Is it even possible to be happy in Fascist America living amongst the New Cruelty? Hunh? Is it possible? Can any of us be happy again? Certainly, not proud. It is impossible to be proud of Fascist America or the New Cruelty. But, surely we could be happy once in a while, right? Maybe, if we’re good? Hunh?
It might could be possible, but Cheezus crucified on a cracker, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is making it difficult to find happiness. This whole let’s take nursing Down’s Syndrome babies from their sleeping parents after telling them they’re just going to play thing really has bummed everyone out from former and current First Ladies (okay, I’m taking a little snarky, sarcasticky, and profaney license with Melania’s “protests”) to a weeping Rachel Maddow.
Lucky for us, we have positive psychology to help us decide whether or not it is even worth trying to be happy under such dire circumstances. So, I re-read several chapter’s in Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom and visited various and sundry internet sites. Here’s what I found.
Wouldn’t you know it, we can’t just start out being happy, we gotta figger out what is stopping us from being happy, first. We all know that happiness is in the eye of the beholder, right? But, beyond that happiness is what you make of your situation. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be gottamned if I’ll be happy about this policy of taking children from their parents under any circumstances. But, if happiness is based on perception, and we have control over how we interpret our world, then, it should be possible to be happy even in Fascist America living under the New Cruelty.
To really understand the human condition of happiness, we need to look at several factors: living in groups, the role of reciprocity, and our own inherent hypocrisy.
Let’s just take it as gospel that we evolved to work in groups of about 100 to 150. And, if you are now scratching your ass and thinking, wait a minute, we haven’t lived in groups of 100 to 150 for about 40,000 years. You’re right. Like so much of what ails modern homo sapiens, we’re trying to fit 40,000 year old hunter-gatherer savanna equipment into the internet savvy information age environment. The fit is just barely functional. We are trying to live and work in groups of hundreds of millions. No wonder we are having difficulty living and working together.
Our attempt to live with so many of our fellow human beings is called ultrasociality. Ultrasociality is a complex society that is characterized by a large dense population, a complicated division of labor, and convoluted, cooperative, coordinated activities. Luckily, it seems to be a highly adaptive method of organizing large populations. Look at the ant! It is the most populace species in the history of the world and inhabits most areas of the world (they didn’t do too well in adapting to extreme cold). If the ant can do it, so can we, right? Right? Come on, where’s that can do spirit? Can’t we all just agree that we have a chance, at least?
Ants are all siblings as they are all born of the same queen. In spite of our tendencies to call each other by faux blood relative titles like bro, sis, uncle, aunt, grandfather, and grandmother — I’m not talking about white America, y’all — we ain’t all directly related. So, we’s gots to have something else to bind us together. And, that something else is, reciprocity.
Science fact: when someone does you a favor, you wanna do her a favor. That’s why mens pay for dinner and a movie and expect sex. See? They did you a favor, now you do them one. Fair, right? Who said chivalry is dead?
It isn’t that we have evolved to do unto others as you would have them do unto you as we have evolved to do unto others as they have done unto us. It is more eye for an eye because that arrangement can include a favor for a favor. We instinctively, if you will, employ a tit-for-tat strategy, and it allows us to work effectively with people who are not our direct blood kin.
Here’s what’s interesting, though. Reciprocity depends directly on gratitude and vengeance. They go together to balance each other out and keep each of you honest. If you were all gratitude with no vengeance, you’d be an easy mark. If you were all vengeance with no gratitude, you’d be the Ol’ Pussy Grabber. Ha ha ha ha! Man, I just crack myself up! You’d be the Ol’ Pussy Grabber because you’d’ve alienated everyone in the group. Think the Ol’ Pussy Grabber being unable to get a loan throughout the 1990’s because of his bad tendency to not pay them back! Or his inability to secure good legal help now because of his reputation of stiffing people who work for him. Michael Cohen wants the Ol’ Pussy Grabber to pay his legal fees. Michael Cohen will be flipping just as soon as he realizes what a pipe dream that is.
