Thursday, August 26, 2004

Conservative America

I posted this on on Apr 25, 2004:

This is a post I put on the Kerry forum in response to someone who felt offended by my previous posts etc.... You have read some, but not all of this before, but this is, in a way, putting several different ideas together and seeing how they fit:

Hmmm, I did not accuse anyone here of being a right-winger....should I expect to find some on the Kerry blog? Actually, we agree on sev eral points on which you think we disagree. I am assuming it is a matter of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

We do not seem to define "free market " the same - if it has regulations you still call it "free" while I do not. As for being a libertarian, I did not give it much thought myself, but Lakoff thinks that libertarianism is a radial category of the core conservative model, and has quite a persuasive argument for it that I am incapable of reproducing here, but read his "Moral Politics" and you can find it and decide if you agree with him or not.

Now, I am going to give you a list of several statements and, as you read them, make a mental note of your responses to those statements. The responses could be: A) This is absolutely true, it cannot b e any other way, it defies logic and requires a sick mind to think any other way. B) I think this is true because of my own thorough research on this issue, but understand that other people can come to different conclusions. C) This is just plain wrong. H ere are the statements:
- USA is the greatest country in the world, the leader of the free world, the beacon of democracy
- Free market unfettered by any regulation is a real thing, and it is a good thing
- What I pay in taxes is my hard-earned money tha t the Government is forcefully stealing from me
- What Marx wrote is exactly what Lenin & Co. instituted, and Stalin & Co. used to commit atrocities
- There is a God, and religious belief is the only way of being moral
- Private enterprises perform mo re efficiently and cheaply than state-owned enterprises
- Instilling obedience in children makes them self-reliant upstanding citizens
- Marxism = Communism = Totaliarianism
- Competition is the basis of economy
- Marxism = Darwinism = Atheism = Immoralit y
- Democracy is the best political system in history - Capitalism is the best economic system in history
- Freedom is a basic human right
- Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are basic human rights
- Home, food, clothes, employment, transportation, education and health care are not basic human rights
- There is a basic moral order in the Universe: God has moral authority over humans, men over women, Americans over foreigners, USA over other countries, parents over children, humans over other animals and rest of nature
- There are definite and clear criteria for what is right or wrong, good or evil
- There is no real difference between mom-and-pop corner stores and mega-corporations: both are private businesses that want to keep their customers happy in order to increase profits, thus they are all part of the competition that brings about lower prices and higher-quality goods and sevices.

Most of you have probably responded with many As and some Bs, perhaps an occasional uncertain C. Why? Because mos t of you were born and raised in the USA. These statements reflect pretty well what you have heard all your lives. If asked, people in other countries would give lots of Cs. I bet, as a foreign-born US citizen, that I got many more Bs and Cs and less As t han any of you. If I get attacked for being un-patriotic for stating this, it is just a proof that what one learns on mother's lap usually becomes such a deeply held belief that any questioning of it is perceived as a personal threat. There is nothing abo ut any human that comes even close to being predictive about one's religious or political affiliation as are religious and political affiliations of one's parents!

Now is the time to read an article by George Orwell, It was intended as an Introduction to "Animal Farm", but was not published until decades later. Read it slowly and thoroughly:'s-preface-to-animal-far m.htm
What Orwell implies is there are three ways information can be suppressed in the media. First is by the government. Second is by powerful special interests. Third is self-censoring because writers and their editors consider some facts to be taboo. Let’s go through these three.

Governmental suppression is obvious in fascistic, communist and other dictatorships. There is one official truth. If you dare say anything different you’ll spend the rest of your short life enjoying the beautiful scenery of Siberia. Special interests can suppress information only in segments of the media they control. Don’t expect to see a horoscope published in the “Skeptic” magazine, or a conservative view in a liberal newspaper. Self-censoring, or “intentional ignorance” comes from unwillingness of writers to state unpopular facts, or facts that most people don’t believe in, out of fear of being attacked, not by government officials or special interests, but by readers and colleagues and the public opinion in general. In a dictatorship, everybody knows that the official truths are lies. Nobody has the courage to say that out loud, though. Yet, copies of samizdat pamphlets circulate through the population. Parents teach their kids how to read between the lines. Everyone develops a keen BS-radar. The lore gets passed from generation to generation. There was no lack of multigenerational memory at the time when it became possible to get rid of the regime, e.g, in the USSR. Nobody had to teach the people the ‘new’ truths, o r tell them that old truths were not so. They knew it all along. They were just waiting for the moment when the government seemed to get weak enough for the truth to explode. There is no need for special interest or self-censoring suppression, as the gove rnment dictates to the smallest detail what can and what cannot be said.

