Remember back in 7thgrade how much fun it was to tape a sign on someone’s back without them knowing it, a sign that said something like “kick me” or “kiss me”? Remember how it would make everyone laugh? Well, everyone except the poor guy who was being made to look like a fool. Those were the days! Well, we now have a taste of what the adult version of this looks like. In one of the most depressing articles ever to appear in print, the Washington Post reports that a guy in Maine named Christopher Blair has recreated himself as a variety of outspoken, online conservatives in order to dupe other conservatives into believing the most outrageous lies about liberals. Why would he do this? So that he can elicit nasty comments from the unwitting conservatives so that a posse of his liberal followers can then swoop in and laugh at the dupes, mocking them, calling them names, telling them they’ve fallen for fake news and that they are, in short, idiots.
For example, when he posted the “news” that Michelle Obama would be selling her book at George Bush’s funeral, someone with a longstanding dislike of Michelle fell for it, and wrote in the comments, “Like I said, no class what so ever [sic]” which elicited a torrent of abuse from Blair’s gang, telling her how stupid she was for not realizing it was satire, telling her she shouldn’t be allowed to vote—and those were the nicest comments.
This is nothing new. Steve Colbert played this kind of role on Comedy Central for years, Samantha Bee’s crew does it regularly, and Borat has made a lot of money tricking people into taking his various personae at face value so that we can laugh at them and feel superior.
But, what do we think will be the result of these kinds of shenanigans? Do we think everyone will have a hearty laugh and then repair to the nearest cyber-pub for a convivial online drink? Humiliating your opponents is going to do nothing but create more anger, more digging in of heels, more vituperation, and eventually violence. As it turns out, Blair is also adding to the problems of fake news and trust, since so many who receive these messages don’t realize it’s satire. Mr. Blair would be doing the world a favor by ending his crusade to make conservatives look stupid and think of a healthier way to get the ideas he favors across.
One such healthier way is a project called “Hands Across the Hills.” In 2017 Paula Green, a progressive in Western Massachusetts, was trying to figure out how anyone could have voted for a guy like Donald Trump, so she came up with the idea of contacting a community in Western Kentucky that went solidly Republican. They were total strangers, but a group from Massachusetts eventually met a group from Kentucky twice, once in each others’ communities, and something amazing happened. They bonded. They became friends. They found that they understood each other better. They did not change their political beliefs, but they could see each other as real people, as human beings, not someone to try to humiliate, excoriate, or eviscerate, but someone who was pleasant and fun to be with, someone you could get along with despite the differences.
This illustrates the most important part of the Sacrament of the Group: of course we all need to feel like we belong to a family, a community. But ever since we moved into multi-cultural cities we’ve needed a Good Neighbor ethic to survive—treat all of your neighbors, not just your in-group, like you’d like to be treated, and today “all of your neighbors” includes the entire world. To make it your mission to trick people in order to humiliate them will not only destroy trust, it will invite retaliation, the prelude to full-blown war.