The Heart, it Sinks: When People You Love Believe Weird Things
Several years ago, when I was still involved in the Kabbalah Centre, I went to see my favorite teacher. Ruthie was warm and demonstrative, loud and wise, and her English was punctuated with periodic retreats into Hebrew when she got particularly excited.
I had come to ask for advice about looking for a job. I was in rather desperate straits after the disgraceful and crushing loss of my teaching career; I was living in a halfway house, trying to earn my way back to being a father. I was collecting General Relief from the county.
Ruthie gave me a series of tips, including suggestions of people I might call, and a broader pep talk about many men like me who had rebuilt their lives after a shattering disgrace. I was feeling very good about everything until the end, when, just as I was saying goodbye, Ruthie paused and said she had one more critical piece of advice.
”Please make sure you are never looking at the moon at night.”
I hesitated, and she reiterated, forcefully. “Gazing at the moon will give all your power away to the dark side. If you must walk at night, do not look at the sky. It is so important.”
I thanked her, and left. By the time I hit the sidewalk, the depression was so overwhelming I nearly fell to my knees. Kabbalah — and much of Chassidic Judaism — is full of folk superstitions, and along with things like not looking into a woman’s eyes when one is in a cemetary, it was strongly advised to never look at the moon. The moon has no light of its own, we were told; it only exists to take and reflect — and given a chance, it will take your light too.
The moon over the Minarets, a gathering of rocks very precious to my family.
Good people, loving people, people whom I relied on so much for counsel and support in my most frail hour, they believed this. And though I try very hard at times to believe all sorts of outlandish things for the sake of not rocking the boat, I just couldn’t get to the point where I could think the moon was robbing me of my vitality.
More recently, I became involved in a parent organization in the LA Unified School District. For a host of reasons, while I am not anti-vaccine, I was against mandating a vaccine for children still under an Emergency Use Authorization and whose long-term effects remain unknown. I also wanted a return to in-person schooling, and an end to what I regarded as the absurd mandate that children exercise outdoors while wearing masks.
I met a group of parents who shared my convictions, and at the one in-person meetup I attended, we talked about organizing mask-free playdates and considering alternatives should the district mandate COVID vaccines for our children. All went well, until a speaker got up and suggested that we remember that the “biosecurity state” was just one part of the globalist agenda. We also had to worry about our children being groomed by pedophiles, and mentioned that one teacher in her daughter’s school was believed to be trans, and openly recruiting children to change their pronouns. What followed was the most appalling cascade of conspiracy theories, including multiple references to the influence of Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, Jeffrey Epstein, the Chinese Communist Party and George Soros in the “Great Reset Plan” to gain control of our children. The trans issue was the camel’s nose under the proverbial tent.
I excused myself and ceased all contact with the group. Shared views on masks and vaccines wouldn’t be enough to stomach the rest of the feast they were serving.
It’s not just religious folks and right-leaning parents who believe ridiculous things. In 1998, I worked on a Congressional campaign for a man named Barry Gordon who was running to unseat Jim Rogan, the Pasadena Republican who was one of the managers of the Clinton Impeachment Trial. (Rogan won reelection in 1998, and then lost in 2000 to Adam Schiff, famous for Russiagate and his own role in impeachment doings.)
During that 1998 campaign, a Gordon staffer told me that the CIA was behind the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and that the agency had set up Bill because the president had found out that the CIA had been behind introducing crack cocaine to inner-city neighborhoods. This staffer accused the LA Times and one of its former editors of deliberately covering up for the CIA. When I mentioned that I knew the particular accused editor-in-chief very well and had briefly been engaged to his daughter, and that I was quite sure no one in that family was involved in any conspiracies, the Gordon staffer got wide-eyed and suggested I meet with the aspiring Congressman for a “classified debrief.” That staffer herself was later let go, and I like to think the candidate didn’t buy into any of that silliness himself, but I had quit volunteering before then.
My mother has an expression for when a heretofore-presumed-to-be-reasonable person suddenly says they believe conspiratorial nonsense. Mama calls it a heartsink, a noun to describe that awful feeling when one discovers that one whom one had thought was a likeminded fellow is actually in thrall to outright absurdity. We have always had “heartsink” moments, but social media makes them far more common. Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram allow friends and family to peddle their various theories about Epstein’s plane, or what’s really in the vaccine, or CIA operatives dealing drugs, and we get far more opportunities than ever before to be stunned and unnerved by the strange and entirely unmoored inner intellectual processes of people we love.
My friends on left and right who believe in conspiracy theories would no doubt say that my refusal to see the plain truth (if only I would watch this, or read that) gives them a “heartsink moment,” and I honor that. When one is surrounded by the Awokened and the Enlightened and the Red-pilled and one refuses to connect the dots in the way they ask you to, you are to be pitied for your sheeplike refusal to grasp the enormity of the Great Crime unfolding right in front of your disbelieving eyes. I have grown very accustomed to seeing that mix of sorrow and exasperation in the minds of friends who believe Weird Things, and, being the product of my upbringing, do my best to flash a winning smile and change the topic to Cal football or the Queen’s Jubilee or the new seasonings at Trader Joe’s. Just because someone believes a singular mad thing does not make them entirely mad; one just shifts and shifts and shifts again until you find one area of sane common ground.
It’s just that finding that common ground is harder than it used to be.
On another note, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled yesterday. The progressive prosecutor was too far left even for arguably the most liberal electorate in any major American city. Also yesterday, mama reminded me that Chesa’s grandfather, Leonard Boudin, had been a great friend of our family, and was much admired for his service.
My late uncle (my maternal grandfather’s younger brother) was Stanley Williams Moore, a hugely influential figure in my childhood. He was one of the men who taught me to ride a horse, and he taught me how to tie a bow tie. He was also, in the years before I was born, a Communist. A professor of political philosophy, he lost his teaching job at Reed College after refusing to testify before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. (We remember, in our family, the “cancel culture” of the McCarthy Era and it was nearly as brutal as today’s version.) Leonard Boudin, then a crusading young civil libertarian, represented Stanley in several legal matters that resulted. He won my family’s gratitude and respect, and he and Stanley remained friends for years.
Very few, if any, of Stanley’s family shared his politics. They found his views mystifying. But when one distant relative suggested that Stanley should be banned from family gatherings because of his notoriety and un-American views, my grandmother would have none of it. My mother’s mother was a staunch Republican, but she loved her brother-in-law and she understood that nothing could be more disgraceful than to allow a disagreement about how the world should be ordered to stop family from gathering for Christmas or the Fourth of July. Stanley was always welcome. Long after my grandfather died, Stanley and grandmother remained devoted to each other, brother and sister until the end, the wide gulf in their political views rendered irrelevant by love.
As a black sheep in the family for a different reason, someone who has brought shame and scandal to the clan, I am grateful that I too am always embraced by my kin, even if they find me embarrassing and bewildering. I have caused 1,000 heartsinks — but there have been 1,001 handshakes and hugs on the other side. May it be so for all of us.