This post got too long, so I decided to break it up into two somewhat independent pieces. The second half will be released in a few days.
One of the things that evolutionary biologists do, is to look at competitions from the perspectives of relative pay-offs to competitors for different strategies – i.e., game theory. For some time now I’ve been looking at the American political divide in these terms, using one very simple and straightforward framework. I think this framework started in the US but has spread outwards to much of the world where American media is routinely consumed. I also think it is incredibly destructive, and it is difficult to see how to displace it.
Imagine two political parties. One party is largely seen as the party of the wealthy and successful, or at least of people who are mostly content with their lives as they are and do not want to change them. The other party is the exact opposite – the majority of its constituents are either poor, perceive themselves to be victims of some sort, or both; they are not happy with the status quo and want it to change. I think it is reasonable to perceive the Republican Party as the first party, and the Democrat Party as the second. One could retort that Republicans are quite angry these days, but that doesn’t disrupt the framework, because what Republicans are angry about are the extreme ways that Democrats are trying to change Republicans’ lives against their will. Using the hoary terminology of the legacy left, they are reactionaries, reacting against the agendas of the grievance party.
One might look at the state of the lives of many Democrats in the US and sympathize with their desire to change things; there are, no doubt, many injustices and hardships out there. The problem, though, with the framing of our politics becomes evident when we consider the competition between these two parties, and the victory conditions that obtain. Imagine a district that is 49.9% Republican and 50.1% Democrat. How do the Republicans go about reaching a majority? If we agree with the definition of the two parties above, their goal should be to make 0.2% of the population more content with their lives. To do this, they can either a) drug them, or b) actually improve their lives in some noticeable way. Solution (a) is not easily achieved, therefore one expects that the Republicans in such a district will be motivated to help the people of their district – in other words, to do the sorts of things that most of us believe good politicians should do.
What about in the opposite case, in a 50.1% Republican, 49.9% Democrat district? The answer is clear. To attain an electoral majority, the Democrats should create conditions that hurt their constituents, or at least convince their constituents that they have been hurt – victimized – in order to make them aggrieved enough to leave the Republicans and vote Democrat. Anything a Democrat politician did that actually improved the lot of their constituents would necessarily drive some fraction of them into the arms of the Republicans, eventually returning power to the other side. Therefore, if they want to retain their positions, it is in their interest to tighten the screws and keep the suffering hot.
There’s ample evidence that this is exactly what they do. If we discount the plethora of Democrat policies exclusively geared toward rigging elections (e.g., “election reform” and immigration policies), the biggest disconnects between Republicans and Democrats are on how the government should deal with issues of race, climate, and COVID. In all of these cases, Democrat messaging aggressively hyperbolizes threats, creating a sense of impending doom in voters over problems that are relatively minor, if they exist at all. The agitated citizens are then, in principle, motivated to vote for Democrats to protect them from the imminent existential threats they believe in because of the efforts of Democrat PR teams and ground-level activists. Sure, people sometimes behave erratically when under the influence of terrorizing propaganda, doing things like burning police precincts, attacking government buildings, ambush-murdering police officers, advocating imprisonment of unvaxxed people, or foregoing reproduction to “save the planet”. But none of that matters, because politics is a machine optimized for winning elections; within the framework described above, any strategy that doesn’t increase voter fear and suffering will result in Republican victories, and therefore any candidate that moves toward sanity will be defeated by one who moves farther toward the Chicken Little extreme.
Don’t believe me? Consider the chart below, which shows interest in the term “Black Lives Matter” over time, according to Google Trends. The vertical dashed lines correspond to the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020.
This image should dash to pieces any illusions one might have that BLM is a grassroots movement focused on injustices in the black community. Did police suddenly stop shooting unarmed blacks from 2017-2020? If so, why didn’t BLM give President Trump a medal for this amazing downturn in racist violence? If not, why did BLM – presumably a well-organized coalition of activist groups – apparently evaporate during that time period? The simplest answer is that BLM is a direct agent of the Democrat party, existing to drum up hysteria in the black community – and increasingly in the itinerant university community as well – in the run-up to elections, as a tool to “get out the vote”. The massive sudden spikes in interest correspond to injections of propaganda, executed through Democrat media flunkies, followed by what looks like exponential signal decay, as the chaos is allowed to relax after it has done its job.
