating — mostly we talked on the phone all the time.  He had a lot of opinions. 

 He was adamant that I familiarize with a lot of YouTube videos — long and amateurish Powerpoint-style presentations, narrated by squeaky nasal men about all of the secret Masonic symbolism built in to cities like Washington DC.

 It all seemed interesting enough.  I told myself he was interested in fairly wholesome things like Egyptology and architecture. 

After a few months, Jared visited me.  Being a loquacious sort, he cornered my sister and brother-in-law over the barbecue pit and let loose with his conspiracy theory that the fires in Northern California were actually being intentionally caused with satellite heat-rays, which the Government was also using to control the weather to create tsunamis and firestorms at will.

For all I knew, it was possibly true — the predatory nature of capitalism paired with defense technology is a libido I never underestimate.  I marveled over photos of scorched cars melted into pools of metal and liquid glass.

“Fire can’t do that,” he insisted.  “That was caused by microwaves.” 

  His theory struck me as wobbling somewhat in the socket of reality, but not all the way wrong.  Not quite Aliens-Caused-9/11-batshit nutcakes. 

I asked questions like “Why would PG&E have advanced weapons-grade heat rays, and why would they use them on their customers?” 

There were sinister reasons, he insisted. Controlling the news, for one. 

I realized he was one of those people that feel certain that we are on the brink of Armageddon, and that a powerful loose-knit cabal of the similarly minded ultra-rich people were hell bent on ushering it in.  This was why he owned guns.  The facade of civilization could suddenly dematerialize at any moment, for Jared.  The shit was invariably coming down. 

But this didn’t seem any crazier than the rantings of another close friend of mine, ‘Janet,’ who insists that everything in society is being run by a certain Jewish sect of the Russian mafia, the CIA, and Satanists with ties to Mossad.  A lot of people seemed to be having pet ideas of this variety lately.  The world was getting very difficult to explain. In the vacuum left by believable, non-propaganda news reportage, paranoia and crazy were playing manic banjo and speed-accordion.  

I started to have inklings that Jared’s belief system might be unrelatable when it became clear that he was convinced (even though he had under 20 followers on YouTube)  that he was the origin of the hashtag #Pizzagate.  “Hilary Clinton is a very evil woman,” he said, playing me a fizzling, gargled, duplicate-of-a-duplicate-quality audiotape of Hilary supposedly announcing to someone that she had won a case defending a child molester. 

“Listen to the way she says it,” he insisted.  “She’s gloating.”  

He took this tape as a tacit confession by Hilary that she hadn’t just taken down children down in the courtroom, but as incontestable proof that she was ritually sexing and baking them as well.  He knew it, in the deepest part of his being. 

  All of the world’s highest elites had achieved their power, Jared told me, because they all had voluntarily given leverage to each other, in horrific secret ceremonies.  All were compromised with blackmail material, because they were all participating in not just rampant child sex trafficking, but human sacrifice and cannibalism — particularly the Democrats. 

It finally began to occur to me that Jared was a balls-to-the-Mexico-border-wall political fruitcake when the Covid-19 pandemic began.  He was a rabid anti-masker straight out of the gate, who told me earnestly about how Bill Gates, an outspoken believer in eugenics, had created the disease in order to cull the human herd and vaccinate the rest us all with computer chips that would insure our absolute, even biological surveillance.  Things were lining up as prophesied in the bible, he said, and comets were coming, because the earth was hurtling through a particularly debris-dense belt of space. 

But Jared is a great guy. Everything mostly worked about our relationship except the politics — but our politics, it became more and more obvious, were now wrapped up in violently mutually exclusive versions of the truth.

Things fell apart when Jared very strongly suggested that Barack Obama was gay…. and Michelle Obama was actually a man.

I was completely outraged. 

He showed me a picture of Michelle Obama that was supposed to convince me of her manhood.  The photo was a grainy, snowy, Zapruder-quality snapshot of the former first lady running down some stairs toward a waiting black SUV, while wearing khakis. 

“Look at that FOLD,” he said, indicating a shadow on her pants along the fly. “You tell me.” 

I was stunned. “Do you have any idea how twill works?”  I demanded pointedly.  “I do.  That’s a very thick cotton.  That’s not a dick, it’s a crease.” 

“Maybe,” he said infuriatingly.  “Who knows?” 

“She’s a beautiful, feminine woman with two children,” I said, riling up.  “How did she fake that?” 

“Maybe,” he said.  “I don’t know. I’m saying it’s possible she’s a man.” 

This was a major, irretrievable turn-off even I in the depths of my willful delusion couldn’t ignore. 

 “I can’t allow a man who thinks Michelle Obama is a man anywhere near my body. Period,”  I told him.  

And I hung up on him. 

But our friendship persisted, because Jared is a jolly and affable sort, who never takes anything terribly seriously, and we have a deep fondness for each other.

So we kept in contact, despite the fact that our ideological differences had widened into an unbridgeable chasm full of giant eels.

