Slack Chat: Snake Oil Mountain and the Zuckerberg Effect

T: Hey J, have you seen this?

Facebook To Inform Users If They Fell For Russian Election Propaganda

The social network plans to roll out the tool by the end of the year.

J: I saw that. I think it would be more useful looking forward, though – telling people if the site they’re looking at now is Russian propaganda.

T: I had a thought about it; you know about the monkey cage effect, right? If you are in a stinky cage full of monkeys, you eventually lose your sense of smell, and you forget about how much monkeys stink. But if you step out for a second and step back in, it all comes gagging back at you.

I wonder how some of the stubborn Trump supporters will react, when they get the news? When they find out that most of what they thought was real was, in fact, Russian manipulation, will they get the money cage effect, and realize that they’ve been had?

J: I wonder that myself. I doubt the hardest of the hard core would, but there might be a few who would take the bait and find out they had been manipulated. It might be enough to get a few people thinking, or at least get some people not to get all their news from fucking Facebook… actually go to news sites and read.

T: I gotta figure sooner or later, most of the soft- core followers (what a way to think about it, but it fits) will, much like the Manson Clan’s softer core, come to their senses. Will this help Trump’s “family” wake up from its hypnotized, brainwashed state of mind?

J: If they can actually look at the app and see that they were lied to, it might peel a few of the soft-core ones off. Like I said, though, there are some people who wouldn’t believe it if the website was written in Russian.

T: I got so sick of MSN’s clickbait that I switched my homepage, but I still go back and check the headlines at least once a day. I suppose I could read the dammed paper, since I work for it, but it’s hard not to return to where you are used to getting your information.

I know a good percentage of Trump supporters, given this app, will skip right past the facts in search of the inevitable conspiracy theory. But those people have always been hopeless. I mean, Trump didn’t invent conspiracy-addicted dumbasses. The Enquirer, the Star, the Weekly World News … these papers have been around for decades, and those people have been reading about Elvis and his love child since he died in 1977. To them, all this conspiracy stuff is their MSN.

J: There’s always been a market for the low-information person, and there probably always will be. Some people just don’t want to hear the truth, especially if it conflicts with their preconceived notions. If they believe Elvis is still alive and has a love child with Christie Brinkley, nothing anyone says is going to convince them otherwise.

T: I have a sense of why this happens, but it’s hard to express in English. I’ll take a shot:

They crave the narrative … they have to have a news cycle where everything is packaged, wrapped and presented like a movie or a television show. There has to be sex, conflict, angst, violence, and above all a juicy plot that gives them something to talk about at the water cooler.

They want life to be like a soap opera, and they want it presented to them in short, easily digested bursts. Trump suits them perfectly, because that’s how he lives. Everything about him is short, simple, packaged and designed to get attention. Trump wound up running a click-bait campaign, and his followers ate it up.

J: Do you think he did it on purpose?

T: Well, he manipulates his targets like fish swim, so … sort of?

J: Yeah, when your entire life consists of swimming, it’s hard to call swimming a planned activity.

T: I wish the public could be a little less gullible, but politicians have been manipulating the publc for years.

J: Yeah, as scandals go, this one ain’t exactly original.

T: I think the real scandal here is that so many people in the know – people who knew that this was happening – kept the secret. We know about Russia, but I’m talking about Assange, the Flynns, Manafort, the Bannon faction, the McConnell Supreme Court Stuffing committee, and the McConnell/Ryan repeal and (tax) rip-off committee.

I don’t know if Trump deserves to be led out of the White House in cuffs – not yet, anyway – but if he does, those people should be lined up behind him. Cuff ‘em and stuff ‘em. All of ‘em.

I doubt, though, that Trump did anything that criminal; it’s not his style. As much as I hate that we have such a stupid, racist, manipulative prick in the White House, Trump has never been the criminal type. At most, he’s like a mob associate, trying to get the benefits without getting his own hands dirty.

J: He’s still the most dangerous man in the country, though.

T: Yeah, because millions of people think he’s … well, they think he’s Abraham fucking Lincoln.

J: Yeah, but he’s more like Charlie Manson.

In the weasely, manipulative sense, not the stabby, murdery sense.

T: Just get what you want. That’s Trump’s basic mantra. One thing about Charlie, not that I want to tout him for anything but a fiery circle of Hell – but Manson was far smarter than Trump. Manson’s IQ was measured at 120 when he was a child. I doubt Trump can hit triple digits without help.

J: Trump has no core principles. He’s 100 percent about expediency; he wants what’s good for him now, with no regard as to whether it’ll be good for him in a week, or month, or a year. Manson might not have been all that book-smart, but he was the Zen master of manipulation. He’d be on the manipulator’s Mount Rushmore. Trump is a little smarter I think book-wise, but not quite as good at manipulation (although, unfortunately, he was good enough at it to get elected President).

