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Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America

24 November 2013

Summary:  Today we look at a characteristic of the people of New America, one that pushes us away from the America-that-once-was: our increasingly tribal view of the world, each with its own lies and contempt for those who disagree (especially experts). It keeps us easy to rule, and makes impossible to find our own common destiny.

Divide et impera.
– Divide and rule, a maxim that served Rome as well as it serves the 1% today

Content

  1. Making ourselves dumber
  2. Causes?
  3. Why do we do this?
  4. Reforming America
  5. For More Information

(1)  Making ourselves dumber

This comment from a well-informed reader to Are we following Japan into an era of slow growth, even stagnation?:

“Economic decline {since the crash} is obvious to any sane observer.”

Almost every US economic metric has improved since the recession ended in 2009 — four years ago. What level of propaganda can induce this level of false knowledge? Yet this fierce belief in false knowledge — about easily found information — has become ubiquitous on the Right.

And on the Left, mostly focused on climate change since they abandoned the IPCC. Every large weather event brings forth claims that this results from anthropogenic global warming. And often, claims that this is “worst ever” or “unprecedented”, and that such events are increasing in frequency and severity. Usually without historical support, or even contradicted by the IPCC (e.g., their report on Extreme Weather).

Further supporting our tribalism is our reaction to contrary evidence: rejection. The readership of the FM website is ideologically diverse, and so we see this allergy worked out in the comments section as people squeal with rage when their biases are pealed off like scabs and exposed to daylight. On Twitter people can flee, as unfollows surge following tweets of facts that disturb the sleep of ideologues on the Left or Right.

No wonder we have become polarized as a nation, when we cannot agree on simple facts. How can we find a common future, when we cannot begin discussions about values and trade-offs because each side considers the other — correctly — deluded about simple things.

(2)  Causes?

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Unless we see & remember, news is the 21st C's opiate of the masses.

American tribes brew their own

Before we discuss why this happens, what causes it? Why this susceptibility to propaganda?

One obvious cause: the growing popularity of websites which are engines of disinformation. They provided highly slanted streams of over-simplified information and exaggerated conclusions, mockery of those (especially experts) who have different viewpoints — often plus outright lies. These induce and boost tribalism, closing their audience off from other viewpoints, other knowledge, awareness of uncertainties, and the ability to form balanced viewpoints.

Doing this to people has many benefits. Recruiting people to the cause (it doesn’t matter what cause), preventing people finding common ground against the 1%, and making money (they are baskets of linkbait for advertisers).   Zero Hedge is a classic example (I think the reader quoted above is a ZH reader). Fox News is the ur-example (the Right is more successfully commercial at this).

These websites are, I fear, increasingly become among the dominant nodes providing information to Americans. No matter how intelligent and well-educated, relying on these websites makes us dumber.

(3)  Why do we do this?

My wild guess:  we suffer from a lack of seriousness, so that our opinions on important issues becomes matters of tribal identity and entertainment. In fact the tribal beliefs — including the exaggerations and lies — function as group markers. Much as did the dietary laws of the ancient Israelites.

In our nation of increasingly atomized individuals — without the clan, community, and corporate loyalties that for so long defined Americans — these provide new allegiances for the New America. Best of all, they’re free of any cost. Strongly held identities, dedicated to saving the nation or even the world, with no obligations for personal action.

These are unlike the allegiances that built America. Abolitionists, suffragettes, unionists, civil rights activists — all of these were tied to reality, which limited their fantasy football-like disregard for reality.

(4) Reforming America

There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.
— Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation (c. 1738), Dialogue III

If we wish to save America, perhaps the first step is to dedicate ourselves to seeing clearly, forsaking ideological blinders, skepticism to information new and old, and evaluating experts by their record — not how pleasant their stories. In short, perhaps we should pay as much attention to how we feed our minds as to what we put in our stomachs.

America is awash in foodies, and people obsessed with glutton, carbs, and things I prefer not to think about. If only we gave such attention to our sources of news and guidance.

