In this post I would like to begin a discussion of the ideas that religion play in our modern political sphere. I will be going further on this topic in regards to right wing extremism in some other posts; this discussion will center around the ways that faith play into our cultures and different lifestyles within America. How within our spheres of isolation we’ve become enthralled with the cult of personality. The notion of making a statement with your every action has been a result of this slippery slope, and we find conflict in everything, even lifesaving vaccines. I hope that if there is anything readers take away from this essay it is that in order to overcome our polarization we need to address our own fears and ideological motivations, no matter how hard that may be. Recognizing the impact we have on those around us is a powerful step in transitioning to a society that values collective health and prosperity.
We have entered an age of faith at opposing ends of the spectrum; while many on the right have rabid devotion to the idea that some rapturous reckoning is coming to the nation, the left has distanced itself from faith and is in many ways secular, if not outright Godless by rejecting the idea of religion altogether. The right has an apocalyptic view in their heads of where society is headed so they are open to acceleration of that vision whenever false idols present themselves as sharing those misguided ideas, as faith is a powerful tool of organizing a movement. Meanwhile the left finds itself guided by reacting to the injustices in this country through a lens of personal value, but there is no overarching force that ties the Democratic party together in the same way that the GOP is by fundamental religious values and has a hard time creating a movement that people can rally around as a lifestyle or dedicated cause because there isn’t a force outside of the individual that drives it.
Minds such as Augustine believed that the only cause which could truly unite people with conviction and action was religion, specifically Christianity. He believed that the word of God would be a focal point people could focus on that would not only bring them together but guide society in a positive direction. I agree with the concept of needing a cause or ideology beyond an individual to lead positive change, as the power of religious faith is one of the most influential forces due to the community and collective bond it forms. I believe that given our society, rather than unifying around just the metaphysical or abstract, we need to choose physical realities that all Americans experience and can identify with. Not everybody has the same experiences in life, and many believe in a different God within their religious views, or no God at all. (Even though 80% of Americans report having active religious faith).
The same zero sum rhetoric that guides white supremacy and our savage capitalist structures has latched on so hard though that we use individual figures now to justify why things should happen rather than any guiding faith or overarching structure of values. By holding individuals as prophetic figures we will justify anything they do as the end all be all solution, and never criticize their actions, even when they do harm. We have thrown our faith behind these figures who have no morals, hoping that they will enact whatever vision we have for society; apocalyptic, equal, oppressive, status quo. In reality, due to the way our political structure is set up money means more than actual ideology or policy, so the individuals who are the best at raising money will become the party nominations and many will change ideals depending on which way the wind blows.
We have entered an age of faith wherein the cult of personality is more influential than any guiding values, turning to individuals as solutions for our Earthly struggles in the same vein that Americans believe self improvement is the solution to all problems while shunning collectivism. Small groups that shun outsiders are formed, idolizing these figures who serve as conduits for rage and insecurity. We look at our peers and only see the parts of them that are different from us, rather than how those disparities are healthy and bring different points of view conducive to solving all aspects of a problem. On both ends of the spectrum the media and these figures have convinced us that we hate the things other groups like in this country, or that we have such big differences they can’t be bridged. That is false, yet as a product of our isolation we will believe false narratives about others if they sound convincing enough because we have no exposure to different spheres of thought, the diverse lifestyles that exist in this nation. In worshipping false idols and letting individuals divide us for their own desperate attempts at clinging to power we have allowed a vision of society to manifest wherein our leaders have no true morals, acting upon what best serves their own benefit. Unfortunately since our country so intimately has white supremacy and savage capitalism woven into its institutional fabric, these individuals we elect will only reinforce the status quo that their benefactors desire.
Despite leaders on all sides saying otherwise, our diversity of thought and experience is a good thing, it is what makes America so special. Since we are such a diverse nation we could use our many different experiences and perspectives to work towards solutions, since there is no single cause for issues like inequality, or institutional racism, that an individual can implement without collective help. If we could center a movement around faith in humans, faith in us as Americans, in the sense of being a part of this country and sharing a collective experience as a diverse population that comes together to create the best society we can, I believe that people would be able to bond over a shared set of values. God has provided us with the ability to create amazing technological advancements and evolve our society past our ancestor’s wildest dreams, and we should adopt the world that God has allowed us to shape for our own as something that can support future generations, not just a means of producing the most personal Earthly pleasure possible through exploitation and harm to others, including the environment that sustains us. We must make the world into a place worthy of God’s children, not a shell of a planet that sees humanity cast out and cause injury to others for their own benefit. We love to claim that we’re rational and ‘above’ other animals because we can express our feelings and act upon them, most importantly the ability to feel empathy and value life. If this is the case why are we letting the most basic tribalism and identity based arguments divide us so easily, throwing us down paths that only lead to destruction? If we are so rational, where has that rationality and empathy gone?
