End mass shootings now

Freedom is freedom from the fear of death.

Freedom is freedom from fearing you’ll be gunned down at school.

Freedom is freedom from fear your kids won’t come home from school.

Freedom is freedom from fear of going to the grocery store.

Freedom is freedom from senseless violence.

Freedom is freedom from murderous rampages replayed night after night.

Freedom is freedom from domestic warfare.

Freedom is freedom from weapons of warfare in our communities, in our churches, in our schools, in our stores, on our playing fields, on our streets.

Freedom is freedom from injustice.

Freedom is freedom from inaction.

Collective narcissism is a bad solution to modern anxiety

I’ve been reading Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and it’s synthesizing a few things together for me in new ways — prime among them the realization that collective narcissism is the shared root ideology of both Christian nationalism and Nazism. First off, I’d recommend it:

Next, I’d like to thank it for reminding me about the insidious dangers of Calvinism and the Protestant Work Ethic, as described in sociologist Max Weber‘s most cited work in the history of the field. Beyond the problematic authoritarianism of John Calvin as a person himself, the ideology of predestination coupled with a paradoxical obsessive compulsion with working yourself ragged is a noxious brew that fed the Protestant extrusion of American capitalism as well as the murderous violence of its Manifest Destiny.

Reformation Ideologies

Calvin — like Luther before him — was reacting to the social and economic upheavals of his day which, during the Reformation, were all about the middle class emerging from the security and certainty of feudalism into a far more dynamic world of competition, isolation, and aloneness. It held promise but also peril — hope along with, inescapably, fear.

During the Middle Ages, humankind had retreated from the aspirational virtuousness of the Greek and Roman civilizations and descended into almost 1000 years of darkness, as compared to the dazzling intellectual brilliance of the millennium before it. Those who would prefer cultish cowering in self-righteous ignorance over the humility of fallible science and critical thinking managed to topple a glittering civilization and scatter it to the wolves. It was a return to cruel and arbitrary happenstance, a horrifying Hobbesian world of pestilence and pathology.

And yet, it held a certain Stockholm Syndrome quality for the serfs and apprentices and artisans who did not have to struggle to find gainful employment or a ready-made place in the social milieu. If nothing else, a complete inability to ever fundamentally alter one’s station in life provided a kind of grim certainty, of a hum-drum life there for the taking if one only wished to fall into it — perhaps pockmarked by the occasional inexplicable trauma.

When Luther nailed those 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg churches in 1517, no one understood at the time that he would change the world. He merely leveraged the power of the printing press to propagate his idea of antipathy to the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, and in so doing managed to revolutionize both information and religion as well as society and politics.

Luther had advanced the concept of predestination first advocated by St. Augustine, and soon John Calvin would push it further still: “All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death” he wrote in 1564. Calvin’s image of a callously inscrutable God torturing His creation by forcing them to run a meaningless gauntlet of life that bore no relation to the status of their salvation snuffed out the idea of a compassionate, loving creator altogether. As Max Weber would later say, Calvin had eliminated magic from the world.

Collective narcissism as soothing salve

After destroying any possibility of good vibes for humanity as Luther had before him, Calvin needed a way to quell the resulting anxiety and sense of depression at the thought of man’s utter hopelessness. If his theology were true, then all of life feels like a cruel joke played upon the powerless by a sadistic master. If Calvin is right, then nothing you can ever think, say, or do will ever matter to your salvation. So what’s the point?!

To solve the fundamental despair of the uncertainty of never being able to know if you will be saved, Calvin and his followers simply decided to cultivate conviction in themselves as having been Chosen. For no particular reason and without any offered evidence, the Calvinists just decided they deserved to be Chosen and would behave accordingly, to reflect their belief in their highest status. This initial act of collective narcissism sparked centuries of other ego-based groups both in and outside of religious circles.

Feeling better than everyone else is a kind of lying to oneself to take the edge off — a soothing psychological bedtime story that helps you sleep at night, but festers as doubt and hostility compressed into anger, lying just under the surface until it reacts with a catalyst. The ideology of “we’re the best and everyone else is worthless” cannot be sustained in a civil society, particularly a Constitutional republic that requires compromise and forbearance. It is an ideology with conflict and self-loathing at its core — a belief system that is self-evidently suspicious for the lack of peaceful bearing exhibited by its adherents.

Mindlessness is next to Godliness

Calvin differentiated himself from Luther with a stronger emphasis on a required behavioral trait for his followers: mindless unceasing activity. He taught that although human effort cannot change the outcome of one’s salvation, being able to demonstrate that one is capable of making this effort is a sign that one must belong to the elite group of Chosen. If it sounds like this prescription is merely a cheap distraction ploy, then you are in good company with Fromm, who called Calvin’s ideology of workaholism a “desperate escape from anxiety.”

This endlessly frantic activity was required to “outrun” the doubts that would naturally creep in from this spiritual strategy of self-deception and overinflation of one’s worth through the magic of magical thinking. It was clever in a diabolical Machiavellian way and, of course, would be powerful enough to resonate strongly all the way through to the American politics of today, in which we are still grappling with arguments over the basic fundament of society: shall we treat all men equally, or not?

It certainly resonated with Max Weber, widely known as the Prometheus of sociology, whose idea of the Protestant work ethic analyzed how Calvin’s deeply influential theology sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and extruded itself into American capitalism over the next ~500 years. The idea of the rat race comes from a Weberian root — it is the quintessence of that feeling of being in the capricious gauntlet whose terminus is unknowable to you and thus inspirational of much internal turmoil. It’s that nagging, creeping sense that the harder you struggle, the faster you’re getting fixed in the ointment.

