Propaganda Networks, Darkness, and Death Bed Confessions - Dinner Table Digest № 10


Before I jump into this week’s links, I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who has been reading thus far. As I’ve mentioned before, 2019 was a really tough year, and, despite the obvious challenges of 2020, I’ve wanted to get back into the habit of writing again. I’ve said that there would eventually be a paid option for the Dinner Table Digest, which would allow me to be a little more versatile, as well as help to pay some of the bills. I’m looking to introduce that over the next few weeks. Content will include Special Edition Digests (look for a Pulitzer Prize Edition soon!), original essays, and acerbic social commentary. Substack also has the option of publishing smaller tidbits in a one-off manner, so there might be the occasional joke or two in the mix. If there is interest, I may also create video content.

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What I’ve Learned From Collecting Stories of People Whose Loved Ones Were Transformed by Fox News - Luke O’Neil - April 2019, NY Mag Intelligencer

I remember being young, warned by my parents about the insidious ways that cults program people over time, and the reality that some countries felt it necessary to keep the truth about the world from their citizens. We didn't have TV in our house growing up, and while I hated my parents for it then, I know that it saved our family from a lot more strife than what we were already accustomed to.

Propaganda comes disguised as information, and those who believe it is information can only see conflicting evidence, as, you guessed it, propaganda. That's the feedback loop that makes propaganda so dangerous - indeed, even if North Korea were liberated tomorrow, the citizens would be unable to recognize their freedom. But we’re not talking about North Korea anymore - we’re talking about right here in North America, primarily in the United States. And we’re not talking about a faceless mass of people. We’re talking about our parents and grandparents.

"Dozens who responded to my piece talked about the sad lonely twilight of their parents’ or grandparents’ lives, having been spurned by, or having disowned much of their families over political disagreements. Older people, recent studies have shown, are much more likely to share misleading information online, but the anecdotes I was hearing seemed to indicate this behavior wasn’t limited to the internet. Young parents wrote that they don’t want to bring their children to visit aging Fox-brainers. “The worst is when my children go to spend time with their grandparents and come home with Fox News talking points coming out of their mouths,” one told me. “I have to decontaminate them every time.”

"Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade admits in "deathbed confession" she was paid to fake anti-abortion stance - Ashlie D Stevens - May 19, 2020, Salon

I often think about the way women are used and manipulated by men into doing things that they don’t necessarily want to do; two male leaders of the anti-abortion movement (because, of course) paid Norma McCorvey nearly $500,000 in order to leave her girlfriend and take up the anti-abortion cause.

As for McCorvey's legacy, Sweeney observed, "I think that on all sides of the debate, people wanted to say they knew who Norma McCorvey is or was. And they don't. We wanted Norma to — as a society — wanted her to fit with who we want Jane Roe to be."

I love covers of popular music, and especially if they are done by children. I’m not sure why, but I’m always so awed and the capabilities of kids whose prefrontal cortex’s won’t be developed for years to come. I started playing trombone when I was about 12 years old; I wanted to play the drums really bad, but my mom said she’d get a me a trombone, so I went with it. I loved jazz band, playing some of the old classics in jazz and early rock and roll, as it was my only real exposure to music outside the Christian music industry. All this to say that 46 & 2 by Tool is one of my favourite tunes and a very complicated song, - these kids nail every note!

Can we escape from information overload? - Tom Lamott - May/June 2020, The Economist

This piece is really interesting, because it’s not really about the headline at all. While the piece explores information overload as a reason why Sam Winston decided to live in the dark for a week, and then a month, it’s more about the awful reality that personal introspection is frightening. Our minds are powerful instruments, and when faced with extreme situations it copes, but it may not flourish. There are always consequences to mental trauma, as this piece shows.

Winston went into the dark for a month in a bid to escape the digital bell-chimes, the bouncing icons, the bulletins and info-blasts – our exhausting daily scroll. “But when you go into the dark for a long time,” Winston admitted to me, recently, “you’re not going into a void. You’re going into yourself. And good luck finding blissful empty quiet there.” There was nothing to compete with the loud, incessant inner monologue or drown it out. I wondered, then, whether we’d created and refined all our sparkly informational distractions because on some level we knew the relentlessness of the subconscious had the real power to overload.

A Biblical Mystery at Oxford - Ariel Sabar - June 2020, The Atlantic

Over the past hundred years or so, many evangelical Christians have turned to Oxford University for scholars who can provide an intellectual framework for their faith. While C.S. Lewis, an Oxford professor, is the most popular example, others have tried to claim the prestigious university in a fraudulent manner. Apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias, who recently passed away, famously claimed he was “Oxford educated,” by which it turns out meant that he attended a few lectures on campus for a summer; he also had not earned a Ph.D., though he had been awarded some honorary doctorates, which are not the same at all. In this rather wild story, a genuine Oxford scholar gets caught with his pants down while collaborating with the Hobby Lobby CEO, Steve Green and the Museum of the Bible, trying to come up with archaeological proof for first century dating of the bible.

Obbink could no doubt foresee the consequences of publication: The moment images of the fragment became public, Pattengale, Carroll, and Wallace would recognize the papyrus as the one he’d allegedly offered to the Greens half a decade earlier. They would notice he’d published it in the official book series for EES papyri—exposing it as never his to sell. Perhaps most distressing, they’d see Obbink’s new dating: In a book of serious scholarship, he’d assign their supposed “first-century Mark” to the late second or early third century, making it far less remarkable.

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