Why would anyone create pizzagate memes, anyway? How can we respond?
I had not heard of John Podesta before the RussiLeaks email dump. Some of his emails concerned domestic trivia like getting pizza. Pizza was seen as a code for child sex, and the links between them endlessly elaborated on 4Chan. Why?
Message boards members like attention. Creativity, originality, clever expression and even playfulness bring Attention. Members flock with like minds in echo chambers and hugboxes. Manosphere people, white nationalists and others who hate Mrs Clinton, congregate. If you do not feel you get sufficient respect yourself, you may resent moral injunctions to respect others. Unsuccessful millennial males resent being told to check their privilege.
The hatred and anger is enough. Accusations of child abuse and child murder express that anger- they are proportionate to the levels of anger felt. If no expression of anger is acceptable, then any may erupt. It does not need to be true. So Michael Flynn junior tweets, Until pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. Well, Birtherism, never credible, rumbles on. Pizzagate expresses rage against the “liberal elite”, who the 4Chanists think are so horrible to them (for ignoring or lecturing them): it is as bad as if they were child-sex-cannibals.
Michael Flynn senior tweeted U decide- NYPD blows whistle on new Hillary emails- money laundering, sex crimes w children etc, though that tweet was about false stories connecting Mrs Clinton to Jeffrey Epstein, not “Pizzagate”. The general is a disastrous choice for National Security Adviser, a prolific source of conspiracy theories known as “Flynn facts”, but not a 4chan addict.
The President-Elect expresses such anger. He claims stories of Russia working to influence the election in his favour are valueless, the product of Democrat sore losers: These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That derision is music to the ears of the 4Chanists. Derision is the opposite of respect. Feeling derided, they deride back.
If we feel we have something in common, then we will show respect and listen to the other side. Trump can whip up his own side, with derision and anger, accentuating the divides in society. He is not a fool. He uses it as a weapon to build political support. Lies are his tools to build resentment, rage, and derision, so he may destroy as he wishes, and profit from it.
It is tempting to use anger in response. Certainly, anger can give energy. Charles M. Blow writes, Angry yet? Yes. Good!…This is the reason I write, to remind people of honor and courage; to tell them that their cause isn’t lost, that their destiny is victory. Maybe I am confined by my craft, pumping out polemics that, it is my great hope, help to stiffen the spines and lift the spirits of those determined to stare down the threat. However, I fear that such angry confrontation may make the gulf between us worse.
Can we use truth to overcome Trump’s weapons?
I am a critical realist. I believe there is a “Real world” where we interact and where there is objective truth- but it is too complex for human beings to grasp. It is worth the attempt. The closer we get to understanding truth, the better we respond- but perhaps (thinking it through now) there is an optimum level of truth, for each individual. After a certain approximation, greater effort to be more certain of the truth will not yield proportionate returns. If the truth seems to be that you have no hope, denial and lies may be comforting.
People see things differently. Nietzsche did not say, And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music, though he came close. For Nietzsche, accusations of sickness go both ways:
Even in the German Middle Ages, under the same power of Dionysus, constantly growing hordes thronged from place to place, singing and dancing…. There are people who, from a lack of experience or out of apathy, turn mockingly or pityingly away from such phenomena as from a “sickness of the people,” with a sense of their own health. These poor people naturally do not have any sense of how deathly and ghost-like this very “health” of theirs sounds, when the glowing life of the Dionysian throng roars past them.
And, he wrote, ‘You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist’. That is called “Perspectivism”.
I was fascinated by Jack Maden’s To Be Frank magazine article on the quote, aimed at Millennials. It addresses a complex philosophical question in a simple way. It starts by asking its readers to digest and unpack the meaning of the quote, fearful that they will merely see it, declare it deep, and move on to click-bait, forgetting it; because their attention spans are hurling some real angry, sustained abuse my way: ‘BORED. THIS IS BORING’. Maden summarises Nietzsche: there is a multitude of differing perspectives that are subject to cultural, societal and biological limitations. It is only through combining these different views that we can begin to appreciate a broader understanding of the universe we live in. Against that, he pits scientific investigators, patiently accumulating data and mathematical theorising to create objective explanations. (My answer there- Newton was a genius, explaining the observations through his theory of gravity, and Newton was wrong. 19th century observations demonstrated that.) All human observations are subjective, and have different meanings for each of us. Metaphor dances beyond objectivity.
How do the denizens of 4Chan or Reddit view truth? Their attention spans might not be long enough to consider evidence, preferring the quick hit of a witty allusion- These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It mocks The Enemy, and encourages Our Own Side. Your resentment and anger are Right! You are the Good People! Let me smite your enemies- those who tell you what to do, the Liberal Metropolitan Elites- for you!
They follow the leaders of the Right. No-one says that voter suppression is necessary because they don’t want people of colour to vote, they say it is necessary because of fraudulent voting. Disregard for truth did not start with Trump, it has been happening all this century.
I am glad when people speak up for truth. I hope that people can be taught to value truth, and to see that seeking the truth is worth the effort- but that is not an easy lesson for people in despair, who enjoy the buzz they get from anger. What good will truth do them? Why should they listen to you?
The antidote to derision is respect. The antidote to anger is Love. Love can still be derided, called patronising, and portrayed as weakness, but it is the only way. In the world of Trump and Farage, where centre-right Conservatism bows to the Nationalists, we have a long way to go.
The Charles M Blow article is illustrated with a protestor holding up a banner- THE FUTURE IS NASTY. Women have adopted Trump’s arrogant dismissal of Mrs Clinton as a “Nasty woman”- no more deference! Self-respect is necessary; but the energy of anger must not give rise to an angry reaction, but a loving response.
From Common Prayer- a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:
Peace is not just about the absence of conflict; it’s also about the presence of justice. … A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.