Humanity needs hope

Calvin’s worldview of humankind as weak, wicked, and utterly unsalvageable except for the random grace of a sociopathic all-powerful being is a pessimistic one, to say the least. His ideology seems truly to turn the miracle of Jesus’ birth on its head, wiping away the compassionate messages of love, brotherhood, and peace. Calvinism seems to fixate on the very worst of the human spirit, thus deepening the emerging modern angst felt during the Reformation and replacing it with a sort of mindless scurrying around by which to forget about the sinking depression gnawing at your core.

These ideas have held sway for so long. They have helped animate the creation of what we think of as “Western civilization,” and certainly of American capitalism, which is largely global capitalism. I believe the pessimistic, dehumanizing ideology of predestined inequality and Christian nationalist supremacy is a poisonous doctrine which must be dethroned. It is long past time to overthrow dogma of all stripes in general — and the Calvinist form of collective narcissism is prime among them. So too the other well-known dehumanizing mythologies, including Nazism, Putinism, Christian nationalism, Evangelicism, white supremacy, misogyny, racism, and all other -isms and forms of bigotry: they are personae non gratae here. They do not belong.

Why do people believe conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories are not new. The specific group of theories known as QAnon may be new, but conspiracy theories themselves are a tale(s) as old as time — or at least time as we know it, from the start of recorded history.

A large body of psychological research has shown that there are some deep cognitive reasons that conspiracy theories tend to resonate with us, and especially in particular types of people, or people in certain types of circumstances.

We are fundamentally wired to be storytellers. It’s intuitive why this ability might be hard-coded into our brains, as it so clearly relates to survival, self-preservation, and our ability to navigate and succeed in a complex world. We need to be able to understand cause and effect in an environment of many rapidly shifting variables, and storytelling is a framework for weaving coherent narratives that reduce our anxiety about the great uncertainties in the environment around us.

Conspiracy theories tap into psychological needs

Conspiratorial thinking is far more common than we think, and can ebb and flow in populations based on prevailing conditions. Our ability to see patterns in randomness and dissemble stories on the spot, along with numerous other cognitive and psychological biases, make us vulnerable to belief in conspiracy theories.

All of the following common human desires make us vulnerable to believing in conspiracies:

  • Desire for simple solutions
  • Desire for relief from the anxiety of uncertainty
  • Desire for understanding and certainty
  • Desire for control
  • Desire for safety and security
  • Desire for a positive self-image
  • Desire for a positive group image
  • Desire for belonging
  • Desire to offload responsibility to others

Structural properties of conspiracy theories

These persistent myths have different narratives, but structurally and linguistically they have elements in common. All conspiracy theory narratives include:

  • The Villains: Target a specific group that is supposedly conspiring in secret to deceive or do harm to society (The Outgroup)
  • The Heroes: A separate group of people, the believers, who are clued in to the conspiracy theory and heroically trying to expose it (The Ingroup)
  • Emotional storytelling: The language and narratives are loaded with trigger words and grand concepts in an attempt to elicit an emotional response from the readers or listener. This is used as a way of bypassing the rational, logical cognition mechanisms that would otherwise tend to raise a red flag at the outlandishness of the claims.

For more on the language and terminology of these addictive belief systems, check out the conspiracy theory dictionary.

Who is vulnerable to conspiracy theories?

There are certain types of people who are likely to essentially always be susceptible to conspiracy theories, and some types of circumstances that might make someone of a less prone personality type temporarily more vulnerable to conspiratorial messaging.

Traits that increase vulnerability to conspiracy thinking

  • Narcissism — individuals with a narcissistic and extreme need for uniqueness tend to be drawn in by the idea of gaining immediate and secret access to the “green room” of all the world’s events.
  • Intolerance — people who have a low tolerance for uncertainty will naturally gravitate towards ready-made solutions that seem simple and feel good. They will seek cognitive closure more strongly than individuals who can tolerate ambiguity, or take interest in it. Conspiracy theories are one way of providing “off the shelf” cognitive closure, by offering a complete explanatory system that removes all the uncertainty. They squeeze out any anxiety about not knowing what is going to happen in the future. Put another way — bigotry and conspiracy go hand in hand.

Circumstances that increase almost anybody’s vulnerability to conspiratorial messaging

  • Challenging times of great uncertainty and instability
  • Times of loss — a recent breakup, a death in the family, loss of a job, or other major life event could leave one open to appeals from a whole new belief system.
  • Feelings of anxiety and powerlessness
  • Being on the losing side of a political contest

Why are conspiracy theories so ‘sticky’?

Why is it so hard to pierce through the solipsistic “logic” of a conspiracy theory and get someone to evaluate falsifying information again? Why do people often seem to cling harder and go deeper down their rabbit holes each time disconfirming events transpire?

Conspiracy theory can seem a lot more “fun” than the sometimes harsh light of actual reality. Escapism is one of many appeals, as well as an easily-memorable picture of what’s going on that others around you in your tribe seem to share — bringing you closer together in a way that feels intoxicating. Some of the uncertainty of daily life seems bolstered by these clear, simple messages and stories that seem to explain everything in a neat and tidy way.

Some other reasons conspiracy theory is so sticky include:

  • people bolster their social identity with them (white supremacy, e.g.)
  • people use them to assert uniqueness in a “conformist” society
  • it’s a common human habit to put down reason and rational thought just for the sake of doing what feels good
  • Simplicity is seductive
  • Emotion is a key component to our most important memories. It’s our ancient brain’s “hack” for dealing with the reality of limited storage, by triaging the most intense experiences and deprioritizing the rest.
  • Storytelling literally syncs our brainwaves with our social group, forming a kind of psychological bond.
  • Listening to a story can change our neurochemical processes, and are some of the most powerful mechanisms we know of to motivate people to change beliefs and to act on a large scale.
  • Their mechanisms can be neurochemically seductive — and even potentially addictive — in that they valorize the self and one’s in-group while scapegoating and projecting all negativity onto The Other and the out-group, where it can be excised and/or exterminated.

