Smart people saying smart things (1.22.19)

Smart people saying smart things (1.22.19) January 22, 2019

Ben Okri, in The Mystery Feast (via)

When they want to destroy a people they begin telling stories about them. Even when negative stories about a people are not believed they still leave an imprint on the underside of the mind, a residuum of doubt, a sinister grain that in time can become an evil pus of perception. Then one day, with the insistent provocation by demagogues, a people might rise up and slaughter those who have been demonized by stories, the “other.” The ancient Greeks did it with the Persians. The Romans with stories built Carthage into a monstrous foe which must be exterminated, and this culminated in their destruction. They did it with the Africans during the slave trade, the Jews before the Holocaust, they did it with the Tutsis, they did it with black South Africans during Apartheid, and they are doing it now to one group of people or another, and they do it through rumors in the media and with our passive collusion.

Susan M. Shaw, “The irony of a Southern Baptist seminary’s report on slavery and racism”

I imagine the seminary’s founders felt just as morally, theologically and biblically convinced of their rightness on race and slavery as contemporary Southern Baptist leaders do on gender and sexuality. Just as the founders knew of dissenting Christian voices on slavery, Southern Seminary’s leaders surely know of the years of feminist and queer work in biblical criticism and theology. Yet both sets of leaders chose to reject those other voices in favor of the interpretations that maintain their own benefit, privilege and power over different others.

Katherine Stewart, “Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus” (NYT link)

Of course, there are those on the Christian right who have made a show of holding their noses while supporting Mr. Trump to advance their aims of stacking the Supreme Court or ending abortion. But we are kidding ourselves if we think their continuing support for him is purely transactional. …

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

Talia Levin, “If Democrats Want To Win, They Need To Embrace The Power Of Rage”

The world, after all, doesn’t have to be like this, and our lives don’t have to be so cramped and so fearful. All but the very richest of us know that one bad biopsy could shatter any hope of financial security we have. This year we have been ravaged as a country by fire and flood, and such events are set only to escalate, jeopardizing a future for our children and theirs. 113 million Americans have a loved one who is incarcerated; every day, 118 of us die of a drug overdose; every day, the CEO of Goldman Sachs makes $65,000; over 30,000 of us die of gun violence annually; and while we live, most of us are treading water so hard we don’t have time to draw breath.

There is a kind of holy rage, a rage at what is and its profound paucities, that can lead to visionary ideas. This is a rage that can be channeled into a yearning to break open stagnant and foul systems and replace them with better ones, a rage born of pain and empathetic pain, a rage at the suffering of the world ― the terrible things happening around us that Fyodor Dostoevsky once called “unavenged tears.”

Yochai Benkler, “Selling Outrage”

In the highly asymmetric system we have today — when one side systematically produces propaganda and has no internal checks, and the other side is much more constrained by fact-checking because its readers pay attention to a broader range of media — the flows of falsehood are so unequal that, if you try to maintain neutrality, you are essentially complicit in creating a false impression that there are two legitimate sides to the story. To say this side says “x” and this side says “not x” systematically reinforces and amplifies the lies.

This happened with reporting on climate science. When one side is propagating false science and the other is propagating science, neutrality in the form of giving credibility to scientists far outside the scientific consensus created misimpressions in the public. We see the same dynamic now in essentially everything in the political sphere.

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