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May 01, 2007

A Willful Blindness, II

For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face:
now I know in part;
but then shall I know
even as also I am known.

- 1 Corinthians 13, verse 11

Tuesday dawns slowly as I eye my alarm clock with loathing. Raindrops drum on the roof like giant fingertips on some invisible tabletop as a lone bird pipes merrily in the tree just outside my bedroom window, cheekily ignoring the now slackening shower. Any moment now I shall spring forth with alacrity from betwixt the marital sheets to do battle with the ungodly. Any moment now...

As I wait for Alacrity to make her appearance I snuggle under the covers for a few more moments. Sadly, my mind refuses to remain as luxuriously indolent as my still drowsy limbs. To hell with Alacrity - time to make the donuts. I shuffle out to the kitchen to prepare that steaming concoction that helps me hang on, but as it turns out the real jolt comes courtesy of Driscoll and Lileks:

It's good for an old liberal like me to read history and recognize that Eisenhower was no dolt and Adlai Stevenson was no giant. And to read about Joe McCarthy and realize that, opportunist and blowhard that he was, he was hardly the embodiment of evil that we liberals cherished as an enemy. We made the people he attacked into heroes but McCarthyism was very small potatoes. Alger Hiss was not the victim of a witch hunt; he was a witch. The big story was taking place in Russia and Eastern Europe, in China, and in Cuba, places where evil ruled with an open hand, but a great many Democrats refused to see it. This refusal was a reaction against anti-communists such as Richard Nixon — if he said the sun rose in the east, then we would look off to the west and maybe build mirrors there so as to be able to argue the point — and this gave the Democratic party a reputation for appeasement that has crippled us ever since.

Dear God in heaven, did the earth just shift on its axis? Garrison, we hardly knew ye! Suddenly nothing makes sense any more; I am adrift in a universe bereft of God, moral absolutes, and (apparently) capital letters and punctuation marks:

i drink myself of newfound pity
sitting alone in new york city
and i dont know why.

Oh. Never mind. Stopped too soon:

It's an interesting admission. You might almost expect him to add that his ceaseless ad hominem depictions of the other side (As he puts it in his latest book: "hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, see-through fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, hobby cops, misanthropic frat boys, lizardskin cigar monkeys, jerktown romeos, ...") might have blinded him to the fact that we do have enemies, and he might want to spill as much ink worrying about the utterly illiberal forces we're fighting as he spends sneering at the Current Occupant. Alas:

And now something similar is happening to Republicans. They are following the Current Occupant down a road that will be disastrous to them for years to come. They are defending the indefensible.

See, he was wrong before, but he's absolutely right about this now.

The Editorial Staff has often noted the regrettable tendency of the reality based community to proudly display their latest outbreak of Tourette's syndrome as though it were some priceless bon mot. It only increases the deliciousness that such precious pearls are invariably displayed on the bumpers of legions of late-model Asian compact cars belching noxious fumes into Gaia's fragile biosphere; all whilst barrelling down MD I-270 at a galloping 50 mph during rush hour. Read this, oh neo-neocons, and weep!

We are all entitled to our own opinions
But not our own facts

Words to live by. Ah, but whose set of facts? Whom should we believe? That is what we seem to fight over, more than anything. Every day brings a new parade of Generals lined up for our inspection like toy soldiers, pressed and starched. Righteous outrage stiffens their spines. They couldn't speak out before they earnestly inform us, but now at long last these huddled masses who yearned so long to breathe freely have piped up from retirement to tell us what has been on their minds.

They knew all along. We were being deceived, led down the proverbial garden path, and They Knew.

They just didn't tell us that the Deceivers were deceiving us.

Except somewhere, a still, small voice inside the back of my head keeps whispering, "If everything they say is true, doesn't that make them willing accomplices in The DeceptionTM

Doesn't that make them deceivers too?" No, they are men of Integrity, because they are Bringing The Truthiness now. And We Must Not Question Their Integrity, nor their Patriotism. In fact, we must not ask any questions at all. It's unAmerican. How does a lie become a lie? How do transparently false but politically useful bits of trickery like the ubiquitous cakewalk meme take on a life of their own?

Easy. They have the ring of truthiness. And we are lazy. We believe what we want to believe so long as it fits our preconceived version of reality. We distrust George Bush and his evil neocon warmongers, so any smear against them is accepted at face value. No need for actual facts. The calumny we spread may not be literally true, but somewhere, somehow we're convinced they represent a larger, Emotional Truth. Amusingly enough, I see in my morning travels throughout the Intertubes that Arianna Puffington, cheeky thing, has strayed off the reservation again:

Arianna Huffington, of all people, points out a problematic issue with George tenet's new book.

Does this sound familiar? A senior Bush administration official plays a key role in selling the Iraq war debacle to the American public, resigns a few years later, and then tries to distance himself from Bush and the war by writing a book or talking to Bob Woodward, portraying himself as a poor, hapless victim who knew the truth at the time and really, really wanted to tell it, but, somehow, just had no choice but to go along.
What else could he do?

Each version of this contemptible tale shares the same fatal flaw. It requires that the remedy that was readily available — resignation — did not exist.

Dale Franks snarks from the sidelines:

In this he shares the same sort of attitude as former antiterrorism guy Richard Clarke, who was oh-so-angry at the neocons, but apparently, not quite upset enough to prevent sticking it out until retirement.