How to protect yourself

  • be skeptical, but not too skeptical
  • gauge your emotions upon reading a piece of news, and be aware of how bias may creep in as a result
  • fact check anything new, ideally in at least 3 independent sources
  • learn more about conspiracy theories, cults, and thought reform

Famous conspiracies throughout history

If we’re likely to believe in one conspiracy, we are also more than likely prone to belief in others. Even before the QAnon surge made the widespread nature of conspiracy theories obvious by putting them front and center in our politics, up to half of all US citizens professed belief in one or more of these viral myths.

Conspiracy cults like QAnon can be a way to declare loyalty to a group and seek inclusion and social reciprocity from other members — without having to espouse any particular ideology. For the followers, there is instant gratification and very little intellectual effort to be done to begin to reap the rewards. For the elites promulgating it, this makes for a glorious tabula rasa or blank slate in which conspiracy proprietors can write whatever they wish and count on the zealotry of the followers to latch on.

  • QAnon
  • Blood libel
  • global cabal
  • Lost Gospel of Philip — 3rd century rumour that Jesus and Mary Magdalen were married. Later echoed in The Da Vinci Code.
  • Slave insurrection rumours
  • The Illuminati
  • Jewish global economic denomination / global cabal theory — these conspiracy theories flourished for hundreds of years before erupting violently in the Nazi regime and World War II. Numerous white supremacists in the U.S. still believe this today.
  • JFK assassination and the Warren Report
  • NASA faked the Moon landing
  • Supposed death of Paul McCartney
  • the government is controlled by Lizard People — everyone knows this one is true, obv
  • Holocaust deniers
  • political correctness and “cultural Marxism
  • New World Order
  • 9/11 Trutherism
  • Zionist Occupational Government (ZOG)
  • Anti-vaxxers — cluster of beliefs around vaccines being harmful
  • climate change denialism
  • Birtherism
  • celebrities still alive — Elvis, Tupac, etc.
  • Flat Earthers
  • coronavirus denial
  • the deep state
  • Antifa

Legitimate political discourse? πŸ€”

The Republican National Committee, in perhaps the most stunningly stupid self-own in the history of modern politics certainly in my lifetime, finally said the quietest part out loud: that in their official pronouncement, the events at the Capitol on January 6 constituted “legitimate political discourse.” Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were censured by the RNC in the statement as well, for their role on the January 6 Committee and their investigation into these “legitimate” events involving a murderous attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

Yale historian Joanne Freeman had this to say about the RNC statement:

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism is on the ballot in 2022

If there’s any upside to the dark situation we’re in, it’s these gifts Republicans keep on giving — further debasing themselves each time you think they can’t possibly stoop any morally lower — that we can use to our advantage to turn out our base in record numbers in these upcoming midterms. We did it in 2018, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it now. Trump’s support is waning, not growing — and the fractures within the GOP are widening, not tightening. Plus, we’ll have 8 million new 18-year-old eligible voters we can potentially reach — the vast majority of whom statistically speaking, are going to be progressive Democrats.

None of the other policy questions or culture wars will matter if we cannot solve the most fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: do we still believe in the ideals of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the vision of a self-governing people shared by the Founders? Or do we want to hand over the keys to the nation to the erstwhile billionaires, old money heirs, and trust fund playboys who want to drag us back to some perverted nostalgic fantasyland that’s part Leave It To Beaver, part wild west, and part Silence of the Lambs?

Do we want democracy, or authoritarianism?

Do we want to choose our leaders, as citizens — or do we want politicians to choose our leaders?

It’s the only question in 2022.

Motivated Reasoning

Motivated reasoning is a common daily phenomenon for all of us, assuming we’re human and/or interact with other humans. It’s a cognitive science term that refers to a type of emotional bias in which we have a tendency to prefer decisions or justifications based on their personal desirability vs. an unbiased examination of the facts.

Thinking and feeling aren’t anywhere near as “separate” in the brain as is commonly believed — they are very intertwined, and it’s also incredibly difficult for us to understand or detect from moment to moment which parts of our stream of consciousness are “thinking” and which are “feeling.”

What’s worse, we have other biases that exacerbate the motivated reasoning bias — like the “Lake Wobegon Effect” wherein we tend to overestimate our own abilities vs. others. So, we’re overconfident — at the same that we are less rational than we think we are. That can be a volatile combination — especially when found in individuals who hold a lot of power, and make decisions that affect people’s lives.

For we know not what we do

It can be infuriating to deal with people who are using motivated reasoning to make decisions instead of critical thinking: they tend to work backwards from the conclusion they wish to reach, and ignore evidence that contradicts their pre-existing beliefs. The way they deal with the cognitive dissonance of conflicting information is simply to toss the new information out, instead of evaluating it. Generally, though, they are unaware that their brain is in the habit of making that easier choice, and tend to get angry when this is pointed out.

Examples of motivated reasoning:

  • Bigotry and prejudice
  • Belief that you can “reduce covid cases” by not testing
  • Belief that you can get Republicans elected by refusing to count Democratic votes either outright or via procedural means

Related concepts:

  • Emperor’s New Clothes
  • Potemkin Village
  • tautology
  • foregone conclusion
  • Catch-22
  • ouroborous
  • self-fulfilling prophecy
  • revealed wisdom
  • divine right of rule
  • teleological thinking
  • self-interest bias

Cults and Mind Control Books

Mind control is a type of “psychological technology” used by con artists, cult leaders, and influence peddlers of all stripes to try and modify human behavior, to twist it to one’s own nefarious and usually opaque ends. Also referred to as undue influence, emotional abuse, or thought reform, mind control is a set of techniques designed to hack in to the brain’s cognitive quirks, biases, and numerous psychobiological “opportunities to circumvent rational and critical thought.”