Jared simply became accustomed to my openly berating him that he’d been brainwashed by FOX News and Q-Anon whenever he talked about things like immigration. 

 He was all for the Wall, and convinced illegal Mexicans were coming to America and languishing on generous welfare payments. I realized he was hair-raisingly anti-Mexican, mostly, as far as I could tell, because he had been beaten up by some Mexicans once.

“You’re globalizing personal things!” I pleaded with him. 

“Maybe!” He’d shout cheerfully.  “Maybe not!” 

When I was trying to expand my reading audience and Twitter suspended me for some forgotten comment, I signed up for the website Gab at his behest — “It’s the better new Twitter, everyone is defecting over there!” He said. “No censorship!” 

I cancelled the account immediately when I realized the entire site was populated almost exclusively by neo-Nazis.  Two days after I opened the account, there was a mass shooting by people who had conspired through Gab. 

“Why the hell are you trying to get me on a Nazi website?” I shrieked. 

“Hey, it’s the First Amendment.  Use it or lose it,” he said.  

“ Why are you standing up for the Nazis?” 

“Because of Free Speech.  Hey, I prefer racists who are open about it - at least I know exactly where they stand,” he said.  

When the Black Lives Matter protests started, Jared was against them. 

“I just think they have an agenda,” he said.  

I stopped trying to figure out how he arrived at these places — the point was, he had arrived there.  These things were all true for him, and he thought I was an idiot with my head in the sand.  We felt the same exasperation toward each other. 

Finally, Jared, who hates all politicians equally, did the unthinkable.  He endorsed Trump.

 “I just think he’d do a much better job for America in his second term than Joe Biden,” he said, contorting Biden’s name with disgust.  

He knew this would broil my spleen. 

I hung up and didn’t speak to him for 2 weeks.   My mother had been having the same problem with her best friend of nearly 50 years— my Godmother (who also happens to be black - which I mention only due to my own conspiracy theory that both Jared and my Godmother were targeted with disinformation that would be bolstered by their experiences of systemic racism) was equally in thrall to Q-Anon theories so starkly absurd that my mother had been desperately trying to convince her she had been duped into a cult. They would stop talking for weeks, then contact each other and reconcile, then get into politics again and go to their separate corners, then move back together again, trying to save their decades-long friendship. 

I called Jared the night of the Presidential election. 

“I am getting clobbered by the IRS,” I told him, looking for sympathy. 

“Yeah, you know why?  JOE BIDEN is stealing all your money.” 

“He hasn’t even WON YET,” I lamented.

“Joe Biden and people like him.  It’s the Democrats,” he insisted. “The IRS is a criminal organization!” 

I sat there like a gastank filling with dismay.  I finally lost it and yelled, “Jared: Your brain is full of dicks and marshmallows,” and I hung up on him. 

This is what political discourse has been reduced to.  You can’t argue with people who are genuinely and passionately wrong. You can’t discuss this shit at all — you just have to figure out other things to talk about.

Which means the road to 2024, for all of our bipartisan efforts to reconcile the rifts that Trump built, is going to be one hell of a fucked-up ride. Everyone expertly lies to themselves to see the narrative they want to see, instead of the infinitely more boring and complicated way things really are. 

That’s where the propaganda gets you — right between the eyes. 

It’s that white noise between the channels of a broken TV set, where the demons creep in, and show you everything you want to see. 

 Since then, the Capitol was stormed by Trump-led insurgents, and Biden was finally inaugurated.  Like most people I know, I was clenched in a stress position until Trump left the White House.  It was the most stressed-out election in history.  Trump’s contesting of the outcome was spiritually exhausting and terrifying. 

We talked for the first time in a few weeks, and ended up in a predictable screaming match after he told me he didn’t consider Kamala Harris to be black.  It’s his right, of course.  He obviously gets to define blackness for himself with authority. 

“Apart from your ignorant and false political beliefs, I think you’re a terrific guy,” said the last text I sent him.  

We speak less and less frequently.  Politics invades all aspects of life.

But I still love Jared, and my Godmother, who I ran into the other day in the liquor store parking lot.  It took her about three minutes to launch into a tirade about Ivermectin, so I had to excuse myself.  I spoke to Jared yesterday, to say hi, and he told me that the Green New Deal — in fact, all environmental efforts — were incredibly deadly, and that we would pay for them with our lives.  He told me to store a year’s worth of food for the shit that was inevitably coming down. 

I know they told me these things because they love me too, and want to save me from my own ignorance.  I am trying to focus on the love, and not the things they say.  I am firmly of the belief that Q-Anon is a cult — like free Scientology.  A staggeringly brilliant piece of Russian propaganda.  Somewhere trapped under a heavily polluted narrative are people I love, and consider family.  

I just can’t get close to them anymore, because they’re not vaccinated. 

This is what has happened to our entire country.  The division is now absolute.  There is no more agreed-upon ontological truth.  

But the fuckers haven’t won yet, because the love is still there. 

I will rescue your manuscript! Holler at me:

Artwork: “Alma,” oil on linen by Cintra Wilson, 2021