The Revolution Will Be Copied and Pasted
The past four years, I have watched and seen friends burn away connections to supporters of the current administration, right wing ideologues, extremists, and those who would spread disinformation and conspiracy theories. For the sake of mental health, and just the ability to endure all of this, I applaud them, and hug them to me. At the same time, I have kept friends and family members with whom I disagree in my social media feed, as well as podcasts, radio shows, and joined small closed groups with a focus on prominent leaders in conservative circles. I do not post or respond, I do not argue (maybe that’s cowardice), but I do read. Not to understand, or worse apologize- but to observe the theatre of our current moment, and try to enter it with my imaginative, responsive, emotional, and empathetic mind. I also want to engage with my own anger, dismay, fear, and feelings of rage. In some way, this practice helps me do just that.
I’ve been keeping screenshots over the years of things I have read and seen in this infosphere.
One thing I am aware of, the comments I have read have been by and large reposted: seldom are the ideas sui generis. There are memes, photos, even entire essays (often with the encouragement to “copy and paste if you agree”) putting forward ideas. I am always amazed at how quickly some of the memes and spin are created, I admit that after a particularly impactful event, after reading my own news sources, I’ll flip over to see what is being said on these pages…and usually, within minutes, there are strong and developed responses. There is no period of doubt or inquiry, but a very sudden and direct response…and it is apparent that that response has been prepped and distributed.
That has disturbed me almost as much as any other thing I have witnessed since 2016, watching these automatic responses fly up, copied and pasted into place over any argument or cognitive dissonance. It is an easy habit, but habits also train us. We learn from a habit that it is easier to react than to have a conscious response, or to invite inquiry and reflection We also learn that each time we engage in a habit, it becomes easier and easier, and creates a safe, immediate, and placating response. Heinous and inhumane acts, just as quickly justified, defended, or even worse, dismissed- and more often than not with the simple click of Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V.
On Wednesday January 6, I looked to some of the accounts I monitor, to see how they view the events. I saw different narratives:
False flag! The mob was infiltrated by BLM and Antifa these aren't even our people look I can prove it
If you weren't there shut up. That's a small group of people that created mayhem most of us just quietly protested
Our cities burned all summer long in BLM protests, and our country did nothing. How is this different?
We've been pushed too far and what did people expect we've been putting up with this for a long time, and we’re God-fearing people who've been denied our rights and now have election stolen, of course we're going to revolt
I find it hard to square all of the narratives, as they actively contradict one another: either the overrun of the capitol building happened, or it didn’t. But more than this, the need to feel aggrieved, to be the wronged party, looks to me to be the one thing which is true in all of them. We are being lied about, we are being framed, we are being ignored, we have been pushed too far.
In all of it, I cannot help but think about the Facebook contacts I have who have posted, and what I know of their lives and communities. Again, it is hard to square the narrative. Most are in safe homes, still have their jobs (or comfortable, or retired), and most readily post about warm and happy family surrounding them. To a person (among the contacts I have), they are white, yes, and there is finger pointing to the dangers they see about them from other communities…but I don’t see them in communities where they interact with or experience BIPOC or LGBT individuals, or even members of society who are economically disenfranchised, or suffering from housing or food insecurity. More often, the pictures of their homes and their lives look more like a Wayfair catalog or a Pinterest attempt at a HGTV open plan concept of a life. They are more middle class (and yes: a vanishing and under siege middle class to be sure) than any character portrayed in Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, I know many are angry to be considered within the same “basket” as the image we have of supporters of Forty-five…and that perception adds to the grievance.
While trying not to judge, I find it hard to square these narratives as well. How are these communities under siege? I suspect that they are not, but that doesn’t change the narrative they see and distribute.
Again, I do not live their lives, but do observe the theatre of the current moment through the images and thoughts they post and share. In that way of course, I am also observing a created narrative- but if dramatic irony has taught me anything, it is curiosity about what is shown and not shown; what we are aware of and what is not said. It is with that curiosity which I observe (and do not engage- again, perhaps my cowardice) with the narratives these Facebook connections post.
I suspect these communities have been targeted, and that specific, terrifying narratives have been given to them, even as those narratives may not play out in their own objective experience. I fear that that is truly the story of our two countries; and that it is manufactured, mendacious, deliberate, and calculated to defend an “America” in which neither party (“aggrieved” or not) even has any stake.
Still, an army has been made from these fears and lies, and even as they march on our Capitol with a false fire burning in their hearts, we have been shown that it truly is a fire, and it means to destroy.
My fear now is that what we witnessed on Wednesday was only a show of force, a demonstration that there is a true fire in this country. There is also a rogue army, and that army has a leader. I fear that that has been demonstrated as well.
In May, when Minneapolis was targeted for arsons (for which several known white supremacist agitators have now been identified, charged, and arrested), I watched a huge empty construction project in South Minneapolis torched like a bonfire or beacon. It was a hugely public spectacle, broadcast worldwide, of a blazing empty building set like a bonfire on the front lawn of South Minneapolis. I said and asked at that time “where have we seen this tactic of intimidation before?” We have just seen a similar bonfire lit in our Capitol. Destruction and mayhem in the Capitol was not the goal: it is intimidation, and warning.