One easy first step: read sources that you disagree with. If you think the New York Times is hopelessly liberal, or the IPCC’s forecasts too-conservative, try reading them. Dedicate yourself to finding the truth.

It’s not an easy path. Life is more difficult outside the cacoon. Perhaps eventually enough Americans will emerge to form the basis for a movement to save the Second Republic, or begin to build a Third.

Clear vision

A clear vision is power

(5) For More Information

(a) Reference pages about American politics:

  1. Posts about politics in America
  2. Posts about the Democratic Party
  3. How can we stop the quiet coup now in progress?
  4. Posts about reforming America

(b) Other posts about clear vision (neither Left or Right is “reality-based”):

  1. Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009
  2. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
  3. Examples of America’s broken vision. Here’s why we cannot clearly see our world., 21 October 2012
  4. What does a “broken OODA loop” look like?, 23 October 2012
  5. Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America, 1 December 2012
  6. Who lies to us the most? Left or Right?, 25 February 2013
  7. Learning to see beyond the American Pravda, 24 May 2013
  8. Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance., 29 October 2013
  9. The achilles heel of both political parties, waiting to be exploited by reformers, 7 November 2013

(c) Steps to fixing America:

  1. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step
  2. Five steps to fixing America
  3. A third try: The First Step to reforming America
  4. The second step to reforming America
  5. The third step to reforming America, with music
  6. How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America

(d)  Other posts about reforming America:

  1. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
  2. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  3. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  4. The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
  5. Should we despair, giving up on America?, 5 May 2012
  6. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  7. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
  8. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013
  9. In “Network”, Howard Beale asks us to get mad and do something. He’s still waiting., 19 October 2013
  10. The missing but essential key to building a better America, 21 November 2013

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. Bluestocking permalink
    24 November 2013 1:56 pm

    It occurs to me that one of the things which might have contributed to this problem without most people realizing it is what I call the CNN Effect — the genesis of 24-hour non-stop news coverage. It strikes me that 24-hour news coverage may have proven to be a curse far more than a blessing since it’s created challenges for journalists which they’ve solved in ways that appear to have been detrimental to our well-being. Since there’s no reason to believe 24-hour news coverage will ever cease to be a permanent fixture in our society (barring some sort of unforeseen cataclysm), it will require determined effort to ameliorate or override its side effects.

    The biggest challenge of 24-hour news coverage is keeping the audience engaged. Presenting the same details over and over again while you’re waiting for further information to come in would only cause people to become bored and lose interest…so to make up for this, journalists began inviting people (including people not directly involved with the story) to provide their opinions and speculations to create filler and provide a reason to maintain coverage. What this unfortunately seems to have led to is that a lot of people appear to have begun subconsciously confusing fact with opinion, seeing the latter as being on a par with or even synonymous with the former. (And why wouldn’t they, when that’s exactly how it’s being packaged and sold to us?) This has been compounded by technological advances which have resulted in increasing speed of gratification, slowly yet steadily eroding people’s willingness to wait and their ability to sustain attention — this is one of the drawbacks of technology, because human beings are evolving socially at an infinitely slower pace than our technology is. The increasing speed of technology led to the invention of the “soundbite” (which has also been decreasing in length) as well as a decrease in the length of time that journalists are given to research a story for fear that another outlet will beat them to the “scoop”.

    Another challenge resulting from 24-hour news coverage has been the need to maintain market share. A news medium regardless of format — print, radio, television, or digital — cannot expect to compete effectively if there’s nothing which sets it apart from its competitors. What happened is that various news outlets began to package and market themselves in much the same way as a consumer goods company does in an attempt to attract and maintain a niche audience. Fox is perhaps the most obvious example of this, but it’s grown so bad that many people these days will — and even worse, can do so with at least some degree of accuracy — draw conclusions and make assumptions about another person’s political beliefs and affiliations based solely on which news sources the other person frequents. Journalistic ethic used to demand that reporters present only the facts without personal bias, but “spin” has become such an integral part of journalism that journalism itself has begun to intersect with public relations. Unfortunately, mass communications also means that even the kind of people who used to be dismissed as cranks or conspiracy theorists now know that there are other people out there who share their views — and all this has helped encourage people’s individual cognitive bias and reduce their motivation to challenge their own cherished beliefs (not that human beings were ever all that good at that to begin with).

