Contempt for stupidity and derangement is one of the defining features of Daily Kos, and one of the characteristics that has made it so appealing to talented, creative people with real ideas. It created a space where honest, intelligent people could interact without being shouted down or their constructive synergy suffocated by willful ignorance, conspiracy theories, and the deliberate lies of malicious assholes. But even in this environment where the truth and intelligent thought are empowered, we've been able to see an incredible phenomenon unfold before our eyes: The birth of alternate universe beliefs via the chaining of long sequences of narratives that, individually, are only subtly deceptive. I explain more below.
Say there is a progressive President of the United States - let's call him "Orack Barama" - whose record of liberal accomplishments is unmatched since the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and who has brought these things about against literally the worst and most intransigent right-wing opposition since the Civil War. You don't have to agree that this is an accurate characterization of the real President for the purposes of this discussion - just take it as the premise of a hypothetical scenario and watch what happens as it unfolds. This is a hypothetical scenario to illustrate the process where alternate universe narratives are formed in our own community, but you'll find it closely matches what we actually see.
Now, let's use the most innocuous possible quibble with something Orack Barama does: He attends an event dedicated to something no sane person would object to, like supporting children with cancer. The event is sponsored by a huge array of different charitable organizations, individuals, and also businesses. This is a children's charity, so it's not going to reject money from anyone unless it's like al Qaeda or the Ku Klux Klan or something. So let's say one of the dozens of otherwise innocuous or liberal sponsors of the event is, for instance, Aetna - because prominently supporting a cause like this would improve the image of a health insurance company. Barama gets up, makes a speech about children with cancer, announces proposals for additional public funding for care and oncology research, signs a personal check to the charity, lauds the compassion of the event's sponsors without singling any of them out by name, and then leaves because he's a hardworking President with a full agenda that day.
To a sane, honest person undemented by alternate universe narratives, this is a very positive story: Everything went exactly as it should have. Support was expressed both rhetorically and substantively for children with cancer by a President of the United States. But, you see, positive stories don't feed the careers of political columnists and bloggers whose bread and butter is outrage, to exactly the same corrupting degree that stories about sex, money, and fear are the bread and butter of the MSM. So let's imagine how some generic, left-flavored outrage-industry columnist or blogger might choose to cover the event:
Barama Attends Aetna-Sponsored Cancer Event While it Denies Cancer Patients TreatmentEvery single statement in the above blog post is factually correct, but it doesn't have much to do with what actually happened, does it? If you were aware of the details of the event in advance, the post would look like exactly what it is: Transparent scandal-mongering based on selective omission of details and guilt by remote association, turning a thoroughly positive event into something ludicrous, sinister, and despicable. But most people would not be aware of the event in advance, and some of the more politically active people might be devoted followers of that particular blog, so this is the first they would hear of the event.
President Orack Barama attended and spoke at an Aetna-sponsored PR event this week highlighting the plight of children with cancer. Aetna, as you may have heard, has been embroiled in scandal over the denial of coverage for XRT714, a promising cancer drug that has proven relatively effective in the treatment of some forms of cancer. We have earlier covered the court battle of cancer sufferer So-and-So to force Aetna to cover his treatment with XRT714, and to seek restitution for his callous treatment at the hands of the insurance company. But in the President's remarks at the event, he praised Aetna's "compassion," and made no mention of the scandal. Of course, the President's remarks were brief - he appeared to have shown up just for the photo op and made a few quick words before leaving again - so we can't know how seriously he took any of it to begin with.
This is what they know from the coverage: Barama the shallow corporatist helicoptering in to a sham PR event put on by a corrupt, predatory insurance company to compensate for its scandals and then praising it as a force of good. It might be hours or days before they hear the rest of the story, or they might never hear it because they don't participate in discussions about it - the belief in this framing of the event just sits there festering. But let's say some of those who see the blog post do participate in subsequent discussions on it, and are made aware of the details. Let's imagine that discussion:
X1: Wow, that is awful. What happened to the President I voted for? (15+ / 0-)So now, in addition to those with a warped belief about the event based on the original blog report, the meme has been echo-chambered, Tweeted, and elaborated endlessly in comments throughout the internet, exposing it to countless more people who largely react to it at face value without bothering to think critically or look deeper. The small minority who are aware of the facts and point them out are drowned in those who are simply reacting to the narrative, and in the context of the discussion appear to be "making excuses" for the President despite the fact that the information they're pointed out totally invalidates the premise of the criticism.