Human rationality has been the subject of study and contemplation since the birth of philosophy, and influential figures such as Aristotle believed that it was what separated man from beast. In the last few years many have let reactionary instincts take control rather than logic, as in times of change and uncertainty we are searching for understanding, trying to find consistency within an America that has barbarians at the gates. American society consistently views rationality in terms of ‘means and ends,’ as Max Weber would describe, and our political leaders have adopted this mindset too; one side’s result is the only acceptable outcome and whatever it takes to achieve that agenda is on the table. This has ingrained a culture of ‘soldier mindsets,’ defending your personal position at all cost, and there is no introspection as to why we are making the decisions we do. The way our lives are structured leads us to constantly be in motion, scrolling past the next culture war issue, busy working 40+ hours a week, or simply too wrapped up in the mundaneness of our isolation. Within our echo chambers we begin to experience the “illusion of fluency,” where we operate within a familiar set of activities everyday and aren’t challenging our habits to ponder why we do something, or how we could improve upon our already established knowledge.
The less that constituents question politicians within an identity based landscape and blindly support whatever the party says, the more controversial and outlandish the figureheads can become while they accelerate the radical nature of their speech. In order to keep a status quo that benefits establishment politicians and their benefactors we see figures pushing increasingly ridiculous talking points that are manufactured to have the most viral effect. For example CRT has become such a big issue because educating students on history without a lens of white supremacy, praise of savage capitalism, and in many cases fundamnetalist values, is a threat to the American standard that the right wants to maintain. It doesn’t matter that factual evidence shows educating students with an inclusive lens is more beneficial for them, or the established facts in regards to any current topic; Americans are letting their echo chambers, the lives they lead within the illusion of fluency, guide their decision making and blindly trusting the individuals that have been determined trustworthy without questioning the why. We must take a more Bayesian approach to rationalism, modifying prior information to have a well rounded understanding of reality, building upon previous knowledge with information we take in so that one can intellectually advance without disregarding established facts.
The denial and politicization of everything about our lives, including the science that attempts to keep us safe, has opened the door for more radical reality denying rhetoric to manifest. Rather than valuing rationality of the outcomes of our goals, Americans are stuck in viewing their values as means to an end, which both parties believe to be on the righteous side of. If we were to be rational in the Bayesian sense we could ‘calibrate our metacognition’ and practice being a little bit skeptical of the why, at least educating ourselves outside of one source. Of course this doesn’t entail devolving into the silicon valley style secular, cold internet troll version of this rationalism. Our ‘equivalent bet’ that we rationalize against can be how a policy decision actually helps the American people. Further, if we are keeping the framing of a religious movement underlying this, how do we spread the values of empathy and social capitalism to the American collective with our actions? The denial of reality to rationalize our changing world and ease anxiety that is instilled by false idols preying upon uncertainty has led to increasingly conspiratorial fringe groups and baffling adherence to faith in those individuals who accelerate rhetoric, such as Marjorie Greene, who became the largest fundraiser in the House.
It is crucial to understand why Americans use irrational rhetoric to justify the means and ends of their ideological views and we have entirely rejected reality on both sides, painting each other as irrevocable, isolated in a world that’s in chaos with false idols making promises that aren’t coming true. Americans cope with this uncertainty by making irrational decisions to individually understand our reality, rejecting institutions we view as working against us as seeds of doubt are planted within our echo chambers. People that may not be inclined towards physically violent radicalization from propaganda and fear, but still feel the same type of despair and isolation, have been pushed towards fringe internet groups. Enter; the age of Q-anon. These organizations have gone from having less obvious lobbying focused agendas to spreading mass hysteria about leftist cults preying upon babies for sustenance, secret wars being fought over our minds, and vaccines being a plot by the government to control the population.
Similar to many alt right movements, Qanon has deep roots of Evangelical doomsday prophecies and is a product of trolling ideological grifters. It has been the most viral of a conspiracy trend called “insider anon;” posts from anonymous sources on message boards such as 4chan claiming to have top level security access, ‘Q-clearance.’ The overall manifesto of Q-anon was pretty much pulled straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; a deeply antisemetic piece of propaganda created by the Bolsheviks, and adopted by Hitler, that included nightmarish stories of Jewish people meant to remove any shred of humanity. A recurring theme included fabricated tales of Rabbis kidnapping and eating babies in Satanic practices. The other key tenet of Q-anon is that Trump is viewed as their God king who will sweep back into office and unveil a secret plan, initiating a new restrictive regime that will kill all enemies and blossom into a fundamentalist zealot safe haven.
