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The Big Answer


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The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time

a book by Brooke Gladstone

(our site's book review)

Brooke Gladstone Dissects the Trouble We Are Having with Reality

Every week on the National Public Radio show On the Media, the award-winning journalist Brooke Gladstone analyzes the media and how it shapes our perceptions of the world. Now, from her front-row perch on the day’s events, Gladstone brings her genius for making insightful, unexpected connections to help us understand what she calls—and what so many of us can acknowledge having—“trouble with reality.”

In Virtuous Reality: How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits, and Blockheads Like William Bennett, Jon Katz tries to help balance out the cultural debate, which, at least in the radio talk-show circuit, is heavily weighted toward the right-wingers. National Public Radio's Brooke Gladstone does her part to help balance out the cultural debate as well.

'Virtuous Reality' author Jon Katz—like Brooke Gladstone—is trying to help balance out the cultural debate, which, at least in the radio talk-show circuit, is heavily weighted toward the right-wingers
Virtuous Reality author Jon Katz—like Brooke Gladstone—is trying to help balance out the cultural debate, which, at least in the radio talk-show circuit, is heavily weighted toward the right-wingers

Reality, as she shows us, was never what we thought it was—there is always a bubble, people are always subjective and prey to stereotypes. And that makes reality actually more vulnerable than we ever thought. Enter Donald J. Trump and his team of advisors. For them, as she writes, lying is the point. The more blatant the lie, the easier it is to hijack reality and assert power over the truth. Drawing on writers as diverse as Hannah Arendt, Walter Lippmann, Philip K. Dick, and Jonathan Swift, she dissects this strategy, straight out of the authoritarian playbook (and reminiscent of the strategies used in Mein Kampf, Hitler's playbook for Nazism), and she shows how the Trump team mastered it, down to the five types of tweets that Trump—our Tweeter-in-Chief—uses to distort our notions of what’s real and what’s not. See Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era.


Brooke Gladstone Shows How We Can Recover Both Our Belief in Reality—and Our Sanity

Brooke Gladstone shows how we can recover both our belief in reality—and our sanity
Brooke Gladstone shows how we can recover both our belief in reality—and our sanity

And she offers hope. There is meaningful action, a time-tested treatment for moral panic. And there is also the inevitable reckoning. History tells us we can count on it.

Brief and bracing, The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time shows exactly why so many of us didn’t see it coming, and how we can recover both our belief in reality—and our sanity. She gets us ready to cope with the next tweet-storm, battening down the hatches of reality, finding a map to the truth amidst the mercilessly ceaseless prevarications and reality denials.

Gladstone gets us ready to cope with the next tweet-storm, battening down the hatches of reality, finding a map to the truth amidst the mercilessly ceaseless prevarications and reality denials
Gladstone gets us ready to cope with the next tweet-storm, battening down the hatches of reality, finding a map to the truth amidst the mercilessly ceaseless prevarications and reality denials

"… a battle plan for individuals anxiously 'watching the edifice of reality collapse.'”—The New Yorker

"Brooke Gladstone has whipped up a short stiff drink of truth. You'll be better for taking it."—George Packer, author of The Unwinding


Brooke Gladstone Gives Us a Spirited Rampage Through the Hall of Mirrors That Is the New Post-Truth Era

"A spirited rampage through the hall of mirrors that is the new post-truth era. I read this in one sitting, and at end, for a fleeting moment, felt like I had a new hammer in my hand."—Jad Abumrad, co-host of Radio Lab

Brooke Gladstone's book is a spirited rampage through the hall of mirrors that is the new post-truth era
Brooke Gladstone's book is a spirited rampage through the hall of mirrors that is the new post-truth era

Other relevant titles where media shapes reality: The-Disappearance-of-Childhood, about how media and culture (including the youngest part) shape one another, Media Sexploitation, about how marketers exploit our repressed needs for love, sex, recognition, identity, status, et al., warping our perceived reality as they go, and Your Children Are Under Attack by merciless media campaigns to mold kids into mindless consumers not just of things but of negative cultural values as well.

Jon Katz bemoans the fact that “We have surrendered public discussion of moral values to opportunistic politicians, cultural conservatives, politically correct ideologues and self-righteous journalists.” Virtuous Reality: How America Surrendered Discussion of Moral Values to Opportunists, Nitwits, and Blockheads Like William Bennett.

We have surrendered public discussion of moral values to opportunistic politicians, cultural conservatives, politically correct ideologues and self-righteous journalists
We have surrendered public discussion of moral values to opportunistic politicians, cultural conservatives, politically correct ideologues and self-righteous journalists

This book will explain why it is so difficult to get people to see your perspective. It is a short book, but if you have an open mind this author may increase your ability to understand others' reality.