    What’s made all of this significantly worse is corporate consolidation of the news media. Today — despite the supposed variety of all the news outlets available — according to Ted Turner, who would definitely be in a position to know, approximately 99% of everything that the American people read and hear and watch is in the hands of no more than a handful of corporations (which is savagely ironic considering that all of these various outlets are ostensibly competing with each other!) It’s only natural to assume that these companies are not going to allow any information to see the light of day if it might be detrimental to their interests or those of their partners, subsidiaries, advertisers, investors, favored political candidates, etc.. This implies that there’s probably a lot of censorship going on behind the scenes. Of course, this is above and beyond whatever censorship is going on at the governmental level in the supposed interests of national security…which prompts perceptive and inquiring people to wonder just whose security it’s really intended to protect! Under George W. Bush, New America swiftly became a place where it’s not really safe for journalists to criticize the government or pry too much into its affairs for fear of being penalized by means of access to sources being withdrawn or denied. The Obama administration, despite its campaign promises to deliver greater transparency, has done little to reverse this trend and in some ways has only exacerbated it. Unfortunately, it appears that many journalists have (whether reluctantly or willingly) succumbed to pressure and chosen to surrender their First Amendment rights to freedom of the press in exchange for the chance to earn a living at their chosen trade.

    The corporations which control the media have arrogated for themselves the role of arbiter over what the American people deserve to know…and the journalists who work for them have become corporate and governmental lapdogs instead of the watchdogs the Founders intended them to be. This is in my view one of the the biggest sources of the problems facing us today. The news media has been and continues to be one of the primary means by which people inform and educate themselves about current events — the Founders recognized this, which is why they not only considered it important to establish freedom of the press but considered it so absolutely vital that they put it into the First Amendment alongside freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They understood that people who are not adequately and accurately informed are easy to control because they do not have the necessary information to make the decisions that will be of the greatest benefit to themselves and the larger community. However, to the sufficiently wise and perceptive observer, the American news media has by and large proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that they neither can nor should be trusted as a reliable source of either adequate or accurate information — that they have sacrificed the principles of their profession (as well as their responsibility to the American people) in exchange for profit. The American people bear some responsibility in this as well by choosing to passively let the American news media fill their minds with superficial gossip and trivia (which conveniently demands absolutely nothing from them) as a substitute for information of real substance (which might actually prompt or expect them to make a decision or take action of some kind, even if only in response to what they perceive as an infringement of personal rights and privileges).

    Like

    • 24 November 2013 2:36 pm

      Bluestocking,

      Interesting analysis!

      The other side of this is why we consume so much news, when most of it is noise. Get a life, Americans! Get involved making the news rather than sitting on the couch watching it!

      Like

    • Bluestocking permalink
      24 November 2013 4:52 pm

      There are a couple of other factors which I strongly suspect are contributing to our current dilemma. One of these is the fact that Americans as a nation are neither inclined toward nor especially good at pausing to consider the potential ramifications and long-term consequences of our plans before taking action. This is because we are very much a nation of extroverts rather than introverts. This might seem paradoxical in light of our belief in the myth of the lone hero, but it really isn’t.

      The hallmark of the extroverted hero is someone who tends to shoot first and ask questions later (if at all), even if he always acts alone. The introverted hero tends to plan ahead and make certain that he has all his ducks in a row before taking action, even if he’s always accompanied by a trusty sidekick who’s able to contribute useful pieces of information and/or insight now and again.

      Think Dirty Harry vs. Sherlock Holmes. both manage to get the job done and Harry might get things done a little more quickly (maybe), but he’s probably also going to leave a much bigger mess for the authorities to clean up after than Holmes is and he’s probably going to have quite a bit of explaining to do afterwards (a part of the story which we’re always conveniently spared from seeing).

