by: Rodger Kamenetz on February 27th, 2017 | 1 Comment »
Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, an early 19th century Hasidic master, offered a parable about a king who foretold that the year’s harvest of rye would be contaminated with ergot, a fungus with effects similar to LSD. Whoever ate the rye would become mad. The prime minister said we must put aside enough grain so we won’t have to eat this year’s harvest.
But the king said, “But then we will be the only ones who will be sane. Everyone else will be mad. Therefore they will think that we are the mad ones. Therefore, we too must eat this year’s grain. But we will put a mark on our foreheads so at least we will know we are mad. I will look at your forehead you will look at mine, and when we see this sign, we will know we are both mad.”
The parable touches on our current situation. It seems the country is going mad, that the country as a whole has eaten a substance that is guaranteed to distort reality. When we find ourselves reading everyday in the newspaper that the “president falsely stated”, when almost every word out of his mouth is a distortion of reality, and when this is repeated every day of the week, there is an overall contaminating effect.
One symptom of the madness is a sense of weariness in the land, as if time is slowing down – which is very much the effect of psychoactive substances. A month of this presidency already feels like a year, and a year will feel like a decade.
It is not only the lying, but the constant shifts of attention, the clever diversions and shiny objects, the theatrical episodes that redirect attention when things are going badly. It now requires so much effort to keep pace that merely to play the role of informed citizen has become almost a full time job in which we are challenged every hour to maintain our own sense of reality and normalcy against a widespread infection of madness.
Everyone has consumed the harvest, everyone is going mad. The concepts of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are not merely propaganda, but a description of a metaphysical infection in which we all, regardless of our politics and whether we wish to or not, are consuming the contaminated “rye” as our daily bread. For we cannot help but consume the news in a way that feels all consuming, in a way that is also consuming us.