One Jew’s Red Pill Journey – Part 4 of ?
Another “before I dig in” recollection…
One summer, somewhere in the high school years, I did some volunteer work at a Physics lab at MIT. It was interesting work and, apparently, my measurements played a central role in a paper in the then-hot new field of Chaos Theory. But what makes this experience relevant was a one-page essay photocopied from some magazine and stuck onto a storage cabinet . In that essay the writer criticized liberal attitudes towards oil, pointing out – among many other things – that oil not only fueled hotrods, but our critical defense machinery. And, thus, our interest in oil-producing nations, not to mention force projection and a strong military, was a matter of national security.When I asked to copy it, the lead researcher took it down and as he handed it to me, asked why I wanted a copy. “Because I think he’s right, and I like what he says.”
That lead researcher got bug-eyed. “We put it up for laughs because he’s an idiot!”Remember: at that time I was like a fish born and grown purely in liberal water; I literally didn’t know anything else… and had you asked my political leaning I would have instinctively responded that I was a Democrat without hesitation. But I find it interesting that without any actual, real experience with a Rightward-leaning set of information or exposure to anything but liberal thoughts I was already deviating from The Collective.
It makes me wonder… are there some biological bases for being Left or Right? I have opined about one possible factor in that conjecture in Civilizational Collapse and the Brain. G-d rest my late mother, but I certainly was scared – no, terrified – of her temper, and from a very early age and into my 20s. I wonder if that fear, implanted from very early on, stimulated my amygdalae to be larger than they would have otherwise been, per my theory at the above link.
THE RULESI have referred to, many times, a concept that I call Rules One and Two, which are part of a larger and still-evolving set of Rules of Propaganda.
One: It doesn’t matter what’s true, it’s what you can convince people to believe.Two: If you control the flow of information you control what people believe.
Let’s dive into our societal information flow… and how it, and news of it, affected my views.
FAKE NEWS THEN
I remember the dinnertime ritual. My mother would cook. I’d set the table. Dad would choose the wine. We’d sit down to eat, talk, and watch “the most trusted man in America”, Walter Cronkite, relate the day’s news and end each broadcast with his signature line “… and that’s the way it is”.It never occurred to me to question the nightly news, or the Boston Globe, or any other news source. Even with the left-leaning (sometimes to the point of being supine on their left side) materials my parents would pass me to read, it never occurred to me that these periodicals would deceive intentionally.
Some of those reading materials were The Nation, the local pacifist newsletter of the Quakers, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, materials from the Southern Poverty Law Center, etc. If there was a Leftwing cause, my parents supported it. And I got to read its newsletters.
CRACKS IN THE WALLEven in my high school years but certainly as I started college, I started to notice… inconsistencies.
For example, my mother was big-big-big into “Palestinian” rights, and in her zeal would outright ignore things like missile firings, suicide bombings, etc.; she would, actually, forgive such actions as being the “futile struggles of a helpless oppressed people”. She wrote for magazines that slammed Israel 24/7, and used her “I am a Jew and was born in Israel…” line to great effect. One time, when I asked whether walking into a restaurant and blowing up people eating lunch was a legitimate tactic, she completely excused it.Well, that didn’t sit right with me. So I began to pay actual attention to the news on the subject of Israel. Each time there would be discussions of Israel bombing here, or sending tanks there… but it was always buried, if present at all, why Israel was taking action.
I started seeing a consistent pattern of omission; Israel would be painted as the aggressor – yet reading the fine print it was always a response to something. That pertinent fact would always be buried deep in the story, if presented at all. I also noticed that there would be an attack on Israel from Gaza, and the West Bank Arabs would condemn the attack. But then they’d switch roles; back and forth it went. I realized they were playing “good cop, bad cop” and nobody in the media seemed to grasp that. (Funny that a kid in college could see it, but the uber-sophisticates in the newsrooms couldn’t – or wouldn’t. Why?)
A DELAYED-RECOGNITION BODY BLOWAt college one of my friends worked for the school newspaper. We hung out in a group and several of us helped out too, especially when he became editor. I wrote a few op-ed pieces and helped with layouts. One fall a member of our group announced that he had a summer job reporting for a Catholic newspaper. All well and good.
But I remember his gleeful smile in relating how he’d go out and interview people on the “other side” of issues, e.g., abortion (and please recall, I was pro-choice at the time). He’d submit his articles last-minute, and make them so long that the church’s incorporation of the Catholic-leaning interviews/materials placed at the end would just be expediently cut for space… so the readers would only get the anti-Catholic materials. Everyone – including myself – thought this was a great trick. (Remember, also, that I was an atheist and, like most freshly-minded atheists, openly hostile to the idea of any religion.)It was a few years later, as my atheism moderated and my move from Left to Right continued, that I recalled that gleefully-presented tale, along with the approvals from everyone, and shuddered – and was appalled for several reasons.
