“The opinions of our fellow creatures, no matter how stupid or impossible, overshadow all other considerations.”
— Carl Sagan
“Revolutionaries must come to hard questions.
What are these creatures we wish to save?”
— Ernesto “Che” Guevara
“In the words of Schwarzwald, who is closest to the truth,
imagination and memory are but one thing,
which for diverse considerations have diverse names.”
— Sabrina Islam, Social & Behavioral Science doctoral student at the
University of Florida
It isn’t hard to miss the town of Sun Ray, Florida if you travel south on U.S. 27. The question is why anybody would find it appealing. As the water tower bearing the town’s name in big capital letters rises from the horizon so does everything else: the sheet metal shack offering “small engine repair,” the gas station sign completely shattered and fluttering in the breeze, the broken roads bearing potholes eight feet deep. This is a town time forgot, or perhaps the former site of some intense urban combat that never had the chance to rebuild.
This was supposed to be a routine investigation: drive out to the sticks and figure out why so many of our relatives were immune to political education. Why every time we ran into our Aunts and Uncles they seemed impervious to facts, evidence, and every inconsistency we pointed out in their beliefs.
It was supposed to be routine. It ended up revealing terrible things and wicked problems humanity was probably incapable of overcoming.
“She said he’d always lived here?” My wife was passing me a fresh beer as we pulled into a restaurant parking lot. The building was squat, practically featureless. Then again maybe it wasn’t. I’m not sure how I remember it. “This place looks like it barely has anybody living in it.”
“Always. That’s why they only see him for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Whenever they do have him visit he’s always spouting some crazy bullshit about the Civil War or the moon landing being fake. Doesn’t believe cops can do anything wrong. The whole nine yards of every loathsome opinion you can imagine. Now she’s printed out facts, she’s forced him to watch documentaries. No dice. Fox News says something, he spits it out. Doesn’t just spit it out, but holds onto it like a real motherfucker.”
“So? There’s a lot of people like that. What makes Sun Ray any different?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out. There’s a lot snowbirds out here, liberal folks who come down to avoid the polar temperatures and for whatever reason they get to Sun Ray as normal human beings and come out like robots. Weird, right? I hadn’t even heard of this place. But the woman who wrote me the email said her Aunt who lives in Canada stayed here one week, married this guy who lives here, and ever since then she’s become a Flat Earther. She thinks there’s got to be a cult in the area, or maybe something in the water. I received another email about a week later informing me of almost the same thing.”
“Well the second one involved a fair amount of meth-”
“BUT! But…the details were very similar. And again someone who is nominally normal from up North coming down here and flying back up permanently changed. There’s something going on here.”
What that something was would be elusive, no doubt hidden from view. On our way in we hadn’t seen any industrial manufacturing or strange artefacts, nothing to differentiate Sun Ray from any other section of the Floridian interior called Polk County. The restaurant we had parked at seemed like a great place to stop and put out tentacles of inquiry. Diners in southern backwaters such as Sun Ray are an important spoke on the trinity of social interaction, along with churches and bars. Here every detail of everything would be freely discussed or at least overheard, and at a diner if it was overheard it was picked up by ears and eyes who’d been around long enough to piece together disparate strings. A preacher could tell you whose marriage was in trouble, you might learn who-was-fucking-who at a bar, but it was at a diner that the server could provide every detail of the sordid affair while explaining how each family member felt about the impending divorce.
Solid gold for a gonzo journalist. We went inside and grabbed a booth.
The Four Seasons Restaurant, as it was called, boasted a brown and tan color scheme almost immediately causing a feeling of drowsiness. We looked at the menu consisting primarily of southern staples and such exotic fare as “spaghetti.” For the meat averse they offered a salad bar at $7.95 a plate where health-conscious patrons could choose between iceberg lettuce, carrots, macaroni salad, and stewed greens.
