Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held a town hall on October 3 at which an ostensibly mentally ill woman demanded, as a solution to climate change, “we got to start eating babies”. AOC, who has always handled adversity and difficulty with poise, addressed legitimate concerns around climate change and, while visibly disturbed by the spectacle, did not resort to ridicule or immediate denouncement, as lesser people would be wont to do. I think she handled the situation as well as anyone could have. Bravo, Ocasio.
I usually wake up between 3:00 and 5:00. At 3:27 this morning, I found #EatTheBabies trending on Twitter, and I had the distinct displeasure of reading right-wing tweets about how “leftist” climate change “hysteria” is triggering dangerous mental-health crises. According to the right, Ocasio-Cortez’s choice not to immediately denounce infantivory represents leftist endorsement of the notion. That is, of course, absurd.
Take note of this. The right wing, which has already labelled this woman a “climate activist” rather a person likely in need of psychiatric health, is testing out a false equivalency. Americans are fed up with the stochastic terrorism and bad-faith argumentation used by our society’s reactionary, authoritarian, and upper-class elements to stoke the nation’s right-wing, racist, paranoid counterrevolution (designed to be “populist” in a way that is no threat to the upper class, because it cannot help but punch down). The conservative and pro-corporate elements of our society want nothing more than to associate AOC’s moderate socialism with baby-eating, as if Cormac McCarthy’s The Road were a leftist how-to manual.
We live in a strange time. I’ve seen enough strange stuff to have a sense of the nation’s politics, and I’ll try to answer the question, What the hell is going on? There are three possibilities.
The first possibility for what happened on October 3 is that a woman in poor mental health had an outburst. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for security reasons if nothing else, had to operate on this assumption and respond to the woman with compassion while not confirming her assertions. Here’s the thing to remember: AOC is not your typical bourgeois liberal who preaches compassion but avoids conflict with the afflicted or poor. She’s seen real shit. She’s worked with the public– as a waitress in Manhattan. She knows that ridicule is not how to handle a volatile situation.
The second possibility, because of the time we live in, and because of the exceedingly low character of the corporate upper class and today’s political right, is that this spectacle was created to humiliate the left. Several right-wingers are claiming that climate change activism is triggering “hysteria”. Others are arguing (in bad faith) that because Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately denounce infantivory and the bombing of Russia, that leftists and liberals are secretly cozy with these terrifying ideas. It is possible (although I don’t consider it likely) that this woman was an actor commissioned to damage the image of the left, of the environmental movement, and of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed Green New Deal.
The last thing I want to do is accuse an ostensibly mentally ill person of acting in bad faith. As I said, I don’t consider it likely that she’s a “troll”, but the possibility requires discussion insofar as the the right has already used the event as an opportunity to argue in bad faith. Yes, people are actually saying that intelligent moderate socialists are on the fence about cannibalism.
Again, this is all an effort to create a false equivalency between leftist non-denial of climate change and the deranged right-wing conspiracy theories (like “white genocide”) that lead to violence.
So, while I don’t think it’s likely, I consider it possible that certain upper-class, conservative, or pro-employer authoritarian elements in our society have arranged this spectacle.
A third possibility, a more likely variant on the second, is: it’s a mix of both. It’s possible that this woman was a mentally ill person (not a bad-faith “troll”) but also that she was directed to Ocasio-Cortez’s town hall for the purpose of having a mental health crisis in public, harming the left. Does this seem far-fetched? Perhaps, but it’s the Silicon Valley playbook. It’s only a matter of time before the entire alt-right begins to use it.
For several years, it has been a common practice in the venture-funded technology industry (“Silicon Valley”) to recruit the homeless to harass guests as, for example, a rival’s launch party. I don’t think this is done to disrupt business operations, because I don’t think it’s very effective; it’s more of a mechanism to threaten and annoy one’s adversaries. I bring it up not because it’s underreported, and also because it’s in extremely bad taste.
I know about this tactic from personal experience. Some of my readers know that, since 2011, I’ve had to deal with fascist attacks on my career and reputation. I’m at least half a million dollars poorer (and that’s a conservative estimate) than I would be, had I not been fending off assaults from literal fascists my entire career. I’ve had written job offers rescinded, more than once, when a fascist sympathizer (and, likely, actual fascist) discovered online that I have said positive things about antifa (which literally means no more and no less than antifascism). We live in a time when to be rational and humane (both of which stand in opposition to fascism) is to be political; but we also live in a time where to “be political” upsets proudly and self-assertedly “apolitical” entities like corporate employers.
I’ll share just one example. A few years ago, I interviewed for a machine learning engineer position at a reputable Chicago trading firm. The team wanted to make an offer; an executive blocked it. Why? He discovered my mild criticism of an unethical (and, likely, illegal) corporate practice unrelated to trading or finance. He formed the opinion that if a publicly “political” person were discovered to work at the firm (even in a non-executive role) it would be a publicity risk. Here’s the kicker, though: this fascist assault occurred in June 2013, long before fascism was part of the national conversation. In 2013, a right-wing takeover of this nation (already well into progress, but through private employers rather than government) seemed unthinkable.
Authoritarians do not have an ideology in the classical sense. It is not about “free markets” for them; it is not about tradition or philosophical conservative. They are the win-at-all-costs players. They will gladly weaponize our society’s most vulnerable people.
I have stood in vocal opposition to Silicon Valley’s coziness with fascism– before 2016, the employer-nucleated fascism-lite our society tolerated because it was not overtly racist, misogynist, or warlike; after 2016, the expressed literal fascism that is killing people– and, as a result of this, I’ve endured considerable harassment. I was banned from Hacker News and Y Combinator–owned Quora in the summer of 2015 on false pretenses that, if the claims were true, would cause embarrassment. I’ve been harassed on the streets by deranged, ostensibly homeless, people. In many cases, it’s been clear that they “knew” (or, more likely, had recently been told) my name and affiliations. I’ve been ordered by people I’ve never met to stop writing about certain topics. There was a period of time when I could not go to San Francisco– I feared for my life.
I bring this up because it is not a new tactic for the right wing to weaponize our society’s most vulnerable and unfortunate people. Is that what happened at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s town hall, which the right is disingenuously using to equate moderate socialism with infantivory? I don’t know. We’ll probably never know. But it happens, and it will happen more in the future as our society’s corporate, fascist, and authoritarian interests gear up for the fight of their lives– which happens to be, as it were, the fight of our lives as well.