Sometimes I would have one of those days when nothing went my way–one of those days when my boss criticized me for my productivity levels, my cat meowed at me all afternoon, my best frienemy and I had a falling out. When it was that kind of day and everything felt wrong, I would sit down at my laptop and go to my favorite social media sites. And then Fakelina would flutter up to me, tap me on the forehead with her magic wand, and she would make it all better.

Fakelina was a news fairy, and she was very special. Anything you wanted to believe was true, no matter how much of a stretch it was, she could make it so.

“Fakelina, is chocolate good for me?”

“Naturally! You should eat as much of it as you can. The more you eat of it, the lower your chances of cancer!”

“Fakelina, I wish I didn’t have to go to the dentist.”

“You shouldn’t. Have you heard that the anesthesia they use can cause dementia?”

But then I got greedier and the wishes got bigger.

“Fakelina, I wish all these awful school shootings were just a reality show.”

“They are. I can show you the video which proves that the kids are all paid actors.”

“Oh, good! That makes me feel so much better. You know…I really hate thinking about that Trump guy, too. The things he’s doing to the EPA…our judicial system…”

“Shush…don’t think about any of that. Did you know he peed on a prostitute once?”

“No way! Tell me more, Fakelina!”

“Yep. Somebody somewhere is supposed to have evidence of that, or so I’ve been told. And did you hear what he tweeted last night?”

“Ugh! I’m not sure he’s even human. Do you think he might be one of those lizard people?”

“Nope, not a lizard person.” Fakelina shook her head. “It’s even worse. He’s a fungus which has taken on human form. He’s from a different planet. Watch this–it shows where his disguise slips for a second, and you can see a little bit of the mold coming through.”

“I knew it,” I mumbled.

“The world is controlled by alien fungi. Here’s another one about Barack Obama…”

I paused. What? But I liked President Obama! This couldn’t be true. Or…could it? The theory did make sense… They were all a part of the elite, so they were all fungus.

And the videos were undeniable. Oh, God… President Obama was fungus… Prince William was fungus…

I sat motionless, taking it all in. Fakelina was scratching one of her glittery wings.

“Amazing, isn’t it? You have just found out the thing they don’t want you to know. You were courageous enough to research it, and now the secret is yours. You’re not like the sheeple who believe everything the media tells them.”

She was right. I felt special. Like I was smarter than everyone else.

“You have to spread the news,” Fakelina commanded me. “The people of this country don’t know what’s being done to them. But remember–you’ll get a lot of blowback from those who haven’t yet seen the light.”

I did not shirk my duty. I spent the following weeks delving deeper and deeper into the archives of secret knowledge on the Internet, and becoming more frightened as I went. The leaders of Black Lives Matter were aliens. The leaders of the Women’s March were aliens. All the Hollywood actors and popular singers and rappers were aliens, too.

I shared as much as I possibly could with my friends and family online. I tried to warn them. But just as Fakelina had said, the people I once thought I loved and cared about turned out to be blinded sheep, who bleated at me about “rational thought” and “credible sources.” There was a deadly international conspiracy going on, and all they could think of were my sources? It was painful for me, but I had to accept that they were not ready to wake up, not ready for the enlightenment I had experienced. So I blocked and unfriended them, one by one. I would have to walk this path alone.

Or…not alone, actually. I had new friends–better friends. People who were fellow alien fungus researchers. They understood me. And whenever I got too discouraged and was about to give up my quest, I could feel Fakelina perched on my shoulder, whispering in my ear: “Keep going! Keep watching Youtube videos! You will find the answers!”

So I kept going. Months, or maybe years, passed. And as I spent more and more time studying the conspiracy theories, I shrank–first my mind, then my heart and the rest of me, until I became a very shrivelled little creature indeed.

One night, I woke up around 2 am, curled up next to my laptop, and I noticed that I had grown a pair of sticky, glittery wings. They didn’t help me fly, though. I could only flap them listlessly.

Fakelina was slouching on my sofa, smoking a cigarette.

“Am I magical fairy now, too?” I asked her.

“I guess so.” She shrugged. “Oh no, don’t give me that look. It’s not like we’re going to be fairy BFFs or anything. Time for me to take off.”

“What?? But…but you gotta keep helping me! What about our mission of bringing knowledge to the masses?”

“You have learned enough to continue the mission on your own, gullible grasshopper.” I heard a “ding!” and a tiny, sparkly suitcase appeared in her hand. “Besides, I sold all the data about you to Cambridge Analytica and I need a vacation.”