“Do you…do you put all that on a plate together?” my wife asked. I pointed to a table nearby, where a man with the body of a plague victim had done just that. He chewed slowly, mayo-lathered pasta and carrots falling out of his mouth like twin-tower skydivers on 9/11. She turned slowly back around and spoke in a hushed tone. “Okay…something weird is going on here.”
Before I could say something our server reached the table, placing two waters in front of us.
“You folks know whatcha’ wanna’ eat?”
My wife pointed at the menu. “I’ll have the…’South Will Rise Again Spaghetti.'”
“As for me,” I said, “I’ll do the country fried steak with white gravy. Gravy on the mashed potatoes as well.”
The server smiled. “Not a problem, I’ll bring that right out for y’all. Lemme’ bring out an extra dish of gravy and you can pour it on there.”
She disappeared behind a rotating door covered in arcane symbols, came back and placed the gravy on the table, then scuttled back into the kitchen. Five minutes had passed when suddenly two plates were tossed in front of us. She stood there smiling.
One had a single boiled chicken breast on it covered in pepper. On the other was simply two carrots.
“Uh, m’am?” My wife grabbed the server’s attention. “This is…well, this is not what we ordered.”
“Sure it is. You said the boiled chicken breast and he wanted two carrots.”
“No,” I said. “I wanted the country fried steak. You even brought me the gravy.”
The server looked at the gravy. She looked at the plates. She checked her notes and it appeared for a moment she realized the mistake.
It was at about that time I realized our server was actually walking around on eight legs, a double hinged-jaw dangling from her face slowly dripping venom onto the carpet. Six sets of wings on her back buzzed in unearthly harmony and a series of larvae-like creatures were rotating around her skull, chirping incessantly.
“No. These notes are wrong. You ordered the two carrots.” She turned her multifaceted lenses at me, twirling them nearly 180 degrees. “You must have stolen that gravy.”
“Stolen? How? It says chicken-fried steak on the ticket-”
“You stole my notebook and wrote it on there! I wouldn’t have gotten it wrong!”
“Get Out! Get out right now before I lay eggs in both your stomachs!” We rushed outside as she began to howl, the larvae around her head now spraying liquid feces in concentric circles. A huge splash of it hit the man chewing his salad bar medley, but he didn’t even blink. We jumped in the car and parked in a ruined gas station down the road.
“What the fuck was that about?” I asked, ripping open a beer with my teeth and hyperventilating.
“I don’t know!” my wife said. “What about the fucking spider legs and the fangs?!”
“How did we not notice that? And what was with the shit she gave us?”
The answer was a basic one: simple human psychology.
Change blindness is a term used by psychologists to describe the tendency people have to miss changes in their immediate visual environment. We don’t actually walk around “seeing” the world, we gather a loose amount of details and let our minds fill in the rest. This isn’t merely small things, like a new flower popping up on your way to work or someone sporting a new haircut. In 1998 researchers carried out experiments in which participants started to have a conversation with a stranger. This stranger was then replaced by a different stranger during a brief interruption, and many participants had no idea that their conversational partner had changed.
Or, for instance that the server at the local diner was actually a gigantic spider hellbeast.
So for one humanity, as we know it, is quite literally blind to the world. Mole rats fumbling about. But there is more at play than even that.
The server knew she was wrong about our order. Clearly so. Our order was written there on her notepad in her own arachnid handwriting. So why couldn’t she admit her mistake?
“Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance — the stress we experience when we hold two contradictory thoughts, beliefs, opinions or attitudes. For example, you might believe you are a kind and fair person, so when you rudely cut someone off, you experience dissonance. To cope with it, you deny your mistake and insist the other driver should have seen you, or you had the right of way even if you didn’t.”
We see this behavior in politics all the time. When a politician or a country, hell even an entire ideology, does something we don’t like we’ll make an excuse for them. Trump claims Mexico will build the wall. When it becomes apparent and obvious they will not, and even as he lambasts Democrats for not using taxpayer funds to build the wall, his base doesn’t lose faith. To accept that he was wrong, and by extension that they were too, is painful. So they simply rationalize it.
