The Spectacle of Cruel Laughter

“We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era.”

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

This line has been in my head the past couple days.

The cruel laughter of Kavanaugh.

Ford testified to the Senate, utilizing her professional expertise to describe the encounter, that one of the parts of the incident she remembered most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughing at her as Kavanaugh fumbled at her clothing. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford said, referring to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory, “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” And then at Tuesday’s rally, the president made his supporters laugh at her.

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

The cruel laughter in response to Trump mocking a survivor.

Tuesday the president of the United States, his crowd cheering him on, mocked a citizen who has come forward to claim herself as a victim: of violence, of misogyny, of laughter itself.

And so Donald Trump has managed to find yet another way to say the quiet thing out loud: This is a moment, for some, in which cruelty and comedy have become indistinguishable. This is a moment in which a vote for a Supreme Court nomination has become a proxy battle in a far greater war-one whose skirmishes, it seems, will be fought through petty jokes and easy mockeries. A moment in which so much comes down to the question of who will get the last laugh.

The cruel laughter from ICE when they drive people to suicide.

“One detainee told us, ‘I’ve seen a few attempted suicides using the braided sheets by the vents and then the guards laugh at them and call them “suicide failures” once they are back from medical,’” the inspectors said in their report.

Source: Inspectors Find Nooses in Cells at Immigration Detention Facility – The New York Times

The cruel laughter from Trumpist family members that shatters your heart.

The sadistic glee directed at everyone not them.

There were the border-patrol agents cracking up at the crying immigrant childrenseparated from their families, and the Trump adviser who delighted white supremacists when he mocked a child with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother. There were the police who laughed uproariously when the president encouraged them to abuse suspects, and the Fox News hosts mocking a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre (and in the process inundating him with threats), the survivors of sexual assault protesting to Senator Jeff Flake, the women who said the president had sexually assaulted them, and the teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting. There was the president mocking Puerto Rican accents shortly after thousands were killed and tens of thousands displaced by Hurricane Maria, the black athletes protesting unjustified killings by the police, the women of the #MeToo movement who have come forward with stories of sexual abuse, and the disabled reporter whose crime was reporting on Trump truthfully. It is not just that the perpetrators of this cruelty enjoy it; it is that they enjoy it with one another. Their shared laughter at the suffering of others is an adhesive that binds them to one another, and to Trump.

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

The foolish and destructive sadopopulism of it all.

These are policies that are deliberately designed to administer pain, to add to the total amount of pain in American society.

If you hurt people you create a resource of pain, of anxiety and fear which you then direct against others.

If, in the long run, the way that you govern is by hurting people who don’t mind being hurt because they think other people are hurting worse, what you will tend to do is take the vote away from people who expect more from government, what you will tend to do is try to suppress the vote and keep the vote down to the people who accept that government can do nothing except for administer pain. And then that moves you away slowly from democracy.

Source: Timothy Snyder Speaks, ep. 4: Sadopopulism – YouTube

In conditions of oligarchical impotence, you shift the task of government from doing anything to affirming identity. Government is no longer about doing, government is about being.

What you end up doing as an oligarch is deliberately hurting your own followers and asking them to applaud you.

Source: Timothy Snyder Speaks, ep. 3: What is Oligarchy? – YouTube

The sitcom misogynist plays for cruel yucks.

There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about laughter. Laughter as power. Laughter as luxury. Laughter as empathy. Laughter as beauty. Laughter as philosophy. Laughter as complicity. Laughter as division. The current political moment has been in one way a lesson in how easily jokes can be weaponized: Jokes can win elections. Jokes can insist that, despite so much evidence to the contrary, lol nothing matters. Jokes can contribute to the post-truth logic of things. They can lighten and enlighten and complicate and delight; they can also mock and hate and lie and make the world objectively worse for the people living in it-and then, when questioned, respond with the only thing a joke knows how to say, in the end: “I was only kidding.”

Source: Trump Mocks Christine Blasey Ford; The Rally Loves It – The Atlantic

And the cruel feel closer.

Their cruelty made them feel good, it made them feel proud, it made them feel happy. And it made them feel closer to one another.

