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Oct
27
2020
Village Life

Mandy Knaul The Village Mouse

The Village Mouse— The sinking of the friend ship

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The following opinion column was printed in the October 1 edition of the News:

In the months since COVID changed lives, a dear friend and fellow Antiochian I’ve known for over 20 years shared on social media she will vote for Donald Trump this year. Hearing this news, I felt the atoms making up my worldview split. My metaphysical fracturing was not just due to my friend changing her mind about a political candidate, it came as I listened to her reasons why.

Protecting anonymity, I will call my friend Pasiphae or P. I’ve chosen the famous “wide shining” queen of Crete for my friend’s pseudonym because Pasiphae was cursed to lie with a white bull and gave birth to the Minotaur, the monster of the Labyrinth in Greek mythology.

Pasiphae and I were close friends at Antioch and became even closer after graduating. Always living cities apart, we maintained a close bond through letters, then social media, and with the help of  long telephone conversations. Once I moved back to Yellow Springs, we were able to see each other annually at Antioch Reunion, during which she always stayed at my home. I spent two weeks with P a few years ago on the other side of our country during one of my favorite vacations ever. Folks who know me know I don’t fly on airplanes, but I flew hours to spend time with Pasiphae. Though always platonic, we shared what many call a romantic friendship, like Anne and Diana, Horatio and Hamlet, like Thelma and Louise. We’ve been known to cuddle up together and read to each other, talk for hours and never grow tired, share meals and many secrets.

I’d find out later the entire story behind Pasiphae’s pivot from left to right and from voting for the Democratic candidate — or the climate-oriented third-party candidate — to vowing to vote for Trump. But first, all I had to go on was a private message sent to me by a concerned mutual friend, telling me that she feared Pasiphae was bingeing on the conspiracy theories touted by QAnon “believers.” QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory, has gone from fringe to mainstream, with some help from the president himself. I hadn’t been keeping up on P’s regular postings because I had “snoozed” her after a Facebook-feud, a squabble about the measles outbreak and vaccines. P would later proudly proclaim she is a “4th generation anti-vaxxer,” who, above all else, fears government-mandated vaccinations.

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Pasiphae and I went from bosom buddies to Kilkenny Cats after one online exchange over my belief in our responsibility to maintain public health versus her commitment to personal medical freedom. During the quarrel, P became so angry, she posted scathing comments about me and another comrade, asking how could “real Antiochians” support any interference in medical autonomy. As a proud graduate of the college, the disparagement fiercely hurt. Neither I nor the other mutual friend proposed mandating vaccinations; we simply spoke about being “pro-vaccine” to keep diseases like the measles dormant. I was mystified by her fear and cutting words. It was like when gun owners view gun control as the precursor to going door to door and confiscating citizen’s weapons. That day I snoozed Pasiphae, a useful tool on social media platforms to take a break from a relationship, but avoid breaking up or “unfriending.” In our online lives, the falling out of a friendship tends to go from snoozing, to unfriending, to blocking, the ultimate e-banishment.

Then I started hearing from my wife, who had not snoozed Pasiphae. “Did you see P’s latest?” I’d remind her I was not following P; snoozing allows one a set amount of time before again seeing posts from the snoozed account. “No – should I look?” I’d respond, and my wife would implore, “Oh, no. Don’t look. You’re better off not to look.” It is an odd feeling to have the option of omniscience and to disregard it out of feelings of hurt. It’s sort of like responding by plugging your ears, humming, and chanting: “I don’t want to listen to this!”

I decided to go digging into Pasiphae’s Facebook feed and in so doing, I ended up — rather than gradually digesting her transition — being forced to swallow it all at once. Over the months I’d snoozed her on social media, Pasiphae had been posting in Q-speak about “going down the rabbit hole” or “doing your own research,” about popular conspiracies like Pizzagate. This is a quest that counterintuitively does not include reading empirical, peer-reviewed, fact-based research, especially if it comes from mainstream media outlets.

Q, an anonymous online personality that may be one or several people posting on internet image-based bulletin boards like 4chan or recently, the “WGA Network,” has inspired among followers analogies to “Alice in Wonderland” and the film “The Matrix.” “Taking the red pill,” is what “believers” do to “wake up” to the “truth.” Taking the blue pill? That’s what sheep do, remaining asleep to what’s really going on, poor followers duped by the “deep state,” the unenlightened masses who blindly believe mainstream media and more often than not, what Q calls “liberal elites.” This is Cult Sociology 101.

Perusing P’s pages on various platforms, I quickly saw just how deeply she’d mined her way into red pill country. I had no idea the depths to which I’d follow her into the labyrinth, but of course, I tied my cord tightly around myself before entering. I wasn’t about to chase white rabbits. I was certain I would face a labyrinth of illusions and wind up facing Pasiphae’s beloved Minotaur. Was it her fault she’d fallen for such a beast? I didn’t think so, and I was fully determined to help her find her way out.

The rescue attempt led me to a five-hour long telephone conversation with Pasiphae that gave me some clarification and hope, but then to weeks of feeling I was at the end of my rope and still not close to revealing to Pasiphae the riddle of Q. My goal was to leave the labyrinth behind, hand-in-hand with one of my dearest friends. Was I successful? You’ll find out in the installments to come.

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