Upon Examination: The Many and Few Against Liberty

Secrets of Success Secrets of Success

Secrets of Success

Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.  (Charles Simic)

So, I’m pretty certain now that the US has grown a pretty healthy crop of idiots and liars over the last, oh, say 60 years.  Probably longer, but I’d say there has been a concerted effort for about that long.  It’s a government strategy spearheaded by Cold War spy managers but, it’s a national program now.  So, we might even go so far as to say the liars are the managers of our social structures and the idiots are the rest of us.  Yes, we’re slaves to economy too, but we are idiots more so because we enjoy the fruits of our slavery (or at least we think we do–another victory for the liars).  Hell, even the liars in advertising, publishing, and finance are idiots regarding their own lies.

But, it pays, it pays, it pays in so many ways.

“The investigation, being conducted by the Treasury Department, is focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, thereby violating longstanding federal law barring financial dealings with terrorist groups. The sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said that speaking fees given to the former officials total hundreds of thousands of dollars.”  (Isikoff)

Someone may wonder why I go about in private, giving advice and busying myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward in public and advise the state….For I am certain, O men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself. And don’t be offended at my telling you the truth: for the truth is that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the state, will save his life; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one. (Socrates, Plato’s Apology)

Just look around.  Turn on your major source of misinformation and just bask in the warm radiation of lucrative prevarication.

Pick a topic and you will discover that all you hear are lies motivated by power and greed presented as rational policy and accompanied by something we call partisan opinions: you can lie on one side or the other.

Believing what Bill O’Reilly (or pick a name and class, low or high brow: Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter, George Will, a “libertarian”) says makes you an idiot.  Face it.

But so to does believing Rachel Maddow (same drill, you name them).  Sure you may “feel” one or the other of these bobble-heads propped up by the media arms of our major corporate conglomerates is simply echoing your opinion, but you are simply a receiving machine of the lying…one side or the other.

(An interesting exercise, not worth much, but interesting, would be to ask people to list the “liberal” and/or “conservative” pundits…it would be revealing and I’ve seen studies where Steven Colbert ends up on the conservative list which, again, is way too revealing.)

There are good investigative journalists out there and by the nature of their work they are “dissident” and dissenters from power: their job, in case you were unaware, is to investigate the owners of the world.  We all make mistakes, we’re all fools, we all harm others on occasion, but isn’t there a scale where getting paid by foreign groups and dictators to shill “in their cause” would trump as news over, say, breaking credit card rules?

People are in general much better pleased with the man who persuades them that they have always been right, than with the man who tells them that they are wrong.  No one, except the very few, with whom truth is a consideration paramount to all others, is pleased with any person for convincing him that he has been in error:  and if to think is always, to most people, a labour to irksome to be borne, more especially will they turn a deaf ear to the man who bids them think when when the consequence intended is their being disabused of their favourite opinions, too, which they perhaps have an interest in sticking to.  (J. S. Mill)

Here is a local distinction–our newspaper “dug into” the abuses of county-issued credit cards used by elected employees for personal purchases.  So far they have succeeded in running story after story tearing into the life of one woman–and always putting her picture to the story.  She was an elected official, the Monroe County Auditor, and clearly she violated the rules applying to the credit cards and should have resigned and/or been removed.  But let’s ask what kind of power the Monroe County Auditor holds and the ways in which this woman affected the lives of the people in the county by her personal transgressions.  I’d venture to say she has no power and that she affected no one.

Where is an investigation into the real power in the city?  Does one believe that all actions with our major property owners (The Cook Group) and our major University are not fraught with the same kinds of malfeasance to a greater or lesser degree?  Or is it our watch-dog press’s only duty to harass the minor elected minions because they are public officials and thus fair game, and because they can’t really fight back against the bullhorn used against them.

What journalists are truly investigating abuses of power AGAINST the citizenry; AGAINST what the city, county, state, nation does IN OUR NAMES?  Name them please.  (I’d nominate Jeremy Scahill.)

I’m sure we could walk right into any statehouse in the country and find that every single member, R or D, has a glaring conflict of interest in their closet.  But more probably it is clear what it is and openly approved of as “the way things work.”

