WTF has become the catchphrase for today’s world. “What the fuck” moments fill our days and nothing is more WTF than Donald Trump. We will be examining the viability of the reality show star, and general douchebag celebrity-rich guy as a viable presidential candidate for decades to come. Some view his success as a candidate apocalyptically, or characterize it as an “extinction level event” politically. In the current light it would seem to be a stunning indictment of our modern society. How could this happen? How could we have come to this moment as a nation where it is even a possibility for such a completely insane outcome to be a reasonably high probability outcome of our political process? What else does it say about us as a people? WTF? What in the actual fuck!
The phrase “what the fuck” came into the popular lexicon along with Tom Cruz in the movie, “Risky Business” back in 1983. There the lead character played by Tom Cruz exclaims, “sometimes you gotta say, what the fuck” It was a mantra for just going for broke and trying stuff without obvious regard for the consequences. Given our general lack of an appetite for risk and failure, the other side of the coin took the phrase over. Over time the phrase has morphed into a general commentary about things that are generally unbelievable. Accordingly the acronym WTF came into being by 1985. I hope that 2016 is peak-what the fuck, cause things can’t get much more what the fuck without everything turning into a complete shitshow. Going to a deeper view of things the real story behind where we are is the victory of bullshit as a narrative element in society. In a sense the transfer of WTF from a mantra for risk taking has transmogrified into a mantra for the breadth of impact of not taking risks!
Indeed if one looks to the real core of the Donald Trump phenomena it is the victory of bullshit over logic, facts and rational thought. He simply spouts off a bunch of stuff that our generally uneducated, bigoted, and irrationally biased public wants to hear, and the rubes vote for him in droves. It does not matter that almost everything he says is complete and utter bullshit. A deeper question is how the populace has become so conditioned to accept a candidate who regularly lies to them. Instead of uttering difficult truths and dealing with problems in a rational and pragmatic manner (i.e., actual leadership) we are regularly electing people who simply tell us something we want to hear. Today’s world has real, difficult and painful problems to solve, and irrational solutions will only make them worse. With our political discourse so completely broken, none of the problems will be addressed much less solved. Our nation will literally drown in the bullshit we are being fed.
It is the general victory of showmanship and entertainment. The superficial and bombastic rule the day. I think that Trump is committing one of the greatest frauds of all time. He is completely and utterly unfit for office, yet has a reasonable (or perhaps unreasonable) chance to win the election. The fraud is being committed in plain sight and the fact that he speaks falsehoods at a marvelously high rate without any of the normative ill effects. Trump’s victory is testimony to how gullible the public is to complete bullshit. This gullibility reflects the lack of will on the part of the public to address real issues. With the sort of “leadership” that Trump represents, the ability to address real problems will further erode. The big irony is that Trump’s mantra of “Make America Great Again” is the direct opposite impact of his message. Trump’s sort of leadership destroys the capacity of the Nation to solve the sort of problems that lead to actual greatness. He is hastening the decline of the United States by choking our will to act in a tidal wave of bullshit.
There is a lot more bullshit in society than just Trump; he is just the most obvious example right now. Those who master bullshit win the day today, and it drives the depth of the WTF moments. Fundamentally there are forces in society today that are driving us toward the sorts of outcomes that cause us to think, “WTF?” For example we are prioritizing a high degree of micromanagement over achievement due to the risks associated with giving people freedom. Freedom encourages achievement, but also carries the risk of scandal when people abuse their freedom. Without the risks you cannot have the achievements. Today the priority is no scandal and accomplishment simply isn’t important enough to empower anyone. We are developing systems of management that serve to disempower people so that they don’t do anything unpredictable (like achieve something!).
The effect of all of this is an increasing disconnect from achievement and the concept of accountability. The end point is that the transition of achievement into bullshit is driven by the needs to market results, and marketed results being impossible to distinguish from actual results by most people. This is the sort of path that leads to our broken political discourse. When bullshit becomes identical to facts, the value and power of facts are absolutely destroyed. We are left with a situation where falsehoods are viewed as having equal footing with truth. Things like science, and the general concept of leadership by the elites in society becomes something to be reviled. We get Donald Trump as a viable candidate for President.