-->X2: He discovered the joys of fundraising. (7+ / 0-)
-->X3: He never existed. (7+ / 0-)
X4: This President needs to be reminded who his base are, and stop kissing the asses of these horrible corporations that prey on the American people. Seriously, get a grip, Barama! (17+ / 0-)
X5: "Change" indeed! (5+ / 0-)
X6: In 2008, President Barama said this: "I will strongly advocate for healthcare in this country." I guess he meant the business side of it. (7+ / 0-)
X7: Ugh...folks...Aetna was one of thirty seven sponsors, most of which were liberal charities, and the President praised all of them in general for donating to the charity, not by name. You think maybe this is all a little bit of drama over nothing? (3+ / 0-)
-->X2: Rather than making excuses for politicians, how about dealing with Washington's complicity with the insurance industry preying on Americans? (5+ / 0-)
----->X7: Since the whole point of the discussion is to criticize the President, don't you think it's worth getting the facts right? (3+ / 0-)
-------->X2: Of course, but you're really just quibbling over the degree of the President's abysmal failure to stand up for patients at the event, aren't you? (7+ / 0-)
(imagine this kind of conversation going on similarly for hundreds of comments)
The people with the facts are loath to HR those who are merely reacting out of human weakness to the narrative, even when it's clear they're not even listening to reality anymore because they find something emotionally compelling about the narrative, however demonstrably false. Also, they're wildly outnumbered, and would not get the support of more "appeasement-minded" types who think parroting discredited falsehoods for the sake of narrative aesthetics is some sort of legitimate expression of opinion that must not be excluded from discussion. Plus, most of the people engaged in it are being honest, however irresponsible and irrational, and the one doing the HRing would look like some sort of bullying pharisee abusing their authority over "technical quibbles." So the false narrative from the blog post proliferates, and the noble reality of the event disappears in derision as the "excuses" or "rationalizations" of people who simply don't want to accept criticism of Barama.
Now it's not just Barama's laudable, common-sense deed that's being held up to ridicule, but the reality-based community who defends it becomes marginalized in the discussion on the subject as mere "partisans" rather than people simply standing up for the truth and defending a good act unfairly portrayed in corrupt propaganda. So that's two narrative iterations where the idea that Barama is a corporatist phony predominates, based on an event that if anything showed the exact opposite. Now a sizable number of people have this as their default picture of Barama, and will interpret subsequent events in the context of the false narrative - hence the "chaining" of such narratives to create an alternate universe belief system.
So let's imagine a second, totally unobjectionable action by Orack Barama: He finds out that some program that supposedly helps poor, inner-city kids is actually a political sham created under his Republican predecessor that overwhelmingly goes to corrupt contractors that provide little or nothing in return. It has some silly, Orwellian name like "Every Child is Precious" while basically letting children rot in order to funnel money to these GOP-affiliated businesses. A different program in a totally different agency actually does what this program only claims to do, but is poorly funded because it has less political strength behind it, and has some trivial name like the Community Activity Program Enablement (CAPE).
In Barama's budget proposal, he totally eliminates Every Child is Precious, but increases CAPE by even more money. Rather than a handful of token children being benefited while fat contractors suckle on the public teat, thousands of kids have new opportunities. Both programs were small and obscure anyway, so the change is only explained in passing, in some footnote to one page of the 5,000 page budget.
The Republican contractors who suckle on Every Child is Precious don't like having their gravy train stopped, and they hate Orack Barama anyway, so they make sure the story of his cruelly crushing the dreams of the children reaches the media - especially the outrage-driven, faux-left commentariat who conservatives can always count on to frame convenient narratives from the other side of the spectrum. They happily oblige.