      Another illustration might be the fact that most Americans would probably be hard pressed to name three famous American philosophers — in fact, they would probably have trouble naming even one — whereas they would almost certainly have no difficulty at all naming three famous gunslingers.

      We are a nation of people who doesn’t see much virtue in thinking things through ahead of time…we’d rather just go do something. We’re a nation of reactionaries, and for the most part, we always have been…on some level, you have to expect this when you live in a country that was settled and founded by zealots (whether political or religious). There’s no question that zealots have plenty of passion and determination, but what they frequently tend to be somewhat lacking in is good sense and strategy because they consider caution and contemplation to be a waste of time which could be used to take action. Granted, introverts have their own “bete noire” in what some people call paralysis by analysis…but we’re hardly in any real danger of that in this country!

      You might think that the number of people sitting back and passively consuming news instead of creating it doesn’t make sense if we’re a nation of introverts…but I think it does.

      First of all, we’ve become a nation which has allowed itself to be convinced that quantity is more important than quality and that there’s no such thing as “enough” or “too much” (critical beliefs in a disposable society which is increasingly dependent on the principle of planned obsolescence).

      Secondly, people are still doing things…they’re just not accomplishing very much because they’re usually reacting to what someone else is doing without thinking it through instead of weighing all the potential options and what the most likely outcomes of each option will be, then taking action based on a well-formulated strategy based on that analysis. It has all the effectiveness of an archer randomly firing arrows off in the hopes of eventually hitting something which might be called a target.

      Another factor which I think plays a role in our troubles is the fact that a majority of people tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees — they lack an understanding of how complex systems like human societies work, and hence tend to treat problems as if each one exists in isolation when the truth is that none of them do. (Frankly, I think Draper Kaufmann’s rules for complex systems ought to be required teaching at the high school level, especially since the concept of systems theory had its origins in the technological development that is becoming an integral part of our lives.)

      This encourages people to believe that the problem is simple and can be effectively addressed with a simple solution — but this is on a par with a doctor merely treating a patient’s symptoms without taking any time to look for an underlying disease which might be generating them. While implementing the simple solution might (with emphasis on the word “might”) produce some positive effects, this will almost certainly result in the emergence of other equally (if not more) troublesome problems…just as it does when you treat the symptoms without looking at the disease.

      Like

    • 24 November 2013 5:29 pm

      Bluestocking,

      Thanks for the comment, which raises a number of interesting ideas.

      “Another illustration might be the fact that most Americans would probably be hard pressed to name three famous American philosophers — in fact, they would probably have trouble naming even one”

      That’s a fascinating point. Allen Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind says:

      Every Frenchman is born, or at least early on becomes, Cartesian or Pascalian. Descartes and Pascal are national authors, and they tell the French people what their alternatives are, and afford a peculiar and powerful perspective on life’s perennial problems. They weave the fabric of souls.

      On my last trip to France I heard a waiter call one of his fellow waiters “aCartesian.” It was not pretentiousness; he was just referring to what was for him a type.

      It is not so much that the French get principles from these sources; rather they produce a cast of mind. Descartes and Pascal represent a choice between reason and revelation, science and piety, the choice from which every thing else follows. One or the other of these total visions almost always presents itself to the minds of Frenchmen when they think about themselves and their problems.

      I wonder about the extent to which something similar can be said about Americans. We have similar dichotomies in our national thinking, but I doubt they are so clearly understood — because so many people know the link to the underlying phiosophy.

      Like

  2. Charles Yaker permalink
    24 November 2013 3:19 pm

    You are still talking to the choir. They still control the channels of communication. Billboards with simple declarative sentences stating truths. Possibly even sky writing will at least expose everyone else to other opinions might help

    Like

    • 24 November 2013 3:30 pm

      Charles,

      You go to the heart of the problem. The 1% have de facto control all the high ground, including the nodes of our communication networks.

      But they do not “control the channels”. You and I can post what we want, without interference. Posts that strike sparks in readers’ minds go viral by email and blogs — and can hit the new mass media by websites like Instapundit and Naked Capitalism.

