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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Moo. Moo. Moo.

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.
Arguing with young folks about music is especially futile.

Judging from their efforts to write pop songs, I'm quite sure young people today can't tell a melody from a random concatenation of notes. And yet they keep forming groups and making records. It's kinda scary.
Confirmity is not a byproduct of insecurity. Insecurity is a byproduct of nonconformity. The feeling of insecurity is aversive (unpleasant) and motivates conformist behavior. We are conformists because we are social animals living in groups. America is considered more of an individualist than collectivist culture, tolerating more nonconformity than some other cultures, but we are all conformists. It is not a bad thing but rather is the social glue that holds society together without strict laws. Study some social psychology some time.
But there is no explanation in your post about the role of the media in the rise of Obama. I don't know how much tv did you watch during the dem primaries. But conserv. were pimming for him the same way cnbc did. I know you will say that to serve the limited goal of getting rid of a Clinton. But still righ now I watch them just to confirm the theory that he is one of them, and every time I see half ass criticism compared to what they did and still do to Clinton. My point you have to add some more to make sense of what is going on.
The very first attacks on the educated/educators I heard were made by Rush Limbaugh on AM talk radio. But it goes back further than that, how long has the term Egghead been in existence.

Fox News, AM talk radio and their ilk are where they are today because those on the Left, with a few exceptions, were too stupid or afraid to push back.
Nancy Pelosi's "Impeachment is off the table" is a good example.
Great piece, Joseph!

Things are rapidly approaching Orwell's 1984 "War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength" level.

That old saying about never discussing/arguing about politics, sex or religion in polite company seemed like good advice - but possibly it has helped us arrive at the current sorry state of affairs. :-)
my understanding is that Hitler killed 12,000,000 and Stalin killed 20,000,000.
A tie goes to the winner.
You know why that is your understanding, Nancy? Because people with a lot of money have spent years lying to you. And everyone feared to counter the lies because no-one wanted to be considered a communist sympathizer.

Check the links which I provided.
How many of the above techniques did the Obama campaign use.
Bush has not finished killing.
Excellent essay and sadly true. I said early on that people like Glenn Beck were not simply nuts but dangerously devious. Rewriting history is an old propaganda device. Whether Beck believed the garbage he was spewing for so long on Fox and continues to spout on Talk radio is beside the point. His viewers and listeners did and do believe it and will argue you into a frenzy defending one falsehood after another, claiming that Becks 'so-called' historians [like the laughable David Barton] have it right and that Beck himself is a national treasure.

What Beck and his fellow cohorts have done is poison the national consciousness and memory. Because they know that he who writes the history, rules the day.
Anon said America is considered a more individualistic than collectivist culture, tolerating more non conformity than some other cultures. I have to say America is the most conformist place I have ever lived or visited. Lynch mobs form whenever someone exhibits even the smallest difference. Perhaps cowboys are nonconformist, but most americans are not cowboys in my experience.

On individualist vs collectivist cultures, see the work of Harry Triandis and those in the decades following him. These classifications are not based on personal experiences but systematic study and analysis. It is fun to make up stuff but there is a field that actually studies conformity (called social psychology) and it has actual findings supported by data. Why is it OK to be ignorant of psychology but not of history?
Excellent post, Joseph! And Happy 4th!

There are others trying to fight the decline of the English language. I found this site through Uppity's blog and thought you might enjoy it:

Stalin was bad, just not as bad as Hitler. The 700k number is bad enough -- lying to make him look worse than he was is atrocious.

And Obama a socialist: I have to laugh (or cry) when it is clear he is the opposite. LBJ was more of a socialist than President Obama.

-> Anonymous : 6:37 AM :
"On individualist vs collectivist cultures"

I read this days ago.
And are still struggelling about how to imagine a mindset, able to forge
"individualist" and "culture(s)" into one string.
- Knowing, there must be millions and millions of such brains "active", right now.
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