I wonder deeply about the extent to which things like the Internet play into this dynamic. Does the Internet allow bullshit to be presented with equality to bona fide facts? Does the Internet and computers allow a degree of micromanagement that strangles achievement? Does the Internet produce new patterns in society that we don’t understand much less have the capacity to manage? What is the value of information if it can’t be managed or understood in any way that is beyond superficial? The real danger is that people will gravitate toward what they want to view as facts instead of confronting issues that are unpleasant. The danger seems to be playing out in the political events in the United States and beyond.
Like any technology the Internet is not either good or bad by definition. It is a tool that may be used for either the benefit or the detriment of society. One way to look at the Internet is as an accelerator for what would happen societally. Information and change is happening faster and it is lubricating changes to take effect at a high pace. On the one hand we have an incredible ability to communicate with people that is beyond the capacity to even imagine a generation ago. The same communication mechanisms produces a deluge of information we are drowning and input to a degree that is choking people’s capacity to process what they are being fed. What good is the information, if the people receiving it are unable to comprehend it sufficiently to take action? or if people are unable to distinguish the proper actionable information from the complete garbage?
A force that adds to entire mix is a system that increasingly only values the capacity to monetize things. This has destroyed the ability of the media to act as a referee in society. Facts and lies are now a free for all. Scandal and fiction sell far better than facts and truth. As a result we scandalize everything. As a result small probability events are drummed up to drive better ratings (the monetization of the news), and scare the public. The scared public then acts to try to control these false risks and fears through accountability, and the downward spiral of bullshit begins. Society today is driven by fear and the desire to avoid being afraid. Risk is avoided and failure is punished. Today failure is a scandal and our ability to accomplish anything of substance is sacrificed to avoid the potential of scandal.
All of these forces are increasingly driving the elites in society (and increasingly the elites are simply those who have a modicum of education) to look at events and say “WTF?” I mean what the actual fuck is going on? The movie Idiocracy was set 500 years in the future, and yet we seem to be moving toward that vision of the future at an accelerated path that makes anyone educated enough to see what is happening tremble with fear. The sort of complete societal shitshow in the movie seems to be unfolding in front of our very eyes today. The mind-numbing effects of reality show television and pervasive low-brow entertainment is spreading like a plague. Donald Trump is the most obvious evidence of how bad things have gotten.
The sort of terrible outcomes we see obviously through our broken political discourse are happening across society. The scientific world I work in is no different. The low-brow and superficial are dominating the dialog. Our programs are dominated by strangling micromanagement that operates in the name of accountability, but really speaks volumes about the lack of trust. Furthermore the low-brow dialog simply reflects the societal desire to eliminate the technical elites from the process. This also connects back to the micromanagement because the elites can’t be trusted either. It’s become better to speak to the uneducated common man who you can “have a beer with” than trust the gibberish coming from an elite. As a result the rise of complete bullshit as technical achievements has occurred. When the people in charge can’t distinguish between Nobel Prize winning work and complete pseudo-science, the low-bar wins out. Those of us who know better are left with nothing to do but say What the Fuck? Over and over again.
The bottom line is that the Donald Trump phenomenon isn’t a localized event; it is the result of a deeply broken society. These type of WTF events are all around us every day albeit in lesser forms. Our workplaces are teaming with WFT moments. We take WTF training for WTF problems. We have WTF micromanagement that serves no purpose except to provide people with a false sense of security that nothing scandalous is going on. The WTF moment is that the micromanagement is scandalous in and of itself. All the while our economic health stands at the abyss of calamity because most business systems are devised to be wealth-transfer mechanisms rather than value creation or customer satisfaction mechanisms.
We live in a world where complete stupidity such as anti-vaxxers, climate change denial, creationists,… all seem to be taken as seriously as the science stacked against them. WTF? When real scientists are ignored in comparison to celebrities and politicians as the oracles of truth, we are lost. We waste immense amounts of time, energy, money and karma preventing things that will never happen, yet doing these things is a priority. WTF? What the fuck! Indeed! All of this is corrosive in the extreme to the very fabric of our society. The corrosion is visible in the most repugnant canary every seen in our collective coalmine, the Donald. He is a magnificent WTF indictment of our entire society.