      As I have said so often, the problem is usnot them. The Founders, and subsequent generations of Americans, have given us all the tools we need. We spend so much time explaining why we are weak as an excuse for inactivity. Self-justification for our passivity.

      Unless we change future generations will see through these feeble excuses, painting an ugly but accurate picture of our generations.

      Like

  3. 24 November 2013 3:36 pm

    How can people upgrade their sources of information?

    A tool that has worked for me: the Successful Predictions and the Smackdown pages. Keeping track of your expectations, matching them with actual outcomes, provides a powerful learning tool. As does record successful smackdowns, corrections of your beliefs and analysis.

    Sometimes fun. Sometimes painful. Always effective.

    Making this part of an organizations culture will be, imo, a key to building the powerful organizations needed to reform America.

    Like

  4. doug p permalink
    24 November 2013 4:00 pm

    I think one of the problems in “truth seeking” is that most of us are automatically skeptics with regard to information that is contrary to our current position, but blindly accept as fact any information that supports our current position.

    We need to be skeptical of our selves and our allies as well as our opponents.
    I don’t think that is easy. It may be too much “work” for most, but I hope not.

    I once heard a hedge fund manager say that his investment committee spent as much time discussing why a particular hypothesis might be wrong as they did discussing why it might work.
    Seems like a good approach to a lot of things.

    Like

    • 24 November 2013 4:08 pm

      Doug,

      I agree. On a hopeful note, we only need a cadre of people willing to adopt such an intellectual discipline.

      As for the hedge fund people, that’s ancient wisdom. Spend time examining the contrary evidence to your views! The search for confirming evidence is a waste of time and effort, since being right takes care of itself.

      Conversely, when someone pitches a new or controversial idea to you, ask them to convincingly explain the contrary position. If they cannot do so, they do not understand the issue.

      Like

    • doug p permalink
      24 November 2013 7:11 pm

      Thanks Fabius,

      That converse is really useful. I had not thought of that.

      I wonder if that could be done in debates. Especially the presidential debates.

      We might just discover what frauds we are being offered.

      Like

    • Charles Yaker permalink
      25 November 2013 1:51 am

      Doug not sure it meets your criteria but http://www.politifactcheck.com comes to mind. They aren’t perfect but do describe their process and explain their reasoning.

      Like

    • doug p permalink
      25 November 2013 4:03 am

      Yaker,

      The link you provided was dead. Did you mean http://www.politifact.com/ ????

      Like

    • Charles Yaker permalink
      25 November 2013 1:07 pm

      Doug

      Yes

      Sorry from memory

      http://www.politifact.com

      Like

  5. Jim permalink
    24 November 2013 9:02 pm

    Fabius stated on Nov.24 at 3:13PM:

    “The problem is us–not them.”

    Can we discover our habits(both good and bad) without getting a distance from them?

    What enables us to get such a distance?

    Do we need practices(of many sorts) that help to de-automate our thinking and make us more attentive to our personal mental and emotional routines?

    Can we discover how our desires/passions operate within us?

    Can we discover the extent to which we are controlled by habits?

    “…they do not control the channels. You and I can post what we want, without interference.”

    Taken your example, what is it within us, that strives to participate in the action of posting?

    Is it some type of energy? Is it some type of freedom?

    Is it the discovery that we have a choice in our attempts to change our collective behavior?

    Like

    • 24 November 2013 9:29 pm

      Jim,

      All good questions. Mostly over my pay grade to answer, unfortunately.

      Like

  6. 24 November 2013 10:24 pm

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-11-23/what-its-be-poor-and-make-terrible-decisions

    To me the ‘truth’ has a special ring to it. It comes personal experience. To my ears, this story here has it in spades. Yeah, it’s at zerohedge. I like this little bit here.

    ”Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety.

    Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm,” which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov.””

