Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Culture of Fiction and Nonsense

An opinion piece in Newsweek contains the following statement about the health care debate.

As politicians and strategists (at least the successful ones) have finally learned, appeals to emotion leave appeals to reason in the dust. And no emotion moves people more powerfully than fear.

(See: Newsweek, Attack! The Truth about Obamacare by Sharon Begley)

If the Democrats listen to Begley, we are to be bombarded by messages promoting fear on both sides. The combined message would then be that, if we side with the Democrats, our worst fears will come true. And if we side with the Republicans, even worst fears will come true.

This sounds like just the type of world I want to live in.

To her credit, Begley does suggest that Democrats not lie to promote fear the way Republicans do. Democrats can tell the truth and still promote fear. While Republicans make up things like 'death panels' that deny people medical care because they are not able to make a contribution to society that would justify keeping them alive, Democrats can speak honestly about people being drained of every last penny of their savings then left to die when they can no longer pay.

Though I have some reason to question whether the Democratic boogey man in this case is any more real than the Republican boogey man. Many of the current problems with our health care coverage can be traced to government mandates that drive up the cost and limit the ways in which people can obtain health insurance.

But let’s put that debate aside for a moment.

Begley’s article says the following:

At this time last year, if you had askd people whether the federal government would effectively nationalize AIG and Fannie Mae, and whether the Dow would plummet to 6,627 in March 2009 after reaching 14,093 in October 2007, most would have confidently said no, that will never happen in my lifetime. And yet, 'In a world gone crazy, the impossible – even 'death panels' – suddenly seems possible,' says psychologist Drew Western of Emory University, author of the 2007 book The Political Brain.

Come, now. Are we to believe that this culture only came to find nonsense such as 'death panels' plausible as a result of the current economic downturn?

These are people who have embraced lies and absurdities as a central part of their culture and way of life for a very long time. They are dominated by young-earth creationists who have a great deal of practice accepting any lie that might suggest a problem with the idea that life on Earth evolved. They eagerly fed from a plate full of lies about global warming for over 30 years. They swallowed the lies that lead to the invasion of Iraq, called Obama a Muslim, a spread viral emails that he turned his back on the flag whenever the Senate gave the Pledge of Allegiance.

These lies about 'death panels' are nothing more than the most recent manifestation of a culture that has a long and deep tradition of lies from the top and gullibility from the bottom. This is a culture that abandoned the standards of evidence and reason long ago. That fear works on the members of such a culture is no surprise.

This disposition to ignore facts and embrace fiction did not emerge just in the past year. It has been a part of their way of life for a very long time.

The people who live in this culture of fiction and nonsense have, over the course of the last couple of decades, destroyed over 3 trillion in wealth that could have gone into schools, hospitals, scientific research, technology development, and the construction of infrastructure. They have gotten us into a war that killed 4000 Americans and maimed over 20,000 more – and has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands to millions of people in Iraq. They destroyed the city of New Orleans and have put every coastal city at peril from the effects of global warming.

Now this culture of fiction and nonsense are showing up at Presidential rallies with guns and otherwise threatening to do harm against anybody that their culture of fiction and nonsense classifies as needing to be harmed.

Yet, Begley suggests that the answer is to surround people with messages of fear from all sides, that this way of manipulating people into doing what the politicians want is a technique that the Democrats should master.

Perhaps a better way is to attack, head on, this culture of fiction and nonsense.


Anonymous said...

Actually, there's good reason to believe that "death panel" is a fair read of one of the causes for concern in the current healthcare proposals: http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OTAxYzFjODdiN2E3OWUyNzY1MDU1ODM1ZjZjYmY3YjM=

Second, I've never seen anyone who could be described as even a remotely mainstream Republican suggest Obama was a Muslim, and news flash: in the Internet age, a few morons sending moronic emails does not "a culture that has a long and deep tradition of lies from the top and gullibility from the bottom" make.

Third, I know you can point to some examples of individual Republicans who are young-earthers, but do you have any actual data to support the claim that they comprise some significant portion of the political Right?

Lastly, I would humbly point out that the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee endorsed Michael Moore's fraudulent "Fahrenheit 9/11"...which side has a culture of lies?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


What constitutes a "significant portion" depends on whether the group in question has the power to have an effect. The straw that broke the camel's back may not be a "significant portion" of the total amount of straw, but it is enough to have a significant and devistating effect on the camel.

