Guest post: The feeling the audience craves

Originally a comment by Rob on You must tell the truth while you testify.

I’m sure Jones does know the difference between truth and bullshit. Even between the shades of truth that a complex world throws up. I don’t think he cares. Neither does Trump. Or anyone else in that broad camp. For that matter the same could be said for some on the activist left (TRA’s anybody?). The common thread for all these people with megaphones is that they are appealing to the emotions of their audiences. The words don’t have to be true (and usually are not). They have to evoke the feeling that the audience craves. It’s especially dangerous because it’s addictive, probably in a literal sense. The more someone gets high on listening to emotionally powerful nonsense, the more detached they become from the reality that could give them pause. The more they crave the next hit that makes them feel justified in their beliefs, the more they reject other views. The more they get dragged to the extreme end of their views because people there accept and encourage them, while others begin to shun them, the more they need and seek out the reinforcement and the more they shun reality as being a conspiracy and a sham.

I suspect that in pre-information age society people like this were kept functioning within broadly normal bounds by the social pressure of neighbours, bosses, co-workers, and family. They probably made up about the same percentage of the population, but except for the odd sudden mass social disruption things ticked along. Those who didn’t were the madmen, the social outcasts. Now, with social isolation being the norm in our culture, and a hosepipe of any sort on online, cable, or TV of your individual taste available, those susceptible are able to mainline the extreme without connection to the rest of us.

Looking at history I’d normally say this would be sorted by a war or a brutal government, or eventually fade out to background again over 2-3 generations. With the rising pressure of resource shortages and climate change added to the mix, it’s hard to see a benign outcome.

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