Madness is in the news again:
An anti-vaccine rally at Los Angeles City Hall turned violent on Saturday, with one person stabbed and a reporter claiming he was assaulted, according to police and protesters on the scene…
There is a moment from the 1953 George Pal movie version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds that remains indelibly etched in my memory:
The Martians have kicked our Terran ass quite thoroughly. Even the Flying Wing dropping an atomic bomb on them has had no effect. The city is panicked, but the scientists have one last ditch chance: they have a blood sample; they will move their laboratory and personnel to the Rocky Mountains to research ANY kind of weapon that can harm the Martians.
And then the yowling mob …
War of the Worlds 1953 lobby card – PUBLIC DOMAIN
… grab the bus, loaded with equipment and Earth’s best scientists: they toss the scientists off the bus and throw the precious equipment into the streets to commandeer the bus as THEIR getaway vehicle, effectively dooming mankind (at least humankind’s last, best hope to save themselves).
And the first time I saw it, I felt a red-hot hatred for that kind of stupidity, the mindless madness of the mob, the apotheosis* of yowling stupidity and self-interested (and ultimately self-defeating) ignorance. That rage has never left me.
[* That apotheosis is NOW Fox News, but I get ahead of myself.]
I have held that rage at stupidity ever since: for the imbeciles who rioted when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in England in 1752 , “Give us our eleven days!“*; for the Taliban who destroyed the Bamayan Buddhas; for ISIL, who destroyed the treasures of Babylon and Roman settlements. For any number of other insanely stupid and idiotic acts by a species I ofttimes wish I had no part of.
[* And the stupidity OF that myth, although a passing acquaintance with humanity renders it entirely plausible.]
And now, I see the idiots stripping the bus again.
1. A virus is a virus is a virus
I wrote a long piece about responsible and irresponsible journalism back in 2014 entitled ” Typhoid Scary and other Crazy Vectors — How NOT to write about public health issues, courtesy of then-tyro Maureen Dowd.”
And it opens with this:
I was raised in a public health atmosphere. I also wrote the first national cover story on Herpes in 1980, years before Maureen Dowd and TIME Magazine engaged in the shameless fear-mongering of their 1982 “HERPES: TODAY’S SCARLET LETTER” cover article.
And contains this:
the first rule of public health medicine: FIRST: CAUSE NO PANIC.
Because panic can kill more people than the disease.
The issue I was writing about then was Ebola. The issue now is COVID-19. This is where I stopped this draft on 2020/03/26 at 2:33 pm.
But a virus remains a virus, and, sadly, it remains SMARTER than the political party who would make common cause with it, even though most members of that party believe the virus is either a hoax, or that “macho” GOP men, women and children will not become infected and die.
In the face of over 632,995 deaths (World-O-Meter).
You have to admit, it take a pretty thick cranium to be that stupid.
Oh, did I offend someone?
Don’t worry about it. I’ll just use a big word and they’ll spend the rest of the column confused and bewildered (even more than usual), so don’t worry your “tolerant” little head about it. But I am going to get mean, and if that offends you, check out. This is a phrontistery.
Because I STILL feel a red-hot hatred for that kind of stupidity
It is a literally toxic and deadly stupidity. And its ubiquity in our “modern” age seems anachronistic, but, instead, it turns out that Cyril M. Kornbluth was right: the marching morons HAVE taken over our civilization. Or, for that movie that all but plagiarized Kornbluth’s story, “Idiocracy, the Movie.”
A virus is a virus is a virus and cares not a whit for morality nor politics. So HOW did idiots manage to make the pandemic a partisan matter?
In Florida and Texas, DeSantis and Abbott have, not-so-respectively, decided to adopt a path of action that can ONLY aid and abet the spread of a lethal virus.
According to a scientific review in The Lancet (among others) D. J. Trump is personally responsible for the deaths of over 400,000 Americans — making him the worst American mass murderer since Jefferson Davis, and, in Trump’s case, a SOLO murder act requiring no armies to carry out his blood-letting.
And please remember that negligent homicide is still homicide.
