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Percy Billinghurst:
The Fool Who Sold Wisdom (1900)

“ … a particular sort of Hell.”

My time in The Muse's Fair booth unsettled me. I saw an alarming erosion of conception before me as I spoke with some people. They possessed what they might accept as received wisdom, which seemed more like bullshit. I wondered how these people could each spout the same nonsense. I wondered about the source of their understanding, for it appeared unusually unshakeable. It reflected an apparently preconscious conviction that they possessed a wisdom denied their lesser brethren. I felt them suspiciously classifying me, passing me a sort of test to determine if I was one of them or one of those. I never once aspired for them to classify me as one of them in any of these conversations, but then I was also dancing along an edge because I didn't want to chase off any potential voters for The Muse.

Friends told me that these folks were victims of Fox News, an outlet I cannot get since The Muse disabled the remote control to ignore those channels.
They don't exist in my world, but I have heard of their existence. I was never all that attracted to fake news, information especially conditioned to encourage me to believe what never could have been true. We seem to have spawned an entire demographic of those absolutely convinced of the righteousness of their fiction. They hold convictions unattainable by any means except propaganda. Information entering via the usual channels gets conditioned by a healthy skepticism. It tends to reflect a certain circumspection as if it was not swallowed whole like a snake gulps a rat, but in pieces, deconstructed, then reassembled to achieve some internal coherence. Those blindly convinced reflect no judgment, just conviction without that necessary accompanying skepticism.

These people scared the Hell out of me, partly because I couldn't comprehend their means of understanding. I couldn't see the dots they were connecting. They each rolled their eyes, for instance, whenever mentioning our President, our Governor, or either of our remarkable US Senators. These are each Democrats, of course, which might mean that our interlocutors are Republicans, what I refer to as Repuglicans. They seem to find competence itself repugnant and success, as if, as Bob Dylan long ago sagely suggested, "There's no success like failure." Such success seems to represent their strong preference, for they hint at revering the performance of the objectively worst President in the long and humbling history of our presidency. That, alone, should completely creep me out.

As voters, this constituency behaves like zombies, the undead. They lurch this way and that without ever appearing to pause and consider whether the stories they're spouting might be founded in anything even vaguely resembling objective reality. I will be one of the first to argue against the existence of any absolutely objective reality, but subjectivity does possess limits. Anyone can argue beyond the point where they turn blue in the face, any sort of settled science, but credible limitations exist. Masks do make a real difference. Covid vaccines saved lives. Biden's administration has created an economic miracle unparalleled in modern times. When ruled by Repuglicans, the House runs on lies and accomplishes less than nothing: smoke and cracked mirrors.

I felt as though I was interacting with people who had sold their souls. Whether they purchased adequate reassurance to comfort them through their upcoming failures remains to be seen. I expect the malignant machine that captured their souls to continue churning and for some of my fellow citizens and even members of my family to fall prey. I cannot say why or if they'll ever recover. I grieve them for the potential they perhaps unwittingly forfeited. They bought into a wisdom only a fool could ever sell them and a certainty far beneath that of which any of us are worthy. They offend me, and I suppose I offend them. I inhabit a kind of Heaven from which I overlook and overhear a particular sort of Hell.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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