First, The only sense in which "death panel" is a fair read of the health care proposal is a sense in which insurance companies already have their own "death panel" in which they decide who to cover and what procedures they will pay for. In this case, "death panels" have been an integral part of the health insurance industry from the day the first health insurance company was formed.

Second, according to the Pew Research Center, 11% of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim as of March, 2009. That is more than enough people to form a "culture" with significant political power. 17% of Republicans.

Third, The young-earth-creationist evangelical Christians are powerful enough to build Creation museums across the country and have gotten a significant number of people elected to school boards, creating legal battles across the country and frightening a number of biology teachers against even mentioning evolution in their biology science classes.

Lastly, I would humbly point out that the defense you gave in your last point is the fallacy known as 'ad hominem tu quoque' - like the thief who points out that he is not the only thief or the murderer who points out that there are murders he did not commit. They do not prove that the accused is innocent. In fact, they are a good example of the type of claim that would be made by somebody who has lost respect for reason.

Anonymous said...

17%?! That's your evidence for suggesting there's some kind of epidemic of irrationality and dishonesty permeating the Republican Party? In any body as large as one of America's two main political parties, it is unavoidable that there will be a small portion who believe absurd things. In other words, "gullibility from the bottom" is something we will likely always have with us.

"Lies from the top," however, is another story. That's where the Terry McAuliffe point, which you misunderstood, comes in. I was not at all saying "yeah, but some Democrats endorse lies, so it's OK for the GOP to endorse lies." I was showing an instance where a lie not only was endorsed by a Democrat, but by a major, national party leader - which, obviously, is far more relevant than some small minority of a poll or some state legislator somewhere. Moore's well-documented lies were endorsed not by the fringe of the Left, but by the Democrat Party leadership - in other words, REAL evidence of "a culture that has a long and deep tradition of lies from the top." Or didn't you notice?

Lastly, allow me to remind you that there have been some polls indicating that roughly 1/3 of Democrats think Bush knew about 9/11 in advance, and that roughly 1/3 of Republicans doubt Obama was born in the US. Both numbers are extremely disturbing, but I have observed that there is one key difference: many major conservative voices - National Review, Townhall.com, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, HotAir.com, the American Spectator, & Michael Medved, just off the top of my head - have not only explicitly rejected "Birtherism," but have expended significant energy arguing against it. Both sides have their bad actors, but one has a proven record of rejecting theirs.

Eneasz said...

Anon -

17% is quite a bit. Consider that the majority of whites in North Carolina doubt Obama is an American.

Secondly, you are misrepresenting the facts. The 9/11 Truthers are fringe extremists. This can be seen by the fact that their silly claims are only propagated by poor quality internet videos and teenagers wearing T-shirts. The Birthers and Death-Panalists, on the other hand, have a national voice spoken seriously from national news networks and newspapers. There is no comparison.

Furthermore, you are attempting to conflate 9/11 Truthers with Moore's "Farenheit 9/11", which is extremely dishonest in it's own right. The two have as little in common as Iraq had in common with the 9/11 attacks. Yet you are using the same tactics as the filthy liars who are responsible for so much death in Iraq. I suspect that you are already a member of the culture of lies.

Anonymous said...

Eneasz, you may think this game of identifying so-called members of a "culture of lies" is cute, but I am beginning to suspect you are a member of a "culture of flimsy thought." I'm not attempting to equate 9/11 Trutherism with "Fahrenheit 9/11" in any way, shape, or form - in fact, I never even mentioned 9/11 Trutherism (a term typically used to suggest the govt somehow engineered 9/11), but I mentioned the (granted, related) belief that Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, which is a fairly prominent left-wing trope - as the polling I cited shows. Either way, are you suggesting that every time somebody offers two examples in a discussion, that person is trying to suggest those 2 examples are 1? That would be stupid.

I see you get that majority number by combining the "no" and "not sure" categories. Who knows the thinking behind the "not sure" respondents, and who knows how many even thought deeply or researched the story before being polled. Both numbers are far too high, but it's not exactly the same as a majority of whites really believing Obama isn't American. Anyway, the fact remains that most prominent conservative voices have actively fought against Birtherism.

Jayman said...

Anonymous, according to a Pew survey (p. 21), 51% of Republicans believe life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time (compared to 38% of Democrats and 37% of independents). I'm not arguing that Republicanism causes one to deny evolution, merely pointing out the statistics.

Anonymous said...

Jayman, I happen to believe in evolution, but I really don't think a belief in creationism is in the same league as a belief that Barack Obama is constitutionally illegitimate to hold office, or that George Bush knowingly allowed 9/11 to happen.