Vengeance and gratitude are great and all, but they need something… what? A medium? Like gossip? Robin Dunbar says that language evolved to enable us to gossip. He has found that people use language to talk about other people suggesting that the ability to share information about others provided some kind of reproductive advantage early in our development. And, who hasn’t watched a movie, read a book, seen a traffic accident, or read a snarky, sarcasticky, profaney blog post interpreting current events using psychology and were just dying to tell a friend, relative, or stranger about it? It’s like we were born to tell and retell interesting bits of information to our friends.
When gossip is juicy, well, it can’t be kept, can it? Haidt’s studies found that gossip (a) is overwhelmingly critical; most often it focuses on violations of social norms and mores; (b) is occasionally about something good; and (c) leaves people feeling powerful and more closely connected to their partners in crime.
Given the universality of gossip and its near universal condemnation, we could not live without it. Without gossip, people would not develop their reputations, rightly or wrongly deserved, and would, therefore, get away with sexual harassment. Remember, #MeToo started out as a way of alerting other women to the sexually gross behavior of certain media men.
Reciprocity and gossip (the gratitude and vengeance end of reciprocity) allow us to cooperate in our complex densely populated world.
Here’s the long story short: we is all hypocrites willing to go to great lengths to justify our actions even when contradicting our stated values. We are so good at justifying ourselves to ourselves that we don’t (a) realize that there is a problem and (b) that we’re doing anything wrong. It is as if we believe that since we are good people, then everything we do is good.
That explains the MAGA’s all supporting the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s inhumane immigrant policies while bragging about all their “Christian” beliefs and morals and behavior and shit. They not only believe the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s lies, they believe their own lies about why his lies is okay to believe. That there is called motivated reasoning and that is fucked up. But, why would god make us so fucked up?
Now, it is all fun and games to laugh at conservative Christian voters as they die of cancer because they consistently vote for the likes of politicians like Bobby Jindal who condemn them to live in Cancer Fucking Ally. If it weren’t so sad, that shit right there would be comedy gold. Watching Sarah Fuckedupbee Sanders getting tossed from a restaurant is great entertainment. It positively drips in ridiculey, snarky, sarcasticky, profaney contempt, don’t it? God that is good, ain’t it? Just a minute. Just a minute. I’ve got to ride another lap on my high horse. Just give me a minute before I hafta get down off this here high horse, okay?
We all feel much more warmly toward each other when we swap conservative Christian voters is so dumb stories, right? We can reaffirm our shared moral orientation. We can paint the other side as being wholly wrong — and gottamn it, they are with this immigration bullshit — and our side as being wholly right. It feels good.
Hypocrisy! It’s not just for the Christian right any more.
Rationalizing Emotional Decisions
And there is a problem with “it feels good.” Regular readers of Ye Olde Blogge know that we are emotional decision makers dressed up in rational decision making clothing. Everything you encounter in your day, including this blog post, you react to either positively or negatively whether you are aware of it or not. If you have to make a decision about that thing, if your initial reaction was positive, then you make a favorable decision, but if it were negative, you make an unfavorable decision. This is how Project Implicit works, for example.
While we cannot “both sides do it” the immigration and white cops murdering unarmed fleeing black children because both sides don’t, us good liberals do bend the rules a considerable amount around bullying when we make fun of the appearance of others. We’ve all seen this on social media Michelle Wolf’s WHCD remarks not withstanding. Consider this study by Dan Batson:
A pair of participants is asked a series of questions. Correct answers are rewarded by one of the pair receiving a raffle ticket. One player (the participant) is told that she can determine which of the pair gets the raffle ticket. The participant is told that the other player is told that the determination is made randomly, so the other player won’t know whether the participant made the decision. Further, the participant is told that she can make the choice any way she wants but is allowed to use a coin sealed in a bag. Of course, the other player isn’t a real participant.
What would you do? How would you decide who got the raffle tickets? About half of all participants used the coin… or so it was surmised because the package was opened. Of the half that didn’t use the coin, 90 percent decided to award themselves the raffle ticket. Of the half that did use the coin, 90 percent decided to award themselves the raffle ticket. Hunh. That coin sure did come up heads pretty often. It could be a random sequence, or it could be that people discounted the coin toss results and gave themselves the raffle ticket anyway.