But several of our nation’s governors have adopted positions (I’m thinking of S. Dakota and Gov. Kristi Noem’s current embrace of the Second Annual Sturgis Superspreader Event, right now) guaranteed to ONLY assist the virus in its transmission.
Yet, in a nation that rationalized the war crimes of invading a country on a false (and intentionally so) pretext, if war crimes can be rationalized away, an insurrection and mass murder can also be rationalized away.
Now THERE’S a switch!
All you need is incredibly stupid taking heads in media to aid and abet the Byzantine rationalizations and dumps down the memory hole.
ii. Stupid is as stupid does
American has been intentionally dumbed down.
It started in the Seventies, and has progressed by degrees in the decades since.
It really began with Bill Bennett becoming Education Secretary and making “civics” controversial enough that schools dropped it, cascading across the nation. Americans no longer learned how a bill becomes law, nor how parliamentary procedure works.
Which, in any system of self-governance is already damn-near fatal.
And we watched as practicality leeched from American politics, since you can’t practice what you don’t know. National debate raged on over imaginary babies (i.e. making personal medical choices for others without having to do the same for one’s self, since the leaders of the “pro choice” have always been male, and ofttimes “celebates” [Catholic priests].)
Neither position holds up under any rational scrutiny.
And then, when Americans had no idea how their (somewhat complex) constitutional democracy worked, the next phase began: the wholesale destruction of rational thought in furtherance of political “debate.”
The specious and disproven-over-a-century notion of “trickle down” economics was held as gospel, and Republican candidates were forced to sign an insane and hyper-destructive pledge to “never raise taxes.”
Ronald Reagan characterized “We the People” as deadly dangerous, claiming that help from “the government” was actually oppression.
When you have self-governance, that notion is clinically insane.
That’s a lot like saying “I’m your autonomic nervous system and I’m here to oppress you by making you breathe, pump blood, and operate your organs without your conscious permission!“
It’s irrational; but irrationality has been the hallmark of our current politics, and it has been driven by willful ignorance and the inculcation of intentional stupidity.
iii. The Tao of Stupid
It’s not exactly what anyone intended, but it’s the natural outgrowth of what they exploited.
I remember being on a road trip back from San Francisco on I-5 and stopping into a Taco Bell* in Roseburg, Oregon.
(Why? Because it’s very hard to screw up refried beans, and as such, probably the least toxic road food I could find.)
And I asked for picante sauce (which every Taco Bell had at the time, and was the only almost-edible hot sauce they had).
And I will ALWAYS remember what happened next:
The goober at the cash register turns to his goober buddy in the back and they grin the grin of goober solidarity. “We don’t got none of that.“
And, just in case I didn’t hear him, added: “Never heard of it.” And he turned again for the Goober National Smile of Idiocy™ with his compatriot.
Understand: there is no dishonor in ignorance — or even in stupidity. The former can be fixed with facts, and the latter need not be a permanent impediment to advancement in our society, as Mike Pence has proven for us time and time again.
But there IS dishonor in being PROUD of being ignorant and stupid, and that was what I confronted in Roseburg, Oregon that day. they were actually proud of not having any idea what they were doing. And THAT has been the undertow of American society since Reagan: an almost national pride in stupidity; in the illustrious arrogance of cluelessness.
Because, finally, the most toxic of all myths in a democracy was created, perverted from a noble notion of self-reliance: the “sovereign individual” — a mythical creature who was born in log cabin that it built, itself. With no obligations to its society, its culture, its community its state.
Wearin’ a mask infringes on mah FREE-DUMB!
And I have to wonder, how we have gotten from a Second Continental Congress (who stopped their deliberations to ALL volunteer to stand in bucket-brigade lines to fight a fire. No one had to explain to them what civic duty meant). to a gaggle of oh-so-precious pugnacious idiots to whom the very notion of wearing a mask in a pandemic occasioned by an airborne pathogen is TYRANNY ITSELF! IT IS LIKE THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS! IT IMPINGES ON MY FREE-DUMB!
