Pacific Rim JobWith white hot rhetoric clogging our social media like mental static, no one seems interested in entertaining anyone else’s point of view lately— extremism is the current fashion and any conciliatory tack is immediately branded suspiciously wimpy and lame. This despite the fact that sometimes life— especially the workings of government and our complex legal system— doggedly refuses to be simple enough to squeeze into a series of bumper sticker slogans.

It’s annoying that after tons of Congressional legislative wrangling required to get any bill signed into law— with both parties adding and cutting riders to the bill as fast as they can, and compromises being made on the fly to achieve enough bi-partisan votes to pass the damn thing— when it finally goes through, a zillion armchair pundits zero in on some relatively innocuous add-on by screaming “How dare so-and-so vote to legalize a bill to allocate money for measuring dung beetles!” (or whatever), all outraged. Just to stir controversy.

Usually, further examination reveals the wasteful bug study (or whatever) was really just a tiny part of a university funding bill or scientific research grant that got tacked onto a major bill that HAD TO be passed. Like a massive 350 page budget bill or allocation to fund the military overseas, or some such. There is so much going on in the political process, and every action taken therein is so convoluted, that everyone on all sides is forced to vote for something their constituency doesn’t want EVERY DAY on Capitol Hill. Yet celebrity pundits squeal and gibber, completely ignoring the big picture of what’s really going on. Why bother to examine the actual facts?

So, sure. Just make up some inflammatory trigger rhetoric and slap it on a picture of an American flag or whatever, and shoot it off onto the internet to piss people off. It might not explain or aid the situation, but it sure will rack up a lot of FB “likes.”

Ironically, the basic lack of understanding regarding how the system works— and the false impressions derived from that incomplete understanding— are also the hardest to counteract. Part of the problem is the mental process whereby people determine if a particular statement is true. We are automatically more likely to believe a statement that confirms our preexisting beliefs, a phenomenon known as Confirmation Bias. Accepting a statement also requires less cognitive effort than rejecting one. Even factors like language affect acceptance: research shows that how a statement is printed or voiced (even the accent of the speaker) can alter the statement’s believability. Misinformation is a human problem, not a liberal or conservative one… and too much of it can divide a population into fragmented cults of ignorance.

Cults come in various sizes and types; religious cults like the ones infamously led by David Koresh and Jim Jones; commercial cults, the pyramid-type distribution networks endlessly recruiting tier after tier of members to sell products; self-help cults emotionally manipulating insecure personality types; and celebrity cults turning simple fandom into a radical lifestyle choice. Lastly, there are political cults whose outer facades are slick PR fronts disguising the true nature and motives of the group while promoting irrational core beliefs and philosophies designed to brand anyone outside the group as “the enemy.” History shows this seldom works out out for the best.

The ascendance of such cultish behavior earns my personal title as “Thing That Threatens To Break My Spirit Because It’s Such An Affront To Everything Good In This World, That’s How Much I Hate It.” On the other hand, sometimes it becomes SO ridiculous that it still has some comedic entertainment value.

So, shine on, you crazy cult drones! Don’t let little things like “facts” interfere with your rabidly uninformed preconceptions. Your irrationality is still good for an occasional chuckle now and then here in the glorious Kingdom of Derp.