February 16, 2008

The Age of Unreason

** UPDATE ** A piece in the New York Times discusses "The Age of Unreason" and elaborates on the hostility towards knowledge that is pervading our culture.

Bill Moyers routinely offers thoughtful and interesting topics and interviews on his "Bill Moyer's Journal", offered on PBS and aired locally Sundays at 10:00 p.m. on WQPT and Fridays at 9:00 p.m. on KIIN (channels 10 and 12 respectively on Mediacom cable.)

Moyer's usually has authors who've written on topics that affect the country's political discourse and debate, such as the role of religion in politics, media coverage and shaping of our political discourse, and last week, the impact of the staggering national debt.

But Moyer's also interviewed guest Susan Jacoby, author of "The Age of Unreason".

Her topic was of particular interest as I'd been wanting to write something about the incredibly frustrating (to me) fact that arguments and rationales offered by Republicans so often simply don't make sense when you apply even a small amount of thought, yet no one seems to notice or care.

For instance, the argument for banning gay marriage holds that if it's permitted, that it will somehow destroy traditional marriage. That's lunacy, of course, yet it's allowed to be repeated unchallenged, and without demanding that those spouting it explain exactly how this could possibly be true. (That is, in the real world we live in, not the land of right wing propaganda where reality and logic are nothing but quaint notions.)

Or the whacky argument that we have to send soldiers to their deaths and spend trillions in a spectacularly ineffective and fruitless effort in Iraq, or we'll have to fight the terrorists here, maybe on Brady Street or something. Preposterous, illogical, an utterly false choice, yet again, treated as a credible argument and completely believed by millions of dupes.

Or perhaps the notion put forward by McCain that we again have to keep sending soldiers into a meat-grinder for little or no benefit or else it will allow the "terrorists" so sing and dance and say, "In your FACE, America" and boast that they had "beat" us somehow. McCain says THAT possibility, in effect, would be a fate worse than death, the deaths of thousands more good Americans and innocent Iraqis to be specific.

I don't know about you, but frankly, I don't really much give a damn what that handful of lunatic terrorists think. I'm not going to support dragging our country down the tubes just for bragging rights. It makes not a lick of sense, is irrational and irresponsible, yet again, millions seem to think it's a great way of thinking and are all for sending other people to their deaths to avoid the spectre of a handful of nut-jobs thinking they'd defeated us. It's insane.

I mean, come on now people. If you're going to be fooled and mislead, at LEAST make it harder than THAT! I mean, shouldn't politicians have to at least WORK at pulling the wool over your eyes? Just how damn gullible can you BE?

Or one of the biggest illogical hoaxes, the notion that if you let the very richest Americans pay little or no taxes, that the country will magically reap more tax revenue and everyone will benefit. Hows that for wishful thinking?

We even have one wild and crazy commenter here that would like to argue (endlessly) for this notion with anyone that wants to waste their time. Of course, his argument consists entirely of quoting right wing anti-tax group figures and simply saying anyone who doesn't believe in the patently illogical notion that the more you cut revenue, the more it increases revenue, just doesn't "get it".

If I click my heels together three times will it help?

Jacoby notes that such absurd and patently false notions are treated as somehow sane due to the fact that the right has adopted a "vocabulary that makes wishful thinking sound rational."

She used the example of the right's argument that the surge is working.

Yes, when we sent in thousands more soldiers, the incidence of suicide bombings went down. But that is comparing apples to oranges. How many suicide attacks were there before we invaded the country?

That's right boys and girls, exactly ZERO.

So can the surge really be considered success? And what happens when we begin to draw down troop levels, as has already begun (though recently slowed down)?

Of course, violence will likely spike right back up.

Yet the right wing has many gullible and otherwise intelligent people convinced that they've cracked the case, that we're finally "winning" in Iraq, therefore it would be folly or even disastrous if we began to drawdown our military presence there. It just isn't so.

