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.