Cults are a specific structure of social organization formed through the application of mind control. There are at least 2 “layers” and often many interstitial rings that draw members ever closer to a hidden agenda lurking at the center — the true purpose of the organization that most of the footsoldiers know nothing about, because they work for one of the many “friendly PR faces” tacked on to the outside of the group to disguise the malignancy within.

Here’s the cult leader playbook:

  1. Position himself (and the group β€” his extension) as the only safe haven to turn to when afraid: “I alone can fix it!”
  2. Isolate followers from other sources of information — i.e. keep them in the Fox/OANN/Newsmax ecosystem
  3. Arouse fear in the follower — invent invisible boogeymen everywhere! Huge caravans at the border that mysteriously disappear after elections! Evil liberals trying to do their jobs in schools and educate our youth about our history! INFLATION looms as a large spectre every time the left manages to eke out a few pennies from the cold unfeeling hands of the aristocrats!

Rinse; repeat. Stoking fear is “EZ Mode” — it means one of the parties in our two-party system can “de facto secede” from governance by just sitting on the sidelines and heckling all day, waiting for the problems and frustration to boil over so they can harness the abject anger of poor manipulated people into political weaponry, to break their lives on the wheels of history carelessly and for no higher purpose than personal greed and addiction to power, wealth, and status.

This set of books is a lead on how they fuel their political war machine:

Qualities of a Cult Leader

  • Narcissistic β€” highly self-absorbed, they demand excessive admiration and slavish devotion to their whims.
  • Charismatic β€” they have a way of grabbing attention, whether positive or negative.
  • Unpredictable β€” erratic behavior keeps enemies on their toes and fans β€œon edge” with desire to please Dear Leader.
  • Insatiable drive β€” it could be status, money, sex, power, or all of the above, but they feel they deserve it more than anyone else on the planet.
  • Lack of conscience β€” they have no shame and will demand things a decent human being would not.

…remind you of anyone in particular?!

January 6 Attack: A “dagger at the throat of America”

President Biden and Vice President Harris commemorated the 1 year anniversary of the January 6 attack on our democracy with morning speeches and a day of remembrance inside the Capitol rotunda with Representatives and Senators giving a number of moving speeches in their respective chambers. The tone on TV news and blue check Twitter was somber and reflective. The President referred to the violent events of Jan 6, 2021 as a terrorist attack on our democracy, and said that the threat was not yet over — that the perpetrators of that event still hold a “dagger at the throat of America.”

Only two Republicans were present in chambers when the moment of silence was held for the nation’s traumatic experience one year ago — Representative Liz Cheney and her father, Dick Cheney, the former VP and evil villain of the George W. Bush years. That this man — a cartoonish devil from my formative years as a young activist — was, along with his steel-spined force of nature daughter, one half of the lone pair that remained of the pathetic tatters of the once great party of Lincoln.

What do you do if you’re in a 2-party system and one of the parties is just sitting on the sidelines, heckling (and worse!?)? How do you restore confidence in a system that so many people love to hate, to the point of obsession? Will we be able to re-establish a sense of fair play, as Biden called on us to do today in his speech?

The Big Lie is about rewriting history

We don’t need to spend a ton of time peering deeply into discerning motive with seditionists — we can instead understand that for all of them, serving the Big Lie serves a function for them in their lives. It binds them to their tribe, it signals a piece of their “identity,” and it signals loyalty within a tight hierarchy that rewards it — all while managing to serve their highest goal of all: to annoy and intimidate liberals. Like all bullies, their primary animating drive is a self-righteous conviction that “I am RIGHT!” at all times and about all things, and that disagreement is largely punishable by death or, in lieu of that, dark twisted fantasies of death passed off lamely and pathetically as “just joking, coworker!”

For both the populist right-wing base and the plutocratic political class, the Big Lie functions as a “narrative reversal” device. It rewrites the actual story of what happened into its opposite: recasting Trump as the innocent victim of leftist Antifa operatives who wanted to… stop the guy they voted for from being certified the winner?! It makes no sense in the rewrite but it doesn’t matter, because the whole thing is just a prop — a kind of rhetorical Trojan Horse that lets them skate by on a thin veneer of plausible deniability for their nefarious intentions, while continuing to pursue “revenge” for invented crimes that they “make real” through a propaganda engine on a scale that would make Joseph Goebbels weep.

Propaganda is just gaslighting, scaled up — and you can manufacture it cheaply and amplify it cheaply these days on Facebook. It also gains potency through recycling — the oldest conspiracy theories like the antisemitic Blood Libel and the white supremacist Lost Cause mythology have a kind of built-in resonance because they’ve endured for decades and centuries already. They’re deep in the blood and bones of collective memory of certain groups, almost waiting to be activated. It’s like having built-in marketing juice, or pre-existing search engine ranking — it’s easier to piggyback on them because the “recalcitrant” conservative pockets of society still cling fervently to them as simple, soothing stories about the world that sound like a cross between a fairy tale and a Greek myth.

The truth shall make us free

Lies can be so powerful, because they embody our deepest darkest desires — the ones that we daresn’t name except in encrypted chatrooms. Powerful people have a way of weaving lies into myths, by blowing enough hot air into them that they seem to take flight of their own accord. But ultimately the Big Lie is a gossamer dirigible that cannot withstand the flames of Congressional investigation forever. And there is still a chance that the national sentiment could keep shifting in favor of the reality-based rendition of historical events — perhaps rapidly so given the gravity of even the tiniest dangles offered so far by the Jan 6 Committee, which seem to indicate to myself as well as to a number of professional natsec-type folks that Liz Cheney & co. have the proverbial goods on Trump and his merry band of Confederates.

