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All I Want for Christmas is Silence

I dislike Christmas music, but this year, whenever I tour Twitter, CNN, or TikTok, I keep hearing an angel croon, “Silent night, holy night” in my head. It’s creepy and so startling that I woke up one night from a dream where the song played while someone handed me my death certificate. It said political verbiage was the cause of my death.

I also have flashbacks to 1967 and marching on the Pentagon, where protesters took the flowers out of their hair and inserted them into the rifle barrels of military police. I remember going to hear Peter, Paul and Mary sing “This Land is Your Land” at the old Atlanta Civic Center the year before with my high school girlfriend. I remember crossing boundaries and climbing walls and laughing in the face of hate because nobody believed hate was more than a temporary aberration of anger that could be forgiven because we knew it was ultimately stupid. I picked up the pen, passionately believing that it really was mightier than the sword.

Forgive my Boomer reframing, but the discord of the ’60s and ’70s seems almost simple now. The civil rights movement, even in its recent Black Lives Matter iteration, was punctuated with violence and hate, but by the middle of the last century, nobody sane disbelieved in equality. There are plenty of Christian nationalists who still hate queer people, but until recently, no grownups with values who ever loved someone different from themselves dared to openly attack us. Nazis inhabited lunatic asylums. Visceral hate was not free speech.

Now, human consciousness is constructed by media and, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium itself is the message. Stupidity may barely exist as a fundamental concept, but it is well-rewarded as a behavior. I brutally learned this during the 2016 election, which brought us to a place where abhorrent policies shared by Democrats and Republicans alike were regarded as positive or negative based only on your party identification. To argue that the problem was not the candidate or party per se, but the total collapse of communitarian values, was read as support of the political enemy. You couldn’t, for example, even support an outlier like Bernie Sanders without being eviscerated as an enemy of the good (which really meant “an enemy of the status quo”). Supposedly, it’s all about being practical. It’s not.

Things have only gotten worse. Watching the media tell the story of our present reality is mind-boggling. Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, for example, doesn’t exist. She is rarely mentioned and when she is, it’s with a smirk. The New York Times leads the pack in the utterly abominable reporting of Biden’s new war in the Middle East. Any statement of the death toll in Gaza is qualified with a statement like “according to the Gaza health agency, which is controlled by Hamas.” Whether it’s pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, it’s all propaganda and virtually everyone in charge refuses to support negotiation. There is no significant factual record, only a montage of horror culled from videos without individual context. But dead infants, suffocated without incubators, don’t need to speak. Many Jewish people, still terrified by the attempted extinction of the Holocaust, cannot respond proportionately to a brutal attack on a proportionately few of their population now.

Ohio’s population passed a referendum to reverse its state’s abortion prohibitions, and the state’s rulers refuse to comply. They want to adopt a rule among themselves that permits them to ignore the separation of powers. ChatGPT has become the author and co-author of everything. It often bungles reality with cartoonish reductionism, but nobody seems to care. That’s the medium fully delivering today’s message: we create your own reality based on your most visceral fears and appetites. AI in this format is a plaything — for now.

Here’s a reality: civilization is not inherently evolving. Many before us have soared and collapsed. We’re so sure of ourselves that we think that because we can’t figure out how the Egyptians built those pyramids, aliens must have done it for them. We think that because Elon Musk has money, it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have a vivid imagination beyond the lying kind. Swamp the world with random rabid bits and the world will make you king of the carnival.

Here’s an alternative: you don’t have to say anything. Sometimes — maybe most of the time — silence is indeed holy.

Cliff Bostock, Ph.D., is a former psychotherapist who now concentrates on coaching with an emphasis on creativity and experimentation. Cliffbostock.com, 404-518-4415.