    There’s both smartness and literacy here — someone poor, but who used ‘surety’ correctly in a sentence. Homelessness or near homelessness, it’s not good for the skin. This economy, it slowly grinds away at people. A few years of this, the skin gets a bit leathery, they lose a few teeth, and it’s just down down from there.

    Seeing the ‘truth’ means opening your eyes to the suffering around you. This is why no one does it, because it’s painful, and it threatens your own sense of goodness. That is how do I live this life surrounded by misery.

    ” Rich people work hard too. Nobody is telling you that you are lazy, rich people. What I am saying is that I am not lazy. That is a different thing entirely than impugning your work ethic. It’s actually got nothing to do with you at all. I do appreciate your need to read some thoughts from someone who is poor and make it about your relative merit, but you should know that it kind of makes you look like you struggle with reading comprehension.”

    This is also brilliant — and goes right to the crazy narcissism people have these days. People read about other’s pain, but then it’s all about me, me, me.

    Like

    • 24 November 2013 10:52 pm

      Cathrn,

      “Yeah, it’s at zerohedge. ”

      And mousetraps have cheese. ZH posts material — ignoring copyrights — difficult to get research from some of Wall Street’s top firms (e.g., Goldman, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley). That doesn’t validate their exaggerations, misinformation, and lies.

      Ditto Fox News, and Skeptical Science, and all the other ideological websites.

      Also — What’s sad is how liberals and even leftists like the “outlaw” or “edgie” attitude of right-wing websites. They’ll cite as authoritative websites like Zero Hedge and Mish’s Global Economics stuff. Needless to say, these websites seldom (if ever) link to liberal/leftist website. This feckless is one of many reasons the Right is winning.

      Like

  7. Charles Yaker permalink
    25 November 2013 2:01 am

    Does the “Staff -Line dichotomy ” apply to our problem in general. Lots of “Staff” defining the problem and even making suggestions for a way out but no “Line” picking up to operationalize the suggestions. I keep looking for some one other then OWS to follow. Am I missing something, somebody or some group?

    Like

  8. Jordan permalink
    25 November 2013 11:02 am

    This process of a New America in a bad way is nothing new.
    It happens in every large economic downturn. It is caused by economic downturn every time. Causes are there in economic results. Improve economic results for wast majority of Americans and danger of creating a New America in bad way will dissapear. people will return to old habbits of working and taking care of their families instead taking tribal position in a fight for resources.

    That is what this problem is about; Tribal fight over available resources. Is it not that point that “Lord of the Flies” teaches us.

    It is about the tribal fight over available resources. Expand the available resources and the fight disipates. No political infighting anymore. No divided polity in America anymore.
    How do you expand available resources and to spread it toward wast majority of Americans?
    Easy, US has the ability to create money that will expand available resources which will be imported at first but then with right incentives it will be vreated at home.
    But that can be done with only this concept in mind while designing incentives.

    Borrowing by US in order to spread available resources around will lead to return of incentives that led to this point of division of America. To avoid return of such incentives US has to change the rules and freely create the money without debt.

    Like

    • 25 November 2013 2:05 pm

      Jordan,

      Not remotely correct in any respect.

      “That is what this problem is about; Tribal fight over available resources. Is it not that point that “Lord of the Flies” teaches us.”

      That is NOT what Lord of the Flies was about.

      The conflicts in Lord of the Flies were not about resources, except piggy’s glasses — a minor point, as the fights preceded the search for the glasses and continued after their destruction. See the plot summary at Wikipedia or elsewhere.

      “It is about the tribal fight over available resources. Expand the available resources and the fight disipates. ”

      Historically false. America’s national income has greatly increased since 1970, the yet rich have taken most of it. Instead of “dissipates”, class conflict has intensified during this period (and now), as they seek to take even more (e.g., shifting taxes to the middle class and cutting social services).

      “No political infighting anymore. No divided polity in America anymore.”

      You cannot extinguish greed and lust for power by feeding it, as pouring gasoline of a fire does not quench it.

      Like

  9. Thomas More permalink
    26 November 2013 6:06 am

    Bluestocking remarks:

    It occurs to me that one of the things which might have contributed to this problem without most people realizing it is what I call the CNN Effect — the genesis of 24-hour non-stop news coverage.