She floated up to me and tapped me with her wand one last time. “I now endow you with the power to not only share fake stories, but to make up your own shit as well! If you spin your web of lies well enough, you can play on people’s fears and prejudices and fanatical obsessions. And then you can do all sorts of things. Influence elections….sell useless nutritional supplements…”

My shoulders slumped. “Wow. Not quite the fairy tale ending I imagined.”

Fakelina laughed. “If you wanted a happier ending to your story…you should’ve used your brain!”

I could still hear her cackle long after she was gone.

 

It seems I need to go over the basics again, as too many out there in Interwebz land still don’t get it–

Just because someone has a different political point of view from you, it doesn’t mean that person is:

Asleep.  This one drives me crazy–it’s the belief that someone “wakes up” only when they come to agree with you.  It’s entirely possible that people who have been very awake all their lives have simply been awake to different ideas and experiences than you have, especially if they come from a different culture.  In fact, our interaction with each other may be a way for both of us to wake up to thoughts we didn’t know about.  Speaking of which, don’t make the assumption that the person who disagrees with you is…

Ignorant/uninformed.  I ingest news and analysis from a wide variety of sources, spanning all sides of the political spectrum–everything from the BBC to conservative talk radio to my pitiful addiction to C-Span.  I have met many well-informed and intelligent individuals who just happen to draw differing conclusions from the information they learn.  The world is a complicated place–none of us see the complete picture.

Mentally ill.  I know, I know–it’s everybody else who’s insane, right?

Less than human.  There is a long list of names used to accomplish this–sheeple, zombies, robots.  The goal is always the same–to dismiss those who disagree with you as not quite human.  Are you really that afraid of people with other opinions, so afraid that you can’t acknowledge they exist?  That speaks to insecurity in your own views, not confidence.

Evil.  True evil is done in our world, and the word should be reserved for those situations, otherwise the very concept is cheapened.  You may think the person who supports government health care is misguided, but they are likely not evil.  On the other hand, when you allow yourself to think of other people in dehumanizing ways (see above), doing evil can become easier.  After all, you’re not imprisoning or killing humans–just rats, zombies, etc….

So those are a couple of pointers to keep in mind as we debate each other.  When you debate, make a logical argument about the issue, which will make your side of the debate stronger anyway.  Name calling will always detract from what you have to say. 

And remember that what you’re thinking of the person you’re debating–that caricature you’ve formed of them in your mind–it isn’t true.

Something that’s been difficult for me to get used to since coming to the States has been all that boundless optimism.  Not that optimism is a bad thing, not at all.  But in America it gets a little over the top.  It seems there’s always another inspirational story of the person who just lost her home and job, lost both her legs in a car accident and was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but still managed to crawl her way through a Marathon using only her arms to pull herself along, with a big smile on her face.  Even though she was homeless, she still managed to collect enough donations to participate!  And the key phrase in these tales:  “And she never complained.”

Well, maybe she should have complained.  I’m just saying.  Of course endless bitching doesn’t do anything for you, but it’s human to complain when you’re in a bad situation.  It’s a bit Stepford Wife-like to go through it with a fake smile plastered on.  It gets even worse when this concept is used in the “We are the 49%” context.  Remember that website—it was supposed to be the conservative response to the “whining”of Occupy Wall Street, and it was filled with stories like “I have to work 3 jobs just to survive, I get no health benefits and I sleep in a garage.  And I never complain, you wimps!”  Well, again, you *should* complain.  If you’re getting screwed over by the society you live in and you don’t complain, you’re not an optimist, you’re a doormat.  Not to mention that if the things which are happening around you are dishonest and morally wrong, not to complain is to comply with whatever is going on.  If I were a cynical European (heh), I could even say that the optimism myth is used to keep people passive…nahhh, right?  “No matter how much they’re stomping on you, act happy!  Smile!”

Okay, so I should add that my attitude toward American optimism is not that completely…well, pessimistic.  Some of my difficulties come from the way I was raised.  When I was a little girl and my parents would get together with their friends, their favorite activity, besides chain-smoking through the night, was that of making witty quips about the meaninglessness of life, and how it always ends in disaster.  It’s not that they were gloomy—they would spend plenty of time laughing at the absurd joke that was human existence.  I guess you can’t blame them for doing so in the drabness of the Soviet bloc, but this kind of cynicism is a general Euro-habit.  I’m automatically suspicious of too much positive thinking…there *can’t* be a happy ending to all of this.

I’m not saying this was a good way to grow up, and I like how determined Americans are, how they believe they can achieve greatness and that no matter what obstacles are thrown in their path, if they put in their best effort, they can overcome them.  That is the good side of American optimism, and a quality I admire.  I just hate to see the powerful using the innate optimism of this country’s citizens to hoodwink them.  I like Americans too much to watch this happen to them…without complaining about it.