Rule of (Brandolini’s) Law

Brandolini’s Law: the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it (Alberto Brandolini, 2013).

This is one example of the problems that I just don’t think America can realistically contain with policy at this point.

The frequent heading of “disinformation” does not quite get to the scale of what’s in motion, in my opinion. In the big picture, the disruptors* are engaged in mythmaking. I don’t think any lesser word conveys the full scope of various related efforts to delegitimize negative facts and create deeply held contrary convictions. The mystery-funded Cyber Ninjas “audit” in Arizona “is a new kind of political ritual, whose purpose exists beyond reason or consensus or fact.” Its purpose is, it seems obvious, to further the myth of a stolen election.

This is not completely new, though. Similar origins produced the “birther” lie in response to Obama’s election, and while I don’t recall many Republicans disputing Bill Clinton’s election per se back in the 1990s, they were at work weaving the fundamental myth that all Democrats are inherently an Other who cannot legitimately govern “real Americans.”

Now we are decades into that mythmaking project, the bamboozle has captured and is directing itself, and we have absurd brainworms like “Q anon” possibly infecting 15% of the country, maybe less but maybe more. Or journalism reporting the “new credibility” of a “lab leak” conspiracy theory about COVID-19 even though it is neither new nor credible.

At the same time, it’s just about as mindbending to watch the center-left’s corresponding brainworms; if Republicans’ imagination is running away with them, Democrats lack for much imagination at all. We are years into Republicans continually going to new extremes, which if described to the typical conservative Congressional Democrat five years ago, two years ago, even six months ago would probably have been scoffed at as wild fantasy. Still they seem convinced that there exists some limit beyond which “Republicans wouldn’t go that far.”

Or they just don’t have any other ideas because most people’s minds are not really flexible along some axes.

Even believing that this is really happening is difficult. Trying to come up with some kind of sensible response isā€¦ a whole other order of challenge. We should try to address the crisis with appropriate policies, and be honest about whether or not that is happening. But honesty also obliges us to consider that large parts of the crisis are probably not “solvable” in any direct sense.

I try to be honest, and look at the big picture, and regard “explosive secret information” with appropriate skepticism. Not so much because I think no important secret information exists, as because I’m skeptical 1) that there is a way to get it let alone “prove” it, and 2) that it could really make a difference. Some of the stories in The Hidden Girl are very unsettling speculations related to these themes. I keep thinking too, though, of The Italians and its account of a culture in which “accountable” is thwarted almost as a basic concept by the impossibility of accounting for anything in a final settled form.

Confirming that Alberto Brandolini is Italian was unsurprising, for reasons besides just the appearance of his name.

* This anti-human force from The Adventures of Luther Arkwright seems like the best umbrella term for the fascists, pirates, cons, trolls, griefers, etc.

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