Sacrifice of the Shaman Goat
Would you recognize him without his costume? A Reader of this blog pleas for mercy for the Q Shaman.
In a recent news report, “QAnon Shaman Begs for Leniency: I Stopped Muffin Theft During Capitol Riot,” appearing in The Daily Beast (March 4th), Jacob Chansley’s demeanor from jail bears out my revised attitude toward him as the widely recognizable Shaman. My change of heart was inspired by remarks in your blog, Fencing Bear at Prayer, which I recall in turn drew on a New Yorker account. At first, probably like many others, I had thought the Shaman a bit crazy because of his outlandish pagan costume, but your religiously sensitive account and portrayal of his gentle behavior persuaded me that mine had been a hasty reaction, and you kindly included my note acknowledging that and thanking you for your insight.
I see now that in the photo accompanying the current news report Mr. Chansley appears a far less imposing figure—without his Shaman’s fur cape, and shorn of horns and hat—than he did at the Capitol. Indeed, he seems unexpectedly slight of build, and totally inoffensive, despite the journalists’ attempt to make him appear one of the villains who “stormed” the Capitol. In fact, many demonstrators simply strolled in, following the mob ahead of them. He states that he is not a violent man, which I believe, and that he identified with Trump because media were picking on Trump (an understatement!) and he himself has been picked on all his life. He seems exactly the sort of meekly decent individual who might find personal fulfillment in a spiritual role, even if that were one well outside of our major organized religions.
Indeed, Mr. Chansley and the current Left disagree only in their choice of underdog whose cause they are sympathetically espousing and are drawing legitimation from, and in what sources they look to as credible sources of relevant information. The elites look to one another for information; Trump supporters like the Shaman look to one another too, but mainly factor in their own direct personal experience, which can be radically different from that of elites. The possibility that there could occur an inversion in the usual probability of which of these sources is closer to certain truths never occurs to elites, even though they are often further removed from the arenas in which policy is tested than members of the public at large. Should such an inversion occur, elites could experience a catastrophic decline in legitimacy and credibility such as we are witnessing now in the cases of media and of academe.
After all, the potent term “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (TDS) came widely into play to describe an emotional overreaction to Trump by certain elites so intense that it severely impaired their rational judgment when assessing reality. Examples of such overreaction in many spheres have been amply documented in analyses of media bias, and by accounts from organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which regularly reports campus incidents so blatantly unjust as to make a mockery of the very institutions that claim competence in defining social justice for others. Bias is evident even in The Daily Beast’s account of the jailed Shaman by reporters Jamie Ross and Pilar Melendez, who have not one positive or mitigating thing to say in Mr. Chansley’s defense.
The TDS term was coined by Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist as well as a distinguished political analyst, but was applied initially to an antipathy among elites to George W. Bush that impaired their own and others’ judgment in important debates during Bush’s presidency. It has since been generalized even more aptly to attacks on the Trump presidency. In response, a variety of groups supporting Trump have emerged to form what is often characterized as a populist movement.
Although the strategy may well be the legally expedient course, I do not care for aspects of the defense mounted by Mr. Chansley’s lawyer, which involves shifting blame entirely onto Trump’s own misrepresentations concerning the legality of the election. Such misrepresentations supposedly duped the Shaman and other credulous supporters into attempting the incursion at the Capitol. As I see it, the Left has contributed far more than its share to distrust of authority and of the media all during the Trump presidency, thereby giving rise to a deep conviction on the part of populist supporters of Trump that if Leftist political and media elites were so often not to be trusted, Trump, in contrast—and their only champion—was a source that was dependable. The news that there was, broadly speaking, such a thing as “fake news” was certainly not itself fake news, but it would take someone who was not a member of the elites, and thus not dependent on media good will, such as Trump, to drive that message home. But legitimate doubts about media do not equate to total confidence in their critic Trump on all matters of fact.
The preceding scenario of reciprocated distrust by both camps would be quite familiar to interested social psychologists as an example of the A-B-X theory of Theodore Newcomb. Newcomb’s theory, one of several similar balance theories of cognitive consistency, can be described most simply as predicting that the attitude of Person A toward Person B will be determined in large part by each of their revealed attitudes toward an “object” X (which can be an idea or another person, etc.).
If A’s attitude toward X is positive, but B’s attitude toward X is negative, A’s consequent attitude toward B is more likely to be negative (and thus in plus-cancelling-minus balance or consistent with respect to A’s attitude toward X). One has only to substitute Trump supporters for A, the Left for B, and Trump himself for X in this formulation to recognize its power in accounting for much of what we see being reported nowadays.
Applied in yet another manner, Newcomb’s paradigm also predicts the attempt by the Left (now in the role of A) to criminalize support for Trump by persons (B), because of the opposing emotional valences of both A and B toward X (Trump and his policies). This disturbing totalitarian inclination by the Cancel Culture has been remarked upon more than once recently, and to my mind it accounts for much of the hyperbole and vindictiveness surrounding the unfortunate incursion at the Capitol by many otherwise law-abiding citizens, one of whom, a woman shot dead by police, was the only victim of deliberately lethal force in what the Left repeatedly refers to as an “insurrection.”
Although Mr. Chansley, as The Shaman, with his outlandish regalia and his symbolic use of a spear as flagpole, was among the least transgressive of the many intruders, he is being singled out and made an example precisely because of his visibility. Cancel Culture thrives on intimidation by example. One would think that theoreticians attuned to Marxist dialectics would draw back from the implications for the future of the continued conflict the Left is now escalating. But no, now, sure of ultimate victory apparently, they are all piling on, apparently competing to outdo one another in seeking retribution. For such purposes, a highly visible figure, no matter how relatively blameless, serves best. What punishment is meted out to Shaman Chansley and others like him will, I fear, serve as a bell tolling for all of our futures.