Old quotes for a new situation

I have been using FB’s “take a break” feature quite a bit lately to avoid seeing some of the gibberish posted by some of my conservative friends, particularly following Trump’s questions about maybe using disinfectant (by a strange coincidence right after someone selling bleach treatments contacted him)or putting UV light inside us to fight the Trump Virus (just one example of craziness in his briefings), his replacement for hydroxychloroquine as a miracle solution.

Faced with a moment of utter gibberish from their glorious god-king, Trump supporters have told me: He didn’t say it!  Okay, he said it, but obviously he didn’t mean that, he just misspoke! He wasn’t saying we could treat the virus by injecting disinfectant, he was just discussing a complex scientific question! Or thinking it through! No, he was being sarcastic (Trump’s official explanation, which makes no sense)! He’s questioning the experts instead of just accepting medical wisdom! Science isn’t going to save us (right, it’s not like medical science has helped with heart disease, polio, cancer, or other diseases)! His instincts are good! No president has ever been condemned so cruelly (while I admit I’m delighted Trump feels miserable, he hasn’t suffered a fraction of the shit Obama has: accused of being a closet Muslim, a closet gay, married to a man, being a secret terrorist fifth columnist. organizing street gangs into a private army and his birth certificate being fake [a lie Trump was once happy to push]).

The frantic desire to hand-wave Trump’s statement away leads us to this quote from Sartre:

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

Then there’s Hannah Arendt:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

I still provided reasoned counter-responses to their arguments when we run up against each other (though I also freaked one right-winger out last week by saying conservatives were the real “special snowflakes”). That’s because some people can be persuaded, and because I don’t want the Trumpite arguments to convince someone in the middle. That said, I agree with Arendt and Sartre: a lot of Trump supporters can’t be reasoned with because they don’t care whether their words make sense. They don’t care that Trump’s “sarcasm” defense doesn’t fit with any argument he was making a serious proposal or asking a thoughtful question. They want to disconcert and “own the libs.”

Similarly relevant (courtesy of slacktivist) a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on folly:

“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied, in fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous.”

 

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