How many times have you heard Bush or some Republican put forth some facts or an argument that made the little truth alarm in your head go off? Yet you then hear it repeated by sober looking people and begin to doubt your own sense or reality and reason?

It happens nearly daily, as recently when Bush said ominously that somewhere, ter'ists were plotting an unthinkable horrible attack on YOU and your family, and if congress didn't give him the ability to spy on you and your family without any control or oversight whatsoever, then your blood would be on Democrat's hands.

But yet he announced he'd refuse to sign a bill extending this illegal spying (according to him, the only thing between us and terrorist annihilation) unless it gave telecom companies that allowed him to spy on you without court order immunity from lawsuits.

Just try to absorb the cognitive dissonance in that move alone.

Here's what we're being asked to believe, as best as I can put it.

Dems are putting the entire country in dire peril by not agreeing to extend illegal wiretapping provisions. Bush's own security chiefs note that this will not affect the surveillance in the slightest, but after a year, if it's allowed to expire, they'll have to (horrors) ask the rubber stamp FISA court to grant a warrent, even if they do so two days AFTER having begun the surveillance. This is how things stood before Bush insisted that he must be able to spy completely without anyone knowing what they were doing, or who or what they were spying on.

THAT's the big issue. Bush is simply insisting it's too much trouble to get a warrent, even retroactively, from a court which grants 99.99999% of all warrant requests. That's what is putting us in near certain peril of terrorist attack.

And as if that wasn't a huge enough lie, he then turns around and refuses to agree to extend what he says we urgently need because the Dems won't allow the Republicans to ram through telecom amnesty with little or no debate.

Amnesty for telecom giants, who supposedly did nothing wrong. But even though they have done nothing wrong or illegal, Bush is willing to do what he's trying mightily to say the Dems are doing, namely putting us all in jeopardy of near certain calamity and horrid death (according to Bush) by refusing to do anything unless the Dems are steamrolled into granting protection for his buddies in the telecom corporations.

And what's the argument for giving them a free pass? Why, that they're outstanding patriots who voluntarily cooperated to protect us all from evil, and they shouldn't be exposed to the possibility they might be punished, because that would put a "chill" on corporations to "help out" in the future. And by "helping out", we of course mean secretly complying with blatantly illegal and unconsitutional actions against all of us in secret with no notice that our privacy is being invaded.

Yes, this is really what Republicans are arguing.

Right wingers then flock to try to somehow rationalize and defend what clearly makes no sense or doesn't hold up to rational thought. And the result is these preposterous efforts to convince people that they should ignore logic and instead embrace their wishful thinking. (Which of course has little to do with reality at all.)

Jacoby also points to intellectuals on the left whom she believes mistakenly feel that all that needs to be done is to focus people on the outrages of Bush and the Republicans and create a backlash. She feels that the real problem, and where those on the left should instead focus, is the massive, "ignorance and erosion of historical memory that make serious deceptions possible and plausible."

We see a lot of this as well. The example she touched on is the utter disregard for the sacrosanct (until Bush) notion of separation of powers, and their attempts to destroy it by many means, including Bush asserting that he has the right to enter into long term treaties without any approval by congress, as he did in signing an agreement to support and defend Iraq recently, despite it being stated about as clear as it can get in the constitution that only congress has such authority.

The instances of this abuse are numerous and most people aren't even aware of it, yet it's been going on ever since Bush/Cheney got into office, complete with dozens of "signing statements" whereby Bush simply declares that he doesn't agree with a law that the legislature passed, so he therefore is not going to recognize it or obey it.

The Bush administration has long held a position of the "unitary executive", a complex legal theory which essentially holds that the President hold unlimited power, is essentially a dictator who doesn't need to get permission from congress or the courts for anything, nor does he or anyone in his administration have to respond to congressional requests for information (which is why congressional Dems finally stood on their hind legs and cited his lawyer and chief of staff for contempt of congress for simply refusing to even show up when subpoenaed by congress), and that anything he does is legal, simply by virtue that it's the president who wants to do it. And no, this is not an exaggeration.

