Thursday, December 8, 2016

Faked Out

What speaks to me about this tweet is how it takes the way we often describe the acts of people we consider to be between ignorant and completely insane and applies that to us as a nation. Sure, the "rifle-toting Americans" are the Army and Marines, but just as Edgar Welch is part of a larger community that suspects that Mrs. Clinton was up to no good to the point that running a child sex slavery ring out of a pizzeria made sense to them, the Armed Forces of the United States are also part of a larger community that had bought into the idea that President Hussein of Iraq was cleverly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction that he'd managed to hid from feckless United Nations inspectors. Of course, the analogy is far from perfect, but it is useful in any event.

Because in hindsight, I think that to people of the region, the United States does come across as something between ignorant and completely insane. It's been a decade and a half since the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, and far from standing up stable (let alone Western-style democratic) governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, we've managed to leave both nations in shambles, even as we spend trillions of dollars that many people concede could have been better spent - even if the reality is that we likely simply wouldn't have spent the money at all.

"Fake news" as the term is commonly bandied about today, operates on a very simple model - it tells an audience that their subjective perception of the world around them is accurate - and it uses that to sell them on the "facts" that it presents, rather than presenting genuine facts, and allowing perceptions of the world to flow from that. It's convincing because that's often how we judge the world. And for all that we tend to label that "closed mindedness," it makes sense. Otherwise, we would have to independently judge the veracity of every statement someone told us. Sure, Seattle winters are rarely as cold and snowy at other areas of the country that are as far North, but were you tell someone that it would be 80 degrees on Christmas day, most people who'd lived here any length of time would suspect a falsehood. By the same token a confident prediction that it would be dreary, gray, drizzly and 45 degrees would likely be taken at face value. The assumption would be that you picked it up from the Weather Service, or a meteorologist, because it makes perfect sense. Likewise, tell Seattle's famously (or infamously) liberal population that the disruption of a Bernie Sanders rally in the city had been perpetrated by Republican plants or the Hillary Clinton campaign, and you'd have some takers.

We're not immune to being deceived by people who tell us things that we want to be true, because they prove our perceptiveness and sensitivity, either as individuals, as political factions or as a nation. And the idea of weapons of mass destruction backed up what some of us wanted to believe - namely that the ideology that lead to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was widespread enough that nation-states were conspiring against us. Not because it made geopolitical or geoeconomic sense for them, but because we were Doing It Right, and that was unacceptable to them. To buy into the idea that "they hate our freedoms" one has to buy into the idea that our freedoms are both enviable and, to some, unobtainable. The idea that the Hussein administration wanted to use nuclear, biological or chemical weapons against us for refusing to surrender our exceptional qualities bolstered what people wanted to think they knew - that "here" was better than "there."

And when the weapons of mass destruction turned out not to be there, we didn't reexamine our assumptions, because in the end, we didn't have to. We simply decided that a war-mongering government snookered us all, and that was the end of it. People outside of the United States may have considered our culpability as a society, but we, generally speaking, did not.

The tweet at the top of this post judges us in the way we judge others, and I think that it realizes that it won't do any good in the end. Still, I appreciate the gesture. It never hurts to have someone hold up a mirror for you from time to time.

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