Shattering Our Reality Swings Open the Floodgates of Authoritarianism

Gladstone says "I just ran down a lot of blind alleys and rabbit holes trying to figure out why this goes beyond just political disgruntlement into a kind of existential anxiety and how we got there. And finally, if our realities are in fact shattered, how do we paste them back together? . . . my central argument is that the foundational notions that got shattered in the last few months was that democracy works along certain principles. One of which is that information shared among a lot of people will enable us to negotiate and to compromise. Negotiation is the engine of democracy. But if you can't dig in to a common pool of information, that opens the door to complete denial and then swings open the floodgates essentially to authoritarianism. And I think that—the sense of that—is at the heart of many people's distress, including many of us in the media."

U.S. media mindlessly shoe-horned Trump into the presidency because of how it raised their ratings and made them more money as they did so, never realizing they were compromising democracy and colluding with demagoguery
U.S. media mindlessly shoe-horned Trump into the presidency because of how it raised their ratings and made them more money as they did so, never realizing they were compromising democracy and colluding with demagoguery

The Media's Trump Obsession Compromised Democracy and Colluded with Demagoguery

U.S. media mindlessly shoe-horned Trump into the presidency because of how it raised their ratings and made them more money as they did so, never realizing they were compromising democracy and colluding with demagoguery for an extra couple of bucks. Greed leads to irresponsibility which leads to democracy as merely a nice, distant memory. With so much anti-democractic fake news in the mainstream media, we are stuck with relying on our alternative media websites and publishers for truth and integrity. The media was as pitifully unprepared for a Trump candidacy as Trump was unprepared to be President!

And the media is equally unprepared for a Trump presidency, with his constant distortion of truth and reality. He treats his new job like it is a reality show. Think about it. He brings in staff and some quit and to some he says "you're fired!" and then he applies his The Apprentice motto: "It's not personal—it's just business." And the few that can work for an impulsive, tantrum-prone demagogue stick around, basking in the glorious shadow of Mister Big. The main reason he keeps his family around as advisors is similar to the reason he did so on his reality show: to restrain him from pushing things too far. I.e., he doesn't trust himself. Nor do we. Ivanka—please protect us . . .


Trump's Methods Make Canny Use of the Demagogue’s Playbook, Like in Nazi Germany

Trump, like Hitler's Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels, makes “canny use of the demagogue’s playbook,” as Gladstone phrases it. The parallels with Hitler are uncanny. See Fake News: How Propaganda Influenced the 2016 Election, A Historical Comparison to 1930's Germany, which explains the similar propaganda tactics used by Steven Bannon and right wing media corporations for two decades and how they have mimicked Hitler’s fake news machine.

Goebbels was a master propagandist, feeling that with the right techniques he could get anyone to believe just about anything. His propaganda characterized his opposition as criminals and subhumans. And Hitler fostered distrust, competition, and infighting among his subordinates to consolidate and maximize his own power. Nazis got control of the popular press and pushed propaganda of all sorts—mostly lies and exaggerations. Goebbels style of leadership was tempestuous and unpredictable. He would suddenly change direction and shift his support between senior associates; he was a difficult boss and liked to berate his staff in public. Hitler said that propaganda must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side. In general, with propaganda, truth didn't matter, only delivery and effectiveness mattered. Reread this paragraph comparing it to Trump.

Trump is known to admire these types of guys and this type of propaganda. "Ivana Trump, Donald’s first wife, told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that Donald would read a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which was kept in a cabinet by his bed," says Stephen A. Crockett Jr. in a theroot.com article sourced from Marie Brenner at vanityfair.com. These speeches display Hitler's extraordinary ability as a master propagandist. Hitler's effectiveness is easy to admire. His methods, not so much. Happily, Trump sticks to going for the propaganda effectiveness, not the methods. Propaganda is universally used in presidential campaigns and has been since the late 1700s. See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

Trump keeps proclaiming that he wants to 'drain the swamp' of Washington, but if he does, there'll be no one left!
Trump keeps proclaiming that he wants to 'drain the swamp' of Washington, but if he does, there'll be no one left!

Trump's Classic Authoritarian Deal: for Favor and Recognition, You Believe Whatever I Say

"The book regularly quotes and applies guidelines used to assess totalitarianism and demagoguery, suggesting Trump is both. As for the reality Trump supporters believe exists, she says he struck a 'classic authoritarian deal' with them: 'You can bask in my favor and recognition, in the promises I make and the license I bestow, and all I ask in return is that you believe whatever I say, whenever I say it. Even if it is false.'" Her advice on coping with “fake news” and “alternative facts” is to check sources, dig deeper than usual, use activism to elicit truth. (Source: Book Review: ‘The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time’ by Brooke Gladstone, Tim Gebhart, blog critics) See Demagoguery and Democracy and Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era.

Reality is more slippery than a pocketful of pudding, says Brooke Gladstone
Reality is more slippery than a pocketful of pudding, says Brooke Gladstone

"[Trump is] basically asserting, over and over again, what Stephen Colbert joked about: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” He’s saying that anything in the real world that doesn’t fit in with what I assert is fake news."

