I have not bumped up a reader's comment in a while. Steven Augustine's observation during our earlier conversation about white working class voters and the resilience of the false consciousness meme deserves some more attention. There he wrote:
USS Liberty? Check. October Surprise? Check. The Maine? Check. The Mossadegh/ Lumumba / "interventions", et al? Check and double-check)... shit confirmed in the frickin NYT, ferchrissakes... and rather than see these "limited hangouts" as confirmations of an entirely predictable and much larger pattern, we shrug them off as aberrations of a supposedly dark age the Gubmint has long-since outgrown!
(sfx: phlegm-rich Satanic chuckle)
Don't feel bad, though. Our minds have been terraformed (and our material realities constricted and metered) by some of the finest amoral minds recruited from Harvard, Princeton, Yale and MIT. In fact, if the Evil Ones haven't recruited your ass by now, you can't be very good at what you do, Negro!
Damn.One of the foundational concepts in the study of American public opinion is that attitudes are remarkably unstable. As such, they can be influenced by how questions are presented and framed. The American people are also relatively non-ideological. Here, they do not hold what students and observers of politics would understand to be a consistent worldview. There is an exception: on matters of race the American people do know how they feel, are willing to express their feelings, and their opinions are well-structured.
In total, the American people do have "values" which they ostensibly advance through the political process. But, the American people meander and muddle through the specifics of these issues, groping and feeling, trying to find their way with a relative lack of sophistication.
As I have shared here many times, I am resolute in my belief that the masses are asses. The question then becomes is the public's lack of sophistication, limited knowledge about public policy, and attraction to spectacle and empty political rhetoric cultivated or natural? Is the Culture War/Real America White right wing populism organic? Alternatively, is such zeal handed down from on high by elites? Likewise, are the symbolic politics of the Left substantive? Are the people really speaking back to Power? Does Power even care?
There is one area of public concern where this question is a settled matter. The American people are manipulated by political elites into supporting unnecessary wars and conflicts abroad. When I discuss this question with my students, and offer up the obvious--at least to my/your eyes that the political leadership class in a democracy is dependent on propaganda for legitimacy--they look shocked and upset. As I turn the knife a bit and include how their consumerist impulses are manufactured and manipulated by the dream merchants, and not an expression of an authentic self, the hurt is tangible.
I learn a good deal from my students as well. When we talk about the War on Terror, 9/11, and America's imperial exploits, they more often than not confess their ignorance about such matters. These college age students feel powerless. They have a world of information, quite literally at their fingertips, but choose not to engage it substantively.
In response to Steve's observations about the truth hiding in plain sight, and the public's complicity on these matters, I have a standard list of explanations which I offer. Our politics are sick, and this sickness can be explained by a few things:
1. There are approximately 30 million illiterate people in the United States. The politics of spectacle, culture war, and faux populism are a response to this fact.
2. Americans have been socialized into being citizen consumers in a market democracy. Consequently, they are not active, responsible, forward thinking, or virtuous.
3. There is no liberal media. There is only a corporate media. Consent is manufactured; the terrain for "approved" discourse is narrow. For example, see the howls in response to Chris Hayes' very reasonable intervention regarding the overuse of the word "hero" in regards to members of the military that he made over the Memorial Day weekend.
4. Hard news is dead. Long live soft news.
5. Information is not knowledge. All of us in the Internet age have witnessed a revolution in how information is shared and circulated. The Facebook Millennial generation have come of age in this moment and know no alternative. Unfortunately, as a society we have not developed the critical skills necessary to synthesize citizenship, information, and knowledge. Moreover, as I wrote about here, for many young people "politics" and "activism" consists of clicking "like" on Facebook or wearing plastic wristbands or hoodies. This can be parallel or even pre-political behavior. It is no substitute for substantive political engagement that involves personal commitment, risk, and material resources.
6. The public schools have utterly failed. They are producing passive citizens who are drones for the neoliberal order. The universities are complicit: they fashion an experience which is prefaced on a logic where "the customer is always right," and critical pedagogy and learning are secondary to high course enrollments, sports stadiums, and trends such as "smart classrooms," iclickers, and the empty rhetoric of "student centered" approaches to learning.
7. The dreams of digital democracy and a vibrant Internet that brought together people of different views and beliefs has not come to pass. The blogosphere and online news media are balkanized. Epistemic closure is real. This is especially true on the Right. We are (more often than not) quite literally talking to ourselves and those other folks who already agree with us.
8. The life worlds, communities, and realities of conservatives and progressives, Red State and Blue State, are increasingly divergent, separate, and apart. How can we even come together to solve common problems when basic empirical facts cannot be agreed upon? Add in the bastard marriage of radical religion in the form of Christian Dominionism to Ayn Randian libertarianism and matters are made even worse.
The sum effect of these elements is crystallized in the following ideal typical example. The public actually believes that the enemies of the American government hate the American people--notice I separate the two--because of our "freedoms."
This con is no accident. What would you add to the above list? And can this "mental terraforming" be undone?