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Bridging the Epistemic Divide
By Martin LeFevre
Sep 5, 2020, 4:24pm

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Of late I often begin a political conversation with liberal friends and acquaintances by asking, "Have you heard the phrase, 'Own the Libs?" Invariably they haven't, even though Donald Trump Junior literally wrote the book on it, called "Triggered."

"Own the Libs" means deliberately triggering reactions in liberals, enabling Trumpers to "own" them, so they don't have to own their own stuff at all. It is a diabolical psychological device designed to allow the Trumpian projector to justify his or her darkness by getting hated liberals to react first.

Obviously only rotten people play such a trick. One has to have lost all human decency to deliberately provoke the flaws and weaknesses in another in order to avoid greater flaws and weaknesses in oneself.

I've directly experienced this tactic. When I politely asked the neighbor and teacher in back to stop her huge Labrador from barking one day as I was working in the backyard and she was on her patio, she said, "You're the problem."

After a week of being awakened at dawn with the loudest barking I've ever heard, I opened the blinds one morning to see the father of her two young children waiting to give me the finger.

I went for a bike ride, as I often do in the morning, and drove down their street. The fellow was sitting on the step. " We knew you'd be here," he said before I even stopped and uttered a word.

"What is this, some kind of Trumpian 'Own the Libs' shit?" I asked.

"Exactly," came the immediate reply, "you're more than liberal."

Then, in a hate-filled voice, this father of two young children became unhinged and said: "I'm going to kill you and do 50 years in prison."

Confronted with such a threat, my nervousness instantly ended. This cannot stand, I felt more than thought. Something rose within me, not reaction and anger, much less violence, but the energy of perceiving a danger and responding to it with every fiber of my being.

"We're not children," I said to the man-child half my age, who had began pacing up and down his driveway. "We don't have to like each other. But we're neighbors, and we're not going to hate each other. What's your name?"

At first he refused to tell me his name or shake my hand. But then, after calling himself "Studmuffin" (he's at least five years younger than the woman that lived there for some years before importing him), he thought he'd try the knuckle-squeezing trick.

Foreseeing it, I fully gripped his hand. Thinking he'd still out-squeeze me, he kept amping up the pressure. But I squeeze a tennis ball every night due to a bit of arthritis, and knew there was no way he could out-squeeze my grip.

Every time he tried, I squeezed a bit harder, though not out of competition or domination. I felt an energy pouring through my arm that seemed to come from beyond me. It was like an electrical current, and it was dissolving his hatred.

He backed off, and we talked. "If I met you in a bar, I'd probably like you," he said, as I parted.

What just happened, I wondered as I rode home? I didn't dissipate the Trumper's hatred; something within and beyond me that I have no control over did.

So-called Christians who support Trump and the 'Own the Libs' tactic make a mockery of Jesus' injunction: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

This is the difference between rump Republicans that has become the Party of Trump, and naive Democrats who see Biden as a rescuer who will return America to decency, rationality and normalcy.

"There is no conversation that can build a translation bridge connecting this epistemic divide," two "scholars on conspiracism" write. (Epistemic refers to basic questions about knowledge.) "There can be no argument or negotiation or compromise - all of which require some shared terrain of facts and a shared horizon of what it means to know something."

Cue the philosophers. Oh, I forgot, there's no need for philosophy, and "everyone is a philosopher." And there is no such thing as truth when there's only 'my truth' and 'your truth.'

This metaphysical vacuum is what has given rise to fantastical conspiracy theories. There are real conspiracies of course, but the absence of investigation and examination of evidence, indeed eschewing even the need for investigation and examination, characterizes crazy, cultish phenomena like Qanon.

People on both the right and left sense the movement of unseen evils in human consciousness, but rather than look within to find their origin and nature, they externalize and formulate fantastical theories.

Even when they know that they are just spinning imaginary webs and connecting imaginary dots, the act of doing so temporarily satisfies their hunger for explanation, much less understanding.

"First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."


Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.

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