Monday, May 09, 2005

Painful Truths about Comfortable Lies

There's been some things sticking in the old Balloon Pirate's craw the past week or so. It's hard to put my finger on it, but it's about hard truths and comfortable lies.

Joan (not her real name) is an old family friend. Her youngest daughter and I went to high school together. She's a very thoughtful and kind person, educated and well-read. What she is not is a spittle-spewing, bible-thumping, hateful and spiteful person.

The other day, she forwarded an email to me. It was a very pretty email full of pictures of our founding fathers, flags, and various images from Our Nations' Capital. It was fairly long, but here's the line that stuck out the most…

Did you know.......

James Madison, the fourth president, known as "The Father of Our Constitution" made the following statement "We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

There was a lot more, talking about all the times the Ten Commandments were included in, on, and around the Supreme Court, but I'm not reprinting it here. This email raised a few flags--the red kind, not the patriotic sort. I'm not by any means a scholar, or even a big history buff, but I do remember from my 10th grade social studies, that Madison was one of the biggest proponents of the separation of church and state. Also, my oldest son went to college in Arlington, so close to DC that we could see the Mall from his campus. I've been to the Supreme Court. I've seen the friezes that were discussed. So, I took a break from looting and plundering and did a bit of research. I could go into detail but suffice it to say that this pseudo-patriotic screed was at best misleading, but mostly out-and-out bullshit. (Frinstance: the Madison quote came from a right-wing revisionist historian who was forced to admit he made it up when confronted by Madison scholars.)I sent Joan a point-by-point rebuttal to the email, and requested she send the rebuttal back to whomever sent it to her in the first place. (to read the entire email, and get a detailed rebuttal far better than I could ever do, go here)

The second thing that got me thinking was Geov Parrish's interview with Al Franken on the website of the Seattle Weekly :

It wasn't the best interview Al's ever done, but one Q and A caught my eye:

Parrish: What do you think the differences are between you and Limbaugh?

Franken: I'm glad you asked me that. I use this example a lot. A few months ago, Rush was talking about the minimum wage. Conservatives like to portray it that no one has to raise a family on the minimum wage—the only people who get the minimum wage are teenagers who want to buy an iPod. So Rush says, "Seventy-five percent of all Americans on the minimum wage, my friends, are teenagers on their first job." And one of the researchers brings this to me, with a smile, and I say, "Well, can you look it up?" And they look it up. The researcher goes to something called the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sixty percent of Americans on minimum wage are 20 and above. Forty percent, then, are either teenagers or below 12 [laughs]. I had several jobs as a teenager, so you figure, what, 13 percent might be teenagers in their first job. Not 75 percent. So where did Rush get his statistic? Well, he got it directly from his butt. It went out his butt, into his mouth, out the microphone, into the air, into the brains of dittoheads. And they believe this stuff.

So we get our labor statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He gets his from the Bureau of Rush's Butt.

Misstatements. Half-truths. Lies. These are the tools used by the opponents of a just and equitable society. I know this is old news; hell, Franken wrote a best-seller about it. That explains Limbaugh. But what about Joan?

Why would a nice, thoughtful and (for her generation) open-minded person blindly pass on an email like that? She's not malicious; the worst thing she's probably ever done is something like complimenting a friend on a godawful haircut.

It's because the lies are more comforting than the truth.

I'm no genius. I'm not an intellectual. I have long ago disabused my self of the notion that I will ever be the smartest person in a room-unless I'm the only one in it. I don't frequent salons where people, as Joni Mitchell put it, 'throw French phrases 'round the room.' Hell, I don't think there's a place like that within driving distance of my house. But I do have one thing going for me: If something I thought was true is proven to be false, I stop believing it's true.

Sometimes that can be a painful thing. And many people can't handle that.

For many people's vision of America is the one they learned from their sixth grade teacher. The one where we were always the good guys. The one where Pilgrims brought civilization to the savage Indians. The one where the cavalry always rode to the rescue. The one where Henry Ford modernized mass production of cars, making them affordable for everyone. The one where hard work will get you ahead, no matter who you are.

And there's truth in all those statements. But not the whole truth. They don't want to know about the America where we were sometimes the greedy, awful bastards. The one where the Pilgrims actively sought to destroy native cultures. The one where the cavalry knowingly sold smallpox-infested blankets to the Indians. The one where Henry Ford was a vicious union-buster and rabid anti-Semite. The one where no matter how hard some people work, they will find it nearly impossible to earn a living wage.

Painful truths. Ones that make people ask questions about their country. Difficult questions. And many don't want to do that.

So, with the help of spinmeisters, revisionist historians, and other nameless, faceless people, comfortable lies are created, and circulated. The internet gives them lives of their own. Fat, drug-addled radio personalities throw them out. They sound plausible, reasonable. And, they sound like the America their sixth-grade teacher told them about.



There really were WMD's in Iraq: Comfortable lie. The judges who ruled in favor of Michael Schaivo were activist judges: Comfortable lie. We're one nation under God, and that God is the traditional Judeo-Christian God: Comfortable lie. Homosexuality is a choice: Comfortable lie.

And right now, the comfortable lie is being used to bring about sweeping changes to our society. Changes that threaten to roll back most, if not all of the progress that has been made to make ours a just, equitable, and tolerant society.

Oh, and I got a response from Joan. She thanked me for giving her something to think about, and that I was so much smarter than she was.

Maybe she'll stop and wonder the next time she hears that gay couples are far more likely to abuse foster children. Maybe she'll stop and think about why there was widespread abuse in Iraqi prisons, yet none of the blame went to the officers who were in charge of those prisons.

Maybe. But the smart money's still on the comfortable lie.



Blogger Philip Morton said...

Brilliant and beautiful post buddy, you really nailed it. Beautifull said. I'll weigh in on this topic as well. It's HUGE. the comfortable lie is beginning to define the country. We won't be able to find America soon, as the lie is what people are pretending to let America be, and the real America is out there but the numbed-brain ones wouldn't recognize it if they drove ten miles out of their city limits looking for it, because they let it slip away from them in their daily sleep walk to work. The real America will have fewer freedoms, worse schools, less police, worse medical care, bad fiscal leadership, broad foreign mistakes, impoverished elderly and a crippled consumer market. And that's the good news. The bad news will undoubtedly be tied to the failure of homeland security to secure anything. The Chicken Hawks have pretty much screwed up everything FUBAR as Navy Seals would say, "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair."

I'm fuming as I just found the "memo" on the London Times site and just posted the whole fucking thing on the blog.

1:03 AM, May 10, 2005  

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