How about USA? Officially, we have free press. Unofficially, free press is believed to be free because it has repeated it was free so many times over so many years. As for special i nterests suppression, of course it operates in certain segments of the media, but that is OK, as the opposite interests also exist and suppress opposite facts in their segment of the media. This may be assymetrical in one or the other direction at any poi nt in history, as some truths are published in media with huge audience while the opposite view finds itself in a journal with a circulation of 1000 copies. Is there governmental suppression? It’s hard to tell. Of course, New York Times, NPR and CNN get l ittle letters or phone calls from the State Department or White House or CIA with a ‘suggestion’ on how a certain topic should be covered, but I doubt it is very often that the stick and the carrot are explicitly stated. It can be called more appropriatel y “government-induced self-censorship”. No fear of Siberia, but fear for your job can be quite real. This boils down to a question of who has the more dangerous machinery in place to frighten the writers/editors into being ‘disciplined’. Nobody was afraid to bash the previous President. Critiques of this President were, until very recently, found only in marginal publications. The issue of censorship is much stronger in the area of foreign policy, especially war-reporting. Have you read “The First Casualt y” by Phillip Knightley? Please do. This country has been involved in a number of wars in this century. How many were ‘just’ wars? WWI, WWII and Afghanistan were Realpolitics-type responses to clear danger from abroad. Any other? No. If you have any other examples to state, it is because you only heard the official US version of the reasons for the war, the methods of waging it, and the final results of its end.

For instance, when the war in Croatia first started, the news agencies sent their best, most experienced reporters to the region. When reports started coming in, they were either not published, or were re-written by editors beyond recognition resulting in a piece that stated the opposite from what the reporter on the ground wrote. Usually, it was because the official policy was that the Serbs are bad and everyone else is good. As the reporters on the ground found out, that was not so. There were good and there were bad factions and individuals in all ethnic groups there. But they were not able to publish the truth. They fought with their editors, and in the end they quit their jobs and started reporting as independents. Needless to say, their reports were not published in the USA. They were replaced with new young reporters with clear instruction s how they are expected to report. Being new and afraid for their jobs so early in their fragile careers, they did their job the way they were told. Several of the veteran journalists wrote articles about the way their reporting was skewered at home and p ublished those articles in a book - in Switzerland in French. No US publisher still has guts to publish that here. That is self-censure. The special interest censure came before. Knight-Ridder service (Edit: it was Rudder-Finn, not Knight-Ridder, sorry, I wrote this from memory and the two names are similar) was quite open about the way they were paid by the Cro atian government to sway the US opinion in their favor, particularly the American Jews. It is interesting to note that American Jews were against the Serbs, while Israeli press was on the side of Serbs, recognizing the neo-fascist tone of the new Croatian government and following the motto “Never Again!”. As for Kosovo Albanians, their interests were pushed by Senator Bob Dole, himself an Albanian, and recipient of millions of dollars for his presidential campaign from the Albanian diaspora. He visited Se rbia at one point. He did not meet with Milosevic, nor with the leaders of democratic opposition. Instead he drove straight down to Kosovo and talked to the leaders of the KLA, a terrorist separatist organization, funded by Albanian diaspora and trained b y Al Qaida. Thousands of letters were sent to the editors of US newspapers, protesting the coverage and providing the facts unpleasant to the Administration. Not a single such letter was ever published. On NPR one day, they had, as usual, two guests suppo sed to represent two opposing view on the situation in Yugoslavia. However, what they got were a Democrat and a Republican. Those were just two slight variants of the basic US version. Not to mention that both of them spoke only in terms of how it affects the US, particularly the domestic politics. When someone, finally, managed to call in with a message that was truly opposite, the guy was quickly hushed (with music), cut off and subsequently made fun of by the host and the guests as if he was an idiot. Yet, all he said was perfect truth. Self-censure.

Exactly the same thing is happening now with reporting from Iraq. One problem with propaganda in the USA, no matter what the source of fact-suppression, is that most people genuinely believe that the pres s is free and that the news they get report the truth. They do not have developed their BS-radars, so they do not know how, or even realize they should, separate the truth from fiction. This is America, after all, the leader of the free world and beacon o f democracy. Of course what you see on TV is true, this is not Soviet Union or some such country! Oh, how naïve. It is much easier for American people to figure out if they are lied to about domestic issues. Your doctor’s appointment is either paid for or it is not. But foreign events - who is going to go to Somalia or Haiti or Guatemala or Kosovo to personally verify what one sees in the news? How many pen-pals do you have in Laos who can tell you the facts omitted by your local TV station and newspaper? That is the area where we get lied to by the buckets. Of course, nobody can say that the opinion is suppressed, as you are completely free to publish it in an obscure little journal, or, these days, online - thank God for the Internet! That does not mean it is not, for all PRACTICAL purposes, unavailable to most citizens. The genius of US propaganda is that, unlike in a dictatorship, people believe it is true. Most Americans still believe that Reagan had something to do with the fall of Communism. He was just so darn lucky to be in office when that happened, and lucky that he did not try to do anything that would slow down the process. Communism was falling under its own weight. It was going to go. Wallessa, the Pope, and Gorbachov just helped it on its way. Reagan took all the glory. If you think otherwise, it is because you got your news from the US sources.

