Are Our Neighbors Mindless Zombies? Probably Not.

By Philip T. Pearson

After reading the recent Tweets of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, it’s tempting to imagine that his Wisconsin constituency must be a bunch of mindless zombies: pacing the kitchens of their Middle-West ranch homes, baking a tater-tot casserole and getting angrier and angrier as they receive their daily directive from Fox News and Newsmax and Senator Johnson’s Twitter account telling them what to be infuriated by today.

“After watching this excellent video on the history of Ivermectin, ask yourself why in the world did the FDA, CDC and Fauci go out of their way to trash this Nobel Prize winning wonder drug?” the Senator Tweeted on Friday, December 10th, along with a clip of an Ivermectin propaganda video.

“You achieve peace through strength, and everything President Biden and Democrat governance is doing, [sic] is weakening America” he Tweeted, December 8th, along with a video of himself being interviewed on Fox Business News, in which he also invoked many of the usual zombie-froth inducing Conservative talking points—of somehow equating this phone call between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin with the imaginary Democratic policy of “Open Borders”; or the disingenuous claim that our current inflation situation is solely due to Biden’s spending policies, which, he also claims, are somehow uniquely partisan (they’re not); or that the failure of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is exclusively Biden’s (it wasn’t, it was begun under Trump).

Or, on December 3rd, he Tweeted, “@POTUS, COVID didn’t become political, YOU made it political. YOU are dividing us. YOU are infringing on our freedoms” again including a video clip from Fox News: this time (puzzlingly) it’s simply Biden in a press conference lamenting how sad it is that Covid-19 has become a divisive issue in America.

And it’s hard not to imagine Senator Johnson’s intended audience for this kind of messaging as a group of mindless, memory-less Conservative-voting automatons. Because who among our neighbors, any of our neighbors, who have lived through these past two years could possibly accept the argument that Covid-19’s politicization didn’t begin until the Biden Administration?

Besides our own collective memory, there have been endless articles written to the contrary:

9/13/2020, CBS News: Why Did Covid 19 Become Partisan

9/17/2020, Brookings: Politics is Wrecking America’s Pandemic Response

8/14/2020, Think Global Health: How the Origins of Covid-19 Became Politicized

5/8/2020, NY Magazine: The Theory that Explains the Politicization of Coronavirus

A quick Google search reveals dozens, hundreds more.

And yet an entire media empire and the political machinery that upholds it is dedicated to repeating, and repeating, (ad nauseum), this very type of messaging. Why? At what thoughtful adult are these messages directed?

The unhappy answer is that those thoughtful humans are our neighbors. And they really are, at the end of the day, thoughtful, sincere, humans. They’re just not a match for the enormity of what they’re up against. Because the kind of messaging that they’re receiving day after day after day is as effective in its delivery as it is sinister in its intent—our neighbors are not mindless zombies, they’re simply caught in an intentional and for-profit feedback loop: a system in which some (or all) of the system’s output is used as input for future operations.

Here’s a brief from the Oxford University Press on how the Propaganda Feedback Loop works; and here’s an article from Salon discussing how the Right-Wing media’s intentional feedback loop is exploiting the pandemic to nurture fascism; and here’s a brief from the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard discussing how Right-Wing media’s Propaganda Feedback Loop keeps more than 87,000,000 American’s siloed; and here’s a brief from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discussing how Facebook’s ban of former President Trump won’t stop the Propaganda Feedback Loop that keeps him relevant among his adherents.

So, then, they’re not zombies. They’re our friends, our friends who are trapped. And if we can see them as friends, friends who’ve been imprisoned (even if they’re complicit in their imprisonment), then it’s easier to find a way to help them, love them, and do our best to set them free.

Maybe over a helping of tater-tot casserole? Turns out, TTC is pretty bangin’.

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