The Sun is in Tune

If you monitored social media and certain "news" sources, you might have thought that Jesus was spontaneously planning the eclipse as a bit of divine retribution. Or if you listened to certain MAGAts, it was some kind of globalist conspiracy.

The Sun is in Tune
Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash
"And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon."
-Pink Floyd, "Eclipse" from "Dark Side of the Moon"

Before this recent astronomical event, the last total eclipse to drift over the continental US was in 2017, a short time ago actually for these kinds of things. (The next will be in 2044. Previous to 2017 was 1979.) In 2017, we had a granddaughter and a niece who were both 7. The missuz and I thought it would be a good pre-eclipse field trip to hit the Museum of Natural Science. On the way, I mentioned to the girls, both 7 years old, that a solar eclipse was coming up. The niece asked what that meant. Before we could respond, the granddaughter piped up, "Wait, OK, see, the sun..." (she balled her hand into a sun-shaped fist) "is here," (she started to place her other hand in a facing position,) "and the moon is..." My niece suddenly interrupted her by thrusting her palm toward the rising moon-fist and exclaimed, "We don't do the moon at our school. We do Jesus."

No, I'm not making this up, and yes, my wife and I were momentarily too stunned to speak. Even my granddaughter twisted her head in a puppy-just-heard-a-high-pitched-whistle motion. Our niece had enrolled the previous year in a neighborhood Christian private school. Her parents had been worried about Houston public schools and considered moving to the farthest suburbs. The Christian school not far from their house was the compromise.

She quickly fell a grade level behind in reading, and apparently, the entire science and math curriculum was "Jesus." On the way to the museum, the wife and I quickly pushed through a few centuries of science, from the ancient Greeks, through the Enlightenment and into modern times. "The earth is round, and has been known to be so for several hundred years before you could find Christ in the manger. The ancient Greeks were calculating the globe's circumference during this period by using data from lunar eclipses." Blank stares from the back seat.

Fast forward to our recent eclipse, when all the Texans and those who traveled here entered the path of totality. If you monitored social media and certain "news" sources, you might have thought that Jesus was spontaneously planning the eclipse as a bit of divine retribution. Between Marge Greene and Alex Jones (and his people), either God was bent on earthly destruction or the "globalists" were up to "using the solar eclipse as a justification for the nefarious plans they intend to carry out."

The wrath didn't seem to be very impromptu on God's part, since scientists "predicted" the eclipse down to the second and its path down to the exact degree of latitude/longitude.

What motivates the Marjorie Greenes and Alex Joneses and their co-conspirators to make such absurd claims?

There's the popular discussion about politicos and celebrities and their narcissism, egos, and megalomania... Simply lies they tell to stay in power. The insults and degradations that they hurl at their opponents to prove their (faux) 'toughness.' And importantly, the non-stop fanatical (and deceitful) narrative that pours forth from these duplicitous con men (and women) which leads millions to follow them blindly.

A Mighty Wind! The End of the World! - from the Secret Policeman's Ball, 1979. Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and more.

How do they do it? And yes, I'm talking specifically about the MAGA conservatives. What are the mechanics of leading a cult? How do they coopt an army of the faithful to lead even more minions to march to their crazy beat? We know that propaganda works, (and always has) although progressives often think that people are "too smart" to fall for such indoctrination. We know that tribalism trumps reason and logic. (And again, progressives and most moderates still believe that all we have to do is better educate people so that they can see through so much disinformation.) Never before in history have there been so many effective communication channels available to those who would love to indoctrinate the public into a particular ideology using whatever nefarious tactics they wish.

So yes... propaganda, tribalism, and multiple communication channels featuring celebrity faux journalists that repeat an ideological message over and over and over. But let me throw something else out there. And I have to be careful here, this is just a theory. I'm only spitballing... What if the mob that is being targeted here is just completely, totally... stupid? What if the masses are all dumber than a sackful of hair? What if the bozos on this bus are just too dim to see through Trump's bullshit?

Even Trump thinks his followers are idiots. Years ago, a former New York Observer editor was talking with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, about how disgusted she was by Trump's cynical and racist birther conspiracy theory. She noted that “<Jared> rolled his eyes and said ‘He doesn’t really believe it.... He just knows Republicans are stupid and they’ll buy it’”.

"...simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West..."

Now let me backtrack a little. I need to throw in some important caveats here.

• First, the top-tier leadership class of the Republican party is smart enough to know better, as exemplified by Kushner's remarks. They are strategic in their stupidity. They are only too happy to play upon their constituent's fears and dimwittedness to achieve the goals set for them by GOP benefactors: reduce taxes on the wealthy and tear down government regulations and institutions.
• Second: Many, though not all of those top-tier leaders are highly educated, many have graduate degrees (with a good portion of these coming from Ivy League universities or equivalent.) All of them have access to intelligence services, consultants, scientists, journalists, and corporate executives who can "educate" them on any topic.
• Third: The leadership class counts on loyalty from a huge network of stupids to carry the stupidity to other stupids. In a network like the GOP, the chieftains depend on cult members to lead others to the cause.
• Fourth: It is a suicidal political strategy to call out voters for being "stupid." Even a campaign intern working on a small-town city-council race would recoil in horror if someone (especially the candidate) called out voters for being idiots. (Remember Hillary's "basket of deplorable" comments? Several campaign consultants will still say that that comment alone may have doomed her presidential bid.) You can hurl (strategic) insults at your opponent, but not voters. So, this article is breaking all the rules.

"You know, morons." Check this video if you have time.