    I have said the same thing elsewhere. It seems to me that mass hysterias in America spreading nationwide and affecting national policy only started to become widespread sometime in the 1980s as a result of the accelerating tempo of an ever-intensifying news cycle.

    The cycle of influence runs (as far as I can tell) from the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that spawned the late-night news show Nightline, which then took on a life of its own to become the media tail that started to wag the dog. Reagan’s election and the subsequent wave of American interventionism can be laid to the door of the hype and national hysteria generated by Nightline. Desert Storm made CNN, with Wolf blitzer’s team of live reporters broadcasting during the Baghdad bombings creating a frenzied appetite for, and hyperglorification of, U.S. global militarism.

    But other less-noticed nationwide media frenzies sprouted from Nightline and CNN and their insatiable need to find a sensational story, any sensational story, to pump up their ratings. The nationwide Satanic panic about alleged satanic child molestation rings owed its frenzy and breadth to breathless TV reporting. The absurd Star Wars national defense boondoggle could not have gotten or sustained funding without vast amounts of newshype about Russia’s alleged superweapons, fed by wildly mistaken “off the records” info from the CIA and retired Pentagon ‘consultants.’ Today’s media environment of retired military and intelligence whores pumping out disinformation while masquerading as “experts” on CNN could not exist without the formative environemnt of Nightline in the 1980s and CNN in the early 1990s.

    The ever-increasing waves of propaganda painting Iran as a demonic world-threatning cabal with vast underground nuclear weapons factories, when in fact U.S. intelligence analysts openly acknowledge that Iran has no nuclear weapons program at all, or the hysterical calls for U.S. military intervention in whatever Third World hellhole CNN choose to place its cameras to catch footage of women getting acid thrown in their eyes or children starving, all result from the ever-increasing tempo of an ever more frenzied 24 hour news cycle.

    At least, in my judgment.

    CNN and its ilk now largely drive U.S. foreign policy. This is what Plato warned about when he noted that direct democracy is highly unstable. The current mania of the week works fine in womens fashion or teen pop music — it works less well when applied to foreign poilcy, or budget policy.

    Like

  10. Thomas More permalink
    26 November 2013 6:14 am

    FM comments:

    And mousetraps have cheese. ZH posts material — ignoring copyrights — difficult to get research from some of Wall Street’s top firms (e.g., Goldman, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley). That doesn’t validate their exaggerations, misinformation, and lies.

    The invidious influence of the disinformation spread by sites like Zerohedge remains hard to underestimate. Otherwise sensible smart people get roped in by Zerohedge’s sprinkling of valid data over a toxic brew of conspiracy theories and economic doomsterism and lunatic fringe fiat-currency goldbuggery. They disappear down a rabbithole of economic junkthink and wind up spewing Ron Paul-style nonsense.

    Noah Smith’s classic takedown of Zerohedge, “How Zerohedge makes your money vanish,” appeared in 2012 and sledgehammered the site’s influence flat — or so you’d hope.

    Alas, no such luck. Like bad weather and cockroaches, commenters citing Zerohedge will always be with us. There is no sell-by date on economic conspiracy theories, it seems.

    Like

    • 26 November 2013 6:23 am

      Thomas,

      Thanks for reminding us of NS’s analysis of ZH!

      Much like BEA’s trashing of Shadowstats, people love these engines of disinformation no matter how well or often shown to be seriously flawed.

      It is a 21st century mutation of Gresham’s Law: misinformation drives out reliable information.

      Like

    • Charles Yaker permalink
      26 November 2013 2:47 pm

      Good point about Zero Hedge (Al Frankin used to call misinformation based on truth a Weasle) While I don’t care for conspiracy theories one has to wonder whether it’s just laziness or A conspiracy keeping people like Reinhart and Rogoff around to continue sprouting thier wisdom despite the questionable error in their data. Not to mention the legion of WMD pushers still appearing on the national stage to the exclusion of almost all contrary voices like including FM.

