Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


The American press is in a fix

The American press, and to a smaller extent the whole of the Western press, finds itself in what’s almost a double bind.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you don’t know what that is, you need to read this Medium post composed by N Ziehl. American journalists are not equipped to cover a narcissist. They’d struggle to cover a narcissistic manager of a Jiffy Lube, but a President of the United States afflicted with NPD ruins a journalist’s methods.

Like most professionals, individual journalists are not trained to deal with a narcissist’s constantly shifting truth, false reality and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is a really important concept. Everyone needs to learn what it is and how it works, because Trump keeps doing it.) They are trained to deal with liars and evasion tactics, but when it comes to uncovering truth or meaning, they try to connect dots logically, to search for rational motivations and a reasonable relationship between actions and thoughts. None of that is available in a narcissist’s behavior.

Like most organizations, media companies are not armed with the assumptions necessary to tell an accurate story about a narcissist president—newsrooms assume there is always more than one take on a story, more than one angle and interpretation. The highest forms of essay writing focus on nuance. With a narcissist, there is only one story, and it has neither a flip side nor an alternative take, no nuance at all. The story of the narcissist is that he lives in his own grandiose reality, motivated entirely by self-gain and others’ adulation, unable to feel empathy for anyone. Stories about narcissists can either point out the narcissism or they can enable it. There is no gray area, so forget about nuance.

Quite obviously, journalists have to quote the words the president utters, then attempt all sorts of interpretations when applicable, present the slant they’re after. The problem is that a narcissist’s words are meaningless; the reason they’re shocking is because they don’t represent reality. He wants our adoration, and if he can’t get it, he’ll distract us by threatening our safety or by actually putting us in harm’s way. If we find ourselves identifying his tricks, he’ll burn down the neighbor’s garage and force us all to rush over with buckets. Most of us care about our neighbors. He cares about himself.

***

Now, here’s the double bind.

In America, the problem around telling this story lies also in the way newspapers create revenue streams. Revenue has always been tied to circulation and the size of an audience; obviously, the bigger, the better. Unlike in decades past, when print companies depended at least partially on their brand and their mission to sell a whole paper with advertisements inside, now they depend much more often on individual stories or topics that get shared by readers. The biggest story right now is Trump’s insanity and the threat it poses civilization. It’s dopamine, and media companies know it because they’ve been riding it now for almost two years.

The American press has to change the way it covers the president. Unfortunately, doing so threatens their bottom line.

I still think news companies can generate revenue and get clicks by writing about Trump’s professional enablers…essentially the rest of the federal government. Attention, or the lack of it, is the most potent weapon we can employ against a narcissist. Because they need it, they’ll throw tantrums, insult people, contradict themselves, threaten us with prison, make deals with our enemies, etc. If they perceive it going elsewhere, they become crazed with jealousy and make irredeemable mistakes.

It’s accurate to report that the Republican Party is enabling and attempting to benefit from a narcissist, just as it’s accurate to report that Twitter is enabling a narcissist. This is the brutal truth of the matter. Those who benefit from the narcissist—specifically, those who figure out a way to increase their political power or their profits by blowing sunshine up Trump’s ass—need to be investigated and exposed by the press. It’ll drive him nuts to know someone else is getting more air time, and it should still provide the American public the dopamine it needs to keep on clicking.

It is also not inaccurate, and hardly a disservice, to teach the American reading public about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It used to be that the quiet kid in class was the only one who knew about it. Now we’re all in the same ship because we decided to put one in the Oval Office.

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Picture of “Ugly Building” from Wikipedia.


Last week in American discourse (1)

Here are some points I’ve either read or heard made over the course of the past days by my fellow citizens. These have been edited for clarity, respectability and brevity.

In Social Media

1.) Facebook in no way influenced the election because you’re a liberal and you don’t understand how algorithms work.

2.) Sure, Donald settled for $25 million, but Hillary killed people prepared to testify about Benghazi.