Or another favorite right wing fairy tale, that of the supposed "out of control judiciary", which maintains that judges have no right to rule against, well, them or what they want.

They argue that judges have no right to issue interpretations of the constitution that they don't agree with, when in fact, they not only have that right, it's their sworn DUTY to do just that.

Yet if any judge issues a ruling that they believe defends the constitution against right wing efforts to subvert it, the judge and court are then scorned as evil "activist judges", condemned for "making law from the bench", code meaning that they issue a ruling they don't agree with.

The fact that this is nothing but a slimy attempt to intimidate and villify judges who happen to issue rulings they don't agree with, all wrapped up in illogical pseudo-intellectual window-dressing is clear, yet millions still buy such tripe.

Jacoby also posited an interesting notion. She holds that a good and effective president should not so much be the "commander-in-chief", but the "educator-in-chief", in that they should endeavor to educate the American people about the issues they hope to take action on BEFORE their opponents are able to throw millions in PR bucks into propaganda to mislead the public against it.

She argues that a president has to provide the public with factual information so that they can participate, feel involved, and come to informed conclusions.

She cited Clinton and Bush as being horrible at this.

For an example, she cited the failed effort of the Clintons to reform the health-cares system. She noted that the conventional wisdom is that the insurance lobby effectively crushed it. Not so, Jacoby argues.

She said the Clinton's mistake was in developing this plan largely in the dark, then springing it on the public. The insurance lobby then put out their infamous "Harry and Louise" ad which distorted the issue before people knew what the hell the Clintons were talking about. It allowed the corporate lobby to distort and put out all sorts of false notions to a public which didn't know any better, and it was effective enough to swing public doubt against the Clinton's proposed changes.

What Jacoby argues is that a good president would have begun an effort to inform the public and draw them into the debate early. They would have explained the issues, made an effort to distribute information that people could educate themselves with, explaining and contrasting various approaches to dealing with the health care crisis, what's at stake, and making them see the benefits of what they would propose, as well as the need for it. But this needs to be done BEFORE the opponents are able to distort the issue and mislead the public with a "Harry and Louise" style PR effort.

An informed and knowledgable public is FAR less likely to buy such patent lies and distortions, which brings us to the reason not much is done to stem the growing stupidity of the public. Because the stupider and more gullible we are, the easier it is for corporate interests to get us to go along with what is in THEIR best interests and often against our own.

Have you been concerned at the dumbing down of the rationales and arguments for what the Republicans want to do? Has it ever struck you that these jack-asses often don't even care if they make sense or not?

When you hear Mitt Romney, a guy that could have been president, say flat out that Democrats want to surrender to terrorists, do you not wonder how we've come to this point, where a legitimate political leader could even THINK of uttering such a contemptible lie in public?

Have any other examples of this seeming bizarroworld that we've been hauled into in the past 8 years?

And isn't this part of the reason so many have so much hope for Barack Obama? That he won't subject us to such blatant disrespect as to repeatedly lie to us for personal political gain, and might start treating us like adults?

If you'd like to see more of this interesting interview, and let her speak for herself in a MUCH more cogent and persuasive way, hop over to the Bill Moyer's Journal website and watch it yourself. Better yet, make sure to tape or catch it each week. You'll be the better for it.


At 2/16/2008 8:40 AM, Blogger Dave Barrett said...

Great post, TID!

When I watch the talking heads on television I keep finding myself wondering if I have somehow fallen down a rabbit hole and ended up in Wonderland -- all these serious-looking experts repeating these insane arguments as if they made perfect sense. We have to continue spending trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq because we do not want to "surrender" and besides the surge is "working". Never mind that the surge was originally proposed as a temporary increase that would allow the Iraqis a little time so that they could achieve political reconcilliation, the Sunnis and Shia would make peace and we could go home. Now we are told that the surge has to continue indefinitely because if we drew down the number of troops the violence would return to pre-surge levels. In other words the surge has completely failed. And yet politicians look right into the camera and claim that it is "working" and all the talking heads on television nod their heads wisely as if a permanent increase in the number of troops in Iraq was what everyone had understood the "surge" was supposed to be.

