In the previous episode of The Blog Notes That Nobody Reads, I discussed the old slang acronym “SNAFU”. Aside from the way that this managed to be mutated into becoming used as a word, “snafu”, there was also the point that when people use it there is a tendency to use it as if its meaning is to refer to some kind of mistake, or some problematic event, some incident, rather than a general situation.
Following on from that, it all kinds of begs the question of what, exactly, is normal now. That’s a pretty big question, right there. Maybe it always is, and it’s especially challenging when what a lot of people think of as “normal” is getting very, very weird.
How about a quick glance, just in case you did a Rip van Winkle and just woke up? Donald Trump is President of the United States of America, and 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner is now an old woman called Caitlyn.
That’s just a start. One thing that immediate came to mind as I pointed out those two cases is that both of these strange characters just happened to have a recent history as featured characters in a particular genre of television programming that has come t be known as “Reality TV”. What, exactly, constitutes “Reality TV” is quite a strange brew, with a large variety to it, and a common thread that a large portion of it raises some serious questions about how grounded in actual reality it is.
In writing various notes here over a period of a few years now, one thing I have found is that I have wound up sitting here trying to address all sorts of weirdness transformed into normality, often probably running far too long, at least according to people who have become accustomed to written communication in the form of digital typed characters in Twitter Tweets and mobile phone text messages. I have also been very aware of how much ends up being a matter of repeating myself, for a couple of basic reasons. One is that examples of particular general topics just keep coming, the other being the simple reason that a lot of people just do not seem to be getting it, or, perhaps more often, simply ignoring it, or maybe sometimes giving it all a cursory glancing skim, and just dismissing the point at hand outright because it does not fit into the bubble of some particular flavor of Groupthink.
That, of course, gets right back into the unfortunate topic of the epidemic of bipolar political disorder that has become such a raging infection of mass lunacy. One little item of slight trivia is that I had gone to read Scott Adams’ blog, after realizing that I had not even looked at it in weeks, maybe months, and reading the note I have shared here about mass hysteria. Within the hour, I went and took a look at the Noise Feed on Facebook (“News Feed”, as they call it), and found that Dmitry Orlov had done a “share” to his page of that very same Scott Adams essay, some hours before. I take that coincidence as a kind of indicator of the essay having, let’s say, a certain resonance to it.
We very definitely have a large problem with Groupthink. It’s made even worse as people subscribe and submit to being part of some faction or another of competing clusters of Groupthink, which has clearly been having the unfortunate effect of causing people to dig in even deeper to their chosen glob of Groupthink. Going along with that, and this is just one of the many things I find myself repeating here, is that trying to nudge people out of a particular clump of Groupthink is likely to fail, as they, figuratively speaking, run away screaming, while also being likely to accuse you as being an agent of a contrary cluster of Groupthink.
It is worth repeating something I have said before, that quite a lot happening now increases the relevance of a set of decades-old books, “1984” by George Orwell, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, and “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman.
Another book that seems to be much less well known is The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. This is another item I have mentioned more than once. The book is a great work of insight that is especially important as we are now living through what Strauss and Howe call a “Fourth Turning” or “Crisis” phase of a historical cycle. What is severely unfortunate here is that the closest example I have found of this book getting anything close to widespread public attention was something truly appalling that appeared some months back. What happened is that there was a brief blip of a web story or two that focused on one particular character involved in the Trump horror show, based on an idea that this character had a sort of devotion to the book The Fourth Turning as some sort of master plan guidebook, with the whole thing presented in a way that seemed to vaguely suggest that it was like a German Nazi in the thirties regarding Mein Kampf as their personal guide.
I went and followed a web link to read what seemed to be the source of this notion, an article that was written by somebody who appeared to have never read the book, had probably gone and skimmed some half baked summary of the basic ideas laid out in the book, which is about historical patterns, and very badly misunderstood the whole thing. They then proceeded to write an article that was propagated around the web, planting seeds of complete distorted nonsense in people’s minds in a severe case of what might be called “poisoning the well”. I can only speculate about the effects of this, but I do think it is fairly reasonable to guess that this particular book will now be ignored by people who will never read it, although they really should, and, furthermore, might be actively vocal, if any mention of the book is made, about condemning it as some kind of combination of propaganda and Evil Master Plan of Trump minions.
The latest twist to add to this is that the Trump minion in question was the character named Steve Bannon, who just days ago became another item to add to the list of people to either bail out or be tossed out of membership in the Trump circus.
I have digressed a little, but this little side trip gets us right back to the main road of Groupthink. A great book that could provide extremely valuable relevant insight is very likely to be entirely ignored or even actively condemned by people whose dominance by Groupthink has severely damaged their own ability to function outside the Groupthink.
This is causing all sorts of ugly mess.
One big ugly news story, obviously, is the the episode of a crowd of neo-Nazis gathering for a demonstration, apparently revolving around the removal of a statue related to the Confederacy a century and a half after the Civil War, which apparently appalls and outrages some people because they evidently think the Confederacy should have remained, and after other people gathered to oppose that bunch, somebody died after one of the neo-Nazi gang drove a car into a crowd of people.
In all the online commentary about that horror show, there have been comments of a general sort asking, how could this kind of thing happen again? Didn’t we finish dealing with that insanity over 70 years ago? I’m not going to make a big theme out of The Fourth Turning, especially considering that I have written a fair amount about that book already in past notes, but there is some insight into this kind of problem contained in the analysis of that book, which, as you will see when you read the book, revolves around a concept of historical patterns based on a review of American history covering centuries. The general pattern they discuss is the idea of a roughly 80 year cycle they call a Saeculum, more or less corresponding to a full long human lifetime, with phases of this cycle, with generational archetypes going along with them, they call “Turnings”. The short answer, to “how can we have this kind of stuff again?”, is, to put it simply, at least partially because people old enough to remember something ugly and wrong from the past grow old, fade into insignificance in terms of being in control of things, and eventually die off, taking with them living memories of how bad this stuff was the last time around, whatever that might have been.