Now read this NYT article by David Brooks: He is right about one thing. The Bushies are not subtle about their propaganda the way all the past presidents were. They are blunt about what they want and how they are going to get it. When they lie, they lie with a g randeur of a Stalin. They openly published their plan for world domination several years ago. You can find it online. Half of the people believe Bush, as they were never taught by their parents that a US President can openly lie (hey Nixon?). The other ha lf do not believe it, but their views are suppressed by all three methods of suppression - governmental, special interests, and intentional ignorance of editors. Like Stalin, Bush rules by fear. This election is going to be about showing the naïve half of the population that they were lied to all along and that they should be not ashamed for being duped, but angry, very angry about it. I hope it can be done.

Now, let's go back to the list of statements from the top of this post. Read them again. Let's th ink about them in the light of Orwell and Brooks. When you look at them, they are as American as apple-pie. They are core American beliefs, aren't they? Well, no. They are core CONSERVATIVE beliefs!!!! They have become core Americans beliefs through decades and centuries of conservative propaganda. They are all based on a conservative worldview. Conservative policies and economic theories stem directly from conservative ideology, which, in turn, comes directly from conservative MORAL SYSTEM. Conservative moral system is based on conservative understanding of human nature, which also translates into their ideas of correct parenting methods, correct family structure, and definition of marriage. All of this, in a feed-forward loop with a conservative view of religion, has come to us through the millenia of history. Unfortunately, it is based on a wrong understanding of human nature, long ago disproved by science (yet another reason for them to abhor science and rationality, check this: ).

Now, read these three articles (there are several more on the same topic, but these three will suffice for now): 72
What the first article argues is quite perceptive (unlike the comments by readers on the bottom), although technically wrong. Bush is not Platonic in the sense of Plato, nor are we all Aristotelian in the sense of Aristotle. Bushies are Platonic in the 19th century sense of the word - i.e., essentialist in the sense of early 19th century. What we, who consider ourselves rational are, is not Aristotelian, but Darwinian. What????!!!!! Forget Darwin's contribution to biology, or the misuse of his name by eugenicists and social-Darwinists of all kinds. The greatest contribution of Darwin is the way we in the Western world THINK! We require data! Give me information! Empirical proof! Statistics! At least give me polls! Before Darwin, people thought their great ideas in the seclusion of their homes and published books. It was my word against your word. Many philosophers became famous this way. Descartes and others started, earlier on, asking for empirical proofs but nobody provided them. Darwin did - he showed how philosophy is done! There were evolutionary theories before him, written by Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Chambers and others that were laughed out of court. Everyone took "The Origin" seriously because it provided a consilient set of proofs: not ju st internal logic of the argument (many earlier philosophies had that) but a link to the reality of the world. That was the Day One of the Age of Rationality. If asked who my favourite philosopher was, I would have said Darwin and lost the Presidency that very moment! But it is true. The Western world lives in a Darwinian worldview - the worldview of empiricism. But not all.... some are still in pre-Darwinian era. They are ultra-conservatives.

What the GOP/RNC propaganda is attempting to do now is to exp and on the "self-evident truths" like those listed on the top of this post. They want to move even more conservative beliefs from the column entitled "conservative beliefs" through the column entitled "American beliefs" and further into the column entitle d "Universal beliefs". They are trying to get people in America to accept some of the more extreme conservative views as "American core values". While bashing me for even typing (then criticizing) the statements above, as being un-Patriotic, can you imagi ne some of the Bushie's core values becoming un-criticizable in the same way (to invent a new word)? Disagreement with Bush is already being painted as un-patriotic. Imagine when they have time to work on the national collective consciousness for a few mo re years!

What we need to do is: A) understand the core moral system of conservatives, and how all their policies and rhetoric come out of it, B) understand the core moral system of us, liberals, and how all our policies come out of it, C) figure out how the conservatives have subverted the use of language for their purposes, and design ways to subvert their message NOW, so to help Kerry win in November, D) find a way to take back the language and build our own language in the long term, let's call it the Winning Language of Progressive Ideology, which we can use to win elections for Democrats, show to people that they are not conservative, show the people that their moral, social and economic interests are not served by the Republicans, and E) overhaul the education system and the media in order to breed/raise a new generation of empirical, neo-Aristotelian, Darwinian critical thinkers. That is what the liberal think-tank at Rockridge Institute is trying to do. That is what we ALL should be trying to do.

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