The “dagger at the throat of America” is not hyperbole or exaggeration — Biden is referring to the ongoing effort to cling to the former president’s lies and throw the nation out with the bathwater of butthurt. He’s talking about the continued and amplified efforts at the state level to put laws in place that would allow Republican simple majority legislatures to override the will of the voters and install partisan candidates of their choice, up and down the ballot. The President is talking about the coup continuing in plain sight by an unscrupulous array of bad actors from elected officials at all levels to local power brokers, lobbyists, cynical political operatives, and leeches to power of all kinds. He names a continued threat and his commitment to looking it squarely in the eyes, as leaders should do. As we should do too.

Another resonant historical voice spoke to the power of narrative on Rachel Maddow tonight: Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has both studied and lived history over the past half century and counting, described how the repetition of the authentic story has an inherent power to counter the false narratives currently filling the void of public knowledge. There is so much we yet don’t know about the stories behind the January 6 attack (front of House) and the coup plotting over the course of 2 months (back of House) that was undertaken instead of participating in a peaceful transition — a devastating blow to national security far greater than the breach that had occurred following the Bush v. Gore contest, in which the delay to begin the transition was later named as a key structural weakness in the chain of events leading up to the September 11 attacks in 2001.

It was only 8 months in to the Lesser But Longer Bush’s rein at the beginning of the new millennium, and even though the “lights were blinking red,” everyone at first failed to act and then later dramatically overreacted, in part to try and cover up the earlier hubris of nazel-gazing dereliction. They dragged us hastily into a series of Middle East swagger war quagmires we would not be able to extract ourselves from for another 20 years — until Joe Biden came to town and had no more fucks to give.

We citizens have an important part to play in this narrative war we find ourselves unwittingly cast in: to bear witness. To pay attention, to care about our democracy, understand its fragility, and work diligently and at times urgently to preserve it, recast it, and renew it for each new turn of the wheel. We’re at an inflection point in history, as Biden noted earlier today, and we can ask not what our country can do for us by faithfully telling its story — the true story; the “God’s truth about January 6th, 2021.” He inked a fair bit of this fair history into the historical record via his remarks this day — they carry the most weight of any single individual in this nation or indeed this world. We shouldn’t deify our leaders, but we should hold in some awe, a reverence for the mighty powers they wield. Those powers are only legitimate when they represent the will of the people — no taxation without representation, as the Tea Partyers used to say (having fallen strangely quiet of late).

Let we the people exercise our collective will, and let it be known our intentions and patriotism and adherence to the rule of law. Let us learn to handle our careworn democracy like a treasure that is more than a mere Treasury; as a collection not of mere stories but a rich integrated history; as an unbroken chain of ideals instead of a schizophrenic tennis match between aristocracy and democracy.

Let us tell the truth honestly of our past, and speak directly about where we want to go in the future, as a collective nation. We must agree on a set of rules for playing the game that disallow trying to move the goalposts after the match is over. We must change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation, or it’s all for nought — and this ~250-year experiment in self-governance will come to a bitter end.

Conspiracy Theory Books

In half a decade we’ve gone from Jeb Bush making a serious run for president to Marjorie Taylor Greene running unopposed and winning a House seat in Georgia. QAnon came seemingly out of nowhere, but taps into a much deeper and older series of conspiracy theories that have surfaced, resurfaced, and been remixed throughout time.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? In an increasingly complex world of information bombarding us as blinding speed and high volume, the cognitive appeal of easy answers and turnkey “community” may be much stronger than ever before.

Repression causes authoritarianism

Research has shown that emotional repression is causative of authoritarianism (Altemeyer, Adorno, Stenner et al). Fundamentalist religious groups favor the most repression, culturally — ergo, fundamentalist groups are at the highest risk for nurturing authoritarian traits.

Emotional repression is the keystone of fundamentalist parenting. The strict application of “Biblical law” as cherry-picked by extremists is inherently contradictory & hypocritical, stunting emotional and psychological growth through corporal punishment and capricious applications of anger for sometimes opaque reasons.

When trusted caregivers apply physical violence to a developing mind, seeds of deep distrust and paranoia are planted. Children learn to “obey” by repressing negative parts of themselves so deeply they fall out of conscious awareness altogether & rule the personality “from below.”

The abused child learns “splitting” as a psychological defense mechanism, which later in adulthood is considered a “superpower” — they present a saccharine but False Self in their outer aspect to the tribe, and sequester negative id impulses deep down into an “inner sociopath.”

Repression creates divided minds

Never being given the required emotional support to transcend the paradoxical human project of reconciling the positive & negative aspects inherent in all people, they become “arrested” at a moment of obsession with punishment as the only solution to every problem. They see the world in very black and white terms — the classic “you’re either with us or against us” zero-sum worldview in which everybody who doesn’t agree with you must be delegitimized and eradicated completely.

To borrow from an apt phrase of common wisdom: all they have is a hammer. Or even more pointedly, all they ARE is a hammer: a paranoid, psychologically dissociated fragile shell of a self — easily set off by observations of non-familiar things & behaviors in their environment.

To again paraphrase Bob Altemeyer’s research on authoritarians: they are like little bubbling volcanos walking around ready to blow at the slightest inconvenience. They are fundamentally creatures of war walking around in search of excuses to unleash the deep primal pains inside.

The political organization of authoritarian footsoldiers

The right-wing political technology machine targets these groups of “pre-made” authoritarians both directly (CNP, ALEC) & indirectly (ML/AI).

The largest bloc of fundamentalist political strength in America are the Evangelicals (~75 million), w/Southern Baptists still the majority within that group. Ironically Baptists were the sect that first DEMANDED the separation of church & state: having been persecuted in Europe.