Q draws followers with direct appeals to paranoia and prejudice throughout its posts while also reaffirming that members of the cult are smarter than anyone else because they have been able to decipher the cryptic messages and reveal the deep state agenda. The posts and overall themes Q-anon draws from have been employed by fascist movements for centuries, luring vulnerable people with horrifying conspiratorial claims, presenting a solution that they were smart enough to find, then pushing rhetoric that becomes increasingly violent, with the idolization of a paternal figure (Trump). It also places the blame for poverty and other hardships facing rural America squarely onto the shoulders of an ever encroaching left, complicit in the conspiracy and providing a scapegoat for the uncertainty and disenfranchisement that rural populations feel.
These movements promise that with their rise to power America will return to traditional values, fighting back the evils that are trying to change our societal landscape. This is a strongly appealing message to someone who is isolated and experiencing hardship, providing a labelled enemy to blame while keeping them motivated and providing a community. The danger of movements like this is that they give their audience a very narrow view of the world, emphasized as the only correct one in the vein of radical fundamentalism, and urge radical action to show faith. None of the predictions that Q has posted have come to fruition yet, even the initial post on 4chan claiming that crooked Hillary was going to get arrested on election night. Despite no tangible results the Q-anons believe that they must stick with the plan, eventually it will come to bear.
This is our reality; hundreds of thousands following the extremes of Q like it’s scripture, turning away from any family, relationships, or personal pursuits dedicating their lives to the cult in some hope their worldview will be vindicated. America is becoming increasingly irrational as groups and individuals offer their unfounded solutions to the public, swaying many with the cult of personality. Some may be inclined to laugh at their relatives and friends who have gone down these rabbit holes, while others may dismiss them or get frustrated because their ideas seem so out of touch with reality. Even though we may not understand where they’re coming from, it is important to know the real life danger these rabbit holes pose if people fall down them. Q-anon is a star example in how to weaponize false news and prejudice as a tool for mass radicalization and it has already seen multiple members die for the cause, creating martyrs for the community to galvanize around. They are more than willing to throw their lives away for Q because they have rationalized the cult’s irrational explanations and solutions to feel secure in the world around them.
We believe that everyone is irrational because of the effects our political sphere and isolation have on our psyches, when we have no experience outside of the safety of consistency. Even beyond the dangers of fringe groups, the tribalism that we face within identity politics leads to irrational behavior because everything is politicized and becomes a statement. Figures such as Tucker Carlson have successfully convinced their audiences (by feeding them confirmation bias) that COVID-19 isn’t a big deal and masks or vaccines are for pussies who “follow the herd.” Underlying this irrationality within their audiences is fear of the economic stagnation and general uncertainty a pandemic creates, but regardless, media personalities have greatly contributed to a culture that now sees at least 30-35% of the population refusing to get inoculated. Even though many of these media grifters play on emotional rhetoric of protecting your freedoms, they themselves have received vaccinations (as Carlson has, with FOX implementing a COVID vaccine passport for work) yet convince their viewers through flawed takes on real science that their feelings of not wanting to wear a mask or get inoculated are valid, when in reality they are harming millions.
In many ways this modern fear of losing autonomy from the vaccine or mask mandates is the same irrational response that racist southerners had after Brown v Board, integration, and the Civil Rights Act. Underneath the veneer of the argument that desegregation would lead to “sex, immorality and juvenile pregnancy,” as argued by Gov. Lindsey Almond in the 50’s, the true fear was that the status quo of white supremacy and savage capital would be changed to alter our federalist landscape. As the world enters the internet age and an ever changing period of ‘non-normalcy,’ those who view their way of life as under attack will viciously fight against what they view as an encroaching federal government. The separation of states and federal systems in this country has long been used to implement damaging policies that maintain disenfranchisement for others benefit, and in their fear of the status quo being changed, right wing politicians and constituents are lashing out in their proxy culture war of masks and vaccines as the new states rights issue, leaving our educators, children, and families to suffer.
But that doesn’t matter to groups that profit off of maximum outrage, such as Patriot Prayer, as Joey Gibson and his armed cronies rushed into a Washington school district to rescue the “heroic” freshman that refused to wear a mask, forcing a lockdown on premises. It doesn’t matter that nearly every talking head pushing the rhetoric to Joey and those who act on it have no actual faith; they are simply bad actors like Tucker or Greg Abott, profiting off of vile rhetoric that spurs others to violence while they sit back and receive unreleased COVID-19 treatments (monoclonal antibodies) or third booster shots. False idols will push messages that incite and call back to feelings of deeper disenfranchisement, preying upon the fear, hatred, and isolation that their audiences exist in.
Thank you for reading, I hope you found this conversation to be interesting and thought provoking! I will pick back up with some further discussions of the consequences our identity politics has had in an analysis of Bret Weinstein and his impact of the early ivermectin craze.