Small Victory

On Super Tuesday 2016, I spent my afternoon commute reloading the election returns from RealClearPolitics on my phone. The tech bus, or Privilegemobile as I called it, came equipped with both Wi-Fi and comfortable seats. It was a long ride from San Jose to San Francisco, over 90 minutes during rush hour, so these amenities made the trip at least tolerable.

Most commutes home were spent blogging, listening to punk rock at sufficient volume to cause hearing damage, or watching videos consistent with creating a hostile work environment. To prepare for the latter case, I looked for a seat way in the back where the only people who could see were one lane over in a vehicle coming up to pass. What were they going to do about it?

But on this day, Trump got top billing. He had been racking up delegates in the primaries up to this point but if memory serves, this was the day that put him over the top to clinch the nomination. I could be wrong about this. It was a long time ago and I am too lazy to bother looking it up.

I can be a political junkie. That said, it can get boring reloading a webpage while the bus slogs through a snarl of traffic approaching the San Mateo Bridge. I needed mood music, something to provide the proper soundtrack to a world going to hell. I picked Big Black’s Songs About Fucking. It was a good choice. Its opener “The Power of Independent Trucking” is as proper an anthem for Trump’s base as anything I have heard and the rest of the tracks follow in a parade of dysfunction and rage. “Kitty Empire” in particular captured how I thought a Trump presidency would play out.

It seemed like good, clean fun at the time. I believed this rise of Trump was just a sideshow, a sweeps-week abomination to keep us tuned in between then and the November election of the annoying but competent lady in the pantsuit who would do a decent enough job in the Oval Office. Ho ho, I sure got that one wrong. A lot of us did.

Dystopia is hilarious when you think it is just make-believe.

Sure, there was no shortage of crazy in 2016. Conspiracy theorists, who once entertained us with stories about how JFK was killed by space aliens and Freemasons, had ceased to be fun at parties. By then, we had Alex Jones making outlandish claims in pro-wrestler oratory about how the Sandy Hook kids were all faking it. Still, it was not that bad. Sure, he had followers buying into his tirades and telling anyone who disagreed to do their own research, but those people were way out on the idiot fringe. Today they are a sizable voting bloc.

I have no idea how things will play out this November and even if saner heads prevail, all that means is we can tread water for a little longer rather than drown right away. The lunatics will still be out in force. To make matters worse, I think I have become one of them.

This does not mean I have gone full QAnon or anything of the sort. I do not believe that pizzerias keep child prostitutes stored in the back next to the pepperoni or that JFK Jr. predicted the rise of Donald Trump by crashing his plane into the Atlantic. What I do believe is that not every falsehood I see on social media is an honest mistake.

I know. Oh my God, people are lying on the internet. Stop the presses or whatever remains of the presses in this era of paywalls and sponsored content. We have Russian bots, holistic quackery, alpha-patriot prepper porn, to name a few. And that is just what shows up in my feed.

This stream of kitchen-sink nonsense is bound to piss off anybody, which is apparently by design, according to this article. The more irked we are, the more we engage and our engagement, constructive or not, is what it is all about. While this does not excuse the death and rape threats one sees in the comments, it certainly does explain why they’re there.

Another article brings up the debate whether engagement at all costs increases polarization in the offline world. I personally have no idea because my offline world is extremely limited. Becca and I are not polarized in the least. We are practically Borg. The only other people I deal with in person are those who bring us food and booze. Other than that one person who delivered shawarma and hummus to our door a via a hook shot from the sidewalk, I get along with them just fine.

But I am getting off topic here. What makes me don my tinfoil hat is not the aforementioned manipulation, but something seemingly innocuous. I am referring to incorrect celebrity birthdays. A Facebook page (and not one I follow) periodically wants me to give some actor my birthday wishes. Not my style. Unless I know the person, I am not felizing anybody’s cumpleaƱos unless they have killed a lot of people and I want to show what a nihilist I am.

I don’t usually keep track of when famous people are born unless their birthdays are the same as my own (hello Mink Stole and Regis Philbin), but there were a couple where the ages seemed off. Even though I have not met either of them and have no particular desire to, I do have a tangential connection to each that motivated me to do a fact check. In the case of Eric Stoltz, we attended the same junior high and with Donald Sutherland, he played a character named Dave Jennings in Animal House.

I went to Wikipedia, my trusted source for all knowledge, and sure enough, both birthdays were off and not by a little. We’re talking months. I went to the comments to smugly correct them, only to see that others had beaten me to the punch in the post for each actor. However, the corrections did little to stem the flow of happy birthdays for either Stoltz or Sutherland.

I get it. Celebrities are just better and have earned their birthday wishes. Stoltz captured the heart of everyone with a Rocky Dennis fetish (I don’t judge) and Sutherland was the one true Hawkeye Pierce before that puss Alan Alda ruined it for everyone. But why say happy birthday when you have been tipped off that it is the wrong day? It is because this untruth gives you a license to engage while the facts do not.

So, what do the bullshit slingers get out of all this? I’m guessing that engagement is monetized somehow. I really don’t know the details. Now is when the paranoia kicks in and I wonder if something more is at play.

Maybe part of the revenue stream comes from an entity with an interest in spreading misinformation, not in a targeted way like trying to sway an election, but misinformation for its own sake. They are playing the long game of keeping a flood of falsehoods flowing until people neither know nor care what the truth really is and what a pliable bunch we will all be then. If this is the case, it seems to be working.

Of course, something like this would be very difficult to prove and if somehow you could, your death would be made to look like an accident. I’ll stick to the relative safety of making baseless accusation from my nutball corner, thank you very much. Decades later, when the truth comes to light and Becca tells my dementia-addled self that I was right all along, the spit bubbles foaming in the corner of my mouth will be a froth of vindication.

It will be a small victory, sure, but one to be savored.

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