“I think Clinton is honest because bungling, uncertainty and lack of focus go with honesty, not with deceit.”
I wrote that 20 years ago, observing that truth or facts need little maintenance, tweaking or cheering, but deceit, lies, fictions and myths have agendas: they are instruments intended to cue up or support certain outcomes, and must be carefully constructed and managed to be effective. (We should have noticed that last year when President Obama put Susan Rice on TV to recite the CIA’s fictions about Benghazi.)
Today most of our news stories and politics are not about truth but about consequences. Mainstream journalism and media are being co-opted (or more precisely, bought) for instrumental purposes — making people believe in and act toward outcomes advantageous to the purchasers.
Take the situation with Syria: Obama proposed blaming and punishing Assad with missile strikes as the best way to address the problem of sarin gas deployed against civilians. Obama’s statements promoting military action were focused, certain and deft, and relentlessly on-message: Assad was guilty of heinous war crimes and our only alternative was to punish him with a military strike.
Luckily Vladimir Putin stepped up and pointed out that blaming Assad and punishing him — and uncounted civilians — wouldn’t solve any of the problems of chemical weapons, nor do anything to establish peace in the region.
My personal belief remains that it is highly likely that neither the rebels nor Assad’s government used the chemical weapons — they both had too much to lose. I believe the sarin gas was used by some splinter group with its own agenda. Possibly mutinous generals in the government forces, extremists among the rebels, or outside interests — Al-Qaeda, Mossad or Saudi Prince Bandar.
I think Obama was right to seek the approval of Congress for missile strikes, and I consider the possibility that he expected that to fail, and use it as an excuse to stand down. It’s also possible that the whole caper was scripted and orchestrated by the leading players — Obama, Putin, Kerry, Lavrov and Netanyahu, and their moneyed backers.
We have been blindsided, in the last 20 years, by the utopian Right, and misled by assorted would-be political, economic and religious saviors competing in a grand political/economic/religious reality-show for high stakes in power and money. Most of the ‘news’ we get is designed to persuade or distract rather than inform.
We in Western nations have historically operated on a myth of meliorism — that society, civilization and humanity progresses steadily toward better material and moral conditions for everyone. Especially strong within that myth has been the fiction of U.S. exceptionalism: that whatever the United States does makes the world better, because we are naturally virtuous people in a perfectly democratic society, with the scientific and technical knowledge to manage all systems rationally and fairly.
History belies that. In the last 150 years only two wars may be said to have addressed real problems.
The Civil War, for all its horrors and faults, kept this nation—“conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” — together, and we are better for it.
Similarly, World War II ended the death camps in Europe, though that gain was largely offset by our use of nuclear bombs on Japanese cities.
World War I, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and the attack on Iraq didn’t make anything better; nor have our punitive policies toward Cuba or our support of Latin American dictators.
In the animal kingdom, humans are unique in their ability to develop useful technologies and accumulate knowledge through language and writing, but we seem to lack a matching ability to learn from experience and use that knowledge and know-how to make the world better..
Nothing betrays the myth of progress and demonstrates our society’s inability to cope with our own technical prowess better than the Navy Yard shootings this past week. We won’t allow background checks or gun registration; our security systems failed; our mental health systems are inadequate; our media and entertainment industry wallows in and profits from stories of murder and mayhem; millions of people apparently believe the myth that Bad Guys with guns can only be subdued by Good Guys with guns.
Other demonstrations of the myth of progress include the Congressional gridlock over spending, the Republican fantasy of repealing Obamacare, and threats to shut down the government. Then there’s the effort to privatize education, and the rape of our natural resources by drilling & fracking by private corporations who sell our commons on world markets.
For the past 40 years or so, I’ve tried to account for the tragedies, calamities, cruelties and challenges of the world I live in by saying “We do the best we can and it isn’t very good — but we get better at it.” I can’t in good conscience say that any more. During those years we have not gotten better at stopping war and violence, at preventing environmental and ecological degradation, at managing handguns or weapons of mass destruction, at helping the poor, feeding the hungry, healing the sick; at limiting our numbers, loving our neighbors, or seeking liberty and justice for all.
What would I do to make the world a better place? Tax the rich. Stop producing and selling weapons, ammunition, explosives, warplanes, missiles, drones. End government secrecy, abolish the NSA. Enact campaign finance reform. Reconfigure voting — shorter times between primaries and general elections, instant registration. Four-year terms for both the Senate and House. 12-year terms for Supreme Court appointees. Free public education through college.
But first we must examine the lies, fictions and myths on which we base our democracy.