First, this man was employed by the Catholic church, yet he did everything he could to undermine them and their communications to their adherents. That was dishonorable. I don’t expect someone to take a job with such an organization and agree with everything, but you are employed by an organization and it is not your place to use your position there to undermine them. If you dislike them that much, oppose them openly, not burrow in like a termite.Second, I recall the radiant smile as he told his tale, and the enthusiasm with which we all thought this was a great idea. Related to the first thing, just above, I realized how I was trapped in GroupThink, and started to understand the pressure peer approval/praise could give. I also grasped how that GroupThink approval could make one feel good about such deception.
And third, thinking back on stories I’d written and often had edited, or watching stories from others being edited, I could recall instances where wording would be changed, or sentences added or omitted, that subtly altered the direction of the story and the likely conclusions readers would draw from the information presented. In parallel with this, I recall a few conversations where I would question that practice, only to be told – paraphrased – that as “journalists” it was our responsibility to lead readers to conclusions we wanted them to draw.Again, at the time and being a true-blue liberal, I thought this was a grand idea. But just a few years down the road I said Waaaaaiit a minute! A journalist’s job was to inform to let people make up their own minds, not to use information and phraseology to drive them to specific conclusions. And certainly not to alter what others wrote in submission to the editorial page.
Then, the Big One dropped on that still-standing, albeit wavering, belief in professional media objectivity – blowing it to oblivion.
I had, only peripherally, known about Vietnam as it was going on. During the actual shooting war I’d see news broadcasts, but never really knew much about it, understood it, or anything. I’d seen articles by solders who were there complaining that they were winning, even though the media presentations would be totally contrary to that – but dismissed those letters. I still trusted the media, even if there were nagging doubts.Then I learned about Walter Cronkite’s total lapse of professional ethics. He went on the air and leveraged his trusted position to, essentially, demoralize America and sap our will to win. As outlined in Fake News and the Tet Offensive among many other articles, I learned the despicable treachery of the media in our Vietnam defeat. This was in the days of the internet, so I did more homework, and learned that the Viet Cong paid attention not just to our military tactics and technology, but to publications in our media, to grasp our resolve. I learned they were actually losing, militarily, and significantly… but it was the media’s drip-drip-drip undermining of the American public’s will to win that defeated us. There was a dawning recognition that this could not have been accidental, but intentional – to force a loss for the US.
And the blows kept coming. The media in Gulf War II, seemingly cheered every setback or delay. They downplayed and derided every WMD revelation; e.g., I recall reading, once, about finding samples of highly dangerous diseases in some guys refrigerator at home. These diseases, like hemorrhagic fever, and Brucella, had potential to be bio-weapons. WTF were they doing in some guy’s fridge if not to try to keep them out of the hands of investigators.There were the mysterious convoys of trucks from Iraq to Syria before the war; we saw them by satellite, we learned that the normal border guards were sent away. This went unquestioned. We learned that there were whole planes stripped of their seats to carry “something” away from Iraq. Ditto. There were the buildings literally dismantled before the invasion. And on, and on, and on. There was – going from memory – a training facility called Salman Pak where a plane fuselage was; the base commander mentioned, upon interrogation, that members of the “Bin Ladin group” had trained there. Planes, Al Qaeda, rings a bell, no? Totally ignored.
I recall reading in Insight Magazine about a site discovered with liquid-holding barrels marked “pesticides” in an armored camouflaged bunker; they tested out as pesticides too… but nerve agents also indicate positive on those tests! Just next to that, another camouflaged bunker with missiles whose warheads had been modified to carry a liquid payload. Hmmm. There were mobile bioreactors that could obviously be used as mobile brewing facilities for anything biological; the media took, at face value, the claims that they were purely civilian; one point of context that I would ask, with no answer: name me one other country that had such things. Cue crickets.Again, on and on and on the denials, derisions, and dismissals of all these things flowed in a torrent from the media. Every single benefit of the doubt was given to Saddam, stretching my credulity to the breaking point and beyond. Whenever there was any revelation that might have supported this issue, within 24 hours the media would have an army of professors, diplomats, etc., to undermine it – with precisely zero counterbalancing.
