Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Hundred Flowers Bloom

On Thom Hartmann’s show today, media critic Norman Solomon excitedly explained that if we all work to deconstruct political lies, “the American people” will realize that they’re being misled, and disasters like the Iraq War will be less likely to happen.

Great idea, eh? It’s a pity no one thought of that in the run-up to the war.

What Solomon overlooks is that political lies are successful not to the extent that they’re plausible, but to the extent that they’re preferable to reality. That’s why people who try to puncture political fantasies so often end up on the sidelines licking their wounds, while rampant and ululant liars continue to be treated with quasi-religious reverence. It’s not a lie if it’s what you want to hear.

Solomon’s assumption – which is very common on the left – is that it’s a simple lack of information that causes Americans to support, or at least tolerate, criminal policies. That’s true in the sense that it’s a simple lack of information that prevents compulsive gamblers from believing they’ll beat the odds, but false in its rationalist assumption that given a choice between fantasy and truth, people will (or are able to) choose the truth. What truth more often produces, as we all know, is an overwhelming immune response whose chief symptom is rage.

Which is why the terrorists are less of a threat, to many Americans, than you or me or Norman Solomon. Terrorists confirm what these people already know - about the world, and foreigners, and alien creeds - and give them a solid identity as Opponents of Evil. Media critics and their ilk want to blur these distinctions and confuse the issue, leaving their victims bereft and naked in a strange land. Which is why we’re often at our weakest when we’re most powerful, in terms of having some semblance of the truth on our side.

For authoritarian politicians, of course, things are simple: Terrorists broaden their power, while citizens seek to restrict it. Who would they rather see defeated once and for all?

Meanwhile, Atrios wants us to tell the White House we’re displeased by the Scooter Libby decision, which to my mind is like asking us to put a cherry on top of BushCo's ice cream sundae. Our unhappiness is an expected and welcome result of the decision, and was undoubtedly one of the things that made it worth doing. I’m sure there’s something comforting for these folks about the sound of moderate-left outrage, with its sober invocation of The Federalist Papers and little-known facts from the history of Boss Tweed’s New York; it’s like having crickets outside your window all night.

Although conservatives spend a lot of time attacking collectivism, their success is based primarily on group cohesion, looking out for one another, and team effort; it wouldn’t surprise me if they occasionally held hands and sang “Kumbaya” at their secret retreats. While their official commitment may be to “individualism,” the fact remains that they’ve taken larger self-sacrificing risks, and displayed more solidarity, to accomplish their schemes than most of their opponents have managed.

You can’t really blame them for believing that they can do as they please. Who’s going to tell them any different?


Anonymous said...

Phila, I just want to say thank you for posting such articles. You have a gift. I think you're completely right on the issue of truth versus what people want to hear.


Anonymous said...

Second Kurt's comment.

Now the question is what we do about it. Liberals focus on rationality because we don't want to hear that something so alien as what Phila describes is actually what's happening.

And, if one takes this line of thought to its logical conclusion (provide suitable lollypops and hate figures to those who prefer that to thinking), then the terrorists, er, whoever, have won.


Phila said...

Thanks, Kurt.

Now the question is what we do about it.

You expect me to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness?

I'll have to try and remember where I left my flamethrower....