The Subculture of Aggression and Deception
There is a subculture in America that embraces deception. They value dishonest attacks because they have no aversion to dishonesty, but they have a strong desire for aggression – verbal aggression mostly, but not always.
This subculture of deception and aggression got us into Iraq.
This subculture responded to Jim Wilson's article exposing that there was no evidence that Hussein was trying to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger by attacking Wilson and his wife Valarie Plame – exposing her as an undercover agent in the process.
This subculture of deception and aggression provided the foundation for the Bush Administration’s tactic to respond to its critics with personal attacks, rather than confront the issues – because it fed a subculture that loved aggressive personal attacks and did not care about the issues.
This subculture of deception and aggression spread emails around the country in the early part of this year saying that Obama was a secret Muslim, that he did not say the Pledge of Allegiance (or that he turned his back on the flag during this ritual).
This subculture embraced the deceptive advertisements that the McCain campaign has put out in the past month.
Those emails became so widespread because there is a subculture that spreads them. The problem is not McCain and a few advisors who sit in a room and create and broadcast the advertisements. The problem is that a subculture exists that has critical mass in this country that cares absolutely nothing about truth, and who gets absolutely giddy when they see somebody being attacked (the injustice of the attack being irrelevant), who support these types of messages.
McCain and his crew have the morally outrageous disposition to grow and feed and care for and exploit this subculture for their own ends. Unfortunately, by feeding this subculture they help it grow, and the more this poison grows the worse off America becomes.
Look at what it has cost us for the past four years.
The answer is not to focus on McCain for running a negative campaign.
The answer is to confront the people who make up this subculture of aggression and deception, to challenge it, to make it shrink rather than sit back casually and watch it grow and strangle the truth out of this country.
It means being blatantly impolite to those people who spread this type of garbage – to give them the response that somebody who is poisoning American culture actually deserves.
Does somebody who poisons our culture – that promotes a culture that loves aggression without respect to whether it is true or false, just or unjust, deserve our polite deference? Should be kneel before it and say, "I beg your pardon, your majesty, but I beg your indulgence to report that perhaps you ought to give a little more care for whether the claims you assert are true, and a little more care as to whether the accusations you throw out are just? It's just a suggestion. You're free to ignore me, of course, as you see fit. I remain, as always, your humble servant."
Sorry, no. That type of attitude does not help against this type of problem.
This point has two corollaries that I would like to add.
Corollary 1: Aggressive Deception and Religion
The first is that there appears to be a close relationship between a willingness to engage in aggressive and unjust deception and a tendency towards religious beliefs. At least, the subculture in which we find these practices tend to be highly religious.
To the degree that this relationship can be empirically verified, it may not be all that much of a surprise. After all, it is the nature of many religions that they put a low value on truth and reason – a very high value on accepting claims without regard to (and even with a positive disregard towards) any type of evidence for or against it.
Of course, they do not see themselves as liars. They see themselves as passing along an important truth – a 'truth' that has no foundation and about which a person who looks at the evidence would quickly find the claim to be unfounded at best and false at worse.
In fact, it would be a mistake to view this subculture as a subculture of 'liars' in the traditional sense – as a subculture of people who assert and defend claims that they know to be false. This is a subculture of 'deceivers' in that it is a subculture that embraces claims that are not true – that are not supported by evidence and are embraced as true merely because, if true, they would provide a good reason to engage in behavior harmful to others.
It is a culture whose main crime is not found in the fact that it engages in deliberate deception, but in the fact that it values – wants to believe - that claims that are derogatory of others are true and that this desire alone feeds their acceptance of these types of claims.
We can find very little difference between the willingness (eagerness) to embrace the claim that Obama does not say the Pledge of Allegiance and the claim that homosexuality is a sin. So many things in the Bible are ignored. This one is embraced, not because it is found in the Bible, but because it is one of those unfounded and unjust claims that feeds the person’s hunger to have a reason to hate somebody else.
Corollary 2: Other Distortions
Of course, it is not the case that one has to be of a religious mindset to adopt the value of aggressive distortions. This moral flaw represents a set of desires. A person who acquires a lack of concern for the truth and a fondness towards verbal (and nonverbal) aggression can, at the same time, acquire non-religious beliefs.
I have heard stories of emails and internet messages circulating that list a set of books that Vice Presidential Candidate Palin had tried to have banned from the library when she was governor of Wasilla, Alaska. Reports show that this list is bogus.
Anybody who picked up this list and passed it on without serious consideration of the question, "Is this true?" is somebody who has embraced this culture of aggressive deception. It did not matter to this person that the claim was true or false. What mattered is that it provided an illusion of justification for hating Palin. It was embraced as true without checking it out because it fulfilled a need for verbal aggression against Palin.
This is the type of culture that I am criticizing.
It is a type of culture that should find no refuge in the fact that, "At least the person engaging in these practices are attacking the people that I think should be attacked."
Fighting this culture of deceptive aggression requires some willingness to shift allegiances. It means working with, for example, a religious person who thinks that deception is evil and that we have a moral responsibility to presume that others are innocent unless the evidence compels us to adopt the belief that they are worthy of being condemned. And it means a willingness to take on those who spread unfounded rumor and innuendo even when it targets the people we think deserved to be targeted.
We should sometimes be prepared to say, "I think those people are wrong and are deserving of condemnation, but they should be condemned for what they have done in fact, not for things that you made up or that you accepted willingly without evidence."
The moral of this post remains that we should not focus our criticism for recent deceptions on McCain himself or his campaign. We need to target our criticism on the subculture that feeds off of this type of behavior – on those people who live around us who unthinkingly accept and pass on aggressive deceptions because they find it entertaining. Entertaining, that is, to contribute to a practice that poisons American culture and leaves all of us worse off.