Constructing the Golem

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischConstructing the Golem

by Ursula K. Le Guin

The legend of the golem varies according to the teller, but I will follow the version that tells how in a time of persecution a rabbi made a mighty giant out of mud, a golem, and wrote a sacred word on its forehead — “Truth” — that gave it life. With its frightening size and enormous strength, the golem was to defend and safeguard the Jews. But the golem was not rational, not controllable. It was a danger in itself. So the rabbi removed a single letter from the word on its forehead, which then read “Death,” and the life went out of the giant, leaving only mud.

~~~

Sometimes it seems lately that most of the emails I get from my friends are about Donald Trump. Some are laments, confessions of despair; many are witty parodies of him, funny imitations of him, scathing cartoons about him. He is the subject, the object, of all of them.

He is also the subject of most lead stories in most newspapers, which is expectable for a new president, and of endless editorials. I gather that he fills the political news on TV even more thoroughly and is exhaustively, continually discussed, attacked, defended, parodied, etc. on the social media, not to mention his own nightly fits of twittering. I don’t know this firsthand because I rarely watch or listen to any media news any more, don’t follow or read social media at all (though occasionally have posted something from my website), and don’t have a smart phone. If this makes you feel that I am disqualified to comment on modern life and politics, I can’t argue.

As a science fiction writer, I will, however, say that sometimes the view of Earth from another planet can give insights otherwise unattainable.

~~~

Looking at the New World from the ancient one I inhabit, I am appalled at the constant, obsessive attention paid to Trump.

He appears to be exactly what he wants to be: addictive.

He is a true, great master of the great game of this age, the Celebrity Game. Attention is what he lives on. Celebrity without substance. His “reality” is “virtual” — i.e. non-existent — but he used this almost-reality to disguise a successful bid for real power. Every witty parody, hateful gibe, clever takeoff, etc., merely plays his game, and therefore plays into his hands.

Reagan was the master of TV, but this guy has a nation full of people with their eyes and ears already glued 18 hours a day to screens and speakers, already habituated to a stream of disparate, disconnected “information” (news/entertainment/commercials mashup) which cannot be fact-checked, cannot be organized into understanding, because it’s so huge, so incessant, and goes by so fast. Exactly the way Trump thinks and talks.

It’s how he won the campaign: keeping in the limelight, flummoxing his Republican rivals, outshouting poor, rational Clinton, silencing thought with a flood of incessant, bullying, meaningless words.

It’s no use wishing the media would stop hanging on him and the press would stop reporting every tweet, but it may be worth saying that they’d do less of it if we stopped watching and listening to him — if we weren’t so literally fascinated by him.

He’s the snake and we’re the chickens.

When he does something weird (which he does constantly in order to keep media attention on him), look not at him but at the people whom his irresponsible acts or words affect — the Republicans who try to collaborate with him (like collaborating with a loose cannon), the Democrats and Government employees he bullies, the statesmen from friendly countries he offends, the ordinary people he uses, insults, and hurts. Look away from him, and at the people who are working desperately to save what they can save of our Republic and our hope of avoiding nuclear catastrophe. Look away from him, and at reality, and things begin to get back into proportion.

I honestly believe the best thing to do is turn whatever it is OFF whenever he’s on it, in any way.

He is entirely a creature of the media. He is a media golem. If you take the camera and mike off him, if you take your attention off him, nothing is left — mud.

—UKL
21 February 2017

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About Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is a founding member of Book View Cafe.
Her most recent BVC ebook is MY LIFE SO FAR, BY PARD, translated from the Feline by UKL. Library of America is publishing Hainish Novels and Stories and a number of her other books.

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18 Responses to Constructing the Golem

  1. I absolutely agree. I don’t seek anything Trumpian out. AT ALL. The problem is that one might have to go into a Trappist retreat in order to avoid it these days. Turn on any news source and it’s bleeding Trump at the seams; if you put a toe in any social media at all on the computer it’s brimming with the man and his cronies and whatever the hell mess they’re brewing currently.

