Make America Skeptical Again (Or Why Am I Still Doing This)

I’ve spent the last nine months, give or take some vacation time, in school taking classes to become a teacher. Yes, a teacher. Something that will pay about one-third of what I have been making in marketing, will likely be twice as frustrating, and frequently be less fulfilling than helping useless companies make money off of other useless companies. But I think teaching is what I want to do.

“Think” is the operative term here. I don’t know yet for sure. I’m a skeptic, you know?

While the skepticism likely started the day I was born, the teaching-people idea stems back to a very dark day in 2016, somewhere around November 10, by which time I’d had a day and a half to realize that everything happening around me wasn’t some really bad joke. That’s when I finally had to accept that Trump had really been elected president. By people. Who share a country of residence with me. Who were my age (and older and younger). Who shared my bland-ass skin tone. Who should know better than to vote for a racist, homophobic, sexist assclown.

It was less about the person elected than the act of electing him that really bothered me. We had embarked upon a complete shift in direction from a stalwart, progressive society to an anti-intellectual time-out corner.

I tried to understand the people who flip the knob for Trump. Turns out I regularly try to figure people out, quite unsuccessfully I might add. Somehow I was sure this time would be different. I knew these people must be getting their bizarro info about Hillary’s child-sex-trafficking pizza ring from somewhere, but I didn’t know where. I mean Fox News was/is crazy AF but even they’re not that batshit, right?

I turned to Alex Jones. I’d learned about him previously from my son, when my son revealed that he and other teen gamers were regularly targeted by alt-right messaging in gamer chat rooms and on message boards. I also learned about Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars, and a bunch of other whack-ass sites I try to keep out of my brain that way. Oddly, Alex Jones seemed like the most mainstream of the bunch. I found his podcast and tuned in during my daily run.

I lasted four days before admitting defeat, knowing that I had learned nothing about his audience except that they had the patience of Gandhi to be able to listen to the same toad croak on for four hours at a stretch about nonsense that was pretty obviously bullshit. Alien lizard people? Lefties stealing children out of backyards and sucking out their souls? People actually believed this?

Plus, Alex Jones’ anger was infectious. I would finish my run really pissed off for no reason, which is the exact opposite of what running usually does for me. I tried a few other podcasts, like Michael Savage’s, someone whom I knew my mother listened to and she was all over that Trump bandwagon (and parents wonder why their children never call), but I didn’t even last a day with him because he was so intensely dull. Apparently people who listen to the drivel vomited by right-wingers possessing a microphone have low expectations in terms of entertainment. That probably explains the popularity of a lot of television shows, too.

I was quickly realizing I wouldn’t be able to think like a Trump voter (something to be proud of), and walking a mile in their shoes was beyond my capacity to reason. This was more apparent when my boss at the time informed me that he was tired of people calling him a racist because he voted for Trump. He followed this proclamation by showing me a handful of texts from a friend of his that justified his vote. One was a link to a video in which Hillary Clinton was said to be laughing at her defense of a child rapist. Another was information about Evan McMullin, the savior candidate for Utahns who couldn’t bear to vote for a woman and weren’t so keen about that pussy-grabbing stuff either. According to my then-boss, McMullin was working for the Clinton campaign to divert votes from Trump so Clinton would be the state’s winner.

Now here’s the thing. I’m pretty aware of what’s going on in politics, and both of these seemed like they should have been big big big big big news (plus, everyone knows a democrat can’t win Utah, not to mention a WOMAN, why would someone bother paying a third-party candidate just in case?). So why hadn’t I heard of either? In less than three minutes online, I learned from reputable sources that both “facts” were complete bullshit. I also had time to cross-check and fact-check, that’s how little effort it took.

Why hadn’t my soon-to-be former boss done the same? He was a grown adult — do adults just accept what they’re told now?

This became the singular idea that drove me for the next year and a half as I tried to figure out how to Make America Skeptical Again. For a long time, I’ve defended the rights of anyone to say any dumbass thing they want to. Freedom of speech ROCKS! Freedom to believe, however, doesn’t. We all have the responsibility to find the facts before accepting anything hook, line, and sinker. And for some reason, people had stopped doing this.

When I was a kid, almost everyone I knew had two newspapers delivered to their home daily. Usually, the a.m. and p.m. papers had different political bents, but people (a.k.a., adults) read both anyway. In my house, my dad would read them cover to cover, do the crossword puzzle, take the sports section into the bathroom, etc. We all knew the drill. He’d complain about something he read in one paper and deem one of the editorial writers a clown. But what mattered most was that he was trying to see at least two sides to an issue.

In short, no one believed anything back then. Whether it was in print or broadcast, it deserved to be questioned.

Eventually, however, this changed. Most towns lost their second newspaper in the early 2000s. And most papers that survived are still existing by a thread. The message today from most news sources, and I use the term “news” loosely when personal blogs and social media platforms are seen as forms of news, says that no one bothers looking for the full story any more. A one-sided, biased opinion is good enough, thank you.

But as the Internet took hold, something else happened — people became too busy to look at the facts. Google and Facebook and other ad platforms started feeding us info that spoke to our exhibited biases, and in return, those platforms were rewarded with higher click thru and ad rates. Real news outlets, which have always been whores for cash, took notice and also started publishing stories that people WANTED to read, watch, or hear, rather than the ones people NEEDED to hear. A super-objective piece? BORING. Lizard people is where it’s at.

Anyway, back to November 2016 … or maybe by this time, it was December or 2017. I have two teens in my house so I know for a fact that we all reach adulthood as skeptics. I question why people have lost their natural skepticism and drive to prove authority figures wrong, why we read headlines and 140-character sound bites. Is it that we’ve become too comfortable and complacent? Do we have so much more Netflix to watch that we can only be bothered to pay attention if someone pre-chews the information for us?

Somehow society needed to change. Somehow I decided it was up to me to fix it. It took me a year and a half to figure out how. My decision: maybe I’d become a teacher. I could try to help the next generation to fix all the shit my generation and the ones that preceded us keep getting wrong.

Will it work? I have no idea, but I’ve finished my coursework and have only student teaching left before someone unleashes me on a class full of students and I get to find out. I think. I’m a little skeptical so I really don’t know if this will work or if I’ll be able to engage single mind or if this could be the single dumbest idea I’ve ever had.

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