At 2/16/2008 8:23 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

First of all Dave, I gotta hand it to you for having the stones to wade through that post. I'm sure not many others bothered. Thanks for that.

I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels like I'm through the looking glass when I listen to the Republicans.

I think a large problem with this sort of unreasoning thinking is that it's nearly impossible to try to explain why it doesn't make sense. In other words, the circular and convoluted reasoning and warped morality involved is nearly impossible to untangle and clearly explain why it makes no sense whatsoever.

People KNOW instinctively that it makes no sense, yet they can't figure out why it doesn't, so they, lacking faith in their own knowledge and ability to reason, just give up and decide to believe what the "wise men" say... never mind that the crazy and unreal lack of logic or sense makes their heads hurt.

It's also often the case that in order to support or believe in a right wing position, you must hold two completely opposite ideas in your head AT THE SAME TIME, and somehow pretend it all computes.

Violence is peace, death is life, life is death, up is down, black is white.

It's become "OK" to just flat out suggest the clearly illogical or plainly wrong as long as you act like it's perfectly rational.

It's simply amazing.

And it's perhaps the very core reason our county is so messed up.

People need to start THINKING again, and regain the ability to call bullshit when that's what they're being sold.

At 2/16/2008 9:36 PM, Anonymous sueshedap;puhleeze said...

Dear Dope,
Watching Tom Delay being treated like an elder statesman instead of the thief and lie-master, etc. that he is, stopped me in my busy tracks last Sunday morning. HUH?
Rabbit hole indeed...<@..@> (imagine "The Scream" by Edvard Munch)

At 2/17/2008 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dope, on the issue of one of your other, illogical issues...

I hope that we can agree that indeed Al-Quieda and other terrorists are fighting in Iraq. To the best of my understanding, this is a fact that no one on the left disputes.

As they were not fighting in Iraq before the US went into Iraq, I think that it is logical to assume that when the US were to leave, so to would the terrorists.

I believe that these two issues, you can even agree to.

So - where do the terrorists go?
What do they do?

I would suggest that there time and attention now being free, there is a distinct possibility, even liklihood, that they would KEEP their attention on the 'hated-west' (as this is why they are in Iraq in the first place), it is where their attention is presently, there is no reason to expect that they will just go home, is there?

Really, what do you expect them to do once they are successful in Iraq?

At 2/17/2008 12:25 PM, Anonymous sueshedap;puhleeze said...

TID...the following are more "head-spinners"..........


AND then.....all the way on page 24 of the Chicago Suntimes.........

U.S. fraud crackdown? Not in Iraq

February 13, 2008
WASHINGTON -- A Bush administration plan to crack down on contract fraud has a multibillion-dollar loophole: The proposal to force companies to report abuse of taxpayer money will not apply to work overseas, including projects to secure and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.

For decades, contractors have been asked to report internal fraud or overpayment on government-funded projects. Compliance has been voluntary, and over the past 15 years the number of company-reported fraud cases has declined steadily.

Now, the Justice Department wants to force companies to notify the government if they find evidence of contract abuse of more than $5 million. Failure to comply could make a company ineligible for future government work.

The proposed rules, which are in the final approval stages, specifically exempt ''contracts to be performed outside the United States,'' according to a notice published last month in the Federal Register.

Critics including the watchdog group Taxpayers Against Fraud said the overseas exemption raises suspicions.

''I hate to sound cynical, but what lobbyist working for a contractor in Iraq wanted this get-out-of-jail card?'' asked Patrick Burns, spokesman for the government watchdog group.

The Justice Department, which pushed for the self-reporting requirement, called the overseas exemption a mistake that should be fixed before the plan becomes final.

At 2/17/2008 9:58 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Anon 8:07.. and no wonder you're anon...

Your comment shows a deep and fundemental misunderstanding of the very nature of al Queda/terrorists and the situation in Iraq.

al Queda, despite your need to over simplify to the point you can grasp things, is not some monolithic organization.