Now it’s the Baptists slavering & champing at the bit to install their version of theocracy as a replacement for secular government — demanding the right to wield religious persecution against others. Full circle.

Confederates too are running a “payback” program for Civil War.

The global rise of authoritarianism

On the other side of the globe, Putin is running a revanchist playbook to rebuild the Russian empire — reflecting psychological arrested development since 1989/91. Meanwhile, the ousted demagogue Trump praises Viktor Orban, in a way eerily similar to William Randolph Hearst’s transatlantic flirtation with Hitler in the 1930s.

What if history is just the long cyclical looping of revenge grudges on the part of groups who can’t get over it?

What if our failure to advance emotionally and developmentally beyond the adolescent stage is our undoing?

Christian Nationalists

The term Christian nationalists brings together a number of radical religious sects seeking to overthrow the democratic republic of the United States and installing a strict theocracy, from dominionists to orthodox Catholics to Evangelicals and many more.

Here are some of the people and groups involved in the modern day movement to establish a Christian theocratic government in America:

  • 700 Club
  • Howard Ahmanson Jr.
  • Awake 88
  • Alexander Acosta
  • Alex Azar
  • Alliance Defending Freedom
  • American College of Pediatricians
  • American Enterprise Institute
  • American Family Association
  • American Family Radio Network
  • American Heritage Girls
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Americans of Faith
  • America Wake Up
  • Robert Arnakis
  • Arlington Group
  • Larry Arnn
  • Edward Atsinger III
  • Marcus Bachmann
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Jim Bakker
  • Steven Bannon
  • Baptist Press
  • George Barna
  • Jeff Barke
  • Mari Barke
  • Stephen Barney — conservative philanthropist
  • David Barton
  • Gary Bauer
  • Glenn Beck
  • David Benham
  • Jason Benham
  • Philip “Flip” Benham
  • Robert J. Billings
  • Dr. Henry Blackaby
  • Sen Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
  • Morton Blackwell
  • Bob Jones University
  • Bolthouse Foundation
  • Dick Bott
  • Bott Radio Network
  • Lt. Gen. William Boykin (ret.)
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • Bob Branch
  • Lincoln Brewster
  • Jim Bridenstine
  • Harold O. J. Brown
  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Mark Bucher
  • Building a Nation
  • Jonathan Cain
  • Capitol Ministries
  • Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation
  • Ben Carson
  • CBN University
  • A Choice Not an Echo
  • Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)
  • Christian Coalition
  • Christian homeschooling movement
  • Christian Satellite Network
  • J. C. Church
  • Church United
  • Church Voter Lookup
  • Tom Coburn
  • Mary Colbert
  • Concerned Women for America
  • Conscience and Religious Freedom Division
  • Conservative Caucus
  • Kellyanne Conway
  • Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
  • Council for National Policy
  • Culture Impact Teams (CITs)
  • Jan Crouch
  • Paul Crouch
  • Ted Cruz
  • Dr. Kenyn M. Cureton
  • Robert Lewis Dabney
  • The Daily Signal
  • Marjorie Dannenfelser
  • Jeff Denham
  • Betsy DeVos
  • Richard DeVos
  • Richard DeVos, Sr.
  • James Dobson
  • Mark Drever
  • Karen Rudolph Drollinger
  • Ralph Drollinger
  • Dinesh D’Souza
  • Alan P. Dye
  • Eagle Forum
  • Stuart Epperson
  • Equal Rights Amendment
  • Frank Erb
  • Tony Evans
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Faith & Freedom Coalition
  • The Family
  • Family Christian Academy (FCA)
  • Family Life Radio
  • Family Policy Alliance
  • Family Policy Councils
  • Family Research Council (FRC)
  • Family Worship Center
  • Fellowship Foundation
  • Reverend Wilber Fisk
  • Tami Fitzgerald
  • Florida Family Action
  • Florida Family Action PAC
  • Florida Family Policy Council
  • Focus on the Family
  • Foster Friess
  • Free Congress Foundation
  • Lynn Friess
  • Jim Garlow
  • Rosemary Schindler Garlow
  • W. Barry Garrett
  • Godspeak Calvary Chapel
  • Barry Goldwater
  • Peggy Goldwater
  • Grace Community Church, Sun Valley
  • Billy Graham
  • The Green family
  • Ken Ham
  • Abraham Hamilton III — host of American Family Radio’s “Hamilton Corner” who described the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas as “Satan’s work” that was “immune to legislation.” He went on to claim that the Democrats were “exploiting” the victims by calling for hearings on gun control
  • Mark Harris
  • Kristan Hawkins
  • Carl F. H. Henry
  • Heritage Academy
  • Heritage Action
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Eric Heubeck
  • Hugh Hewitt
  • Jack Hibbs
  • Rob Hilarides
  • The Hillsdale Collegian
  • Kay Hiramine
  • A. A. Hodge
  • John Henry Hopkins
  • Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG)
  • Nelson Bunker Hunt
  • Institute on Religion and Democracy
  • Larry Jackson
  • David Jeremiah
  • Bob Jones Sr.
  • Bob Jones Univeristy
  • Kingdom Warriors
  • KMMJ
  • C. Everett Koop
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Beverly LaHaye
  • Tim LaHaye
  • Wayne LaPierre
  • Bill Lee — Governor of Tennessee
  • Leonard Leo
  • Mark Levin
  • Liberty University
  • LifeWay Research
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Elias Loera
  • Nathan Lord
  • Dave Louden
  • Barry Loudermilk
  • John MacArthur
  • Rachel MacNair
  • Danielle Madison
  • March for Life
  • Ed McAteer
  • The Moral Majority
  • Jeanne Mancini
  • Manhattan Declaration
  • Rob McCoy
  • Mark Meadows
  • Mark Meckler — Tea Party activist and co-funder of Convention of States
  • Janet Mefferd
  • Roy Moore
  • Museum of the Bible
  • The Naked Communist
  • Penny Young Nance
  • National Center for Constitutional Studies
  • National Christian Foundation
  • National Conservative Student Conference
  • National Federation of Republican Women
  • National Right to Life Committee
  • Richard John Neuhaus
  • New Christian Right
  • Kristi Noem — Governor of South Dakota
  • Gary North
  • North Carolina Family Policy Council
  • Michael Novak
  • Old Time Gospel Hour
  • John M. Olin
  • Organicgirl
  • Joel Osteen
  • Sarah Palin
  • “Pastors Briefings”
  • Mike Pence
  • Pentecostals
  • Sonny Perdue
  • Tony Perkins
  • Rick Perry
  • Howard Phillips
  • Buddy Pilgrim
  • Mike Pompeo
  • Art Pope
  • Reverend J. C. Postell
  • POTUS Shield
  • The Power of the Positive Woman
  • Dennis Prager
  • Praise Network
  • Tom Price
  • Erik Prince
  • Scott Pruitt
  • Quiverfull movement
  • Oleg Rachkovski
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Ralph Reed
  • Carolyn Richards
  • Road to Majority Conference
  • Pat Robertson
  • Jim Robison
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Rousas Rushdoony
  • Karl Rove
  • John Rustin
  • SAGE Cons
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders
  • Salem Radio
  • Richard Scaife
  • Jeff Sessions
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Phyllis Schlafly
  • Alan Sears
  • Jay Sekulow
  • Ben Shapiro
  • W. Cleon Skousen
  • SonLife Broadcasting Network (SBN)
  • SonLife Radio Network
  • Springs Community Church
  • Horatio Robinson Storer
  • R.J. Rushdoony
  • Southern Presbyterian Church
  • Southern Strategy
  • Darla St. Martin
  • Stop ERA
  • Students for Life of America
  • Susan B. Anthony List
  • Donnie Swaggart
  • Gabriel Swaggart
  • Jimmy Swaggart
  • Jimmy Swaggart Bible College (JSBC)
  • Jimmy Swaggart Telecast
  • Bruce Taylor
  • Jeff Taylor
  • Steve Taylor
  • Taylor Farms
  • Thomas Road Baptist Church
  • James Henley Thornwell
  • Robert Tilton
  • Unity Project
  • “Values Bus”
  • Values Voters Summit
  • Richard Viguerie
  • Young America’s Foundation
  • C. Peter Wagner
  • Chester Ward
  • Washington Watch
  • The Watchmen
  • Doug Wead
  • Well Versed
  • Paul Weyrich
  • Paula White
  • Donald Wildmon
  • Farris Wilks
  • Dan Wilks
  • World Ag Expo
  • World Congress of Families