3.) Democrats don’t even know how to count because Donald Trump went back on his promises.

4.) You really do need to show more tolerance towards people who want Jews and Homosexuals gassed. Those people believe they are the descendants of the sun.

5.) If Hillary Clinton were as strong as Vladimir Putin, she would have kept all the Crimeans out, which is the only reason Putin went in.

6.) Donald Trump can’t win. Even if he changes his positions, still the liberals don’t like him.

7.) The only reason I voted for Trump is because he’s against the H-1B visa. I got laid off because of that, and I’m an accountant.

8.) Not everybody thinks its Nazi to support white people. And just because you salute with your right hand doesn’t mean you buy into everything that’s Nazi.

9.)  Obama gave Ellen DeGeneres a civilian award even though she never fought on a battlefield or took a wound. So now it’s just a lesbian award? I’m going to pretend I’m a lesbian so that I could get one.

10.) I know people from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who understand their jobs aren’t coming back. So they voted their conscience.

In Overheard Conversation

1.) No, I’m really really really not a racist. I just think it’s time for white people to have another chance.

2.) It’s actually wrong to vote unless they put somebody in office.

3.) Illinois went blue mostly because nobody voted.

4.) You know those protesters got paid off because most of them went to Starbucks or Whole Foods right afterwards, and there’s no way any of them have jobs.

5.) I was there waiting in traffic for those protesters to get out and I could tell you it was way more annoying than watching the Cubs win the World Series.

6.) Now the millennials are going to learn what it means to have to look for a job just like regular people.

7.) If you supported immigrants, you would really want them to go back to their home countries where they would be safe.

8.) Can somebody explain to me why Michael Jordan deserves to get a Medal of Freedom? What did he do to deserve it?

9.) It shouldn’t be wrong for the president to own hotels. If you think about it, it saves  money on business trips.

10.) The only way you’re going to get more people out to vote is if you give them a good reason to do it.

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Photo of Lollipop from Wikipedia

 

 

 


So, this is what America didn’t want?

Yeah, Americans. Take a look at what we’ve done. This shit show has only started. While most of us argue about the value of safety pins and the Hamilton story, there’s a real set of kickers on the table. I’ll try to summarize for those too exhausted to keep count:

We have a president-elect who lost the popular vote, at today’s * count, by around 1.7 million votes, a number sure to rise with ballots still being counted.

It’s now clear there was at least one conversation between the Trump team and the Russian government before the election, something the Russian government has admitted while Trump denies.

Since at least August, there has been evidence of minority voter purges in key battleground states (including Michigan), made public by Rolling Stone magazine, investigated by journalist Greg Palast, who continues the story of a dubious system called Crosscheck.

Since Trump’s election, we’ve seen celebrations by Nazis, their rhetoric normalized by CNN, all in the wake of a Nazi sympathizer’s hire as Trump’s strategist. CNN apologized for their anti-Semitic chyron but not for the following Nov. 15th homepage—Is bombing the s*** out of ISIS a strategy?—a rhetorical question which predicts even greater idiocy in our national discourse:

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The president-elect has now changed positions on several of his most important campaign promises, including his brain-on-fire pledge to lock up Clinton. As expected, besides making money and inflating his grandiosity, he has no principles or positions, as throughout his campaign he consistently claimed one thing only to contradict it, lying right in reporters’ faces. Without any irony or self-awareness, he has reportedly undressed big media execs in an off-the-record meeting, a pathological liar accusing everyone in the room of dishonesty.

In desperate acts, people on social media are sending around slacktivism requests, some of them bogus, others misplaced.

As that buzz crackled, Trump claimed that the President could not have a conflict of interest. This after he and his daughter met with Shinzō Abe, after he met with Indian business partners, after foreign diplomats have claimed they’ll curry his favor by staying in his DC hotels.