We saw all this cracking and smashing of norms occurring. By the time Trump was elected, reality had just broken into many sharp shards that you had to pick your way through
We saw all this cracking and smashing of norms occurring. By the time Trump was elected, reality had just broken into many sharp shards that you had to pick your way through


Dissecting Trump's Tweet-Storms

Trump's tweets: the 'preemptive framing' tweet, the diversion tweet, the trial balloon and the deflection tweet—Trump transmits his wacky reality distortions directly to your smartphone
Trump's tweets: the 'preemptive framing' tweet, the diversion tweet, the trial balloon and the deflection tweet—Trump transmits his wacky reality distortions directly to your smartphone

"The book cites linguist George Lakoff’s taxonomy of four categories of Trump tweets—the “preemptive framing” tweet, the diversion tweet, the trial balloon and the deflection tweet—to show how Trump transmits his distortions directly to your smartphone. The result is a presidency that aims to exert power over your perception of truth and falsehood. . . . We saw all this cracking and smashing of norms occurring. By the time he was elected, reality had just broken into many sharp shards that you had to pick your way through. . . . [Trump is] basically asserting, over and over again, what Stephen Colbert joked about: 'Reality has a well-known liberal bias.' He’s saying that anything in the real world that doesn’t fit in with what I assert is fake news." (Source: How Donald Trump Distorts Democracy and Reality, Zach Schonfeld, Newsweek)


If We Ever Lose Our Alternative Media Websites and Publishers, Fascism Will Follow

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-034-21, Warschau, Parade vor Adolf Hitler
If we ever lose our alternative media websites and publishers, or if we let Trump's demagoguery get out of control, all is lost and fascistic stormtroopers will be goosestepping their way to our door

In Philip Slater's A Dream Deferred, he says “Democracy has penetrated only a limited segment of our collective consciousness. Most of our public and private organizations are still authoritarian in structure—our corporations, professions, and educational institutions have yet to feel more than the palest breath of democratic influence. The authoritarian era, after all, embraces most of recorded history—most of which we think of as civilization—and it is still deeply embedded in our psyches.” So says Philip Slater in this book about the difficult struggle to nurture democracy in the modern world. Slater finds that democracy is now under siege in a most unlikely place: the United States of America, where the propensity for authoritarian thinking and the love of military solutions continue to grow. See Democracy—an American Delusion and rid yourself of the delusion that the U.S. is a democracy. It isn't—it is an oligarchy, and 1/6th of our citizens (the younger ones—millennials) are willing to accept authoritarian rule—WWII to them is just a story they heard in history class.

World Values Survey—1/6th of our citizens (the younger ones—millennials) are willing to accept authoritarian rule
World Values Survey—1/6th of our citizens (the younger ones—millennials) are willing to accept authoritarian rule


When the Oligarchs' Corporatocracy Prevails, Democracy Withers and Perishes

There is no path for regular citizens to get ahead: the ladder of social mobility has been rigged
There is no path for regular citizens to get ahead: the ladder of social mobility has been rigged

Worse, in the U.S., there are 10 principles of concentration of wealth & power, and what they add up to is that the game is rigged—there is no path for regular citizens to get ahead: the ladder of social mobility has been rigged. See Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.

Here an oligarch buries democracy 6 feet under. They have no love for or even desire for democracy. It just hinders the speed at which they greedily grab more wealth and power!
Here an oligarch buries democracy 6 feet under. They have no love for or even desire for democracy. It just hinders the speed at which they greedily grab more wealth and power!


When the oligarchs' corporatocracy prevails, democracy take it on the chin
When the oligarchs' corporatocracy prevails, democracy take it on the chin

One of America’s preeminent visionaries, Slater shows, in his book A Dream Deferred that democratic forms of organization, not authoritarian ones, yield the most flexible, intelligent responses to a complex world. So why are we retreating from our democratic heritage? Because it’s so hard, after 5000 years of authoritarianism, to give it up: It’s so ingrained in our thinking that it’s like breathing. So when Trump comes along and sounds like an authoritarian demagogue, there were tens of millions of receptive minds—especially young ones that honestly don't know any better.

She is worried—as are we—about just how much demagogeury and authoritarianism our democracy can take. But this is closing the barn door after the horse escapes. Democracy? What democracy?
She is worried—as are we—about just how much demagogeury and authoritarianism our democracy can take. But this is closing the barn door after the horse escapes. Democracy? What democracy?

Recall that Gladstone says that " . . . democracy works along certain principles. One of which is that information shared among a lot of people will enable us to negotiate and to compromise. Negotiation is the engine of democracy. But if you can't dig in to a common pool of information, that opens the door to complete denial and then swings open the floodgates essentially to authoritarianism." She is worried—as are we—about just how much demagogeury and authoritarianism our democracy can take. But this is closing the barn door after the horse escapes. Democracy? What democracy?

When Trump came along and sounded like an authoritarian demagogue, there were tens of millions of receptive minds—especially young ones
When Trump came along and sounded like an authoritarian demagogue, there were tens of millions of receptive minds—especially young ones