A small story:

"Have you lost anyone?" is now a reasonable thing to ask someone you haven't spoken to in a while; sometimes, you hear the person pausing, trying to determine which loss you mean, COVID or politics.
In our lives, we have lost one person directly to COVID, one person maybe to COVID (early, strange pulmonary death) and one person who died of something unrelated but, in a way, all deaths are COVID deaths this year, in that we didn't use to have to die on FaceTime.
Until recently, I would have sworn I hadn't lost anyone the other way. Yes, we have relatives who are in New York who are Republican but still despised him because, well, they're from New York and have frontal lobes. They voted for him because they were trained to hate her more.
They aren't lost, in that they are pretty much exactly who they always were; people who grew up in the boroughs during the roughest years, who were probably biologically inclined to view change and chaos as more of an existential threat as their cousins, who are all Democrats.
No, the person I am losing is someone far more baffling and heartbreaking, someone I would have sworn was too smart to be radicalized by algorithms. Then again, I recall reading once that a con artist, if given the choice, will con either the very stupid or the very smart.
The very stupid are easy to separate from their money, what with being very stupid but if a con artist can convince a smart person it's almost better because they'll fill in the blanks of the con, blur the incongruities. In short, they'll do the con artist's work for them.
My friend lives in a big city, in a gorgeous house. All day, every day, for over a year, she has sat in her house and reads the news because she takes care of her elderly parents and is lucky enough to have the resources to outsource the risk. No shopping, no errands.
Just the news.
When we've talked, I've noticed that she's increasingly angry with #BLM and what she views as their lack of a specific agenda, which then seamlessly merged into, "Did you see what they are doing to small businesses in Manhattan? They're destroying their own community."
She'd then send me six, seven, eleven links to stories about looted bodegas. Sometimes I'd read them. Sometimes, I wouldn't. The articles came from actual newspapers but there was a sameness which didn't inspire that much interest for me.
As the months progressed, it became, " #BLM has ties to anti-Semitism."

Probably, in that a) Everything has ties to anti-Semitism, if you're willing to redefine the word "Ties," and b) It's an awkward fact some parts of the African-American community dabbled in that.

My friend's family is culturally Jewish (as she says, "Not temple, but bagel"), but she has relatives from her grandparent's generation who died in the camps. Her mother got panicky forwarded articles from her elderly trapped and bored Jewish friends, which she sent my friend.
Every link my friend would open, every story from increasingly arcane sources, would tee her up to see more and more alarming news. Her algorithm now knew she'd stay x amount of minutes on a story about the COVID relief package but 10x minutes about a small fire behind a deli.
Every month, her outlook dims. "I don't understand," my friend says, her tone heartbroken, "The Jews were in the South, helping with Voting Rights. We died down there. And now they're rewarding the people threatening us."
I'd use every skill at I was taught when I worked on the AIDS hotline for dealing with a not entirely rational person. I listened, I mirrored her feelings, I'd try to point out the smaller incongruities in her narrative, hoping that somehow a small crack might let in some light.
"But," she respond, "It's true."

Weary from punching an indefatigable ghost, I'd hang up knowing that during the time we were on the phone, nine more articles confirming and solidifying her belief that maybe, possibly, it was "Their" problem had landed in her mailbox.
My friend is, was, smart, generous, fiercely devoted to her family. Algorithms have weaponized all that. I think of that study about how the brain may be able to predict your political leanings. Brains are plastic in the scientific sense of the word.

We're hardening up badly.
I have no idea how this story ends; I usually use history to give me a road map about how something will happen but this has no precedent.

We're walking into fog.

And so many are lost.
You can follow @quinncy.
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