Baltic States, are you listening? You want protection from Russia? Hand over a few high rise hotels to Trump. I’m sure the city of Vilnius could blackmail the Radisson Blu Lietuva Hotel to hand their tower over.

Curiously, he ran on a platform of idiot-wind populism, on racism and psychopathy, demonizing and demeaning everyone in his path, but it turns out a general can talk him out of using torture during a straightforward meeting. It turns out he’s against wind farms  when they interfere with his golf course but not when they guarantee “crystal clear water.”

We’re learning nothing about him we didn’t already know. He’s an unstable, constantly shifting point, a compulsive liar, a narcissist, a concoctor of realities. Most Americans didn’t want him. But now the entire world has him, a man who’ll “disavow” American Nazis while hanging on to a chief strategist who had this to say about the difference between skinheads and American Nazis…er…the Alt-Right:

There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence. Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.

Good thing this isn’t what most of us wanted.

*Update: On November 23rd, the margin had surpassed 2 million votes.


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Appearance: Oak Park Public Library, December 4th

Chicago area Liquid Inkers, know that I’ll be appearing with Geralyn Hesslau Magrady at the Oak Park Public Library on December 4th at 2:00.

Geralyn and I will do short readings, then interact and take questions on the writing process, the publishing industry, and our muses. Both of our recent novels—Geralyn’s latest is titled Lines—see fires as central events and metaphors. In my case, it’s a bungalow fire; in Geralyn’s, it’s the Great Chicago Fire. There’s plenty of overlap between the books, including keen senses of place and history.

I love discussing books at library events where the crowds tend to be sober, unlike in the bar events I most often attend. Hope to see you.

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An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg

Dear Mark Zuckerberg:

I just sold what Facebook stock I had purchased back in 2012.

I’m in that group of Americans fortunate enough to have money to invest, even if it’s not very much. Still, the money grew, so I owe you thanks. Most of it was in my kids’ Coverdell accounts; I’m now going to reinvest those funds some other way to save towards their education.

I didn’t sell because the stock had fallen. Instead, I began thinking I was benefiting from your company in a way I could no longer justify. Long before your recent comments appeared in various media outlets, I was already thinking of selling my FB holdings, weighing the ethics of profiting off your company. My opinion of you and your company was, at one time, very high.

Asked if you thought Facebook influenced the election, you responded:

“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way—I think is a pretty crazy idea…Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”

You also played a transparent empathy card:

“I do think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is they saw some fake news…If you believe that, then I don’t think you have internalized the message the Trump supporters are trying to send in this election.”

Oh…we’ve internalized it all right. There’s no confusion: the people who voted for Trump are furious at the government, enough to spread global chaos. Of course, they’re being conned by a trickster, and they will suffer from the attack on liberties and environmental policy right along with the rest of us. If they deserve empathy, it’s because their points of view, experiences, fears and feelings toward oppressed groups—these feelings float on a spectrum between passionate hatred and blind indifference—were harvested for political (and probably for financial) advantage.

***

You’re smart enough to know no one is saying the only reason Trump’s supporters voted was because of the fake news distributed via Facebook. You’re also smart enough to know that Facebook did, in fact, influence this election in some way, an idea far from crazy. Do you think your employees are crazy? They are wondering what influence Facebook has had, and have engaged in necessary soul searching.

Facebook is many things. It helps me connect with friends abroad, sell books and keep track of information during emergencies. Alongside all that, of course, you must admit that Facebook is human history’s most efficient and far reaching propaganda and counterknowledge distribution system. Those of us who use the website to distribute news have to own that. As its creator, so do you, just as you have to own the role your company played in the election of a bigot whose threat to the world is very real. Facebook would have influenced the election either way, no matter who had won, but the fact remains that we’ve elected a psychopath currently empowering every variety of repugnance.

Facebook needs to change. Dramatically. It cannot sit idly by knowing how it is contributing to mass misinformation and propaganda. The consequences extend to every layer of our society.