The thing is, stupid people have what it takes: stupidity. There's a bit of serious science that explains this. "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with limited competence in a particular domain overestimate their abilities. It was first described by Justin Kruger and David Dunning in 1999. Some researchers also include the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills."

So basically, people who are confident and self-assured in a certain set of personal abilities are often incredibly incompetent in those abilities, but since they feel that they are skilled and knowledgeable, they lack the expertise to recognize their ineptitude.

Here, let me let John Cleese (who counts David Dunning as a friend) quickly explain this phenomenon:

take a look, it's concise and pretty much nails it.

"People that are so stupid, that they have no idea how stupid they are." -Cleese
“We’re not very good at knowing what we don’t know.” -Dunning

The corollary that has become a part of Dunning/Kruger is that truly smart and competent people often underestimate their proficiency. This is not necessarily modesty, but more of an intellectual caution, or a desire to be absolutely sure of one's capability.

So where does that leave us? Sadly, the loudest, most confident, most self-assured among us are assumed to be intelligent, knowledgable, and trustworthy. They usually aren't, but these are the traits we desire in our leaders, so... guess who rises to leadership positions? And the actual smart ones in the room often hang back, unsure if they DO have "what it takes," even though, they most likely do.

In this discussion, who comes to mind when we discuss self-assured incompetent fools who rise to positions of power? (You're making a long list, right?)

The brilliant filmmaker/documentarian and essayist Errol Morris is fascinated by looking for core truths. In his film "The Unknown Known," Morris interviews Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense who pushed hard to take the "War on Terror" to Iraq and Afghanistan, though the evidence to support any such military action was flimsy and controversial. Rumsfeld was famously asked, (about the supposition that Iraq was producing and ready to use nuclear arms, or "weapons of mass destruction, WMDs,) "What's your evidence of this? What do you know? What's your justification for the belief that you have?"

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones." -Donald Rumsfeld

Wha???? What does this have to do with WMDs in Iraq?

"There's that smile, throughout the movie—to me it's that look of supreme self-satisfaction. Look what I just said. I'm the cat who's just swallowed the canary. I'm so smart, I'm so clever. And yet when you look at these principles—at times I call them Chinese fortune cookie philosophies—they quickly devolve into nonsense talk....Would I characterize it as willful obtusity or unwitting obtusity? I do know that when you look at his principles, his so-called philosophy, that it very, very quickly devolves into gobbledygook." -Errol Morris, discussing his film in Esquire

When discussing Rumsfeld and his interview with him, Morris says that the smile, or that smirk, rarely left his self-assured face. Morris reflected about the hundreds of sketchy and "delusional" people he had interviewed for various films over the years: Holocaust deniers, murderers, crooks... but he said that "None are as oblivious to their own mistakes as Donald Rumsfeld proves to be in this film."  Again, from Esquire, (while discussing the search for WMDs):

"In articulating his philosophy he was basically saying things that he believed but which made no sense. I think that's probably the best way to describe it. He knew these expressions. He wrote this to the president of the United States: "The absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence." ...This gobbledygook use of nomenclature and terminology just creates endless confusion, vagueness, ambiguity—and I would submit that they kept doing this with respect to everything."

And that was the US Secretary of Defense! Of course, he was an amateur of obfuscation when compared to TFG, Donald Trump. Whether or not Trump's reptilian brain actually believed any of the garbage that flowed from his mouth - the birtherism, the "record-setting" crowd size at his inauguration (despite photo evidence to the contrary,) the UV Light and "disinfectant" cures for Covid (as well as his many predictions of the virus just "disappearing" one day,) the many completely fabricated claims about voter fraud and stolen elections, etc etc etc. - there were millions that DID believe him. There were hundreds of thousands of his foot soldiers that believed and amplified his constant dumbassery. His MAGA media sycophants even made up their own ridiculous narratives to curry favor and stir up the Stupids.

And remember that the flipside of the Dunning/Kruger Effect is the Imposter Syndrome... (now mostly assumed to be integral to Dunning/Kruger.) From Forbes:

"...Smart, capable people underestimate their abilities. They feel they don’t deserve the job they’re holding. Meanwhile, their boss, colleagues and clients feel that they are terrific and love working with them. Though they have accomplished much in their career, feelings of self-doubt and incompetence plague a person. The grueling self-introspection causes anxiety and stress. They also lose out on great job opportunities, as they don’t feel they possess the requisite skills, education and experience. The quandary is that the person does hold these requirements."

There are a few traditional, old school Republicans around. A Romney or a Liz Cheney who abhor Trump (though they still tended to vote for his extreme policies while they were in office.) But the ones like them must have that imposter syndrome - too afraid or insecure to speak out. Most of them that are smart enough to realize the damage being done and the stupidity being propagated on the country have retired, quit, or chosen not to run again.

One of the few shots I got off in the Hill Country before the clouds obscured the eclipse during "totality."

Meanwhile, the inmates are running the asylum, and hoping to rule the country. They're counting on the Stupids to help them. They believe that the election was stolen, and that a solar eclipse is a globalist plot, or something-something Jesus. (It has nothing to do with a completely predictable astronomical event.)

See? It's not just ill-informed 7-year-olds who don't know what an eclipse is. It's most of the MAGA conservatives. Oh, and one final warning:

Don't belittle them. Don't do as I have done and call them stupid. It's poor form. It's bad strategy. It makes them mad. And it might even motivate them to vote.

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Chris Newlin worked around Tee-Vee stations before he went out on his own and continued to work in the world of video and multi-media production. Then came iPhones and YouTube accounts, so now he sits around full of self-pity and too many Keystone Lights. He still enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a good bowel movement, at least every now and then.