Liquid Ink

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


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Remembering the Russian crackdown in Lithuania: 1991

Twenty six years ago, Russia (The Soviet Union) cracked down on Lithuania’s independence movement. The result was fourteen dead and, months later, the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I first visited Lithuania in the summer of 1992. The cement barricades were still in place around the Parliament building, and a few torched areas had yet to be cleaned up properly, but the experience still taught me lessons about sacrifice and defiance. I fell in love with Vilnius instantly.

This past November, thousands of Lithuanian-Americans voted for Trump, despite warnings about his threat to the Baltic States and NATO, despite the knowledge that he was exposed to Russia. I find their vote a grossly irresponsible act of either sadism or masochism, and still can’t get my head around it.

This interview, in Russian with English subtitles, of Landsbergis is vital viewing. Resistance is now inevitable, but it will be costly. However, consider his words: “We presented our political platform at an open debate with the Communist Party and we won.” That’s a tiny country of just over 3 million people taking on the Russian Bear.

Resist. Click for video:

http://www.rferl.org/embed/player/0/27482994.html?type=video

landsbergis


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An open plea to the Electoral College

Dear Electors:

You don’t need to be told this is a pivotal hour in world history.

In only days, you’ll meet and cast your votes to determine the fate of the world. Perhaps most of you, when you were selected to represent your states as Electors, looked at your role mostly as an honor, an expression of your patriotism, perhaps a noble way to participate in our nation’s process of government. The entire world, people from Taipei to Tallinn, know it is more than that now.

Your voting body was created for this moment. To quote Peter Beinart, from the Atlantic:

“It is ‘desirable,’ Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, ‘that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of’ president. But is “‘equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.’ These ‘men’—the electors––would be ‘most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.’ And because of their discernment—because they possessed wisdom that the people as a whole might not—‘the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.’”

You probably didn’t expect it to be true when you became an elector. However, the moment for you to discern and investigate is here.

I’m pleading with those of you in position to do so, no matter where you identify on the political spectrum, to act in whatever way necessary to keep Donald Trump from becoming our next president.

I share the same concerns over the threat posed to our constitution, political system—and also to global stability—that has been expressed in recent months by so many statesmen, political scientists, journalists, columnists, educators, former and current intelligence officials, and many other professionals. If you do not share their views, if you do not believe that the president-elect is a threat to world peace, if you do not feel he is unfit to act as president on account of his conflicts of interest, his business practices, his misogyny, blatant racism, ignorance of the constitution, unpredictable behavior, narcissism and addiction to praise, assault on scientific consensus, assault on the Bill of Rights, assault on factual information, or his gaslighting claim that our intelligence community is a factory of conspiracy theories, perhaps you will finally be concerned by his potential exposure to blackmail by international adversaries and bribery by foreign governments.

Surely, this last bit must concern even those who loathe Hillary Clinton and the American establishment. We might prefer reruns of Happy Days to TED talks, the NFL to MLS, but we should all agree that a president even potentially exposed to manipulation by foreign governments threatens us all.

It’s true we’ll be in peril no matter what you decide. Our nation has been damaged by this election—it has allowed our most heinous demons to surface—and we’re going to struggle and suffer, some more than others, no matter what decision you make. You might feel that by keeping the demagogue from office you’d betray the people and system, triggering some kind of upheaval. I’m begging you to compare that possibility to another: that you might be protecting the people from harming themselves in a way they never expected, from losing to a narrative written on a rug about to be pulled from under their feet.

I’d like to think that 100% of us would stop a young man from running around a field of stumps with a screwdriver in his mouth, no matter how dramatically he protested against us. The fire department still shows up if our neighbor sets fire to her own house, and doctors will stitch up our self-inflicted wounds. We have laws and customs designed to mitigate self-harm. The Electoral College is an expression of this, as conceptualized by a man, Hamilton, virtually all Americans currently admire.

One way or another, you’ll get to tell the story to young people who will one day wonder why you acted as you did. At minimum, think about what you know of the man you stand to empower, and weigh that against what you’ll tell the kids living in his aftermath, whatever shape it takes.

“I exercised my duty to uphold the will of the people and the system.”

“I exercised my duty to keep the office of the president from falling to a man who was not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

I’d trust, given the circumstances, they’ll understand.

—Gint

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?” 

Alexander Hamilton, March 14, 1788

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Image of Alexander Hamilton from Wikipedia


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.


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