As an educator, I’ve been fighting the “filter bubble” social media effect, highlighted so brilliantly here by Eli Pariser back in 2011, since the beginning of this decade. Ignorance and misinformation are so high among my students, especially on topics like climate change, politics, economics, international affairs and—to my shock—human sexuality and the process of learning, that I routinely assume they’ll need to unlearn a laundry list of things, and I’m usually right. Because most don’t read books or newspapers, most of them lack any information outside of their sphere of gratification. What’s inside their sphere is often misplaced, misunderstood and flat out wrong.

This semester one student “heard on Facebook” that video games help their attention span more than other activities. Another one thought that a local grocery store was giving away hundreds of dollars’ worth of food to random people. A third thought we should close all bank accounts because Obamacare was going to drain them of money if Clinton won. A fourth believed that Facebook was close to charging people cash to maintain their profiles. I should note this one is pretty old, but you jumped to correct it.

***

Obviously, we all are to blame for this on some level. Facebook does not generate information any more than does the mail carrier. But you are not a mail carrier and you know it. As a corporation, you don’t have to weigh the balance between your desire for profit and what social impact you have. However, you claim to imagine yourself as a place meant to connect people. It begs an obvious question: what sort of connection do you want us to share? Do you want to make it easier for us to hoodwink each other with nonsense, or to spread legitimate information and concerns? In the end, what do you think of us, your users and investors?

Frankly, I’m shocked by your Trumpist denial. Just as it’s Trumpist to say one thing but then to turn around and claim you never said it…to say you care about people whose rights you want to attack…it is also equally Trumpist to say that something is false when you know it’s true. It’s also Trumpist to say things so outrageous and extreme that they force people to respond to a distraction from the conversation. That’s exactly what you’re doing with your claim that Facebook had no impact whatsoever and that your critics lack empathy.

You know your policies and business model influenced the election, just as they influence any host of other things. You either don’t care or you like the results. Out one side of your mouth, you’re accusing your critics of lacking empathy. Out the other, you claim your critics—a group that includes your employees and investors—perceive a false reality.

What’s real? Obviously, it’s what Mark Zuckerberg claims to be true, no matter how extreme and absolute. That’s not an example of empathy. It’s much closer to the Facebook post of a stubborn and crazy uncle.

Cordially,

Gint Aras
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Image of Narcissus by Carvaggio from Wikipedia.


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The tweet of a narcissist 

Donald Trump’s first tweet following his electoral victory reveals textbook narcissism and fascistic tendency:

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

This babble reveals a lot of what we should expect from him as president. It uses techniques familiar to anyone who has ever lived with, been ruled by or has otherwise ended up under the power of a narcissist.

The first technique is a slithery bastardization of terms. “Very open”. Forget for a moment if some portal or speech can be the opposite, very closed; think instead about what most people assume when they hear the word “open”. Few should think “openly bigoted,” and he probably doesn’t want us to. Yet that’s what his campaign and election put out in the open about the electorate: we are either bigots ourselves or don’t mind one as our leader. But don’t split that hair…follow this logic:

Openness = good. Trump = Open. Therefore, Trump = good.

The second technique is to deny the sincerity of an opponent’s feelings and views. These aren’t actual protesters; they’re professionals, which means they’re getting paid. It begs questions: by whom and how much? But you should not worry about that. Instead, realize the people who stand up against Trump don’t *really* harbor these contrary feelings and ideas but only *seem* to be expressing them. These planted mercenaries are in it for a few bucks.

Obviously, the only thing that drives a person to action is profit. That’s why Trump does what he does, it’s why you voted for Trump, and it’s why these people are pretending to protest.

The third technique is to deny the opponent’s capacity to think individually. If not for “the media”, these people would have stayed home knowing “open and good Trump” is their president. Any opposition to a narcissist is an idea born outside the opposer. If you could think for yourself, you’d see that the narcissist is open and good, but you cannot see that because you have been poisoned. You’re incapable and subordinate to Trump, your superior.

