Dual-Fact Nation Part 2

Adam & Eve have no lower bodies and conveniently draped hair.

Dismediation is a new word for me I found it in a Religion Dispatches Newsletter article by Christopher Douglas. I should have mentioned the article in my last post since I divided the whole topic into two posts . Dismediation is a process using a medium to tear down that very same medium. So, if you use the TV news to complain about TV news coverage you are dissing the media covering you which academic folks label dismediation. It is a rhetorical technique similar to the one where you begin your speech by saying you are not going to talk about a particular topic; which you have obviously just done by mentioning the topic. “I refuse to discuss my opponent’s vile policies on strawberry flavored toothpaste, I will, however discuss the joys of mint toothpaste which I support wholeheartedly.”

Dismediation is not like those cartoons where the bridge falls apart piece by piece just as the last wheel of the caboose passes by. The bridge must remain an essential carrier. It’s more like complaining about the medium of news for doing what the speaker relies upon it to do, report the message. Trump constantly portrays the news media as being liars thereby discrediting the medium he needs to get his message out. He expects the bridge to remain available after his caboose has passed by so he can use and abuse it repeatedly. The news becomes a straw man that can be attacked repeatedly while whittling away at its viability. If you can convince enough people that the tracks are unsafe then fewer people will travel on the tracks ultimately destroying the effectiveness of the railway system.

The goal of “fake news” and “alternative facts” goes beyond providing different data. Their purpose is actually to destroy the notion that there could be impartial news and objective facts. Maria Bustillos calls this endgame “dismediation,” “a form of propaganda that seeks to undermine the medium by which it travels.”

The people most vulnerable to this rhetorical trap happen to be Fundamental Christians. They have been conditioned to do so by a lifetime process of indoctrination. It begins with an attitude of dislike for the elite, know-it-all, educated class that comes from family influences as well as social interaction with fundamentalist churches. Here, they learn of the inerrancy of the Bible, a blind obedience to its teachings and dis-trust of those who don’t share the same belief. There was little infrastructure to support this back in the late seventies when the fundamentalist evangelicals began their forays into politics through one particular luminary, Anita Bryant and her anti-gay campaign to Save the Family. Anita was not afraid to call gay folks names. Pick any, or all, of these descriptive terms found in The Anita Bryant Story:

Evil, sinners, perverted, an abomination, those with vile affections, reprobate minds, unnatural, deviant, flaunting, afflicted, regrettable, sad, tragic, apart, distorted, abominable, effeminate, ashamed, reproof, abhorrent, disgusting, licentious, lacking legal or moral restraint, marked by disregard of the rules.

If you want a complete list you will have to dig up her book because all this came from just one small part of one short chapter.I had to stop writing them down, it was too stressful.

Anita Bryant capitalized on her orange-juice spokeswoman fame and wrote several “Christian” books. She became both the beacon of her movement and its lightning rod. Jerry Falwell joined her and it became a launch point for truthiness and faux-scholarship of the bigoted religious. You see, she wrote a best selling book. A BOOK. If its in a book its got to be true! If it quotes the Bible a lot then its even more true. So, a whole slew of other anti-gay people started quoting her books as a credible source. They learned about footnotes and endnotes and citations and all those other image-enhancing rip-offs of credible writing. That lead to other bigot’s books quoting this “highly credible” authority (she wrote books you know); one who uses language that would make the Ku Klux Klan folks blush. Once this body of scholar-less-ship dismediation came to pass, evangelicals and fundamentalists started to realize there’s gold in them there books. If the Bible is quoted enough, then academic scholarship is not required. They would, of course reference one another’s work and soon there was a whole library of this stuff. In Christian schools a homogenization process of real and faux scholarship, religious ideology, and the Creation Museum hoopla all merged into “alt-reality” as we call it today.

Christian fundamentalist Bible colleges and universities, publishers and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, radio and then television shows, museums and campus ministries, together formed a set of institutions that resisted elite, secular expert knowledge. Recognizing the power of expertise’s infrastructure, Christian fundamentalists created this counter-infrastructure to cultivate and curate its alternative forms of knowledge. This alternative knowledge—the forerunner of today’s alternative facts— took the form of creationism and an alternative Bible scholarship demonstrating the Bible’s inerrancy and traditional authorship.

