Tuesday, March 2, 2021

#61 / Dementia And Democracy


Caitlin Johnstone, pictured, is a reader-supported independent journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Johnstone mostly writes about politics, and specifically about the politics of the United States of America. Her biases are not hidden!

Johnstone is pretty "left," or so I interpret her position on the issues of the day, but she is always more "left" than the lefties. She is routinely aggravated by "progressives," and all others on the left, who don't hold "progressive" or "liberal" elected officials to account. The way she usually tells the story, such progressives are always too naive or stupid to know how badly they are being played. Like, they voted for Biden, a sure sign that they're out of touch with reality. Did I note, yet, that "acerbic" might just as well be Johnstone's middle name? She does not suffer fools gladly, and she sees those fools everywhere - even on what you might think she would recognize as her own team.

To provide one example, just to give you the flavor, a fairly recent posting proclaimed that "Biden's Iran Policy Is Just Trump's Iran Policy With A Rainbow Flag Emoji." Ok. Ok! I quite often find myself "almost" agreeing with Johnstone. You know, she often makes quite a good point - a point well taken and all that - but couldn't she just turn down the snark a notch?

Speaking of snark, Johnstone's contempt for electoral politics in the United States is pretty much unbounded. In a recent column, Johnstone says that "Electoral Politics Use The Same Containment Strategies As Alzheimer’s Facilities." In essence, Johnstone compares democracy to dementia, and finds them pretty much equivalent:

In a high-quality dementia care facility, confused residents who are at risk of unsafe wandering are skillfully redirected away from exit doors by staff members who are trained to provide them with the illusion of freedom while still keeping them in the safety of the care home. A propaganda-addled populace wandering around trying to find an escape from its oppressors is redirected in very much the same way.

If you’ve ever visited a loved one in a locked dementia care facility, especially near sunset, you know how agitated the people who live there can become. The impulse to wander and pace is very common, and depending on where they’re at cognitively they’ll often demand to leave the facility at once so they can go “home”.

When this happens, unskillful staff members will take an openly authoritarian position and tell the resident that they cannot leave and that the facility is their home now. This confrontational approach invariably leads to agitation on the part of the confused resident, because in their mind they really do live somewhere else and are being told they need to remain locked in a strange place that they have no memory of. This can quickly lead to a catastrophic response that is unpleasant for everyone, especially the resident in question.

A more skillful staff member will employ a very different strategy. Rather than engaging in futile attempts to persuade someone with severe dementia that they must stay and that their perception of reality is wrong, they will simply say “Ah yes, right away Mister Smith! Let’s go get you ready to leave.” They’ll take him by the hand, ask him if he wants dinner before he leaves, get him talking about his time in the army, distracting him from the thought of leaving and letting the memory loss do the work for them. In a few minutes Mister Smith is happily chowing down on mechanical soft meat and potatoes without a care in the world.

This technique, says Johnstone, is exactly the technique used by those who suggest that electoral politics is the way to deal with issues and concerns that are important and need to be confronted: 

That's how electoral politics works. The public will periodically become agitated at the way their wealth and resources are being stolen from them and spent on overseas wars, or the fact that they are deliberately kept poor and busy by a plutocratic system in which the relative wealth of the rich is given more political power by the relative poverty of everyone else, and they are redirected.

They are not told “No Mister Smith, you are the property of the oligarchic empire.” They are instead told by the skillful manipulators of the political/media class, “Ah yes Mister Smith, you can have everything you want! Just vote for the Democratic Party right over there!”

And just as the facility’s design intended, Mister Smith goes out the door to the Democratic Party, wanders around in circles for a while, then comes back inside without posing any inconvenience to the staff members who run the empire.

There is just enough truth in that comparison to make me a little bit uncomfortable, and that is the reason that I keep on reading Johnstone's writings. As a fictional 19th Century bartender, Mr. Dooley, was fond of saying, the job of a journalist is to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." 

Johnstone certainly knows how to do that!

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