T: The Mt. Rushmore of manipulators? Who would that be?

J: Should we do a little sculpting?

T: Ya talked me into it.

J: That was easy.

T: Hardy har har. Gimme a name.

J: Well, duh. Charlie Manson. He should be up front, where George is. Anyone who can convince people to do that sick shit has to be on the mountain.

T: Ok, he’s on, pending disqualification for venereal disease, or being too murdery, or something. Your turn.

J: Barack Obama

T: Obama? He’s the first guy you think of?

J: Well, no, but I don’t want to burn all the good ones right away. Obama was more of a velvet-glove manipulator; he didn’t browbeat you with facts or try to force his viewpoints on you. He was a shaper more than a manipulator, shaping the viewpoints people already had.

We’ll stick him in the waiting room. Who’s next?

T: What was that guy’s name .. Andy something … Arthur? No. Um … oh wait, Adolph. Adolph Coors. I mean, he got everybody drunk and I think he legalized pot.

J: Yeah, I think Adolf has to be on the mountain. To lead a whole nation off the cliff like that … it takes a pretty good manipulator to get people to do that.

T: This is going to be an ugly, hairy mountain; we might need Obama just to spruce the place up. Next?

J: Napoleon

T: That’s a good one … Was he the manipulator, though, or the guy who came in behind the manipulators and went all Patton on everything?

State your case; I’m interested.

J: I think he was the manipulator; yes, he came in after the revolution, but he still had to unite the French people behind something other than hating the royalty. He was probably the early-French version of Trump; “Only I can defeat the British, and restore France to her former glory.”

T: To me, a manipulator has to have generated a radical change in thinking, and I think the radical change happened through Robespierre and that group, before Napoleon came to the party. Heads rolled before he showed up; the revolution was already in full force.

J: They did tap into the discontent of the masses, but that was already there… and after they shortened all the royalty a little bit, the stage was set for someone like Napoleon to come in and give the people what they wanted

T: To me, the best sign of a manipulator is that his people start acting against their own self-interest. Chickens start barking, ducks start sinking, elephants start dancing – well, not that last one – and people suddenly change how they feel about their neighbors, their political parties, or their country.

J: That might be a little stronger definition than I’m using, although it certainly fits Manson well enough. To me, manipulation is more of a state of mind, a gas lighting – making someone change their whole perception of reality

T: Wasn’t Napoleon the one who said, “I am nothing without the revolution”?

I agree with you; a manipulator changes reality, or at least changes the perception of reality. Napoleon, though, he came in and took over a new reality; the reality had already been changed. I see the big change in France as the revolution, not the resolution, so to speak.

J: I revolve to – um … well, I guess one letter can make a difference.

T: How about a series of letters?

J: I assume you are referring to Paul of Tarsus?

T: How good was he? He was Christianity’s mortal enemy, then he changed his name, toured for awhile, got hisself killed, and wound up as the second lead in the New Testament? That’s what I call a good sales job.

J: Oh, he was good. But doesn’t he have the same issue as Napoleon? Was he the manipulator, or the manipulator’s tool? Was he Charlie, or Sadie?

T: I thought about saying Jesus; you could easily convince me.

J: I think Jesus has be on the mountain; he was probably the most influential man who ever lived, so that must count for something.

T: Let me try to throw you a weird curve on Paul of Tarsus:

If he belongs, it’s because his manipulation, as I defined my stance earlier, “made people act against their self-interest.”

Paul’s letters are the basis of almost all the repressive Christian bluenose rules about sex and lifestyle choices. Jesus didn’t say don’t dance and screw; that was Paul.

J: By that definition, yeah… but all the stuff he did wasn’t to get people to do what he wanted; it was to get people to do what Jesus wanted.

Or, to be fair, what he said Jesus wanted them to do.

T: well, in that vein, the true manipulator – manipulators – was the Council of Narnia.

They put Paul’s letters in the book, and stamped them with the good Godkeeping seal. They were the manipulators who deserve a place on the mountain.

Or under it.

J: You mean the Council of Nicea?

T: I prefer Narnia. Nothing about that council was nice.

J: That’s actually a pretty good argument. I would give them a provisional yes.

T: How about Emperor Constantine? He can be the face – in this case, literally the face, the giant stone face – since it was his rule that created the need for the council.

J:  You have to remember that he was the emperor and had the power of life and death over every Roman. If a centurion came to my house, waved a sword at me and asked me if I believed in Jesus? Well… just call me a believer.

T: You highlighted the Napoleon counterargument, I think. Constantine was a power guy who exercised influence, not a manipulator who changed minds; Napoleon was the same.

