Shoot Into the Wind
11 Sept 2017
In a week filled with tragedies and crises–two hurricanes ravage the US, DACA falling apart, a budget and debt ceiling deadline looming, the shadow of the Charlottesville attack still dark, North Korean missile tests and slaughters in Myanmar–I come across news of a Facebook event called Shoot at Hurricane Irma. And 55,000 people signed up.
Florida is a Stand Your Ground state, after all. And while it seems a small and innocent bit of satire amidst the ongoing destruction, it should not surprise us that Americans are–indeed–shooting at the storm. How many do it in an earnest desire to drive away the wind?
The police are warning Floridians not to participate, of course. One of the organizers of the event said, “It was cool to see the response this got from facebook. On another note, I’ve learned that about 50% of the world could not understand sarcasm to save their lives. Carry on.” We may well hear stories of additional injuries in the coming days.
The Florida police warn people not to shoot at hurricane Irma.
Trolling the naive and ignorant seems a full-time task for internet trolls for decades. In preparation for winter, we are now seeing advice about cold-prepping for cars: placing wet towels overnight on windshields to hold in heat, putting screws in tires for better traction, piping exhaust into the car cabin for warmth. But we don’t need winter: microwave spoons to scoop ice cream more easily, rob IHOPs because the police can’t arrest you in “international” territory, dip your contacts in coffee to stay awake.
“On another note, I’ve learned that about 50% of the world could not understand sarcasm to save their lives.”
And we snicker when Onion and other satirical articles are believed: that Taylor Swift is dating Senator Joe McCarthy, that wolf attacks are the leading cause of deaths in the US, that abortion factories in Kansas put pregnant women on conveyor belts for operations, a story believed by Lousiana Rep John Fleming. . . .
Unfortunately, even news agencies fall victim to their inability (or unwillingness?) to demonstrate skepticism. Iranian news believed an Onion poll saying its president was more popular than Obama; China’s People Daily believed an Onion article that North Korean president Kim Jong Un was the Sexiest Man Alive; Fox News quoted the Onion’s version of a supposed 75,000 word rambling email from Obama; and too many Americans to count believed the famed Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds.
It’s more insidious–and more dangerous, still, perhaps–when we take advice from bad sources who legitimately believe the nonsense they peddle: we take health advice from celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, Charlie Sheen, or Gwyneth Paltrow; Dr. Phil tells parents that they can teach their children not to be gay; Dr. Oz prescribes endive to cure cancer and believes that water has memory.
Or the onslaught of Fake News which has hovered around our election, before and after. Facebook has admitted that it sold ads to a Russian “troll farm” during the campaign with the goal to mislead and distract readers from genuine news. Empire News, InfoWars, and almost legitimate websites like Washingtonpost.com.co or usatoday.com.co lure us in with name recognition.
There are any number of psychological reasons we may be seduced by this nonsense. One of the most convincing to me is a general malaise of anxiety and a need for order. Various studies have suggested links between anxiety and belief in conspiracies: those who suffered fear about specific parts of their lives extended those fears to more general world views; and those with general fears might apply them to specific stories nearer them. A sense of disillusionment with the world–with politics, with economics, with social mores–translates into a sense of disempowerment and distrust of authorities who are supposed to protect us. (Witness, for instance, the conspiracy theories following the Sept 11 attacks or Sandy Hook.)
We seem surrounded by a deluge of heart-breaking news, a flood of change, a whirlwind of catastrophe. We must try to meet it with perspective and perspicuity. But when we cannot, is it any wonder that–like the impotent K of any Kafka novel–we shoot balefully and uselessly into its approach?