Mining foreman R. Thornburg shows a small cage with a canary used for testing carbon monoxide gas in 1928.

How the Depp/Heard Trial Foreshadows Worse to Come

I’m about to go on a meditation retreat, and need to prepare — but, I wanted to get a small thing out on something I just learned:

There are a number of bots out there spreading pro-Depp messages on the trial, and these messages are now being amplified by the “manosphere” according to this Vox piece.

It’s important to note, this is a very common way of spreading propaganda nowadays. I did a YouTube on it a while ago, explaining how it worked with Russian propaganda infiltrating the US, but basically it works like this:

  1. There is an innate human tendency to “go with the group” on opinions. In experiments where people are asked to choose something they know is objectively wrong (e.g. matching pictures where the choice is obvious), up to 75% of the time, people will go with the group if everyone else picks the objectively wrong choice as well. If we extend this to areas where the “wrong” choice isn’t obvious, I expect, conformity could be even higher.
  2. Bad actors can mimic group consent by creating bots or by hiring human trolls to express a certain viewpoint. What this does, it is makes it look to other people that there already exists a group consensus when there does not. Because of human tendency to “go with the group,” people observing the fake consensus are inclined to go along with it, thus broadening the group consensus.
  3. After a while, enough people have glommed on to the seeded consensus that a larger true consensus begins to come about. However, it was not come about organically; people are adopting the point of view that the propagandists wanted them to adopt all along.
  4. Once people’s opinions are hardened, they are unlikely to change them even in the face of contradicting evidence. In this way, they now begin to further the propaganda they they themselves have consumed.

I had begun to be somewhat shocked by the amount of anti-Heard hate out there; I even begin to see women say things like “I’m a domestic violence victim, and I hate Amber Heard because she makes true victims like me look like we’re lying. No one believed me when I told people about my domestic violence, and it’s because of women like her.”

And I’m just like… how do you know you’re not just one of the people who is refusing to believe a genuine abuse victim right now?

I can’t say I’ve followed the trial in enough detail to say anything too sure about it, but Johnny Depp definitely has many red flags that indicate he could be an abuser. Not saying he is; just saying, it’s possible. If we add to this, that he is older, richer, and more famous than Heard and has been throughout their relationship (she was in her 20s when they started dating, he was in his 40s) it just seems inconceivable to me that anyone can honestly say right now “Yes, Amber Heard DEFINITELY ABUSED Johnny Depp.” It at least seems sufficiently ambiguous, to warrant some degree of caution.

Yet, so universally have people turned against Heard, that even domestic violence victims are raging against her. It is insane; every now and then, I do read someone who says something sensible — like, one guy said “This really reminds me of when everyone turned against Monica Lewinsky” and I’m like, yeah, it does remind me of that. People just hated Monica Lewinsky back in the day, but now, people kind of see her as the victim of an older man with much more power than her.

Anyway.

There is one more dynamic playing out here, and it’s one I hope to explore much more in future pieces because it’s a big intellectual focus of mine right now, and that is sadism.

Even if you genuinely believe Amber Heard is wrong or abusive, it doesn’t answer the question why do so many people get off on humiliating her? Her crime was writing something allegedly about Depp where she didn’t even name him. Yet, she seems to be even more hated by the public than people like Harvey Weinstein, who assaulted over 80 women. Even if you think she’s in the wrong, why has she received so much backlash over 1 piece of writing, compared to men who are actual mass rapists?

And the answer is, we have a deep sadism in our culture. Contrary to what many other feminists think, I actually don’t think we are especially sadistic towards women; I think we are sadistic towards everyone and women are more often on the receiving end of sadism simply because they often lack power to fight back. However, men without power are just as likely (maybe more likely) to be on the receiving end of sadistic behavior as well.

For most people with empathy, causing people pain causes you pain which is why most of us try not to do it — but, there is an exception to this. If you see someone as your enemy, then causing them pain brings you pleasure. This is similar to the joy you get in an action movie, when the hero kills “the bad guy” or in a video game where you shoot up “the enemy” — these are examples of sadistic pleasure.

Because many far right manosphere types have successfully managed to cast Heard as “the enemy” it now brings the public pleasure to see her humiliated and in pain. The exact same thing happened with Monica Lewinsky; basically, the American people saw Lewinsky as a kind of “enemy” who was risking the reputation of our president, so they enjoyed humiliating her. And, that humiliation had a deep and profound effect on her, which you can hear her talk about in her own Ted Talk.

The reason sadism directed toward Heard so magnetic at the moment, is that so many people are suffering and in a lot of pain right now. Sadistic escape brings them pleasure, so they are drawn to feeling the enjoyment that comes at watching her suffer, in part because it is a distraction from their own feelings of pain. It is not a coincidence that cultural sadism comes about when a population is suffering, usually from some kind of economic trauma that is preventing the average person from living a satisfying life. If enough people are in pain, sadism can go from something individuals in pain do, to something whole groups of people do as part of relief seeking.

I feel bad for Heard right now; truth be told, I sort of feel bad for Depp too (which, I outlined in my last piece on this as well) but he’s likely to come out on top of this one — if not legally, certainly publicly — but what really has me worried, is that this demonstrates that we are in a cultural place where much of the population is emotionally ready to turn to sadism as a form of emotional catharsis.

I will definitely be writing more on this in the future, but this is very bad. This is the space where atrocity happens, and frankly, I view a trial like this as the canary in the coal mine. There is a deep toxicity about, which is causing large members of society to seek out pleasure in hurting others. If not restrained in some way, the capacity for cruelty that arises in this emotional space is bottomless.

We must begin to find ways to apply some kind of cultural breaks, before something really, really terrible happens on a mass scale.

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