But to what instigated this for me.  Another Lee Hamilton column in that same hard-hitting local paper.  It is a Bloomington crime against its elite to speak out against a man like Lee Hamilton.  Not only is he a former high school and college basketball star who has been inducted into the Indiana basketball Hall of Fame, he is a venerable statesman to be admired for his long service and his deep insider status.  His is indeed a Washington mentality brought home to Bloomington and here now, in his august years when no one dare call his past to account, heads up a local “academic” think tank called The Center on Congress.  A recent column from him offers the following wisdom (indented/italics), of which it seems he’s cribbing from the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity.  To “restore” something assumes it was once extant and this is beginning to seem something akin to a leap of faith that finds us face down in the gap.

This is not to say that standing on principle is wrong. Sometimes it is the appropriate and proper stance for a politician to take. But let’s be clear: Taking that position has consequences….

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  (Yeshua)

That is why the most important political skill in the country today is the ability to seek and find a consensus about ways to remedy the problems facing us — and to convince both one’s political opponents and one’s allies that it’s the proper way to move forward. This is a skill that’s in short supply today, yet we cannot govern this country unless politicians compromise.

“…are among 40 former senior U.S. government officials who have participated in a public lobbying campaign – including appearing at overseas conferences and speaking at public rallies – aimed at persuading the U.S. government to remove the MEK from the terror list.

“Many of the speakers have received fees of about $30,000 or more per talk and first-class flights to European capitals, according to two sources familiar with the arrangements.” (Isikoff)

Al Jazeera debate on MEK

Now do you really imagine that I could have survived all these years, if I had led a public life, supposing that like a good man I had always supported the right and had made justice, as I ought, the first thing? No, indeed, men of Athens, neither I nor any other. But I have been always the same in all my actions, public as well as private, and never have I yielded any base compliance to those who are slanderously termed my disciples or to any other. For the truth is that I have no regular disciples: but if anyone likes to come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission, whether he be young or old, he may freely come. Nor do I converse with those who pay only, and not with those who do not pay; but anyone, whether he be rich or poor, may ask and answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out to be a bad man or a good one, that cannot be justly laid to my charge, as I never taught him anything. And if anyone says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, I should like you to know that he is speaking an untruth. (Socrates)

“Hamilton, who once chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was a co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, told reporter Barbara Slavin he was paid “a substantial amount” to appear at a panel in Washington D.C. in February.” (Lach)

There’s one other group of people who also need convincing: ordinary citizens. Our country seems to be growing ever more divided at a time when, more than anything else, we need to give our politicians room to be politicians, not standard-bearers.

“Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (D) and former CENTCOM Commander Anthony Zinni told the Inter Press Service that they were paid to appear at recent events supporting the MEK, an Iranian opposition group currently considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.” (Lach)

The people we elect to office need to be able to govern without worrying that if they make concessions or even enter into negotiations with the other side, they’ll be voted out of office in their party’s primary.

Macbeth: For Banquo’s issue have I fil’d my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murder’d;
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!(3.1.69-74)

This requires a more sophisticated understanding of the role of compromise than the partisan commentators and activists who help shape our political debate would like to see. But without it, our government won’t work. It’s as simple as that.

I can give you as proofs of this, not words only, but deeds, which you value more than words. Let me tell you a passage of my own life, which will prove to you that I should never have yielded to injustice from any fear of death, and that if I had not yielded I should have died at once. I will tell you a story – tasteless, perhaps, and commonplace, but nevertheless true. The only office of state which I ever held, O men of Athens, was that of senator; the tribe Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the generals who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle of Arginusae; and you proposed to try them all together, which was illegal, as you all thought afterwards; but at the time I was the only one of the Prytanes who was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against you; and when the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and have me taken away, and you called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because I feared imprisonment and death. This happened in the days of the democracy. But when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to execute him. This was a specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving with the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I showed, not in words only, but in deed, that, if I may be allowed to use such an expression, I cared not a straw for death, and that my only fear was the fear of doing an unrighteous or unholy thing. For the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing wrong; and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end.   (Socrates)

Lee Hamilton’s career as a politician must be seen as one among many examples of the errors of consensus and compromise that motivate men and women in the service of power to tell lies and foster ignorance…for the good of the people, the stupid, stupid people.

Sources:

Simic, Charles, “Age of Ignorance.”

Plato, “The Apology.

Mill, John Stuart, “On the Present State of Literature.

Isikoff, “Ex-US officials investigated over speeches to Iranian dissident group on terror list.”

Hamilton, Lee, “Most important skill in politics is ability to reach concensus [sic].

Mark 8:36, King James Bible

Lach, Eric, “Ex-Officials Say They Were Paid To Attend Pro-MEK Events.”

Shakespeare, Macbeth

 

 

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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