"People have often been willing to give up personal identity and join into a collective. Historically, that propensity has usually been very bad news. Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal 'families' — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob." ~ Jaron Lanier
Just Plain Stupid
These days, trying to figure out what Americans are thinking isn't an easy task. Trying to figure out how Americans think is even tougher. Judging by how many Americans 'think,' as measured by polls, statistics, and reaction to the ruling class, maybe they don't think at all. One thing is certain, though. Too many Americans are prone to fickleness, short-sightedness and just plain stupidity.
Among other things, the Clinton years should have taught that polls should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The Republicans and their noted mouthpieces in the media used to howl whenever apologists for Clinton and his extracurricular activities would point to the polls as defense against impeachment. We were constantly reminded that Clinton 's dalliances and linguistic skills were no grounds for impeachment.
Now the roles are reversed. The Republican apologists for a warmongering half-wit and his coterie of like-minded murderers and thieves have thus far been patting themselves on the back that their decision to stand by the Liar-in-Chief these last few years was the 'right' thing to do. That's what the polls showed in overwhelming numbers. Looks like that's changing, now. If the numbers continue to crash, so may the Republican majority in 2006. Live by the poll, die by the poll.
What polls suggest is that Americans should turn off their television sets and maybe just stare at the wall. Perhaps just shutting down their brains from any outside stimuli for short periods at a time will be an important first step in reviving the ability to think critically. If proven to be successful, it would certainly preempt the tendency for knee-jerk and follow-the-crowd responses to loaded polling questions. Pollsters would be forced to ask more direct questions or quit. Politicians and academics who now refer to the polls to justify their actions will be necessarily forced into oblivion.
Recently, Matt Taibbi ripped into that class of people that provided the Bush administration and the war crowd with the confidence it needed to kill over 1,800 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. They were given the chance, in a way, to make a contribution to the national cause without bearing any responsibility or facing any danger. Through polling, they made the numbers on public support for going to war so high. Now, this same group has changed its mind. As Taibbi said, many who supported the war 'have since become freaked out by the fact that, surprise, surprise, people are dying.' Had the pollsters asked the right questions two years ago, the rush to war would not have been such a rush.
What would have been the right questions to ask then? Taibbi suggested the following: 'Would you yank your son out of college and send him to die for this bullshit? Would you yourself be willing to give your life for this cause? If yes, grab your shit; there's a bus outside.' Such direct questioning would have forced these people right then and there to weigh just a few of the consequences of saying 'yes' from the comfort and safety of their homes.
Excuses can be made for why people who seem to be intelligent become irrational, blood-thirsty, warmongering nationalists: caught up in the moment, the need to be part of the crowd, patriotism, education, up-bringing. But at some point in life, excuses cannot be made for making bad decisions, especially when the consequences of those decisions reach beyond the individual making them. When that threshold is crossed, it should be safe to say that many people become just plain stupid.
Getting back to the war, recent American casualties have pushed talk of finding an exit strategy to the front of the things-to-do list for the president and Congress. Republicans, looking at the polls and down the road to the 2006 mid-term elections, are becoming anxious to at least put out some exit plan for public consumption.
Stephen Cimbala, a Penn State University political scientist, said, 'If you look at it from a Republican point of view, by the 2006 congressional elections, you're going to want to have a timetable in place for withdrawal of U.S. forces and their replacement by Iraqis. And by the fall of 2008, you will want to have most U. S. forces out of Iraq .'
It should be obvious that any proposals on complete or partial withdrawal from Iraq are predicated on what is most likely to help the Republicans first retain control of Congress, then the White House. Over the next year, the Bush administration and its core of hacks in Congress will attempt to create the illusion that troops will come home, less Americans will be killed, we accomplished our mission, and democracy and freedom were given to the people of Iraq . All they have to do is convince enough Americans it's true until after the elections. If they are successful, it will not be a measure of their marketing skills so much as it will prove, once again, that many Americans are just plain stupid.
One thing most people will avoid when faced with the prospect of being proven to have committed a colossal act of stupidity is admit that they were stupid. Instead, most people will rationalize their own behavior and actions, or, the behavior and actions of others who have committed colossal acts of stupidity in their name and with their full support. No amount of logic, truth or facts will get most of these types to see the error of their ways. They would rather go over the cliff in flames with everyone else than jump off the train. Some might call such irrational commitment stubbornness, but it's just plain stupidity.
Matt Taibbi concluded his criticism of the fickle, short-sighted crowd that first supported the call to war and then changed its mind, with the following: 'A nation that indulges in anonymous casual cruelties like The Swan should not be consulted in the same manner before war. In matters of life and death, stand up and be counted--by name, swearing on the blood of your children. What kind of country goes to war whispering 'yes' into a telephone?' What kind of country? A country where too many people are just plain stupid.