The fourth is a demand for pity. Pay attention to Trump’s mistreatments and slights and the people calling Trump names, accusing him of wrongs. Fairness would be an acceptance of him wholesale, just as he is.

The fifth technique available here is exaggeration. Trump’s favorite word is “very”. To say something’s open or unfair is not enough. Everything’s *very* something.

Obviously, we should expect the assault on the rights to assembly and a free press to continue. At this point, Trump’s definition of “the media” has been clear: members of “the media” are those who openly oppose Trump in any capacity. If they could be trusted, they would have predicted what he and his followers knew all along, which was that he would win. If they were wrong about Trump and his followers once, they will always be wrong, very wrong, while he will be right, very right.

So, be very right. Don’t be very wrong.

This is life with a narcissist. Their danger is not that they can’t solve problems or build things. The danger of a narcissist is that they have no empathy, and they see as part of the problem groups and individuals who oppose them. Threats abound at every turn, and much of their energy is spent neutralizing or eliminating those threats, often by isolating, disenfranchising or demonizing people. Skilled narcissists start conflicts among their opponents and watch them distract and neutralize each other.

The other danger is that a narcissist needs a posse to be able to pull off what stunt he has in mind. He needs enablers. When that groups wakes up to his disastrous and destructive methods and acts, complicit in the damage, they deny everything and might blame the victims.

The simplest example occurs in families that enable child abuse.

If the victim finds the courage to come out and say “I’ve been tortured”, most people in that abusive system will retreat, deny the child’s torture, even defend the abuser. That defense mechanism makes it possible to live with the realization that they aided the torture of a child. They’ll do perverted things, like invite the victim to sit at the same Thanksgiving table with his abuser. The victim’s presence sure would comfort them all, help them feel that everything’s okay now, everyone forgiven, despite no one admitting a thing.

The entire world now faces a geopolitical game of high stakes played by charlatans and manipulators Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

In terms of political strategy, Trump’s tweet reveals rhetorical techniques hardly different from Putin’s treatment of something like the Ukrainian protests that eventually became the Maidan and led first to the ousting of Yanukovich, then the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of East Ukraine (one Russia still denies is happening at all).

The parallels between Trump and Putin essentially add up to a pair of rails. Putin routinely tells Russians that Ukraine does not really exist, that it’s not really a country or a culture. Their protests are not actual protests but staged shows orchestrated by America, who’s just paying protesters (this despite the fact that the socio-political, cultural and economic conflicts between Russia and its neighbors have a history several centuries older than the United States). If Ukrainians wanted to be democratic, they would allow democratic and good Russia to do what it wanted to them. Instead, they want to join with the Europeans, and “everyone knows” Europeans are bad gay hedonists while Russians are the good true saviors of the world.

So, America, you might have been hoping for a steel mill to reappear or to punish Hillary. Maybe seeing people deported will make you feel empowered. The sooner we wake up to the institutional failures that led to the election of a narcissist, the more likely we are to get out of this with some horrible rhetoric and tweets that threaten the Bill of Rights as our only fouls.


The election numbers

Donald Trump (this is the first time I have ever written his name in a public forum, besides using it as a tag) performed in the following way:

He won 9/10 of Republican voters.

He won more than 4/5 of Evangelical Christians. (These are people who (claim to) believe that you should treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated, that selflessness is an expression of Godliness and that the meek shall inherit the earth.)

Donald also took 37% of “young voters”.

The one that has me deeply confused is not in the video linked below. It’s women voters:

Donald earned 42% of the women’s vote.  To quote from the CBS article I’m using for these data (emphasis mine): “Trump beat Clinton by 53 percent to 41 percent among men while Clinton won among women by 54 percent to 42 percent. Four years ago, President Obama won 45 percent of men’s votes and Mitt Romney won 44 percent of women’s votes.”

So…that 2% difference? It’s baffling but sobering.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf