One marker that a belief is primarily social and cultural in force (as opposed to intellectual) is that it is brought into the conversation even when it has no particular bearing on the subject at hand. Such comments are recitations of what the speaker believes is the popular, or even required idea. This morning one of the patients’ attorneys, apropos of nothing, inserted that “our Moron-in-Chief has presided over more deaths than the entire Cold War, including Korea and Vietnam.” Yes, there are arguments that could have been raised about that particular apples-to-oranges comparison, which seems an excellent example of grabbing whatever stick comes to hand to beat the president. It would also be reasonable to point out any number of possible defenses of Trump’s actions, or that the actions of a president are not the main determinant of number of deaths, whether for good or ill.
But here I want to focus on the mere fact that it came up at all. What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China, we used to say. What possible point is there to this except to say “Our/your group believes that Trump is terrible in all things, and I demonstrate my qualification for group membership by assenting to that fact,” rather like birds chirping out their location. Many sink down to the Underworld must be answered by and few return to the sunlit lands. Sign and countersign. Do you get extra points for providing them unbidden?
I think it goes a touch deeper than that, that the speaker is policing the area a bit, giving a warning to any who might be tempted to have an heretical idea. The sheriff puts his six-shooter down on the table in the saloon and says “We wouldn’t want anyone in this town to be helpin’ them Injuns, would we boys?”
One can hear at least a bit of this from all groups. Christians don’t have them so much in general, but within the church we always have our variations of being of Apollos or of Paul and make our little announcements to remind others what we think they are supposed to think about evolution, or gifts of the spirit, or hymns, or increasingly, political beliefs. I did hear people insert gratuitous comments about Obama when he was president, though not often.
I reluctantly acknowledge that in theory such insertions in the dialogue, especially about public figures – always a target-rich environment for humor and entertainment – can also occur. Yet I don’t ever encounter that in real life. There may have been a day when that was so. It’s just an excuse now. It is social cuing and social enforcement. It was irritating before, but as the punishments are expanding it is more concerning.