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

In their stunted normal.

Normalization: The cultural process by which a particular attitude, ideology, or behavior becomes established and entrenched in social life. It’s the cultural process through which we come to expect and accept something as natural and normal.

Source: Donald Trump: The Sitcom Misogynist

But…

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Source: The price of relevance is fluency

Have you really read all these?: Anti-libraries and Knowledge

No, I haven’t read all of the books I own cover-to-cover. I read a couple books a week all the way through. I strategically skim and search a couple more. A lot can be learned from the introduction and opening chapters of a book, so I habitually download, search, and read samples from the Kindle store. Highlights and notes from all this reading go into DEVONthink and Ulysses.

PDFs, ebooks, and web archives also go in DEVONthink, where I tag everything. DEVONthink’s AI augmented search helps me find connections among sources, including ones I haven’t read yet.

All of the partially read and unread text I collect and curate form an anti-library, one that has been useful in my writing and research on neurodiversity, disability, tech ethics, and education.

Ulysses and DEVONthink are my zettelkasten, anti-library, research database, cognitive net, and thinking space. No, I haven’t read everything that they and my bookshelves hold, but I’m constantly discovering, rediscovering, and connecting ideas while creating the conditions for serendipity.

Someone walks into your house and sees your many books on your many bookshelves. Have you really read all these? they ask. This person does not understand knowledge. A good library is comprised in large part by books you haven’t read, making it something you can turn to when you don’t know something. He calls it: the Anti-Library.

I remember once in college, the pride I felt about being able to write an entire research paper with stuff from my own anti-library. We all have books and papers that we haven’t read yet. Instead of feeling guilty, you should see them as an opportunity: know they’re available to you if you ever need them.

This is the mark you must aim for as a researcher, to not only have enough material - and to know where the rest of what you haven’t read will be located - on hand to do your work. You must build a library and an anti-library now… before you have an emergency presentation or a shot at a popular guest post.

Source: The 5-Step Research Method I Used For Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, and Tucker Max

Some questions are only asked by people with a fundamental misunderstanding. The friends who walk into my office and ask, “have you read all of these” miss the point of books.

In his book, The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes our relationship between books and knowledge using the legendary Italian writer Umberto Eco (1932-2016).

The writer Umberro Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendages but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means … allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Taleb adds:

We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. Our relationship with the unknown causes the very problem Taleb is famous for contextualizing: the black swan. Because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

The antidote to this overconfidence boils down to our relationship with knowledge. The anti-scholar, as Taleb refers to it, is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.”

My library serves as a visual reminder of what I don’t know.

Source: The Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are The Most Important

Letter to My Representatives on Gaslighting and Source Burning: Post-truth is Pre-fascism

Senator Cornyn, Senator Cruz, Representative Williams,

Respected and sober voices in the diplomatic and natsec communities are sounding the alarm and even using the words treason and traitor. Such words are merited when a request to turn over private citizens, including ethical patriots like Bill Browder, is greeted as an “incredible offer”.

For the last ten years, I’ve been trying to avoid getting killed by Putin’s regime, and there already exists a trail of dead bodies connected to its desire to see me dead. Amazingly, Trump stood next to him, appearing to nod approvingly. He even later said that he considered it “an incredible offer.”

Source: I’m Bill Browder. Putin Made a Mistake When Talking About Me | Time

This moment is striking in both its ineptitude and its thoughtless treachery.

It should be noted that not only did Trump fail to recognize the request to interrogate Browder & Amb. McFaul as outrageous, it seems not to have occurred to him that a president has no power to order a private citizen to submit to interrogation by foreign agents.

So basically: Putin makes a completely disingenuous proposal to “trade” interrogations, knowing the U.S. won’t & probably can’t meet his conditions. Trump cluelessly takes the bait & fawns all over the “incredible offer” Putin has made.

Note this is a direct result of Trump’s bizarre insistence on meeting with Putin alone. Any minimally competent diplomat would have recognized the “offer” as bogus and prevented Trump from embarrassing himself. Or tried to, anyway.