Barama Eliminates After-School Program While Sending Own Kid to Expensive Private SchoolHere too every single word of the above is basically true, but it has almost nothing to do with what is actually happening - it's just another hack making up a story by selectively stitching together facts into a false, misleading, and manipulative frame. Tayvon may only have come to be aware of the program because the corrupt people behind it specifically sought him and a few others out to serve as token recipients of services when they learned their program was under scrutiny. The place where he plays ping pong could be little more than a cinderblock garage rented for a few hours a week. "Janice McDrillbit" doesn't care enough to find out, and neither would her readers. So you would get discussions like this one, which can easily be imagined from experience...
By Janice McDrillbit, for Huffington Post
Tayvon Smalls is a shy ten-year-old in inner-city Chicago, and seems embarrassed to be interviewed, a bashful smile on his face as he speaks to us. Tayvon, like so many urban youths across America, had nowhere to go after school because his single-mother works full time as a hospice caregiver. But then he was told about a local facility provided under the Every Child is Precious program, and has become obsessed with ping pong, learning everything he can about it and hoping to play competitively some day. "It's a lot of fun, and I don't have to worry about other stuff while I'm there," Tayvon says, looking cute as a button.
But now Tayvon may have nowhere to go after school, if President Barama gets his way. In the President's new budget, funding for Every Child is Precious is zeroed out, meaning that dozens of children like Tayvon who use facilities funded by it will have far fewer options - just watching television alone, playing videogames, or possibly even getting involved in drugs and gangs. But not every child is facing the same dilemma: Barama's own son, Malik, will be attending the prestigious private school Hampton Smithmore Sturgis Day Smithfield Smithwick Academy, where there is never any lack of either opportunities or supervision. The juxtaposition between the lot of the two boys is heart-rending, and calls into question this President's rhetorical commitment to the underprivileged children of this country.
Both moves come just a month after the infamous Aetna debacle, when the President was criticized for attending an insurance industry-sponsored event and praising Aetna's "compassion" while it denied coverage of cancer drugs to its policyholders, and will likely raise further questions in the liberal base about the President's values and priorities. When asked what he thought of Barama's son going to such a great, safe school while he will be losing his access to ping pong, Tayvon was generous and thoughtful: "Good for him. Would be nice to have ping pong though." Yes, indeed, it would be nice - hopefully President Barama can hear Tayvon's pleas.
X1: New boss, same as the old boss. Prey on the weak, cut, cut, cut social services, and meanwhile have sumptuous banquets for health insurance industry millionaires. (21+ / 0-)Now imagine that thousands of similar narratives unfold over several years of a Presidency, with a dedicated corps of "smearologists" weaving them together into an impenetrable, epistemically-closed alternate universe of events that either never happened or are so poorly understood they might as well be fictional, beliefs about those events that have nothing to do with reality, and suspicions based on nothing more than those beliefs. You end up with a whole mountain of deranged bullshit based on chaining together endless sequences of selective and irrational interpretations, parroting narratives based on nothing but the number of other people doing likewise, and drowning out facts and common sense as mere partisan opinion rather than demonstrable truth.
