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March 01, 2005

Living in a reality-free world

Here is some news to curl your hair.

The Harris Poll® #14 of February 18, 2005 reports that:

- 47 percent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001;
- 44 percent believe that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis; and
- 36 percent believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded that country.

Virtually no one who has followed these stories believes any of the above to be true. And this poll was released just last week, long after the David Kay and Charles Duelfer reports were made public, putting to rest all the overblown claims that were used to justify the attack on Iraq.

Also something that experts do believe to be true, that Saddam Hussein was prevented from developing weapons of mass destruction by the U.N. weapons inspectors, is supported by only 46 percent.

How is it that so many Americans seem to be living in a reality-free world?

The reason is that such falsehood as the ones listed above are strongly implied by influential people and uncritically reported in the media, or influential people stay silent when such falsehoods are propagated.

Take for example a speech made just last week (on February 17, 2005) by California congressman Christopher Cox at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Michelle Goldberg of Salon was at the conference and reports his exact words: “We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and the facilities to make them inside of Iraq, and even more about their intended use, including that a plan to distribute sarin, and the lethal poison ricin -- in the United States and Europe -- was actively being pursued as late as March 2003.�

And who were the members of the audience who did not contradict Cox as this nonsense was being spouted? Michelle Goldberg reports that among those “seated at the long presidential table at the head of the room were Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, Missouri Senator Norm Coleman, Dore Gold, foreign policy advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and NRA president Kayne Robinson.� Cox’s comments were made while introducing Vice President Dick Cheney, who gave the keynote address.

Now it is possible to carefully deconstruct the congressman’s words so that some semblance of truth can be salvaged. But that would involve re-defining words like ‘discovered’ and ‘weapons’ and ‘facilities’ and ‘plan’ in ways that would make Clinton’s parsing of the word ‘is’ seem like a model of transparency.

So what are we to make of political leaders who can say such deliberately misleading things? What are we to make of other politicians who know the facts but choose to remain silent while the public is led astray? And what are we to make of the national media who spend enormous amounts of time and space on issues like Michael Jackson’s trial but do not provide the kind of scrutiny, factual information, and context that would make politicians more cautious about what they say?

Politicians who mislead the public may be just cynical in that they know the truth and are just saying things for the sake of political expediency. But the danger with allowing this kind of talk to go unchallenged is that it creates an echo-chamber in which people hear the same false things from different directions and start to think it must be true. When people start believing their own propaganda, then they have entered a reality-free zone and this can lead to disastrous consequences.

George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language (1946) wrote “Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.� The sad truth is that Cox’s speech is by no means the only, or even the worst, example of this kind of linguistic chicanery. One has only to go back to the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq to see even more egregious examples of deception by the highest ranking members of the government, and timidity and silence from the supposed watch-dogs in the Congress and media.

Is it any wonder that so many people live in a world that does not exist?

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Comments

Brilliantly put, Mano!

I have to admit that my father still maintains that there are/were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and, though I certainly feel that the Iraqi people deserved a government without Saddam Hussein, I still maintain that the U.S. had no right to invade a sovereign nation. More upsetting at the moment, however, is the manner in which our current administration is eyeing countries such as Iran. As long as the government, with support from the media, continues to twist the truth to its own purpose, much of the American public will follow.

I've asked myself time and time again how and why people allow themselves to be misled, and I never find a satisfactory answer. For some, I suppose, it's too difficult to spend the time required to find the truth. For others... it almost seems like many people today don't want to bother thinking for themselves. It reminds me of the current direction of our educational system: students expect to be handed knowledge and to be asked to repeat back exactly what they've been told. There seems to be little or no emphasis on creative thought outside of universities and selected schools.

Orwell, I'm sure, would have recognized such conditioning as well, because that, in essence, is what Newspeak was.

Posted by Nicole on March 1, 2005 01:44 PM