this is who we are

We were on the interstate, driving home from Massachusetts (more on this later), when the news of the insurrection broke. I was stunned and horrified, of course. But I was not surprised. The President had been rabble rousing for weeks, so I’d figured something was bound to happen.

Listening to the reports, it didn’t take long for me to grow exasperated with the newscasters and their tiresome “How could this have happened?” refrain — as though this came out of nowhere — but when they started with the somber intonations of “This is not America” and “This is not who we are,” that’s when I exploded.

“This is EXACTLY who we are,” I yelled at my husband, “and denying nearly half of our population — dismissing them out of hand as though they don’t even exist — is stupid. If we don’t see things for how they actually are — not as we wish them to be — then we will never change.

A couple days later my mom forwarded a link to this video which succinctly encapsulates my thoughts. Watching it was cathartic. I’m not the only one.

I have relatives who were in the crowd that day — they didn’t go into the capitol, they say, but they were at the base of the steps — and I have other relatives who, watching from afar, were exultant. 

With my friends, I puzzle over the best approach. My ideas run the gamut: from mockery to serious debate, from lambasting rage to loving rebuke, from complete disengagement to silent watchfulness.

Nothing I come up with feels right.  

Awhile back, I heard a report on how best to engage with people who are ensnared in conspiracy theories. The solution is simple, the guy said: hours and hours of conversation in which each theory is painstakingly broken down into bite-sized chunks and overlaid with facts. It’s a tedious exercise in logic, reminiscent of the sort of conversation a parent might have with a teen (speaking from experience here), and there are two key requirements: lots of available time, and a close relationship important enough to warrant the time commitment. 

Regarding my personal connections, I have the time but not the closeness — so, so much for that. Not that it really matters, though — the guy on the report said that it’s all but impossible to detangle someone who is committed to conspiracies. 

Discouraging, no?

So I try to take the long view. What can I do now that, five years from now, I will feel proud of? What about fifty years from now? I think of the future history books and try to imagine myself in them. I mean, not me as in Jennifer’s Going To Be In A History Book!, but my position in the pages. Where will I fall? 

Better yet, where do I want to place myself?

Thinking this way doesn’t really change anything — I’m still mystified and repulsed by these staggeringly bizarre theories — but it helps me stay open and hold my anger (of the retaliatory, unhelpful sort) in check.

These conspiracy theories (and all the other accompanying dangerous and damaging ideologies) aren’t going away any time soon, so if you have any brilliant insights for how to cope and/or confront them, tell me. I need help figuring this out.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.14.19), through the kitchen window, quick fruit cobbler, starting today.

13 Comments

  • KC

    No brilliance here. But with an aunt we care about who has been swallowed alive by conspiracy theories, we’ve been trying to step up the “hi, we care about you” mail and gifts. I’ve been staying out of email with her, because if you give the facts and citations on a couple of pieces of what she’s spouting, she doesn’t respond to that – she just spouts more “but, and, and, also” – but handmade gifts and postal mail hopefully tell her we haven’t written her off as a human being made in the image of God even though we disagree with a lot of what she says.

    (another aunt I’m not in regular contact with – she’s got tons of immediate family – is now reported to also have been consumed by the conspiracy theories. Scariest part is that she’s not American and she is not in America. Okay, scariest part is that she’s rich, which is likely to mean that she’ll fund Bad Things. But still! Outside of the US and *still* she has been eaten alive.)

    It’s an unholy gnosis cult, and we don’t really know how to get people out or dismantle it.

    The one thing that I think would really help in general against it, to help those on the edge of uncertainty, is having *all* the Christian leaders and *all* the Republicans repudiate the lies about the election and point them out as lies, instead of pretending the election fraud repeated-disproven-lies are legitimate concerns. But that would probably only help those on the edges, not those who are all the way in.

    But God can do amazing things. So there is that. There is prayer, there is love, and there is truth?

    • Marie

      The showing-lots-of-love advice brings up an interesting point. In counselor-speak, what need is being met by the conspiracy theories? We’re not in a place to make our leaders speak calmly and rationally; trying to argue against conspiracies based on logic is unlikely to do much but alienate our loved ones (and give us a headache.) What about considering WHY the conspiracy rabbit hole was so appealing to that person — then introduce other ways to meet that need, to make the path away from conspiracy theories as smooth and wide as possible. Are conspiracy theories providing a distraction from boredom or loneliness? A sense of control or exclusivity? Community? Excitement and a sense of adventure? I mean no criticism of these motivations, just to suggest that there are better (and probably some worse!) ways to meet them.

