John Seven: New word puts political maelstrom into context


NORTH ADAMS — Last week I learned a new word that brought together everything I had ever pondered about the psychology of human behavior and the different ways it manifests itself.

And the word came from a very unlikely source — professional wrestling. In "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy," the answer to life, the universe and everything is famously the number "42." This word works kind of like that, actually. It's the key.

The word? Kayfabe.

Kayfabe refers to obviously fake events portrayed as real ones, or more specifically, the dynamic between the players in the events and the audience not only witnessing the events, but taking part in a way.

The audience must suspend its disbelief in order to participate as an audience. The action that ensues from the fiction is spurred on by the reaction of the audience.

Kayfabe is that psychological space that the performers and the audience create together, where the statement "wrestling is fake" is not even relevant to the dynamic, since kayfabe is its own agreed upon reality and, therefore, fakeness is not something that actually exists within it.

Now in terms of firsthand experience, I can remember as a teenager entering the kayfabe space without ever knowing it existed when I went to the Savannah Civic Center down in Georgia to watch wrestling with my grandmother.

On a conscious level, I knew that Ric Flair and Jimmy Snuka and Black Jack Mulligan and all the rest were performing a kind of theater, but when you agreed to enter into that psychological space with the wrestlers and with their fans, I accepted it as the reality of that specific bubble.

It was a place where the laws of the universe mandated the existence of evil Nazi wrestlers like Baron Von Raschke and his evil Claw hold as necessary, and my job was not so much denying reality or even suspending disbelief, but entering a bubble universe with its own laws of reality that I accepted.

Reminds me a lot of politics, really. Or religion. Or fandom. Or sports. It reminds me of the realm where you can believe that vaccines cause autism or the one where Trump tells it like it is. The one where the Holocaust is denied. The one where Hillary Clinton is a war criminal. The one where Obama is a Muslim conspirator. The one where fluoride is evil. The one where wind turbines make you sick. The one where Seth Rogen is remotely funny or Madonna is inspirational and talented.

I could go on and I'm sure my online trolls will, somehow cleverly wrapping my own existence into that list. So be it.

Learning about the word kayfabe gave me an instantaneous map of human psychological reality. Self-contained universes — similar the membranes in m-theory used to describe the multiverse, but these universes don't collide, they overlap like a three-dimensional Venn diagram revealing the intersections of human acceptance.

It also highlights why our interaction has revealed so many impasses. As the reality ambles along, complexity grows, the bubbles increase and the necessity for varying kayfabe moments to enter into any of those bubbles becomes unavoidable.

The life you live becomes one huge example of kayfabe, with multiple little moments of it within. To paraphrase the turtle saying, it's kayfabes all the way down.

The next time you and someone else seem to reach an impassable obstruction to understanding, remember — it's not that you believe different things. It's that you've given yourself to different laws in different universes.

The question is, do you accept your own kayfabes and move along, or do you decide to try and bust through? That's the real question, but each kayfabe contains its own answer.

Contact John Seven at Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven.


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