Is it any wonder why every video of a cop murdering another black man has no effect on the Republican viewer? To accept a world where those things are real means fundamentally changing your conceptions about who you are and the way the world works, that you have been incredibly wrong for years. That is something very painful. The more pain, the more likely excuses will be created instead of changing opinion.
It also explains why young college students screaming at poor working whites is a strategy doomed to fail, why the discourse around privilege seemed only to embolden racism. Too many “revolutionaires” went to working people and explained privilege in the worst possible ways to humans whose sweat, tears, and calloused hands were so crucial to their self image.
Those affects overpower the individual mind. Conscious thought ceases to exist. Simply look at all the die-hard conservatives obsessed with gun rights, the fanatical hordes who swore armed revolt if Obama so much as sneezed at guns. When Emperor Trump bans bump stocks with an executive order, circumventing every elected official and acting like a king?
Suddenly bump stocks suck when only a few weeks ago they were absolutely crucial to the continuation of the second amendment. This behavior is so common because it doesn’t just help us deal with pain, it actually makes us feel good.
“One study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that people who refused to apologize after a mistake had more self-esteem and felt more in control and powerful than those who did not refuse.”
Sports and Politics act like drugs in our heads, and allow us to feel powerful and in control even when our own lives are spent as economic appendages of a cruel and uncaring society. Being right or being on the winning team is all about making you feel good, and everybody knows how addicts act when the source of feeling good gets threatened.
Pure Hell in a 24oz Can
I drank about nine beers in the parking lot, eager to re-align my humors. In need of more libations, I wandered into the crumbling gas station we had parked at. My wife stayed in the car, pointing a loaded SKS out the window to ward off any potential encroachment by spider people. There were odd brands of booze sold inside the gas station, and almost nothing I recognized save for one: Crazy Stallion Malt Liquor.
Crazy Stallion is pure hell in a 24fl oz can, and it will fuck you up for the low price of 98 cents. Yes, you read that right. One of the smoothest malt liquors and one with 5.90% alcohol for the price of a goddamn dollar! You could make a “Scottsmoor Slam” by drinking half of it then pouring a bottle of five-hour energy inside before killing the rest, a home brew version of Four Loko reportedly responsible for fifteen homicides and two cases of cannibalism in the State of Florida. I grabbed six of the bastards and wandered up to the counter to pay.
There was a man running the register with a beard that ran down to his toes. Hovering beside him was a dragonfly approximately four feet in length.
“That all for you sir?”
“Six cans right? Of Crazy Stallion? $300.”
Remembering the previous encounter I silently walked back to the fridge, ripped off the price tag on the shelf, and passed it to the man.
“It says one dollar. For each one.”
“No,” said the dragonfly in a metallic tone. “My handsome and very intelligent friend here is right. It’s $300.” The dragonfly reached into a bag of Jolly Ranchers and handed one to the man.
“It says 98 cents on the goddamn can. How does that equal-”
“YOU AIN’T GOTTA LISTEN TO HIM!” A large, rotund figure suddenly smashed through the window, causing me to duck for cover. He had the head of a scorpion and eyes of fire, and after wiping off the broken glass stuck to his clothes he waddled towards the counter.
“Jethro,” he croaked, “you know these people from out-of-town are all liars, on account of the chemtrails putting the devil right into their tongues.” The dragonfly nodded in agreement, tossing the scorpion man a Jolly Rancher which he caught with his tongue.
The bearded man nodded, now resolute in his decision. “That’ll be $300 dollars, feller. You think I’m stupid ‘er summin’?”
I backed away then broke into a run, leaving a small trail of urine as I went.
“Start the car!” I screamed, frantically galloping through the parking lot. My wife flipped on the engine and in the process accidentally fired off about eight rounds with the SKS, kicking off a chain reaction in every person with a concealed carry permit for five miles. Gunfire filled the air from all angles, some people even walking outside of hovels and shacks and firing blindly into the air at nothing in particular.