Don’t laugh, these are considered the Republican “base.” And their elected officials are scared witless by said “base.”
Everything is stupid and no one is an expert — except in the case of these insanely bizarre conspiracy theories that rely on a clockwork perfection to immanentize their nefarious, Machiavellian stratagems.
It is possible to be insane and not know that one is insane; indeed, that is one of the hallmarks of insanity — the infinite capacity of the human mind to rationalize ANYTHING if you try hard enough (like John Yoo’s memo to the Bush White House rationalizing that torture is NOT actually torture, and is, therefore, OK).
It is not, however, possible, to be sane and WATCH insane behavior and not know that it is insane.
That is not to say to speak up about it. We Americans are demonstrably good at sweeping away the brutal facts in favor of a more Hollywood glittery version of events. But one cannot witness insanity and not know that it is insanity — except when one has been conditioned to believe insanity to be normal.
Who can forget John McCain’s Republican coronation, complete with knocked-up unmarried teenage mother and her supposed shotgun husband to be at McCain’s side? Or the national broadcast in which Celine Deon sang so painfully off key that, had she been a track horse, they would have “euthanized” her? Or when we realized that we’d invaded the wrong country for all the wrong reasons? Or when we found out that the massacre of “Asians” in Atlanta was actually a slaughter of perceived sex workers?
And we allow ourselves to forget. (If you haven’t heard any right wing radio lately, take a half-hour and listen to some. It’ll curdle your whey.)
But that insanity was arrived at collectively and by slow degrees. One side (you can guess on your own which) decided not to disagree with the other side’s issues (In many cases, but not in all, that’s how democracy is supposed to work), but to, rather, DISAGREE WITH THE OTHER SIDE’S RIGHT TO EXIST.
As stupid, dithering, hapless buffoons, AND, at the same time, as Machiavellian manipulators, mad with lust for power, just aching to go door to door and confiscate your guns AND your bibles.
Torture is not torture, and liberalism is now a dirty word, and now that’s not dirty enough, so now they’re “leftists” (a term formerly reserved as a newspaper portmanteau term for foreign commie/pinko/socialist government officials and/or guerilla movements and/or European political parties);. And then THAT wasn’t good enough, so they spent Trump years salting the Earth with “socialists” (parroting their same jeers of a century prior) and now, the current favored term of opprobrium is “communists.”
The fact that the majority of the American population was born AFTER the term “commie” had ceased to have any real meaning (they were, like “leftists” our all-inclusive boogieman of the post-WWII era, whether in Eastern Europe and the “Iron Curtain” to Korea and all kinds of Commies: Russian Commies, and North Korean Commies, and Chinese Commies) and then Vietnam, with a Baskin-Robbins of Commies: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, Cambodian, Laotian and every other flavor you could think of. And then, in the late 1980s, the Soviet Commies fell apart and out of power, and the Chinese and Vietnamese practiced capitalism while holding on to a name now more of an honorific and a description, and “commie” went into the slur closet along with d—, w–, k–, n—–, c—–, h—— m-f-, g——, f—– etc. etc. etc.
And the liver-spotted hands that dragged THAT chestnut back into dusty view are hands that really aren’t very long for this world.
For modern GOPs to be screaming “communists” at this moment of history is insane.
But it can only work if you’re stupid.*
* [And by stupid, I include ignorance, since ignorance is curable, but its activity is indistinguishable from stupid.]
It is telling not only that 8 million guns were sold last year, but that there has been an ammunition shortage for several years, because ammunition sells as quickly as merchants can get it in stock.
We have been a nation of prisoners to the Emperor’s New Clothes.
This nation, conceived by geniuses and destroyed by imbeciles, is, after all, finally an idea: America is a notion and not a nation — from sea to shining sea. And that idea is one worth fighting for.
But is has ALWAYS been a prerequisite of self-governance that the populace be educated and hands-on with their government and their laws. And that requires education (curing ignorance) and an understanding of what can and cannot be done (which generally relegates stupidity to the shallow end of the jury pool).
iv. Debate, discuss, derive, dispute
The rules of logic and classical fallacies have been well-known for over two and a half millennia.