Look, people of good faith can argue endlessly about what happened between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion, and what went wrong, and why. But, there's something unseemly about working for years in an administration—apparently with enough loyalty and distinction to get your pretty blue PMF medal ribbon—then turning around and crapping all over your former employer while attempting to hold yourself blameless.

Me-ouch, grrrlfiend! This has always bothered me about the unseemly parade of truth-tellers, repressed memory sufferers, leakers-who-speak-only-on-the-condition-that-they-not-be-identified-because-they-are-not-authorized-to-speak-to-the-media, and retrospective navel gazers who only after several years of collecting a generous pension from Uncle Sam, have discovered they can afford to indulge their consciences. They all share something in common. They have already betrayed someone's trust once, yet we're supposed to believe them now?

It's their word against the people on the front lines; the ones who are taking the full brunt of public disfavor for making unpopular decisions and - what's more - sticking with them. Why does anyone pay attention to these people, or at the least why don't we examine their various pronouncements more critically, or at least as critically as we do those of other public servants?

Why do we argue so much over foreign policy? In a must-read essay, Henry Nau argues that our perspectives on reality cause us to weigh the same information differently, bringing this or that subset of facts to the fore to support our world view:

Theorists of international relations have long recognized three principal ways to think about the world and select and evaluate facts. The realist perspective thinks about the world primarily in terms of a struggle for power, alliances, and the threat and use of force. The liberal perspective looks at it more in terms of expanding cooperation and complex interdependence through trade, negotiations, and international institutions. The ideational or what political scientists today call constructivist or identity perspective sees it largely in terms of what people and states believe — the ideas, norms, and values they share that shape their discourse and identity. Many of us are familiar with these perspectives or simplified versions of international relations theories (the theories themselves become endlessly complex), but we may not fully understand how directly they influence our day-to-day debates.

It's a great piece and well worth reading. But at the end of the day whether you take a realist, a liberal or an indeationist approach to foreign policy it's hard to ignore the fact that the guy with the C4 vest strapped to his body holds a virtual trump card over your too-precious theories. This is what I can never get past.

Over the weekend I thought about our two worlds; the world I live in, where people leave doors unlocked and wave at their neighbors, drive on mostly paved roads and know that if something bad happens we can call 911 and the police, ambulances, or fire trucks will arrive promptly to help us deal with whatever "emergency" threatens. And that other world. I actually saw someone call 911 because their child had a nosebleed.

A nosebleed.

And then there is the world which caused a man I once knew to take his own life. He couldn't reconcile the world we live in with that other world; a world where, when you drive down the road everything is a potential threat. Shadows are hiding places. Every man, woman, or child who passes is sized up as a threat risk.

He sojourned there for a time, a stranger wandering in a strange land. And then he returned and his old world, the one which gave him life, opened its arms to gather him in again. But he couldn't let go of that dark place, not entirely.

Was he broken on that dark wheel? Was his sight distorted by his travels in that far away land or did the scales just fall from his eyes, allowing him to see things as there really are? Don't tell me it's a matter of perspective, that it's all relative. A friend of mine's small daughter has leukemia. Not the kind that killed my nephew. This type is more treatable. Yesterday I asked, "How's the munchkin?"

He said, "Things are going well - she's heading into the hardest phase of treatment, but she's holding up. We all are."

I said, "Well, what I always think after a particularly bad migraine you really savor even the tiniest things. Like just a day without pain. Even colors seem brighter - I can spend minutes just looking at the sunlight on a wall simply because it doesn't hurt to do it. That is a joy some people never get to experience." He laughed. The thing is - the bad things, evil, pain, death, murder - they have always been out there. They have always lurked in our hearts.

A thin veneer of civilization is all that separates us from the utter chaos that is in parts - but not all - of Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

Forms of government matter. Ideas matter. They have the power to transform lives, but only if they are backed by the will to enforce law and make justice a living presence rather than a dusty tool on some politician's shelf. And it requires a willful blindness to speak of consensus and dialogues and mutual understandings in a world where madmen are still willing to play the trump card of force.

Posted by Cassandra at May 1, 2007 08:00 AM

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Posted by: David M at May 1, 2007 11:12 AM

Amen and Amen. Very well done.

I have a friend who believes that W is the incarnation of all evil. I happen to think he was the best of a bad lot and would vote for him again, given the same options.

I told my friend one day that the real reason we disagree is that he is a moralist and I am a survivalist. He is obsessed with goodness. I am obsessed with living.

Glad you got up this morning.

Posted by: EssEm at May 1, 2007 01:16 PM

It's funny. I think I would put myself rather firmly in the ideational camp, myself, but with the caveat that you don't take your eye off the road. I think it's not just important that you live, but how you live.

Posted by: Casserole at May 1, 2007 01:25 PM

It's not a big deal, but I wrote that, not McQ.

Posted by: Dale Franks at May 1, 2007 02:27 PM

It is a big deal - thank you for telling me Dale. I'll make the correction. I've been very rushed this week and obviously I'm having trouble tracking. Appreciate the heads up.

Posted by: Casserole at May 1, 2007 02:32 PM

"Forms of government matter. Ideas matter."

Yes Milady, your ideas and words have once again rendered an outstanding post.

All in all, in the condensed form, I'm with Essem, a realist, must be that farm boy heritage, but one who tries to find fun when and where I can, in that order.

Posted by: bthun at May 1, 2007 02:57 PM

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