I’ve watched the Anita effect influence society in negative ways. Once, I took my students from the Gay Student Club I helped create at Bloomsburg University back in the ‘80s to hear a highly publicized Campus Crusade for Christ anti-gay speaker. We had a stake in this game but were naive as to the effect it would have on all of us. The speaker used a new rhetorical trick to enhance his credibility; it was the unkindest cut of all. He knew his audience would already be on his side, but just to foil the opposition, us, he made a big deal about how all his facts were well supported by references and documentation. He had a three-page list of those references available for all to see if we needed proof. His speech was as evil as Anita’s book and included all sorts of “studies” proving his points. We asked to see his references at the end, but he had unfortunately (read conveniently) left them at home while on his speaking tour. Was there credence to what he said in the speech? Well, it didn’t matter since it had already been given.  There was nothing he could prove and nothing we could do but disagree. We didn’t bring our list of actual studies and scholarship either so nothing we said would have convinced the audience who came with preconceived opinions at the start. It was despicable and cowardly and dishonest and oh-so-typical of the alt-mindset theology: “a lie for God’s side is not a sin.”

Alpaca Rhetoric

Words are meant to lead. The mother of a baby alpaca will repeatedly click her tongue and make a noise similar to, but quieter than an alpaca’s alarm call. The baby, or cria, learns the mother’s voice first, and knows what and who to pay attention to within moments of birth. The cria will be able toalpaca copy walk within the first hour or so; those noises from the mother must be understood in case the herd happens to move to a different spot. The kid must find her mother during the journey. A newborn straggler would become an easy lunch for predators.

The ‘words’ of the alpaca mother are, “come here kid” and “stay with me”.  Words that command the cria to follow. While a baby will take months to learn the human version of this same communication, the alpaca will pick up just a few more ‘words’ before reaching the limits of its lifetime vocabulary. Humans have a much more complicated relationship with language.

Rhetoric, the use of language to persuade, is a primary component of daily life. We place most of our trust in leaders who use the language well. I recall the opened-mouth fascination of watching Mario Cuomo’s speech from the 1984 Democratic Convention, or Reagan’s ‘Shinning City on a Hill’ Speech. Barack Obama wrote and delivered superior speeches that moved the soul on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Lets take a side track for a moment and talk about Theatre of the Absurd. It ties in with the topic at hand. So, if your family were farmers in certain parts of Europe it is possible that during both WWI and WWII your farm was destroyed by the fighting in the wars. After facing the reconstruction of your property for a second time you start to wonder – What’s life all about? Each bloodied soldier sitting on your crops could tell you their version of truth but none of it matters because you still have to bury the bodies, rebuild the fields and the fences and regrow the garden from scratch. Trying to make sense of this puts you in a state of existential shock. Your existence seems to be without purpose, illogical, out of harmony, useless, devoid of reason, meaningless, hopeless, chaotic, lacking order, and uncertain. Playwrights try to illustrate this frustration on stage through the use of Theatre of the Absurd.

A key theme in this genre is the futility of language. When language doesn’t convey commonly understood meanings, communication becomes futile. Illustrating that on stage is baffling and frustrating to the audience who search for meaning in the words. The characters proceed on to the next event whether the communication is clear to the audience or not. It’s like the farmer watching the soldiers destroy the family farm again. No explanation is provided that answers the question, Why? Or, What is life about? Or, How can God exist in this horror?

7738585Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker is an example. The audience watches domination and submission games played by the characters who engage in somewhat mundane conversations.  One of its main themes is about family bonding without the help of dialogue between the two brothers. They speak, but what is spoken is not understood, resulting in isolation. There are long moments of silence in the play which create a menacing feeling. The characters deceive one another and themselves. Self deceptions are repeated throughout the play, creating an artful motif. The menace, lies and solitude suggest a world where the foundations of co-existence: time, place, and identity are as ambiguous and as fluid as is the language.

So, now we have a President and Republican Congress invading our farm. When Trump speaks, the futility of language is exposed. He deceives everyone along with himself, mostly with lies and delusions. Consequently, he feels isolated, even from his wife. He communicates through incomplete thoughts tweeted to the world in the middle of the night. His un-indicted and soon to be indicted co-conspirators pretend like it all makes sense. They proceed on to the next event as if nothing odd has happened. It’s like one big improvisational absurd theatre piece playing out for the world right in our own back yard.

A playwright gives a play structure, there are themes and metaphors and plot. The play may be enigmatic in meaning, but at least there is a structure to the story telling process. Events occur throughout the play in some sort of formalized manner, following at least some of the basic conventions of the theatre. Meanwhile, on Trump’s stage, the conventions of leadership have been torn asunder to such a degree that even a fairly conventional speech to congress can’t be taken at face value, or any value for that matter. He has teased the audience way too much with lies and misdirection. He has reached a point where his shtick no longer represents an artful tale of existential questioning. The time has come for the director of the production to say: We stopped being credible a long time ago, let’s go back and fix it. The essential function of Trump’s absurd communication is not sufficient to lead anyone anywhere, not even a cria to her mother.