Saturday, August 18, 2007

Murder inc.

I took an unexpected trip back to the heartland last weekend and found it very disturbing. Small town America, that mythical oasis of Christian family values, is becoming a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Most people have nice houses, multiple vehicles, and enough toys and gadgets to fill up their three car garage and 1500 square foot basement. Yet despite all their wealth, they are a deeply unhappy folk most of whom are on a never ending drug and alcohol binge. The great majority of young people’s marriages are ugly and the children suffer horribly. The elders, those who in idealistic times could be counted on to stand as moral paragons and provide wisdom are so tragically ill-informed as to render themselves functionally stupid.

To adequately describe the breadth of the tragedy is well beyond the limitations of chuckling on-line magazine, so for today’s installment we will limit ourselves to the question of how these elders have become so mind-numbingly ill-informed. I will offer these limited observations based on an extensive interview I conducted with the type of man typically referred to as a conservatard. He watches Fox News and listens to Rush Limbaugh and is in broad general agreement with whatever nonsense they peddle on any given day. Yet otherwise he is not a stereotype. In youth he studied economics and foreign affairs at a well-regarded liberal arts college. He is an active member of the Episcopal church and is on the gay-inclusive side of the schism. He is active in the local community, participating in many charitable and community organizations, including the local Republican party. And he is an excellent family man in just about every way you could possibly judge that kind of thing. So by almost any measure, this man--we’ll call him Grampa Bob for the sake of internet anonymity--is a very intelligent human being and a moral exemplar in so many areas of his life. Yet he supports the Bush administration’s insane murder spree abroad and destruction of the rule-of-law at home. Mass murder, torture, war crimes, horrible police state abuses, trashing of the constitution, and all other Bush fuck-ups ad nauseam--he excuses them all with the arguments of Fox News and hate radio. The Sermon on the mount rules Sunday morning. The rest of the week is more about Final Solutions. In other words, he is a moral monster in thought, if not in deed.

Normally we stay away from talking politics, but this time I debated him on a broad range of issues regarding the Bush administration's failures, particularly the Iraq war. For whatever reason (most likely an innovative combination of drugs and alcohol), I was at the top of my game rhetorically. I was unemotional, took nothing personally, was very eloquent, and my poor brain was able to recall and marshal an impressive array of facts to bolster my arguments without becoming the least bit angry or disrespectful.

The first, and greatest hurdle in these conversations is about factual matters. When you get into a discussion with a conservatard, it quickly degenerates into arguing about facts. They will cite things that are factually inaccurate to support their positions and challenge you on the accuracy of the facts that support yours. This in itself is normal, but it quickly becomes apparent that their “facts” rarely have any relation to reality. And these disagreements pile up fast and furious, turning an intellectual discussion into a schoolyard game of “is so!”--“is not!.”

This time I handled it by pointing out that I had neither the time nor the inclination to do the necessary research to prove him wrong on every single point (and granted, I’m sure I was wrong on a few). but that he could pick one thing that we disagreed on and that he was 100 percent was factually accurate and I would definitively prove that it was bullshit. The point of this would be to show how unreliable, to put it kindly, his information sources are and to get him to question his conclusions by proving that the "fact" he was most sure about was pure bullshit. So as the conversation progressed and he disputed indisputable fact after indisputable fact, I’d say “is that the one you want to choose? Is this it?” His pick changed quite a few times, but in the end he chose one, and then he was so sure I was wrong about something else that I gave him two for the price of one.

His first choice was interesting because it was currently being cited by the right wing noise machine and was as easy to disprove as an assertion that Robert E. Lee defeated Napoleon at the battle of Gettysburg and then marched on to take Chicago. He said that we had no choice to invade Iraq because Sadaam had thrown out Hans Blix and the U.N. arms inspectors. Well, no, the U.N. told them to leave after George W. Bush gave them two days to get out or face the threat of being bombed. I remembered this but it took all of five seconds to confirm it on Google.

That an intelligent, otherwise moral, and well-educated man can be so wrong about the recent historical record is a sign of something much deeper than one individual’s intellectual decline. I’m not prepared to go into it here but plan on writing about the phenomena in the near future. If you want to get a jump on it, I recommend Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing by William Sargant. It’s an old book, but it explains the “9/11 changed everything” mentality like nothing else I’ve come across.

His second choice was much more interesting. I made the point that if George W. Bush had simply accepted the Taliban’s offer to turn Bin Laden over to a third country for trial, that Al Qaeda would be little more than a bad memory. Grandpa Bob nearly burst a blood vessel when I said that. He was absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure that the Taliban never made such an offer. Why? Several reasons: Bush would have to be a total idiot to turn it down and even if Bush really was that stupid, the Democrats and liberal media would never let him hear the end of it.

Well, yes, if the Democrats were a serious opposition party and the major media were not corporate tools of the government, then of course, there would have been a very serious debate and negotiations about getting Bin Laden into an orange jumpsuit in the Hague without murdering 100’s of thousands of people, squandering 100’s of billions of dollars, and endangering our national security and financial future for the sake of an insane murder spree. But the sad fact is that sensible options were not to be considered. It was all about murder. Buildings were destroyed. People were killed. Therefore, we must destroy more buildings and kill more people. Justice has nothing to do with it.

Did destroying the factual basis of his arguments change his position? Of course not. The next morning I emailed him the evidence. He was very angry when last we met. His last words were that no facts could possibly change his opinions. What can you say to that? No facts can change their positions.

But as sad as that is, their opinions can easily be changed. Not by facts or reality. But a Fox News meme or a word from Rush Limbaugh? The memory keeps the memory hole well fed.