Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reading the Tea Leaves, or The Cult of the Echo Chamber

UPDATE (09/27/10):

I am dredging up this phoney-baloney blog entry because I have finally "de-friended" my pal, Ian, from my facebook page.

He is firmly in the clutches of extreme right-wing forces via what he calls "self-indoctrination."

Sounds cultish to me.

Sound like self-administered brainwashing to me.

When I originally posted this back in April, I also amended the post with Ian's reply.

Life is too short to take on a point-by-point "rebuttal" to what he had written and I had hoped that not doing so would simply let these sort of things die a natural death.

Wrong.

The nice guy I once knew is now only interested in parroting his imaginary pals Glenn, Rush, Laura, Sean, Sarah and the "tea party celeb of the moment."

Ian, these millionaires don't know you, don't want to know you and don't care about you, other than what you can do to increase their power and wealth.

Best wishes to you, old pal-o-mine. I hope your tea kettle will keep you warm on those long, lonely nights.




ORIGINAL 04/10/10 post:

This past week I had a very disheartening Facebook exchange with a dear friend of mine.

He was born in Canada but loved America so much that he moved here about 16 years ago. He is also an enthusiastic early-adopter of the "Tea Party" and has admonished me for not listening to Rush-Sean-and-Laura to find out the "real news" that the MSM's leftward bias won't tell me.

His standard reply to anything that questions his echo chamber sensibilities now seems to be: "I know what your response is going to be - I am a racist."

We go back about 30 years (he was invited to my wedding, for Pete's sake!) and I am really worried about him.

This Dittohead-Noise Machine-Echo Chamber-Tea Party has become like his religion. No, it is more like some sort of Heaven's Gate Cult.

What are the characteristics of a cult?

Reference Link Here

Let's see how many characteristics I can check off, based on my observations...

[x]The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader[s] and... regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. Check.

[x]Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. Everyone must march in lock-step or face the ultimate scarlet letter: being called a RINO. Check.

‪[x]Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). I'd say 9 hours a day of talk radio plus FNC plus endless echo-chamber net activity qualifies as such. Check.

[x]The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel. Dittohead talking points with cookie-cutter opinions, anybody? Check.

‪[x]The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). As much as the right wingers like to call liberals "elitist" and as much as they mockingly refer to President Obama as "The Messiah" the Tea Partiers are convinced that they and only they can "save humanity." Check.

[x]The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. Tea Party demonstrations and Tea Party demonizations. 'Nuff said. Check.

‪[x]The leader[s are] not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations). Rush? Glenn? Fox News? The Heritage Foundation? Freedomworks? Check.

[x]The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). ...or death threats, cutting propane lines, throwing bricks through windows, murdering gynecologists. Check and double-check.

‪[ ]The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt In order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. I honestly am not sure if this one is applicable. Sure there's plenty of echo-chamber group-think that could be construed as "peer pressure" but I'll leave this one un-checked.

‪[x]Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group. This one really seems to apply in my own personal situation. My pal has gone from saying I have a "delightful sense of humor" to labelling me as an "immature name-caller" specializing in "ad hominem" attacks. Check, sadly.

[ ]The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. Not so sure about this one. He insists the echo chamber exists only for already like-minded individuals. I'll leave it un-checked.

‪[ ]The group is preoccupied with making money. Not so sure about this one. I'll also leave it un-checked.

[x]Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. Spent $300 for tea party sign-making supplies? He has admitted that his "activism" has contributed yo a 50% decrease in his on-line business. Big-time check!

‪[x]Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members. It seems to be coming to this. A "qualified" check

‪[x]The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. I don't know about the second sentence, but the first sentence? Check!



Sadly, I currently feel uncomfortable maintaining Internet communication with my old pal. I hope Glenn Beck's glorious revolution is worth it for him.

Mega-dittos, Rush.

Mega-dittos.




Just when I though nobody but spam-bots visited my blog anymore, I received a response from my friend, which I will publish here, in its entirety. I'll post my response first,so that he may have the "last word."



Sorry, Ian, but when I felt I was being reduced to a straw man stereotype, then I knew it was time to put internet distance between us.

I was concerned for you last year when you stated that you were putting everything "on hold" to fight a "five alarm constitutional emergency."

Labelling me as an immature name-caller who proffers ad hominem witticisms and then saying that I would label you a racist was beyond the bounds of what I would expect from a friend, even during a misunderstanding.

You've made it clear that your every thought and action is to support the echo-chamber that you insist in no way dictates your opinions, world view or behavior.

Fine. We're both grown men, hovering around the 50 mark.

I have closed down comments on my blog because I got tired of deleting spambot postings (up to 52 in one entry, alone!) I will be happy to amend my posting to add your comments. I am heart-broken that the echo-chamber has come between us.