      On the other hand here may be promise out there

      http://essentialopinion.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/time-for-multi-party-democracy-in-the-usa/

      Like

    • 26 November 2013 3:10 pm

      Charles,

      I will take the “under” on bets for a third party. I have been reading what seems like that exact same article for 30 years. It is fundamentally wrong, almost line by line. I will mention just two points.

      Small points: I have not seen research showing more “independents”. I have seen research show more partisan voters calling themselves independents. It’s trendy. The Tea Party followers are exhibit A, people who last voted for a Democratic Party candidate in 1968 ( or whenever) declaring themselves independents.

      Big point, vital but too dark for us to acknowledge: dissatisfaction with the current parties means nothing by itself. One could get the same reactions interviewing people in line at McDonalds about the food.

      The relevant point is that they are speaking as consumers. Americans today cannot must the will and energy to run the existing 2 parties, let alone a third. They are no more likely to storm the political structure to force change than storm McDonalds to make better food.

      This is the political equivalent of Fantasy Football.

      This is part of our search for culprits other than ourselves. We just do not have parties worthy of our wonderfulness! When we look in the mirror for responsibility we will have taken the first step to reform.

      Like

  11. Thomas More permalink
    26 November 2013 6:24 am

    Discussing the degree to which Frenchmen admire their philosophers and view themselves as either Cartesian or Pascalian, FM notes:

    I wonder about the extent to which something similar can be said about Americans.

    Here, I would have to disagree with FM. It seems to me that American very clearly fall into either the category of John Dewey, or Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    Americans tend either to be pragmatists (Dewey) or transcendentalists (Emerson). We see this clearly in the difference twixt American politicians. George W. Bush was a classic transcendentalist, spurning nit-picky details for a “grand vision” he felt with his gut. Barack Obama seems like a classic pragmatist, preferring getting incremental improvements in public policy to work, than to stake out sweeping arcs of social change.

    LBJ was a transcendentalist, which yielded good results in his social policy (the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and disastrous results in his foreign policy (the Vietnam war). Jimmy Carter was a pragmatist, which produced bad results when his penchant for micromanagement ran aground in Washington politics.

    At present, the Republican party seems to be all transcendentalist, all the time, which has led them off a cliff into an alternate reality lala-land where Barack Obama is a moslem Kenyan fascist communist. The Democratic party seems to have opted for pragmatism, which has generated a behavior of learned helplessness that leads them to unwisely concede most of their policy positions in advance to Republican opponents, the better to obtain a mythical and never-to-be-consummated Grand Bargain.

    Like

    • 26 November 2013 6:34 am

      Thomas,

      My point was not “can Americans be divided into philosophical schools”? It was, as you stated, do Americans admire specific philosophers and view themselves as belong to one school or another.

      You division into pragmatists (Dewey) or transcendentalists (Emerson) would be relevant if Americans knew who Dewey and Emerson were, what they believed, and considered themselves as followers of one or another.

      Most Americans, I suspect, consider themselves “pragmatists” but have little understanding of the term — and many or most are not.

      Mention Dewey and the response will be “who?” or, for old folks, a nod to his invention of a library filing system.

      Mention Emerson and you might get answers, but few will be correct. Third baseman for the Jets?

      Like

  12. Thomas More permalink
    26 November 2013 6:32 am

    Both Bluestocking’s comments above seem long but richly repay re-reading. I judge them both equivalent in perspicacity to FM’s regular posts.

    Like

  13. derek5 permalink
    26 November 2013 11:10 am

    IMO critical thinking, particularly logical fallacies, should be emphasized more in schools as opposed to the usual short term memorization.

    It would also be helpful if scientific theories were presented and commented on as such as opposed to their being presented as established facts. This would be more in keeping with the scientific method than the presumption that humans have pretty much figured everything out.

    …and a pony.

    Like

    • 26 November 2013 1:43 pm

      Derek5,

      Those are great recommendations. Deep reform starts with children.

      We can do this.

      Like

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