They had no idea why they were shooting but damned if they didn’t think it was the right thing to do.
The reason? Social proof.
The Social Proof Theory, popularized by psychologist Robert Cialdini, maintains that an individual’s perception of the ideas and actions of peers will be construed by the individual as being the right choice.
Cialdini lists a host of examples. In one study by social psychologists Milgram, Bickman, and Berkowitz, researchers from New York City university planted a man on a busy sidewalk. Amongst crowds of people, he stopped and looked upwards for a minute. When just one man gazed at the sky, just 4% of passersby also looked up. When the experiment was repeated with five men looking upwards, 18% of passersby followed suit, and for 15 the figure was 40%. Another study cited by Cialdini involved people being asked to give donations to a charity. When people were shown a list of their neighbors who had donated to a charity it led to a substantial increase in funds raised. The more names on the list, the more people donated. Nobody had actually donated, but the mere appearance of others doing so was enough to convince people to open their wallet.
Any server who has “salted” the tip jar by throwing in a couple bucks before opening has utilized this technique.
This mental programming runs at a subconscious level and those in its grasp may not even be aware of it. A classic negative example took place in the Arizona Petrified Forest. The theft of petrified wood by visitors was becoming a serious issue, depleting the ancient woodland. Staff responded by putting up a sign stating: “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” This was intended to convince people not to steal the wood, but it had the opposite effect. The depletion of the petrified wood tripled. Experts who looked at the case determined that the signs had made people feel the act of stealing the wood was justified, and eagerly hopped on the bandwagon.
The opinions of our fellow creatures, no matter how stupid or impossible, overshadow all other considerations. New findings from researchers at UC Berkeley confirm “people’s beliefs are more likely to be reinforced by the positive or negative reactions they receive in response to an opinion, task or interaction, than by logic, reasoning and scientific data.”
The more positive of a response from one’s social group, the more one believes something to be true, regardless of any evidence and often in spite of it. And this is just one chain in the link of absolute bullshit that makes humanity completely incapable of tackling reality as it actually is. People are more likely to believe something the more often they’ve heard it said. Then of course you have the phenomenon known by psychologists as the “halo and horns effect,” which ensures we will see an ideology, product, or behavior as more desirable if it is associated with someone we like, and we will ignore factual evidence if it comes from someone we happen to dislike.
Again, this is happening at a subconscious level. You aren’t aware of it. Your mind will simply create facts and reasons as to why you like something now, while all the while you own opinions are hardly your own.
Sidenote: the odd desire of the Church of Scientology to recruit as many well liked celebrities as possible makes a lot more sense now, eh?
As the gun fire died down we hit the gas and headed north, running over a ten foot long caterpillar trying to sell us gator jerky in our attempt to escape. The gunfire started to rise again, but pandamonium spread among the locals as a pack of wild metaphors and similes descended from the sky and began literally biting people’s heads off.
We used the wanton bloodshed to our advantage and escaped with our lives.
The Individual Is An Endangered Species
By the time we felt safe we were thirty miles north in a place called Winter Haven, and feeling thirsty I stopped at a dive called Old Man Frank’s for a drink. I was wondering what the fuck I was going to write about when the bartender came by for some idle conversation.
“Somethin’ buggin you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I explained to him what had happened, everything from the emails asking for journalistic inquiry to the caterpillar selling jerky. He seemed incredulous.
“Impossible. My son lives in Sun Ray. Says it’s absolutely wonderful, and he’s a journalist too! Works for The Ledger.” I motioned for my wife to come over. She showed him pictures of egg sacs in the street and a large centipede with a moustache washing a car.
“That’s clearly photoshopped.”
We played him a video, taken during our escape, of gigantic blocks of text descending from the skies and killing bug people in droves.
“You can edit video easily. A buddy of mine in Sun Ray named Jethro says that’s how they did the whole damned moon landing.”
My wife paused, went to the car, and came back with a gigantic leg still dripping green blood. It had flown into our window when we ran over the caterpillar. It was nearly three feet long and even glowed some strange, unknown color beyond all description. The man shook his head.