It's not an army.

It's not even a group.

It has no central leadership, and the leadership structure is nothing but loose affilitations.

Some of these groups call themselves al Queda even though they have nothing whatsoever to do with the bin Laden brand of al Queda.

In other words, al Queda is essentially just a name that any terrorist group can call themselves.

Secondly, al Queda is indeed fighting in Iraq.

But those you consider "terrorists", those who attack our troops and want them out, are composed of dozens and dozens of militaristic groups, only a very small fraction of which purports to ally themselves with al Queda.

There's no nice, neat, little armys with nice, neat little leaders, as you so simple-mindedly assume.

If we pull out of Iraq, these people don't all hold hands like a group of pre-schoolers on a walk and move en masse to another location.

They don't have a meeting like at the Moose lodge and entertain motions on who they should target next.

Your entire idea of these groups is fundementally and completely false.

There are perhaps hundreds of militias operating in Iraq, and nearly as many causes that they're supposedly fighting for.

Many are just thugs out for profit and power, much like street gangs. They do it because they can and because the U.S. is incapable of maintaining any semblance of order or law, and the country is awash in weapons, so.... that's what you get.

You utterly ignore the factionalism that is at the heart of this entire conflict. The Sunni, S'hia, Kurds, are all struggling to attain control over the country which we decapitated and left in utter chaos.

They want to kill Americans there too, but because they want them out of the way so they can run their country again.

Obviously, if we leave, they're not going to start chartering airliners to come to the U.S.

To believe so is idiocy.

There are only a relative handful of so-called terrorists whose goal is to attack the U.S. this is why there haven't been any attacks. They don't care!

You've been so busy peeing your britches every time Bush tells you the boogie-men are out to get you that you can't even think straight.

al Queda represents a threat, just like any small group with the means to cause death and destruction does. But there are thousands of such groups around the world, and there have been for decades.

But this one is the group that claimed responsibility for 9-11 and the one which Bush cynically used to justify every extreme power grab ever since. He uses it as an excuse to have the most secretive administration in history, he uses it to refuse to explain anything he does, he uses it as justification for essentially running the country like a dictator, with no accountibility to anyone.

al Queda has attacked other countries as well. Do you see them acting like a bunch of lunatics, rushing to give up their sacred rights and rubber stamping every thing their leaders want to do? Hell no! They're sane. As a matter of fact, Spain and Britain tossed out the leaders that attempted to follow the Bush scheme of using terror as an excuse to expand their power and control.

But back to your incredibly naive question.

Where are the "terrorists" going to go once we leave?

A. They won't go anywhere. They'll stay there and fight for power in Iraq, which is what they've always been doing.

You, like Bush, are so amazingly nationalistic, so arrogant and self-centered when it comes to being an American, that you truly believe that all anyone wants to do is attack us because they "hate our freedom" or some such similarly ridiculous notion.

Nope. Not true.

They want to control their own country, and with dozens of factions and alliances, they're going to continue this power struggle.

They've attacked our troops simply because they've been recklessly and needlessly placed right smack dab in the middle of it.

There will always be groups of radical muslims intent on fighting what they believe is a righteous battle, just as you believe that continuing to sacrifice lives and fortune in Iraq is a justifiable and righteous cause.

But the fact of the matter is that they're no more dangerous than any other group out there that want's to get a lick in on the U.S. for a wide variety of reasons. (none of which have to do with jealousy over our "freedoms" or anything else. Freedoms, I might add, which you're quite willing to give away without a thought.)

Again, your question is meaningless because of your typically uninformed and overly simplistic assumptions that it's based on.

Terrorists will be no more of a threat whether we're in Iraq or not. And if anything, it will take away or at least stop the horrible pain and suffering and death that have come due to our actions, actions which have scarred a generation of Iraqis and others with a deep-seated hatred and resentment for our government and what we've done.

The least we can do is to at least stop causing the damage.


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