But so what? All politicians have to try to get people excited about their campaigns in order to get elected. What’s different about this strategy is that it fucks people up severely. Leaving aside the undeniable fact that the BLM movement rioted all over the country in both 2016 and 2020, what’s even worse is that the propaganda used to start those riots left tens of millions of people with dangerously false beliefs about the world they live in. Statistical analysis does not support the hypothesis that police are more likely to shoot blacks than whites in an encounter. But the BLM propaganda machine reinforces the exact opposite belief. How does it affect the minds of everyday people to go about their daily lives believing that they are surrounded by racists and murderers, and how does it impact how one would deal with a police interaction if one goes into it believing the police are likely to kill them for no reason? It must keep them in a constant state of anxiety and worry, and lead them to mistrust many people they encounter who bear them no ill will – indeed, it may even encourage self-destructive behavior.
COVID hysteria is cut from the same cloth. I don’t think that Democrats literally created COVID to win the 2020 election, but they certainly exaggerated it to great effect. They pushed fear of the virus the same way they pushed fear of cops to get the BLM surge started, with the same intent – to blame it on the President they were trying to defeat. Terrified people shut down their economies, destroying the one great victory of the Trump administration – the best financial situation for most people in at least a generation. They mau-maued research into therapeutics that might have brought a swift reduction in death rates and defused the general public’s fear of the virus. They pushed useless mask mandates that created a constant reminder of how terrifying everything was, and reminded you at every turn it was all Trump’s fault, somehow. And infamously, they used fear of the virus to change election laws in swing states to make it easier to harvest ballots from politically disinterested “citizens”, impossible to tell who voted, or tell if anybody cheated.
Well, they won their election. But whereas the BLM signal decayed after the election was over, COVID is slow to go away. I can’t express how many of my colleagues – highly educated biologists every one of them – remain terrified of catching COVID. They cling to vaccines and masks like a drowning man will cling to any solid object to keep from going under – but in this case, if he just stuck his feet out he’d see that the water’s only a few feet deep. They worry that their healthy children might catch the virus, even though the risk to them is infinitessimal. “Your pandemic is over – their panic continues”, says Peachy Keenan in an article at The American Mind (links from original):
You and I will be fine. We can now abide, even thrive, in the post-pandemic universe, rip off our masks and burn our (fake) vax cards. But what do we do about the mind-flayed women, usually the mothers of young healthy kids, who literally think their children will die without multiple vaccines? Even the WHO admitted that healthy children don’t need boosters. But it’s too late for facts. Hordes of terror-stricken fanatics are already posting photos of their five-year-olds getting their first Pfizer shots on their birthdays, the way you’d post about your 16-year-old getting their driver’s license.
She later posts this quote from a mother who is all too reminiscent of people I encounter every day in my job — according to Keenan, and I whole-heartedly agree, “it’s like reading a dispatch from Mars:”
“I want to scream. The pandemic is not fucking over, because children under 5 cannot get fucking vaccinated. Do not tell me it’s usually really mild for kids. I won’t mention that if I get it, too, I’ll be able to take off the mask I will have been wearing around the clock inside my own home. He’ll get his second and third shots or however many he needs, and eventually he’ll be just like you, as protected as possible, safe enough to go about his toddlery business with COVID being just another risk like accidents or the flu. But we aren’t there yet. And what’s worse than not being there yet is how the world seems to have utterly forgotten we exist.”
So there’s the problem — widespread gaslighting and psychological abuse as a campaign strategy by a party with a vested interest in reducing quality of life for its constituency. In the second part of this essay I’ll consider the long-term effects of this kind of treatment, and how it might be possible to break free from its grip.