J: Manipulators don’t use power; they use persuasion to gain power. And then they use power.


T: I think we need to tighten up our criteria, or by the time we get done with Muhammad, Buddha and all those guys, the mountain will need a lodge.

J: Yeah, we should probably leave religious figures off the list, just limit it to secular figures.

T: Should we limit ourselves to US history?

J: Suits me. How about Martin Luther King?

T: Dr. King is a tremendous choice. Tentative yes, depending on how the competition shakes out. I’m not sure he’d want to be up there early, cooling his heels with Hitler and Charlie Manson.

Horace Greeley?

J: Maybe, but the urge to move west predated him, probably all the way back to colonial times.

T: Agreed on Greeley. He wasn’t the revolution, just the mouthpiece. The Sean Hannity of going West.

J: Douglas MacArthur?

T: Considering he got fired for trying to influence Truman, I’m not sure he qualifies as being all that good at it.

How about Sam Walton?

J: Maybe. He changed the way people think about shopping. Maybe Jeff Bezos would be better though; he killed the mom-and-pop stores that Walton didn’t get.

T: Bezos didn’t manipulate, though, so much as he innovated. Come to think about it, so did Walton.

Oh, what about Joseph McCarthy?

J: Oh, yeah, he’s a good one. He made a whole generation of people see Commies behind every bush. A lot of them probably still check for Commies. Yeah, he gets a spot.

T: I think we have three now – Doctor King, Killer Manson and Accuser McCarthy. Is that right?

J: Lemme see … Manson, check. King, check. Jesus, ch- no, we dropped the religious leaders. Hitler, che- oh wait, not American. He can go back to his alien ant farm in the seventh circle of Hell. McCarthy? He’s here. We should wrap soon, though; he found the scotch.

T: Trump might be the fourth, except he’s still active and I’m making a rule like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the guy has to be dead.

J: Andrew Jackson’s dead.

T: That’s a relief. The sumbitch would be pushing 200 years old by now

J: From the other side; he turned 250 back in March.

T: He looks good for his age.

J: Stop it.

T: Well, Jackson belongs on some sort of mountain, but I’m not sure this is the one. He was one of those in-your-face guys, maybe the roughest, toughest bastard who ever ran the place.

J:  After thinking about it, no, you are right. Jackson was an influence guy, not a changer of hearts and minds. He’d just beat you out of your opinion and into his.

T: How about Joseph Smith, Jr.?

J: Was he the manipulator, or was Brigham Young?

T: Oh, Smith all the way.

J: I know Smith started the Mormon church, but didn’t he get killed before they ever got out of Illinois or wherever?

T: He was a snake oil salesman who wrote the book and sold the idea that it was divinely inspired. He was literally a snake oil salesman. How perfect is that?

J: Do they even sell that anymore? I mean, I was in Walmart last week, and I couldn’t find any.

T: Did you check the “as seen on TV” section?

J: Why in the world would it be there?

T: I’m just asking.

J: Well, stop that.

T: You have another one?

J: How about L. Ron Hubbard?

T: That’s a good one – which one would you take between Smith and Hubbard, if we took one or the other?

J: I’d go with Hubbard over Smith by your definition (acting against one’s own self-interest).

T: Yeah, that makes sense. Smith came along during the Great Awakening; lots of people were inventing religions. Hubbard was a sci-fi writer.

T: That’s a solid mountain.

J: We could do worse.

T: I’d be happy with it if we don’t get another one, but let’s try to bandy around a few more names. Is Margaret Sanger a good one?

J: Hmmm… she’s good but I think someone from later on, when the sexual revolution was under way. Helen Gurley Brown, maybe?

T: I was thinking there has to be somebody … I don’t know that Brown works more than Sanger, but I agree that Sanger wouldn’t dislodge anyone.

J: Gloria Steinem?

T: What about Cary Nation?

J: Carry Nation would be worth a plaque in the museum; she almost singlehandedly caused Prohibition.

T: A plaque, or a plague?

J: Nation and the other scary-looking women with hatchets would rush into a saloon, smash up all the bottles, and go back to their hideout and fire up reefers.

T: Oh, that would be gold on Saturday Night Live.

J: Ok, we have the mountain: Dr. King, Manson, McCarthy and Hubbard.

T: How about Nellie Bly for honorable mention?

J: Nellie Bly is good, she opened up a bunch of fields for women.

T: Nellie Bly should be a movie trilogy.

Nellie Bly:

1 – “Ten days in a Madhouse”

2- “Around the World in 72 days”

3- “The Ironclad Maiden”

J: Sounds good to me; let’s give Harvey Weinstein a call.

T: You’ve been waiting a month to use that.

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