Maybe ol’ Doc Batson just had a bunch o’ bad apples. But, that ol’ Doc Batson is pretty damn clever. He gave all the participants some questionnaires about moral values weeks before the test. He was able to check their scores on morality against their behavior. Strangely, those who reported that they cared for others and rated highly on areas of social responsibility were most likely to use the coin. They weren’t any more likely to go against their own interests, though.
The onliest thing that that wily ol’ Doc Batson could do to keep those social justice warriors to actually be fair like they said they liked to be, was to (a) emphasize using an ethical method to make the choice in his instructions and (b) sit them in front of a mirror so that they have to watch themselves cheat if they was gonna.
Do you think this is why conservatives get all bent out of shape when confronted with their own lying hypocritical words when they do something? Is it because they can’t stand to watch themselves cheating and engage in some right fine death defying cognitive dissonance and murder the messenger with hateful words and spite-infused vitriol?
Ok, maybe you is not amazed by Dan Batson’s findings, but you might be surprised to know that none of the participants thought they was doing anything wrong. Apparently, most people follow the rule of thumb, I’m good, so everything I do is good.
Why can we see the log in the conservative Christian voter’s eye but still cheat our fellow unseen question answerer out of a raffle ticket? Not only is we emotional decision-makers, but, we are positive that we are one of the good guys. We just know it. We are sure that God loves us best. And that shit crosses all political divides. I’ll be stabling your and my high horse now. We can put her out to pasture.
The problem with examining a big issue like ripping children from their mother’s arms, which we all know is wrong except for when it isn’t, and it isn’t wrong when we think both mothers and children deserve it, dammit, and we all know when it is deserved, is that it is too clear. When we look at what is called everyday reasoning, the reasoning we use to justify everyday decisions: to have dessert, to not call our mother back, to steal the loose twenty from our friends purse, you know things we all do every day.
Should I take the twenty that I can see just sitting in my friends purse? Sure I should. She’ll just think it blew out of her purse when she wasn’t looking. She won’t even miss it. She would want me to have it. Once we’ve thought of all these good reasons, we quit questioning ourselves about it. We have all the evidence we need. As soon as we have a reason that “makes sense,” we stop looking for reasons.
We look at others and judge them by their actions. We look at ourselves and know our real selves, what really motivates us, what we really care about. So, it won’t hurt if we’re selfish just this one time because we know we’re good people at heart and have been unselfish before.
So, can we be happy in Fascist America under the New Cruelty regime? Yes. But, we need to do some things first. Dammit! Psychology never makes anything easy!
Here’s what you gotta do to be happy in Fascist America: Recognize that there is a game being played and that you are largely playing with yourself (See? We can be happy!). Being aware of your own tendencies to stack the deck in your favor perceiving your actions as righteous and those of the conservative Christian voter as being villainous is an important perspective when trying to find happiness.
Being judgemental just leads to anger, torment, and conflict as so many of us have experienced as we have born witness to the heinous acts of ICE over the past year or so. The best advice is to remain calm and take the long view. We will work this out, and we’ll help repair the wrongs we’ve inflicted on these children who have cruelly been taken from their parents.
And second, focus on the things you can change, which is yourself. Debias yourself by looking at your yourself. You can’t change the hatred, bigotry, and prejudice of MAGA’s, but you can identify your own biases and work towards avoiding them. Don’t worry, you can still enjoy Sarah Sanders being denied service and Kristjen Nielsen being protested at a Mexican restaurant — Mexican?!? Okay, it is a popular restaurant down the street from the WH run by a racist supporter of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber!
But, be honest with yourself when you’re making fun of Sarah Huckabee Sander’s lantern jaw or calling Tomi Lehren a dumb blonde that these things are not okay. We do not make fun of people’s looks. That’s what bullies do. We don’t make fun of things people cannot change about themselves. We don’t threaten violence and death. We don’t dox people. We might have those thoughts. We might have those urges, but we as good liberals don’t actually do it. And, we tell other liberals who do that they are wrong.
Unfortunately, there are many more things that you need to do in order to find happiness, but these two steps right here are two solid steps to easing some of the pain of living in Fascist America under the New Cruelty and moving towards being happy.