Many millions of Americans -- perhaps majorities -- now believe the following:
1. Obama is a socialist.
2. The economic collapse of 2008 was brought about by too much regulation.
3. The New Deal caused the Depression.
4. Hitler was a left-winger.
5. Stalin killed more people than Hitler did.
6. Joe McCarthy was right.
7. In 1970, most returning Vietnam veterans supported Nixon and detested the hippies who spat on them. They especially despised Jane Fonda.
8. Free trade helped America to prosper in the 19th century.
9. A great company like Toyota can grow only if a government follows strict laissez-faire policies.
10. Lower taxes on the rich increase government revenues.
11. A left-wing conspiracy controls the media.
12. Milton Friedman and the libertarian Chicago school economists improved the quality of life in Latin America.
These beliefs constitute the triumph of propaganda over lived experience.
Just a few days ago, I saw a video presentation in which a young professor (all tweed and polysyllables, and missing only the pipe) made the Stalin-outkilled-Hitler
claim with calm, jackass self-confidence. The truth is here
and in a lot of other places. In fact, on a per year basis, not only did Stalin (monster than he undoubtedly was) kill far fewer people than Hitler did -- he actually killed fewer people than George W. Bush did.
Mark my words: Within five years, the majority of Americans will believe some variant of the "media stab in the back" theory to explain Bush's failed war in Iraq.
Truthout has a good article up today about the propaganda techniques employed by Fox News
. I'm particularly concerned by the fourth tactic:
4. Rewriting History. This is another way of saying that propagandists make the facts fit their worldview. The Downing Street Memos on the Iraq war were a classic example of this on a massive scale, but it happens daily and over smaller issues as well. A recent case in point is Palin's mangling of the Paul Revere ride, which Fox reporters have bent over backward to validate. Why lie about the historical facts, even when they can be demonstrated to be false? Well, because dogmatic minds actually find it easier to reject reality than to update their viewpoints. They will literally rewrite history if it serves their interests. And they'll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.
Under such circumstances, how can truth prevail?
It is ironic that in the era of 24-hour cable news networks and "reality" programming, the news-to-fluff ratio and overall veracity of information has declined precipitously. Take the fact Americans now spend on average about 50 hours a week using various forms of media, while at the same time cultural literacy levels hover just above the gutter.
Let's add in another factor: The arrogance of ignorance
Modern Americans -- particularly younger ones -- feel too insecure to allow themselves to be taught anything. After all, if you allow yourself to be taught, you are confessing ignorance, and people laugh at the ignorant. Therefore, you will feel better about yourself if you hold onto to any rationale, however threadbare or unconvincing, that allows you to think that your long-held delusions are real.
Anyone who has ever argued with a creationist will know what I'm talking about.
Those converted to the twelve points listed above will never revise their opinions, no matter how persuasive the counter-evidence. People believe what they want
to believe. They will accept any argument, however absurd, from those who flatter their preconceptions.
I had a small encounter with this mind-set recently. The point under discussion was not political; still, the case is illustrative.
On several websites, I corrected young people new to classical music on their terminology: One does not refer to every composition as a "song." Symphonies, concertos, overtures and tone poems are not "songs." One uses the label "song" only if the composer has first applied that label. Otherwise, in the world of grown-up music, we use such terms as "piece" or "work" or "composition."
My words infuriated many. They resorted to the most inane and abstruse forms of reasoning imaginable to tell me that I had it wrong, that it is perfectly acceptable to refer to Beethoven's 5th symphony as a "song."
The next time some ignorant dullard uses the phrase "for all intensive purposes," try to correct him. Watch what happens. Guarantee: You'll be told that you
are wrong. Either that, or you will be called a fool for caring about correct usage.
These days, most egos are thinner than onionskin. The person whom you try to instruct will react with a soul-deep outrage born of a soul-deep insecurity. People will not tolerate correction; they want to have their pwecious widdle egos protected at all times.
Have I strayed from our topic? No. In this case, the personal is political.
The next time some ignorant dullard tries to sell you on one of the propositions listed above, try to correct him. Watch what happens.
The other insurmountable factor is conformity
. Like arrogance, conformity is a byproduct of insecurity. All Americans pride themselves on their individualism, yet I am continually amazed to witness the average American's discomfort with himself.
There they are -- in the stands at the football game, lost in a mass, joining in with thousands of others as they engage in primitive group vocalizations and tribal body motions.
There they are -- at the nightclub, where sound levels make personal expression impossible, with drugs expunging hated thought, moving in time with dozens or hundreds of others in a barbaric mass ritual.
There they are -- on the sidewalk, dressed like everyone else and subjecting non-conformists to ridicule.
There they are -- in church, arms upraised and mouthing hymns, taught to despise anyone who applies critical and independent thought to the reading of scripture.
There they are -- watching television. Absorbing. Not doing anything: Just absorbing
, like millions of other blobs of barely-animate absorbent material on millions of other sofas all across the country.
There they are -- on Facebook. Willingly divulging their faces to the NSA's facial-recognition software. Willingly divulging their cell phone numbers to massive government computers which use GPS data to track locations. Willingly divulging their political opinions to the data-miners who keep tabs on all who will need to be rounded up when round-up time arrives. Yet they won't consider alternatives to Facebook, because everyone else
is doing Facebook.
Americans hate being alone with the self
. Individual consciousness is agony. Mass consciousness is the opiate.
Our propagandists understand that, in a culture of conformity, any idea can triumph if it is repeated often enough. Obama is a socialist
: The phrase was laughable the first 50 time you heard it. By the 500th hearing, it became conventional wisdom. You can convince the majority of Americans that potato chips cure heart disease. Simply make sure that the phrase "potato chips cure heart disease" pops up every time someone turns on the teevee or fires up the internet.
You moo when you are told to moo.
And yet you think
that you think.