Hello, my name is Ian House and I am a Conservative!

I feel no need to hide my identity. Based on the description provided by Craig in his blog article, I am the friend being referred to therein. Craig, please correct me if this is in error ... but, assuming for now that this is true, I will defend my own honor and reputation, as follows:

Craig has no need to worry about his friend. But, he may have need to question his own practice of friendship.

If you had an honest and spirited exchange, face to face, with a friend of yours and then that friend went on to discuss, manipulate, exaggerate and mock your conversation with others in a different venue and "behind your back" (to the extent that you are not invited into the subsequent discussions), would you feel your friendship to be somewhat disrespected? Unfortunately, my friend, Craig, has acquired this habit. You are now reading just such an example of it (his update). Before I stumbled into this very public blog entry, Craig did not send me any prior notice of it: "Hey, I am going to write a blog entry about you, not by name. I just want to give you a heads-up in case you wish to respond to it or to defend yourself to my readers." Nope. I just checked my email inbox, answering machine and Facebook account. Nothing. And, my anonymity has been poorly safeguarded by my friend. Any curious party could simply click twice on Craig's Facebook page to defeat my privacy. This being the case, allow me to bring some further examples into this already public limelight:

1. In his update, Craig has stated:

"His standard reply to anything that questions his echo chamber sensibilities now seems to be: "I know what your response is going to be - I am a racist.""

This is a clear exaggeration. It is NOT a standard reply of mine; I wrote a similar sentence ONCE at the end of a single Facebook comment. Source (5th comment down)

http://www.facebook.com/ianhouse?v=wall&story_fbid=103422253032646#!/ianhouse?v=wall&story_fbid=103422253032646

My comment was meant to reference the media's manipulation and slander techniques. The Tea Party movement has been, on several occasions, labeled as "racist". One example (content warning: vulgar sexual language):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms45EzMR0f8

Craig, do you agree with Janeane Garofolo's assessment of me? As a Tea Party participant, am I a "teabagging redneck" racist? As a Conservative, am I now a part of the "white power" movement? Is this the friend that you have known? Have I ever exhibited ANY measure of racism in my life, ever?

2. In a thread belonging to one of Craig's FB friends (written, I assume, in response to a comment that I had made), Craig stated:

"Did you know that a 20% VAT has been instantly implemented to pay for the supposedly deficit-busting Health Care Reform? It must be true because that's what the echo chamber is saying!" Source (9th comment down):

http://www.facebook.com/ianhouse?v=wall&story_fbid=103422253032646#!/profile.php?v=wall&story_fbid=117938708216649&id=673554693&ref=mf

Again, it would be kind to call this a simple exaggeration, it reads more like an intentional distortion of my actual words. Why would Craig write "instantly implemented" if not to, purposefully, twist my meaning? Here are my actual words. Source: same thread as above (14th comment down):

http://www.facebook.com/ianhouse?v=wall&story_fbid=103422253032646#!/ianhouse?v=wall&story_fbid=103422253032646

"... and yet, they are considering a VAT that would add an additional 20% to most everything we purchase."

My statement is completely true. A VAT is being CONSIDERED as a way to pay for the entitlement spending. Craig, himself, provided evidence of this in one of his own replies: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6355N520100406 ... Why, on Earth, would he offer his own confirmation of my statement and then proceed to distort and, seemingly, ridicule my words elsewhere behind my back?


Sorry to chase you all around Facebook like this, Craig ... but, if I am to be your official "Tea-Party-friend-of-mine" mascot, then I request that my words are to be accurately quoted, without any unexpected flavorings.

I could fill another three pages rebutting all of the lies and distortions found in Craig's "cult list" bullet-points ... but, alas, for the sake of brevity, I will keep that reply for another time.

I am asking the readers here to simply make their own judgments based on my evidence. I have provided only two of SEVERAL such examples, closer to the surface, of my words being mistreated by my friend, either by intention or by sloppiness. Other examples are simply inaccessible to me right now, without a serious investment of my time, by virtue of their location buried deep into Facebook.


I would like the people reading this to know two things about me:

1. I am a Conservative. In fact, I would, proudly, call myself a "far-right" Conservative. I am a non-violent Conservative (who has never, in my life, even SEEN a real gun in person other than historical museum pieces) ... This means that I find the violent "extreme radical" or rudely racist elements of the extreme right-wing (state militias, KKK, etc) to be abhorrent and embarrassing in every respect. I completely reject and distance myself from their fringe agendas. I am as distant to that faction as I am to the violent extremists in the leftist camp (Weather Underground, etc) -many, I might add, who have had some degree of past or present affiliation with our current administration.