See also: Christian nationalism terms

Is America a Christian nation? No.

The Founders knew acutely the pains of centuries of religious warfare in modern Europe and resoundingly did not want that for their new nation. Many of them moreover knew religious persecution intimately — some whose families fled the Church of England for fear of being imprisoned, burned at the stake, or worse. Is America a Christian nation? Although many Christians certainly have come here, in a legal and political sense the nation’s founders wanted precisely the opposite of the “Christian nation” they were breaking with by pursuing independence from the British.

Contrary to the disinformation spread by Christian nationalists today, the people who founded the United States explicitly saw religious zealotry as one of the primary dangers to a democratic republic. They feared demagoguery and the abuse of power that tilts public apparatus towards corrupt private interest. The Founders knew that religion could be a source of strife for the fledgling nation as easily as it could be a strength, and they took great pains to carefully balance the needs of religious expression and secular interests in architecting the country.

James Madison: 1803

Americans sought religious freedom

The main impetus for a large percentage of the early colonists who came to the Americas was the quest for a home where they could enjoy the free exercise of religion. The Protestant Reformation had begun in Europe about a century before the first American colonies were founded, and a number of new religious sects were straining at the bonds of the Catholic Church’s continued hegemony. Puritans, Mennonites, Quakers, Jesuits, Huguenots, Dunkers, Jews, Amish, Lutherans, Moravians, Schwenkfeldians, and more escaped the sometimes deadly persecutions of the churches of Europe to seek a place to worship God in their own chosen ways.

By the late 18th century when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, many religious flowers were blooming within the 13 colonies. He had seen for himself the pitfalls of the experiments in which a unitary control of religion by one church or sect led to conflict, injustice, and violence. Jefferson and the nation’s other founders were staunchly against the idea of establishing a theocracy in America:

  • The founding fathers made a conscious break from the European tradition of a national state church.
  • The words Bible, Christianity, Jesus, and God do not appear in our founding documents.
  • The handful of states who who supported “established churches” abandoned the practice by the mid-19th century.
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote that his Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom was written on behalf of “the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu and the infidel of every denomination.” In the text he responds negatively to VA’s harassment of Baptist preachers — one of many occasions on which he spoke out sharply against the encroachment of religion upon political power.
  • The Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for holding foreign office.
  • The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
  • There is a right-wing conspiracy theory aiming to discredit the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” by claiming that those exact words aren’t found in the Constitution.
    • The phrase comes from Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, wherein he is describing the thinking of the Founders about the meaning of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which Jefferson contemplates “with sovereign reverence.”
    • The phrase is echoed by James Madison in an 1803 letter opposing the building of churches on government land: “The purpose of separation of Church and State is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
  • The 1796 Treaty of Tripoli states in Article 11: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” — President George Washington first ordered the negotiation of a treaty in 1795, and President John Adams sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in 1797, with this article widely interpreted to mean a reiteration of the purpose of the Establishment Clause to create a secular state, i.e. one that would not ever be going to holy war with Tripoli.