      • KC

        I don’t know about others, but Aunt One seems to really be thrilled with being “on the inside” or “in the know” and on the Right Side and Battling for Good. I mean, it’s also a continual flow – if you want to distract yourself from anything like depression, clutter, obesity, loneliness, it’s right there and all very engaging and all designed to make you more connected to it and less connected to other things.

        Some of the “what is this giving them?” things are honestly probably not possible to give in an honest situation – kind of like how porn promises something different than real life will be able to provide, and abusive people often have more intense, cinematic wooing and I’d-kill-a-man-if-he-even-looked-at-you extremism than, like, sane guys do, and MLM scams or stock market scams promise faster, easier money than any legitimate method of earning does.

        BUT then I was remembering community theatre and how it is this intense (check) intellectually stimulating (check) frequent meeting (check) thing where you are behind stage (check) and in the know (check) with a community of people (check) and honestly it also tires you out enough that you’d probably have less space for the conspiracy theories. Not feasible for pandemic, but if anyone has ideas for intensive collaborative art projects that would be good and community-y and thorough and stimulating but would stay away from Disputed Political Territory (radio dramas of old books? Giant community landscaping projects? Library murals? I have literally no idea.) then maybe that would help? But it’d be, again, intensive, and you’d have to prep beforehand for what to do/say if/when the Conspiracy Theories come out during work time.

        Even without that, though, I do think that keeping up low-key we’re-here-for-you support of the good parts of the person, along with “I’m sorry, but that just isn’t true” pushback against the conspiracy theories, may help them if they do hit a “Wait: what they said would happen didn’t happen” crisis of faith, as it were – and may help them not just shift to a new conspiracy theory source or ignore that cognitive dissonance and keep going with that conspiracy theory source, but instead dabble back into the real world? Maybe?

        • Jennifer Jo

          I am SO longing for the (hopefully) impending crisis of faith to hit. ANYTHING to jolt them back to reality.

          (Also, love this discussion and these ideas. I find it helpful to hear other people wrestle with these issues.)

  • Becky R.

    I watched a John Oliver show on conspiracy theories, and it was very enlightening. (Yes, I know his language is horrendous, but he does some very good journalism.) I learned that you cannot change anyone’s mind who is making an emotional decision, and I think almost all of them are making emotional decisions, certainly not logical ones. I think people in power will have to shake them out of their delusions, but patience and refusing to agree with them is certainly my approach. I don’t like Mitt Romney’s politics, but he has integrity in spades, and he said the kindest thing is for all of the Republicans to tell the people the truth, and I agree, but that is unlikely to happen. I think this stuff will be around for a long time. And there is certainly more violence to come. I am so sad and feel hopeless about this issue.

  • debby3768

    I honestly think we need to shut down qanon. I don’t want to hear about ‘free speech’. It’s a complete fabrication. People BELIEVE it though. They believe they are fighting evil.

    Parler? How has that kind of talk got any place in a free country?

    You can be in disagreement about opinions, but there should be NO disagreement about facts. It drives me crazy that now we are discussing whether the president incited the violence. He said, (quote!) ” we fight, we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He then directed everyone up to Capitol Hill. Why is this even a debate? We know what he said. We know what they did? I feel as if, for the last four years, we are seeing things with our own eyes only to be assured, over and over and over again that we did not really see what we saw.

  • Karin

    Thanks for that video. Very interesting and true. I’m afraid I don’t have any brilliant insights about how to deal with this situation either. Let me know if you come up with anything. Last night we watched a documentary on Netflix called “behind the curve”. It’s about flat earthers and talks a lot about conspiracy theories. I thought it was really good. It provides some insight into conspiracy theorists and it’s also quite entertaining.

  • Elva

    That sure was a eye-opening video. Thank you for that. Makes me want to never leave my beautiful farm. I guess we can just try as individuals to be the best people that we can be by being kind to all we are in contact with, respecting the land and trying to respect the people we are in contact with. When things really get depressing, go forth with the honorable position of pie maker!!

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