I have been a Conservative for most, if not all, of my adult life. In fact, I experienced an early definition of my values during my childhood. I was certainly a settled Conservative when I first met Craig ... and, a Reagan Conservative during the earliest years of our friendship together. My values have not changed in the slightest since that time. I cannot, however, speak for Craig's (meaning, I do not know). I will agree, however, that the expression of my values has intensified lately as a result of the current political climate, one that I feel, in my heart, is seriously detrimental to the country that I have always loved. I refuse to remain quiet. Also, technology has permitted such expressions to reach the light of day while no such opportunity existed a generation or two ago. I suspect that Craig and I may have one main political disagreement: I am NOT seeking the "fundamental transformation of America" through a new generation of social entitlement programs. I believe that Craig may be a supporter of these programs and a supporter of existing programs as well: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment. (however, I do not know this for a fact.)


For some reason, my Conservatism has become personally offensive to Craig. My passion and resolve, and my refusal to remain politically indifferent, in some manner, threatens our relationship; for whatever reason, I do not yet know. He chooses to stultify my words, as I have proven, on a regular basis and to paint over them with colors not true to my character.



2. Despite the impression that this blog entry may promote, I am not some sort of crazed fringe cultist. In the latest Gallup poll: http://www.gallup.com/poll/127181/Tea-Partiers-Fairly-Mainstream-Demographics.aspx , 28% of all U.S. adults support the Tea Party movement, almost as many who identify as either a Democrat or a Republican. Surely, such a large representation of the American adult population cannot simply be so casually dismissed as a "Heaven's Gate Cult". Is it fair to question such slander as being possibly inspired by a larger agenda on the Left, just maybe? Like millions of others, the Tea Party was my first experience in joining a public political rally. I am, by nature, not a joiner. I am a dedicated loner, enthusiastically so. I dedicated most of my free time in 2009 to the Tea Party movement while neglecting the development of my new online business. In 2010, however, I have returned the focus of my priorities towards my business. I have not yet attended any Tea Party meetings this year nor have I stayed current with any of their communication. If I was a cult member, why would I be allowed to wander so far afield from the pack for so long a period of time? Wouldn't I be receiving phone calls, emails, letters or frantic knocks on my door? "Hey dear brother, where have you been [insert cult name here] ? We haven't seen you for awhile. We're getting together on the weekend, you'll be there, RIGHT??!!"

Again, I ask my friend, Craig, for an honest assessment: Have I ever given you any reason to believe that I am in the clutches of some sort of mysterious cult? Have I ever given you pause or exhibited any past personality tendencies in this respect? Remember 12 Mercer Street, the address we both ran away from with our lives? ... And, if you DO seriously believe this nonsense for a single minute ("I am really worried about him"), as a concerned friend, why is it your first instinctive reaction to run to your Blogger software and not to your telephone, or even to your email account? You have my phone number. I have yours. [at least, I did until a month ago before my last computer abruptly died on me. Please forward by Facebook, if possible] And, I have used yours on several occasions (remember? "Sorry, dude, I heard about your unemployment") ... But, it's curious, you have never used mine in return, as far as I can recall anyway. I would think that you'd like to hear my voice just one last time before I sip the purple tea party Kool-Aid. (28% of all American adults will be getting together next weekend at our compound in Idaho.) Is this blog entry really an act of friendship, Craig, or is it just ... um ... well, a neat story idea to update your blog with?

Also, have I ever, in all the years, characterized your Christian affiliation as "cult-like"? You certainly can check off just as many of those boxes as have been awarded to me. Zealous commitment to leader: Check. I won't continue down the same list with my added remarks, I'll spare you that indignity. I don't believe in your deity but, it's funny, I don't ever recall having questioned your sanity or mental stability about it (or, in the very least, your impressionable vulnerabilities). Nope. I think, if you were to call up all the records, you'll find that I have shown you nothing but respect and courtesy in this regard. No teasing. No name-calling. No undermining. Just quiet respect ... Let me ask you this: Have you been given this same respect by your Progressive buddies over at Media Matters? Or, do they impugn Christ, your Lord, as much as they do Michele, my Bachmann, my Tea Party savior? (Just kidding, of course; there is no leader of the Tea Party movement, cult or otherwise.)
_ _ _

Craig, I still value your friendship. It's well worth saving. It has survived the test of time and, perhaps, it may need to revisit the backburner, yet again, in order to clear the next few hurdles. Or, we can offer each other our guidance towards mutual respect. If I have dishonored our friendship in some manner unbeknownst to me, I would like to know about it and, with your consideration, earn a chance at redemption. And, in return, in a moment of introspection, perhaps you can question your use of Blogger as our most appropriate channel of communication.

Your dear friend of many years, and still the same,

Ian

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