The Founders were Deists

For the most part, the prominent Founders were Deists — they recognized the long tradition of Judeo-Christian order in society, and consciously broke from it in their creation of the legal entity of the United States, via the Establishment Clause and numerous other devices. They were creatures of The Enlightenment, and were very much influenced by the latest developments of their day including statistics, empiricism, numerous scientific advancements, and the pursuit of knowledge and logical decision-making.

  • They distrusted the concept of divine right of rule that existed in Europe under monarchies. We fought a revolution to leave that behind for good reason.
  • They disliked the idea of a national church, and were adamant about the idea of keeping the realms of religion and politics independent of each other.
  • Thomas Paine lamented that “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”
    • Paine also pushed the envelop even further, asserting his belief that the people would eventually abandon all traditional religions in favor of the “religion” of nature and reason.

Koup Klux Klan: Who is trying to take over America?

It may have seemed like the election of 2016 came out nowhere, and the January 6, 2021 attempted coup event was another deep gash to the fabric of assumption — but in reality, the movement to dismantle America has been working diligently for a long time. Depending on how you count, the current war against the government began in the 1970s after Roe v. Wade, or in the 1960s after the Civil Rights Act, or in the 1950s with the John Birch Society, or in the 1930s with the American fascists, or in the 1870s with the Redemption and Lost Cause Religion, or in the 1840s with the Southern Baptist split, or in the 1790s when we emerged from the Articles of Confederation.

We are facing an unprecedented crisis of democracy under attack by the most current roster of these extremists, hardliners, theocrats, plutocrats, and others of their ilk. The following mind map diagrams the suspects and perpetrators of the Jan 6 coup as we know so far — including the Council for National Policy, the Koch network, Trump and his merry band of organized criminals, the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and other right-wing militia groups, rioters who have been arrested in the January 6th probe, persons of interest who have been subpoena’d by the January 6 Committee in the House, and anyone or anything else connected to the ongoing plot to kill America whether near or far in relation. Below the map is a short guide to the basic factions at work in the confusing melodrama of American politics.

Mind map of the sedition diaspora

I’ll be continuing to work on this as information comes out of the various investigations and inquiries into the attempted coup to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, from the January 6 Committee to Merrick’s DOJ, the GA district attorney, NY district attorney, various civil suits, and probably more we don’t even know about yet. You can navigate the full mind map as it grows here:

Geo Coup View

This is the same data set, but visualized by geographic location:

Property vs. People, all the way down

Or capital vs. labor, oligarchs vs. plebes, plutocrats vs. proles, rich vs. poor — however you want to narrate it, the property vs. people struggle continues on in new and old ways, each and ere day.

Here in America, the plutocrats have devised many clever methods of hiding the class struggle behind a race war smokescreen, that is both real and manufactured — instigated, exacerbated, agitated by the likes of schlubby wife abusers like Sloppy Steve Bannon, wrinkly old Palpatines like Rupert Murdoch, and shady kleptocrats like Trump and Putin.

The United States has nursed an underground Confederacy slow burning for centuries, for sociopathic demagogues to tap into and rekindle for cheap and dangerous political power. Like The Terminator, racist and supremacist troglodytes seem always to reconstitute themselves into strange and twisted new forms, from slavery to the Black Codes to sharecropping to convict leasing to Jim Crow to Jim Crow 2.0 — the psychopaths want their homeland.

The political left loves people, and our extremists for the most part destroy capital or property that insurance companies will pay to make shiny and new again — unlike the right wing extremists who bomb federal buildings, killing hundreds of people and costing taxpayers’ money to replace.

Meanwhile, the right wing claims to be the righteous party for its extreme fixation on life before birth, yet its regulation-allergic capitalists destroy people and the natural world more broadly, from factory farming to deforestation, the destruction of habitats, strip-mining and other toxic extraction practices, and on into climate change itself. Being in fact the chief architects of manmade atmospheric devastation, they have managed to make themselves invisible from the deed by simply (wink wink!) denying it exists.

WWJD?!

Certainly, not anything the Republican Party is up to. Jesus would be sad.

Freedom produces diversity

Freedom means the right to make choices. When you have a large population, that means many different kinds of people are making many kinds of different choices for different reasons. That means, mathematically speaking, a broad distribution graph of options chosen over time. Freedom produces diversity, as a direct consequence of its own laissez-faire philosophy.

The Founders knew this. James Madison was an intellectual of his day, and a polymathic student of the great ideas of his time. It is hard not to see the influence of exposure to Condorcet’s theory about decision-making in Madison’s later ideas about diffusing the flames of factions by essentially dousing them in the large numbers of people spreading out within the growing nation. He believed that ideas and interests that were actively opposing each other would be a good way to preserve enough vigor to sustain an active self-governing democracy.

Regardless of the origin, Madison clearly himself was advocating for the power of diversity to preserve the very republic. He believed that this diversity of views in fact provided the structure that would help prevent singular demagogues from rising up too far and destroying democracy forever in their quest for unlimited power. The founders shared this foresight — that giving Americans the freedom to live as they may would lead to a healthy democracy, through the promulgation of different ideas and knowledge as well as through vigorous debate.

You can’t have freedom without diversity

Many who cite Freedom as their patriotic raison d’Γͺtre do not seem to tolerate well the exercise of freedom by others, particularly others they disagree with or do not like. But as the great Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” She had the insight that if her rights could be taken away from her, then no one else’s rights would be safe in this nation either.

America has always struggled to live up to its founding ideals — but it seems like if we want to truly honor their memories, we would continue to take that vision at face value and continue to carry the light of the torch of equality, perhaps upwards to the crest of a hill from whence we may shine once again.