    I think part of the problem is that half those who watch are – as you point out – obsessed and addicted, and the other half are watching because they are TERRIFIED and they’re just trying to stay one step ahead, if they can, by knowing where the next hand grenade is going to land.

    It’s hard to ignore, given those parameters…

  2. ROBERT BRANDT says:

    A golem indeed. He shall not be named has had a bit more than his 15 minutes of fame, while I have not succeeded in ignoring him I refuse to focus on him.
    Thank you for the analogy in so far as possible I do turn him off.

  3. Susan Jackson says:

    Love it, just wish the news would do,it but I guess they can’t or no,telling what hemwould get up to””

  4. Farhad Manjoo, the NY Times technology reporter, has an interesting piece on just this subject here. His take is less creative than yours, but I think he reached a similar conclusion.

    Perhaps eventually we’ll find a way to change the word on the golem’s forehead.

  5. Paul says:

    Thank you, Ursula, as always.
    I couldn’t agree more. I have been wondering (and fulminating), literally for years, why we create these monsters by paying attention to them. And then, when we do give them the life that comes from our fascinated attention, why are we appalled that they suddenly can exercise the power and reach that we gave them? We thought, did we, that by laughing at them, we could prevent their rise? Look away, indeed.

    As has been said: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about THESE things.”

    Would that we could persuade the world….

  6. Zena says:

    Fair enough. But even mere mud can be incredibly dangerous…

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/brazilian-village-mudslide-1.3308417

  7. Eric Ladner says:

    As my mother always told us, the only thing the kids who tease you want is your attention, and the best response is to ignore them.

    We can’t ignore the president, but we don’t have to help him by keeping our attention where he wants it to be.

  8. Zena says:

    The entire world is actually laughing at him—how can one not? He’s provided such rich material for the parodists and satirists. And that’s the problem.

    He’s the distraction the magician is holding up in the air while finagling the punchline of the trick out of the sightline of the audience. So by all means, lets all take our eyes off the cipher, but don’t lose sight of the truly dangerous forces working behind the scenes to destabilise the social, political and economic landscape for their own ends.

    Hannah Arendt had a few poignant things to say about the “banality of evil.” Unfortunately enough time has passed that we’re all in danger of forgetting the lesson.

  9. Sara Stamey says:

    Thank you, Ursula, for your usual keen gaze. Zena, I agree: Keep your focus on the ones manipulating the Golem Drumpf. We need to keep Resisting.

  10. Felipe Pait says:

    You are right. That is why I never use the so-called president’s name.

    We must however fight the regime. If we ignore it, they will take over the republic and destroy our democracy.

  11. I somewhat disagree. He does receive far more media attention than is wise, I believe, but I also believe that ignoring him will make him do ever more dangerous things in his attempts to be the center of attention. So it seems to me that the solution is to try to balance his media presence with that of other things and people.

    I do realize news outlets are unlikely to do that because he’s probably very good for ratings. This means it’s up to ordinary people to control their consumption and their own activities. I, for instance, have started not checking social media at all a few days a week. Does this mean I miss things? Yes. But I’m sure that if something truly catastrophic (as opposed to something that could easily become catastrophic if unchecked) were to happen, it’d be impossible to miss.

  12. Scott Lette says:

    It has become a sad routine now via social media to see folks I follow become blind with hate regarding their latest God-King’s appointment. It saddens me to see otherwise rational people take to spewing hate and vitriol in a seeming adversarial competition with their own perception of Trump and his following.

    The US Republican model (not the party per se) in 2017 is fundamentally flawed with little or no sign of reforming its fundamental issues of corruption and provincial influences. While some see Trump as a Wake-Up Call? I myself see him as a visible bump in your collective JND (Just Noticeable Difference) to see fundamental flaws.

    Where is the outrage for a two-party only system where both parties are bought and paid for by corporate interests that see its own citizens as naught more than consumers or a burden? Where is the outrage for collapse of public infrastructure? For citizens to be redefined as consumers and considered as little more? For a banking system deemed ‘too big to fail’ when your very nation isn’t granted such a caveat?