“Look, clearly you ain’t playing with a full deck. You have the time and the money for all this fake news, plus you’re going around with Hollywood-grade special effects to sell your lies. You know who has that kinda’ money? George Soros! I bet he put you up to this.”
“We’re Egoists,” my wife tried to explain, “we don’t even like George Soros!”
“Typical Democrat, trying to hide your true colors. What’s next, Obama didn’t start the KKK? I’d be willing to bet you came down here to plant all this…to get Trump impeached. Yeah! All of this is fake and you work for CNN!”
We attempted to explain, to prove, but everything we said only made him believe harder. We finally ended up spitting in his eye and making a mad dash for the exit, a stolen bottle of gin riding between my legs as we did eighty on state road 441.
This final detail was the most puzzling. We were well out of Sun Ray. There were no insect people. Why had the bartender responded in such a manner?
Devoid of any arthropod qualities it was clear: The insect part of the monsters in Sun Ray wasn’t the problem. It was the people part. We had just experienced the backfire effect.
The backfire effect was the most devilish of all the mental slavery kicking around in the human head because it actively ensured group coherency at all costs: showing people evidence which proves that they are wrong is often ineffective, sure, but it can actually end up backfiring and cause people to support their original stance more strongly than they previously did.
The evidence of this effect is as numerous as it is troubling.
“The backfire effect has been observed in a number of scientific studies, which looked at various scenarios:
A study which examined voting preference showed that introducing people to negative information about a political candidate that they favor often causes them to increase their support for that candidate.
A study which examined misconceptions about politically-charged topics (such as tax cuts and stem-cell research), found that giving people accurate information about these topics often causes them to believe in their original misconception more strongly, in cases where the new information contradicts their preexisting beliefs.
A study which examined parents’ intent to vaccinate their children, found that giving parents who are against vaccination information showing why vaccinating their child is the best course of action, sometimes become more likely to believe in a link between vaccination and autism.
A study which examined people’s intention to vaccinate against the flu, found that giving people who think that the vaccine is unsafe information disproving myths on the topic, often ended up with a reduced intent to vaccinate.”
Truth had no meaning anywhere, and even direct evidence could make someone disbelieve even harder. The bug people of Sun Ray were no more blind or insect-like than any of us, any of our own aunts and uncles. With this depressing reality now clearly beyond the borders of Polk County we decided to spend the night camping along the roadside of some abandoned town, if anything just to come to terms with everything we’d seen and learned.
Planet of the Insects
I wrote that nearly four days ago. We haven’t moved. Our food is running low and the ammunition is almost out. I know we have to head towards town at some point but I become violently ill when I think of the spider legs and multi-faceted eyes that will greet us there.
Not everyone looks like the insects of Sun Ray, but they sure as hell act just like them. Those same behaviors akin to robots and ants are present everywhere a crowd of “humans” gathers, and what’s more it has been deciding our destiny since we crawled up from the mud.
Comrades have done everything they can to ignore these truths. We have faith in “the goodness” of people or whatever else passes for secular christianity nowadays. I have even heard a Leftist say “fascism is not a mass movement,” even as it swallows the globe. Why wouldn’t it be? Because it’s “wrong?” Because “the masses” wouldn’t choose wanton violence in the name of lies? The workers have time and time again willingly followed falsehoods and stood by as any number of them are mowed down. What uncomfortable reality are we ignoring when Trump, Bolsonaro, and Hitler packed auditoriums, inspiring religious ecstasy in the same “revolutionary” proletariat the Left seeks to court?
Could it be we ourselves are victims of cognitive dissonance? That it’s easier to believe the workers are simply “mislead” rather than enjoying fascism in the most graphic and sexual ways? That the ignorance of our relatives lurks deep inside even the most “woke” of us?