I came to the unavoidable but IMHO straight-line-logic conclusion: the media actively sided, not only with the Democrats over Republicans, but in giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies both foreign and domestic.And I viewed this as a fundamental betrayal of honor and their responsibility to the public to inform, not influence. Never mind the necessity of taking the side of one’s country over others. I can tolerate someone having a different opinion than I do; it happens all the time. I will not countenance open actions against America, which the enemedia do on a daily, even hourly, basis. (As a friend of mine says, “First against the wall after the main shooting stops”.)
A CRITICAL DISTINCTION
There are two kinds of untruth.
1. Something is untrue, but the person speaking it believes it to be true. This is simply an error.
2. Something is untrue, and it is known to the speaker as being untrue. This is an outright lie.
I am immensely forgiving of the first one. With the amount of information out there, with the amount of information flowing minute-by-minute, it’s very difficult to discern what’s true and what’s not. The only way I do it – or at least try to do it – is to gather information on a topic from a variety of sources, and cross-check and compare; as you can imagine, this takes an extraordinary amount of time. I did that as a part of a milestone event in my Left to Right evolution, specifically on guns (excerpt in red):I started to pay more attention to the ads being put forth by the gun control lobby; data that, hitherto for, I had accepted at face value because they matched what I already thought (i.e., confirmation bias). I wrote to the NRA and what was then Handgun Control Inc. I would follow up with requests for more information on specific topics; e.g., I’d get something from one side, so I’d write the other side for their data on the same topic. I wrote to the researchers whose works were being cited to ask follow-up questions based on their works (most responded!). And I’d cross-check, compare, and lo and behold, I realized something very fundamental – something that, of course, the Rightward side already knows: In virtually every instance, the NRA was far more accurate and complete in its picture.
One egregious example was this famous ad by gun controllers (multiple versions exist). Utterly convincing on its gut-reaction face, upon considered reflection I realized it did not normalize for the population size. Just that fact alone made me suspicious; years later I heard the phrase “Local instability means global instability” as related to my career – the same holds true for propaganda: once a side is shown to be not just biased (after all, every side puts forth information sympathetic to its argument!), but outright deceptive, all credibility falls away. I, like most people, have a strong aversion to being intentionally lied to.That last sentence is weighty: when someone knowingly lies to me, especially when done by people whose job it is to inform, not influence, I call this nothing short of despicable. This treachery is part-and-parcel of the “nudge” philosophy of uber-leftists like Cass Sunstein, among many others, who rise to the definition of moral busybody that C.S. Lewis named in his famous quote (bolding added):
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”Make no mistake, they have the approval of their consciences, because journalists believe themselves to be better, more noble, higher-level Philosopher Kings.
FEW THINGS PISS ME OFF MORE…
I get furious when someone knowingly lies to me. That is amplified when they do it believing they know better for me than I do, and believe they are entitled to misinform me to get me to “rightthink”.
Now that the proverbial scales have fallen from my eyes… never again will I believe them. And understanding the nature of the “drive-by media”, as Rush names them, was another milestone in my move from Left to Right.
AND A NON-SEQUITEUR CLOSING MIRACLE
It is said that G-d speaks in a “small, still voice”. That is so true.I had written in Part II: (in red to differentiate it; italics in the original)
For various reasons, notable among them that I snore louder than a jet engine on afterburner, I was attempting to fall asleep in the recliner downstairs. It was Shabbat evening; one of the candles, which the kids helped me light, was still burning and the light was straight in front of me. Being dog-tired I was sorely tempted to break the prohibition against blowing it out. In that moment of temptation it was like G-d's small, still voice spoke to me: Those candles are the light of tradition, handed down from generation to generation for over three thousand years. They are a reminder of Judaism's deep past, and by teaching your children they become the hope of the future, forming a chain through the ages and binding you and your children to Me.I relaxed, understanding what those candles really meant and why they are lit and never blown out, and the candle then winked out just seconds after that realization. It was as though G-d Himself then said to me Now that you understand how the lights of Shabbat connect you to Me and your whole people through past, present, and future, you can go to sleep. It was a profound moment and I felt His presence in a way that I had not before… and the sensation of that presence has never left me since.
On a recent Shabbat evening I had the kids light the two candles. One candle’s flame was struggling – it was just a tiny, thin line of blue flame clinging to the wick. I looked at that flame and thought Hashem*, please kindle this Light of the Ages. And my thought had barely been finished when it sprang up to full, bright height to match the other candle’s flame.Yes, He speaks in a “small, still voice”… but one must be listening. Hashem, I’m all ears.
* “Hashem”: Ha Shem. Ha = “The”, Shem = “Name”. So, literally, The Name, which religious Jews often use instead of G-d.