-->X2: Seriously, Barama should go on tour with his pretending-to-be-a-liberal routine. The mask has slipped, methinks. (5+ / 0-)
X3: I'm really disappointed that the President is doing this. I suppose it's a matter of priorities, but wasn't there any better way than throwing kids out on the street? (10+ / 0-)
X4: I guess there's no profit for Aetna in after-school programs. :/ (13+ / 0-)
-->X5: A little harsh, but it does seem kind of ridiculous to be cutting a program like this with such a bad economy. (3+ / 0-)
-->X6: If Tayvon gets cancer, then Barama can have the pleasure of denying him cancer drugs! (2+ / 1-)
---->X7: WTF is wrong with you? That whole story about Aetna was discredited, and even if it wasn't, you're saying Barama wants kids to get cancer? (1+ / 0-)
------>X6: Ratings abuse much, Barama-Nazi? I guess your Glorious Hero means more to you than kids. (2+ / 0-)
-------->X7: Your comment is not only false, but a sick smear. (0+ / 0-)
(back-and-forth continues for dozens of comments)
X7: Oh My God, you people are so fucking stupid. The President said in the campaign that he intended to do this - he specifically identified this program as an example of waste and abuse, and said he was going to try to shift the funds to CAPE because it worked so much better and was underfunded. Not only is all of that money still going to after-school programs for kids, he's increasing it by 50%, and nearly all of it will actually go to helping kids, not in the pockets of contractors. The WH spokesman even said this specifically at the last weekly briefing. Don't you people pay attention to anything? (1+ / 3-)
-->X6: "Oh My God, you people are so fucking stupid." HR'd for abusiveness. (4+ / 0-)
-->X2: "Waste and abuse," yeah, where have we heard that before? Oh, right, from every single Republican ever. (5+ / 0-)
---->X7: It's based on the linked CBO report. It is an example of waste and abuse, and the President is trying to drastically increase benefits to underprivileged kids. What is wrong with you?
------>X2: What's wrong with me? Gee, I care about kids, unlike you and your Aetna-loving Glorious Leader.
So, in our hypothetical presidency of Orack Barama, a President who had behaved with 100% perfect ethics, morality, and competence ends up being transmogrified by corrupt, nihilistic commentators with no concern for the truth into a valueless monster who is the opposite of what his actions indicate. This is how crazy the alternate universe bubble becomes surrounding a hypothetical President whose actions are ideal in every way, so just imagine a real, human President who is merely a great human being and accomplished progressive leader. The alternate-universe bubbles surrounding Barack Obama on both the left and right are massive, impenetrable to all logic and evidence, and proceed on the pure inertia of the careening hatred they promote.
I have a message for everyone who believes that President Barack Obama is a "neo-liberal," "neo-conservative," "warmonger," "war criminal," "corporatist," "plutocrat," "puppet," "betrayer," or any other piece of the spasmodic word salad that typically follows around such people like Pig-Pen's dirt cloud: You...are...fucking...brainwashed. You are the ignorant, raving idiots in the hypothetical commentaries above, a thousand times over for years on end, and your mind is some political tabloid hack's Fleshlight. You are wrapped in a fake, alternate universe based on years of accumulated innuendo, maliciously selective commentary, and total failure to engage in anything resembling critical thinking. Your history of this Presidency is fiction, and the claims you make based on that history are totally, completely, Adam West batmobile.
And I'm not tolerating it anymore. Your deliberate ignorance and laziness has been coddled as "opinion" to the point that we practically shrug when you say that 2 + 2 = 5 because maybe, possibly, someone might honestly believe that and want to express it as an opinion, and who are we to say they can't? Except this is a reality-based community that was only ever worth anything because we didn't waste our time arguing with Truthers, liars, and morons, or engage in futile campaigns to liberate fools from the webs of fantasy they'd caught themselves in through sheer negligence. We simply shoved them out the door and let them congregate in other, shadier places that have since become legendary for their derangement and idiocy.
So if you're hopelessly wedded to your Orwellian narrative cocoon where courageous, admirable progressive Barack Obama is Joe Lieberman with a tan, either begin reassessing your location or start learning how to walk with my proverbial shoe up your ass. No more lies, no more bullshit, no more spiderwebs woven by mendacious commentators gumming up the joint.
And just in case you take this diary as an opportunity to even further expound on your alternate universe beliefs, please don't - I'm not interested in more high-maintenance babysitting and abnormal psychology. But there are many people who are interested, in a magical land called Firedoglake, where you will not be judged for your strange and idiotic beliefs. Go, friends, go to the Promised Land where the left and the right can unite in common cause against Barack Obama, where Paulists and Naderites can hold hands and sing songs of condemnation against the CommieNaziCorporatist and carve backwards 'B's onto their faces while planning their resistance against the New World Order.