Here is a fallacy without which Vladimir Putin and Fox News could not operate, older than the languages in which they propound it:
Your logical fallacy is tu quoque
You avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser – you answered criticism with criticism.
Pronounced too-kwo-kweh. Literally translating as ‘you too’ this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.
Example: Nicole identified that Hannah had committed a logical fallacy, but instead of addressing the substance of her claim, Hannah accused Nicole of committing a fallacy earlier on in the conversation.
Gov. Rick DeSantis just used it last week in pretending that until Joe Biden “sealed” the US (Mexican) border, he could not be criticized for his aiding and abetting of a deadly pandemic: You too! Tu quoque! (Or, as it is commonly referred to “What aboutism”)
No mother in North America buys that argument (but Johnny did it too!) But it is regularly seen in our national debates on policy, corrupt and discredited as it has been for centuries.
And yet they are never seen in our public discourse and seldom taught in public schools.
Which is absurd, considering that the Athenian democracy of 500 BC already understood that reason was valuable and sophistry (the intentional abuse of reason) was deadly dangerous. Socrates complained of the sophists, and Aristophanes cluelessly insulted Socrates by equating him with the sophists (See The Clouds and The Frogs.) But even old Aristophanes seems to have had more on the ball rationally than any cable TV talking head in America today.
Now, there is a reason for this: when we teach formal logic and fallacies in our middle and high schools, students go home and use them on their parents who then attend PTA and school board meetings and insist that this pernicious reason be removed from the curriculum. For many years, we’ve sort of gotten around this by teaching good 0ld Euclidian geometry in our sophomore or 10th grade year with its emphasis on logical “proofs.”
Students are taught to think logically, but no fallacies, and seldom are they ever capable of applying the strict deductive logic of mathematics to real world situations — where, educational truth be told, 99% of all practical applications are used.
In the modern computer age, you also get logic from computer coding classes, but again, it does not translate into real-world use, generally.
WHY a modern society would almost literally coddle unreason, fallacy and cupidity is either an insoluble conundrum, else fodder for another, longer essay, which we will not deal with here. But we DO coddle them, and never once do all the Ivy-League elites who dominate our politics and media — and who OUGHT to be better educated than that — MENTION those endless classical fallacies that are the NIGHTLY fare of so much hateful cross-talk: Tu quoque, circular reasoning, ad hominems galore, false equivalencies, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
The few citizens who remember how logic works are invariably minimized and mostly excluded from policy debates, leading to irrational outcomes with a mind-bending regularity. And now, in the face of an existential threat (pandemic) it becomes apparent that the very notions of self-governance have been lost, and substituted for notions of selfishness and self-centeredness.
And wishing and saying so loudly doesn’t make it so. Facts are not subject to majority rule.
Not one in a hundred who decry “socialism” know what it actually is. Nor what a “commonwealth” is, nor how a dire social crisis trumps individual rights. (For a nice explanation, read SCOTUS’ Jacobson v. Massachusetts  decision. It’s in plain English. And remains precedent.)
Logic works. Reason works. Democracy works.
But not if we don’t let them.
v. We return to our beginnings
We are nearing the end of George Pal’s “War of the Worlds” movie …
The invaders have overwhelmed all defenses. The remaining scientific team attempts to flee to a secure lab to find a weapon to fight back with.
They have Martian blood sample. They have a good chance of perhaps SUCCEEDING!
And then the goobers decide that selfishness is more important than anything else and destroy the scientific gear and commandeer the bus.
It is the final insult of humanity TO humanity. They prove (in the movie) that they are no better than beasts, having no reason or rationality but merely the passions of the mob: Too stupid to live; too angry to die.
That was a movie. This is us.
The movie is indelible and unchangeable.. We, however, still have a chance for a different outcome.
Right now the mob is yowling, but we can still save ourselves.
If we can regain the use of our self-touted and over-hyped “brains.”
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. ~ Galileo Galilei