Gentlemen’s Cigars

I wouldn’t call myself an “old hand” at conspiracy theories, per se, but given the state of my Facebook feed these days — shit, maybe I am.  A lot of reasonably intelligent people, all at once, and for perhaps the first time in their lives, are being harried by sudden, frequent, and unwanted intrusions of [varieties of insane assertion], representing more than the standard deviation from established narrative.  They don’t like it at all, and it seems almost like a virus in itself — it would be one thing if [varieties of insane assertion] were safely confined to a recognizable group of crazies, as per usual, but suddenly now it’s infecting their friends, their family members, people they actually know?  I mean, what the actual fuck is happening?  They used to argue politics — just, like, actual politics — with this or that person, and now they’re tearing up the internet about…fucking what?  5G, Bill Gates owning the WHO, high altitude lung injury characteristics, Trump being somehow *not* an insane buffoon, something to do with Clintons and pedophelia??  Concerns about vaccination, of all things?!?

I can see it’s a shock.  Everyone loves to argue a perfectly safe point — even in the face of global pandemonium, social media remains some kind of online gentlemen’s cigars and brandy snifters club.  And each time the soothing, familiar gavotte of  point-counterpoint is outrageously co-opted by one of these aggravating…scoundrels!…spouting their [varieties of insane assertion], the brandy snifters respond as if an angry yellowjacket, or a reeking, wounded possum, has somehow infiltrated their club. 

“Get out!”  They swat it with their elbow patch jackets, their walking sticks, anything close to hand.  “You don’t belong here!  GetOut!” 

It’s not to be suffered, it’s certainly not to be read or digested, and god forbid anyone have the poor taste to Google it.  We may not all emerge alive from this serious, deadly, and totally legitimate viral outbreak, but honor demands we emerge…normal!

As per usual, veganism remains an experiential touchstone for me.  You can’t get more ideologically unpopular than that.  I’ve sat through lots of gatherings, meals, and companies of polite — lots of gavottes, in other words — over the years, physically representing a level of tackiness that’s tolerated, but subtly punished.  And I’m quite a tame vegan; I bow and scrape; yessuh, no suh, lawzy mercy suh.  Here’s a valuable thing I’ve learned, though: dominant ideologies don’t have names, they only have feelings of extreme pushback.  If you say or do something really, excruciatingly uncomfortable, socially, chances are you’re moving upstream of a dominant narrative.  And moving upstream of a dominant narrative can be a useful thing to do, or at least be willing to do.  

This is an interesting thing to contemplate in itself.  So, I’m not a vegan sitting at a table of omnivores; factually that’s true, but ideologically, those words cannot possibly encompass the social reality of the situation.  No, I’m an ideological minority, sitting at a table of the ideological majority.  If you don’t grasp what I mean, it’s because you haven’t spent enough time being an ideological minority about something.  

When you’re upstream of not just a strong ideology; not just a muscular ideology, but a truly dominant ideology, you don’t feel like arguing.  You don’t feel like getting in a couple zingers.  You don’t feel like you’re part of the gentleman’s cigars and brandy snifters club.  You feel like something about you is deeply destabilizing on some level no one in the room quite understands; in other words, something is deeply wrong about you.  Likely it’s something you’ve chosen, so un-choosing it, to massage back those easy social bonds, may not be an option.

It’s likely that you don’t actually know what I’m talking about, even if you think you do. We are desperately motivated to stay with the herd, to not be rejected by the herd. Being rejected by the herd is agonizing. It’s profoundly uncomfortable to align with an ideology that puts you upstream. So what this means, in real terms, is that — if we went back to slave days, we might each have private thoughts about that, but most of us would keep them to ourselves. If we went back to Indian-killing days, we’d ignore that. If we went back to gladiators fighting to the death days, most of us would accept that as okay, and a lot of us would buy a ticket. If we were average German citizens during Hitler’s Third Reich, we would have gone about our business – perhaps increasingly tight-lipped, but silent.

It’s easy to look back on the moral catastrophes of the past and say, “I would have stood up for x y z.”  It’s hard to look at today’s moral catastrophes and see it as anything except [varieties of insane assertion].  If someone says to me that they would have publicly objected to slavery then, but they’re not vegan now, I don’t believe them.  I can’t.  Most people, by definition, don’t have the balls to become the target of widespread derision and dismissal, in service to their own conscience.

So, back to conspiracy theories, and the level of shock and dismay that they, I suppose, exist, which I’m seeing daily.  The approbation of the herd is of utmost importance to our feeling of personal safety, but as you can see from even a cursory glance at history — it’s no metric of excellence.  In fact, it’s specifically and exactly a metric of mediocrity.  The word “mediocre” comes from Latin, meaning “of middle height or degree”.  Whatever has occurred in human history, and whatever occurs moving forward, you can absolutely trust the herd — ie that aggregate of voices, perspectives, and brandy-snifter blandishments you absorb, and to which you contribute, every day — to perfectly capture that which is mediocre in thought, conscience, value, and aim.     

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