    I’m Australian, where frankly things are noticeably better than the US and have improved over the last few decades thanks to changes in economics, culture and politics both domestically and frankly mostly in the nations that surround us. We have benefitted from an interconnected world of trade, commerce, ideas and cultures particularly in south-east Asia.

    Sure, we also have some fundamental problems, most noticeably in a drain of talent away from politics towards the corporate sector and a rise of ignorant populism informed by propaganda instead of reality.

    But at our core is a Westminster system that does not allow for God-Kings, let alone for one to be appointed who played a Billionaire on Television. We may in theory have a monarch but the Crown is far more a concept now than a person, to whit we are all collectively grateful.

    I’m sure in time we’ll stuff all that up. But for now, and perhaps not for want of doing so, it’s yet to eventuate.

    I will not offer suggestions for how Americans can ‘fix’ this problem of the Trump Presidency. From my perspective that’s akin to suggesting Nero play something different while Rome burns. You’ve far more important matters, of your own deciding, to contend with. Not to dismiss the inanity of Trump, but as much as you lot malign him with a certain angry Austrian? That nasty piece of work was competent, didn’t avoid war service and could write his own books even if they were naught but a hate blog with indexed chapters.

    I don’t write of US decline with any sort of glee. While arguably well intentioned the Cold War had a brutal toll on the less powerful nations of the world with a body count that I think we all ignore for want of going quite mad. In my darker moments I realise the US was as its best with a real enemy instead of manufactured ones.

    What I do hope is the the citizens of the United States of America collectively come to a realisation that they’ve far more at stake than barracking for their politics as a coloured tie or sports team.

    And that voting at a ballot box rife with Gerrymanders (I lived under one as a child in my home state of Queensland, I don’t recommend it!) and the illusion of choice cloaked by professional political classes of public and media relations, deal-making and power-broking.

    I would suggest giving a national holiday for Federal and State elections, as well as making voting a responsibility, and not a right, if I may.

    I am not sure how you would approach such a change. Perhaps a Constitutional amendment.

    When in doubt, ask a gaggle of Lawyers.

    I hear you lot are fond of them and have many in abundance. Just make sure to appoint those who have a sense of civic responsibility beyond enriching their own personal coffers.

    Apart from that, it’s entirely up to you both as individuals and as collective groups.
    So, the best of luck to you all to do so.

    I did have to start writing that novel about the birth of nations, the sense of frontier and identity right about the time this has become such a cultural phenomenon!

  13. InkSplotches says:

    Thank you for your insightful post, it’s the first thing I’ve read in a while concerning this whole fisasco that has given me any sense of direction on how to deal with it.

    I’d actually decided to stop seeking out articles on him, but I was wondering if that was a mistake, if I shouldn’t stay informed – ‘keep your enemy close’ an all that (though I do admit that’s a bit dramatic, I guess I meant more if there’s a lunatic in the backyard, you’d rather know than not what he’s up to…) but your post has given me a well needed nudge and a solid reason to stick to the decision.

  14. Kelly Hunter says:

    Beautifully put, of course. Thank you for your voice.

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  16. Anne says:

    What I find most astonishing is that the media (including the “liberal” media) have wholeheartedly adopted his language–for example, “fake news,” a made-up Trump term. They seem to be in thrall to him, as if they are just puppets and he is pulling the strings.

  17. Jan Morrison says:

    We cannot stop him from being the snake so must cease being the chickens. Or find a rooster (the metaphor falls apart, as it must, with the gender of these terms). A rooster, in my experience of being owned by several flocks, will never ever back down in the presence of a threat. I had a rooster defend his flock successfully from a rottweiler. He lost some of his dignity and all of his tail feathers, but no hens. In this case I’m placing the ACLU as the rooster. Of course a farmer with a stick might also be helpful. Trying to reason with snakes is always a waste of time.