Source: Julian Sanchez on Twitter

From the start, Trump has muddied a clear message: Putin interfered.” “In January 2017, Donald Trump was shown evidence that Vladimir Putin personally ordered pre-election hacking. He has since publicly questioned it.” Natsec folks are discussing how many sources POTUS possibly has burned. “Trump, who was briefed in Jan 2017, burned the source to Russia just like he burned Israeli intelligence.” “Did Trump tell Putin the name of CIA source close to Putin?” “I’d speculate the intel sources here reasonably concluded that Trump has already burned their sources and methods to Putin.” “This sensitive intelligence didn’t leak in this kind of detail through all the sturm and drang of the last year and a half. Trump’s fawning behavior in Helsinki shook this loose and into public view.

How many of the “trail of dead bodies” were burned by the Trump administration? The operational reality we live and work in is that we must assume POTUS has burned sources and methods. The EU is now treating the US as an adversary. So too are the many professionals tasked with protecting our systems.

The sitting President and the party in the power are gaslighting us, telling us that what we witness every day isn’t true. Jeff Flake spoke to this today in a speech I’m glad he delivered. I have no faith he will vote in accordance with his words, but hearing a Republican MoC acknowledge the mentally abusive mass gaslighting of a nation going on right now was a needed affirmation of objective reality.

Mr. President, in his dystopian novel ‘1984,’ George Orwell wrote, ‘A party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.’ Well, we saw earlier this week in Helsinki what was truly an Orwellian moment. What we saw earlier this week in Helsinki is what happens when you wage war on objective reality for nearly two solid years, calling real things fake and fake things real, as if conditioning others to embrace the same confusion. Ultimately you’re rendered unable to tell the difference between the two and are at critical times seemingly rendered incapable of thinking clearly. Your mind, a hash of conspiracy theory and fragments of old talking points, deployed in response to a question no one even asked. Ultimately you fail to summon reality in the face of a despot in defense of your country. It wasn’t a hard question, Mr. President.

Source: Jeff Flake: We Saw Earlier This Week in Helsinki What Was a Truly an Orwellian Moment :: Grabien – The Multimedia Marketplace

In Chapter 10, “Believe In Truth”, of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century”, historian Timothy Snyder writes:

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual—and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism. As observers of totalitarianism such as Victor Klemperer noticed, truth dies in four modes, all of which we have just witnessed.

Fascists despised the small truths of daily existence, loved slogans that resonated like a new religion, and preferred creative myths to history or journalism. They used new media, which at the time was radio, to create a drumbeat of propaganda that aroused feelings before people had time to ascertain facts. And now, as then, many people confused faith in a hugely flawed leader with the truth about the world we all share.

Post-truth is pre-fascism.

Source: Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (pp. 65-69, 71). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

You, Senator Cornyn, ”blocked the passage of a resolution from Flake and Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) that would have given Senate support to the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election”. You blocked acknowledgment of an obvious and true thing. You have abandoned facts and freedom. “Accepting untruth of this radical kind requires a blatant abandonment of reason.” The endless repetition that Russia did not interfere in the election despite all evidence to the otherwise is “shamanistic incantation”. “The fascist style depends upon “endless repetition,” designed to make the fictional plausible and the criminal desirable.

Meanwhile, you, Representative Williams, and the rest of the Republican House voted down election security spending.

And voted down a motion to subpoena the interpreter for the Trump-Russia summit.

A summit that the DNI hasn’t been briefed on.

You too have abandoned facts and freedom.

Election and information security professionals have been calling for an overhaul of our election security and voting machines for years. Our infrastructure is a shambles. Our machines are trivially compromised and untrustable. When we don’t spend on security, we get hacked.

In New York, the city BOE spends nearly $1M on Mandiant. Didn’t get hacked. Schuyler county was massively hacked by Russia. Not just the poll books. Even the sheriff’s office.

The same Russian intelligence agency charged with hacking Democrats’ emails in 2016 has targeted at least three candidates running for election in 2018, a Microsoft executive said

You, my reps, are denying Russia interfered in our elections and refusing to invest in badly needed election security. What would you call Democrats who did this given all else going on? Would you hesitate to call them traitors? I don’t think you would.