Whether it’s laws that we know will disproportionately harm people of color(gun control) or policies undertaken by “socialist” governments that have nothing to do with liberation and everything to do with serfdom, cognitive dissonance will hold if we have some degree of our self-worth wrapped up in the concept. For so many Leftists their sense of self-worth is often entirely consumed by the concept, and as such you’ll see former individuals become nothing more than walking advertisements for their pet political project. We will deny reality, deny our lying eyes, and put forth whatever we need to. Considering the Left is made up of people who have been ruthlessly abused by the present system and have little to no power over their own lives, our rabid dogmatism and sectarianism is simply par for the course. Why not spend your time defending revolutions you took no part in, historical moments you weren’t alive for, or even nations you don’t live in and simply don’t have the guts to move to?
We need to feel good, and performative politics does just that. We buzz and scuttle, obeying the invisible edicts of the Hive just like the people of Sun Ray.
When I presented my findings to the folks that emailed me they denied them. Said they couldn’t be true. “CIA psyop,” said one. “I refuse to believe” said another. When presented with all the data, all the study, hell even the pictures of a town full of humanoid insects they refused. To finally convince them I simply wrote the same email, but made sure to include faces of people I’d never met with fake quotes about how great I was, a technique proven in the lab to work.
And it did. How does that make you feel, to know we are that easily manipulated? Do you feel some inner core of you squirming, coming up with answers to deny it? Are you ready to throw every piece of evidence I’ve handed you in the trash because you don’t like what it means—or better yet, because you don’t like me?
Are we afraid? Are we afraid to admit that ideology or even hard data doesn’t mean anything in a species that above all strives to maintain the unity and supremacy of the Hive? That “reality” is nothing more than the passing feeling of an extended hand or a pat on the back? That our own revolutionary inclinations and party loyalty are more likely the byproduct of personal whims, periods of intense emotions, and above all our desire to be liked by those we consider better than ourselves more than any objective truth?
The shocking ignorance of our racist uncles and misinformed aunts makes us laugh. We chuckle at the obvious lies spread by right-wing pundits, yet grow troubled when those lies have more power than the “facts” we attempt to convince them with. We assume something is wrong when everything is working just as intended.
The Right couldn’t care less because their goal is to exploit the mass, to motivate it and throw it like a fleshy battering ram against concrete goals. Lies and misdirection are fine as long as it serves “a higher truth.” The myth of rationality is a handicap our foes long ago dispensed with.
Revolutionaries must come to hard questions. What are these creatures we wish to save? To liberate? Surely not rational beings. Taken all together humanity reveals itself to be bio-mechanical engines of belief rolling over anything remotely connected to “reality.” Hardwired to put the group above everything else, even our own eyes. Whatever the chosen tribe/nation/party/leader/race repeats most often is real, and anything coming from anyone we don’t like is simply false.
The human mind, which we believe to be capable of making informed decisions based on fact, actually functions more like a coked out gambling addict; feverishly analyzing ratios and numerical scores while taking the opinions of well-liked “experts” as absolute truth worthy of large bets and high stakes. And when they’re wrong? They double down.
No new revolution, no “worker’s state” is going to destroy the very real programming kicking around in the heads of a racist family members. Neither will facts or figures. What we can do is start crafting arguments, slogans, and persuasive campaigns that utilize the human subconscious towards goals that benefit all: equality, justice, kindness, fierce and unfailing independence. We can’t make better people but we can build a better, freer world. If the Right’s propaganda game is this good with nothing but falsehood, how much better will our own be when backed up by data?
As for the future for a literally blind, often unthinking mass of human-shaped roaches armed to the teeth and hurtling through space? The best we can hope for, at least in the opinion of this Egoist, is to severely limit hierarchy whenever we can. To understand that every authority we prop up is a dangerous point of failure for a species whose opinions on mass genocide go as deep as a popularity contest. We can’t get rid of our subconscious motivations but we can sure as hell limit their capabilities. But first we have to accept they are there.
Therein lies the paradox and the danger: the ability to accept difficult or challenging truths depends on many, many things, and absolutely none of those depend upon how true they really are.
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