How we choose our psychic predators
October 8, 2020
Henry Farrell describes Donald Trump as a psychic predator. It's an interesting concept that demonstrated (to me at least) how we choose certain kinds of pain for ourselves.
somebody like Donald Trump seems to dominate in very unhealthy ways our collective imagination so that it’s almost impossible to get away from, I really think about one of the kinds of psychic predators that Gene Wolfe describes...[in Phillip K. Dick's book] Ubik. There’s this sense of the world in which all of these paths converge towards a single actor who just gobbles up all of our attention.
[Phillip K.] Dick doesn’t have any very plausible way of getting out from that. He suggests, more or less, that we need some kind of divine intervention. But it captures some of the reasons why the world that we live in very often feels so unpleasant. Even when we don’t want to pay attention to Donald Trump in the United States, we find everybody around us wants to pay attention to Donald Trump. And Trump, if nothing else, seems to have a unique mastery of the skill of remaining at the center of attention.
Henry Farrell, Conversations with Tyler
The implication is that Donald Trump has some special characteristics that draw our attention to him, with an emphasis on his "unique mastery" over our collective imagination. The extent of his skill at capturing our attention is something that's often debated (pdf), but it's certainly present.
As usual however, I'm more interested in how we construct our psychic predators, not how they construct themselves.
There are many more reasons why Trump dominates our media streams than his media strategy (or lack thereof as the case may be). Possibly the most salient is the threat he poses to the media and its stakeholders, though it may be the case that Trump is savvy enough to manipulate this too.
But while many of Farrell's "paths" which "converge" on the man are out of our control, many more are. From the media we consume, to the conversations we have, and the concerns we choose to stress about (as opposed to agentically prepare ourselves for). What's clear is that a psychic predator is quite different from a physical predator.
A psychic predator is a predator you choose.