June 22, 2005

Does Reality Even Matter?

I've seen clouds from both sides now,
From near and far,
But still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall -
I really don't know clouds at all.

- Joni Mitchell


The illusory perception of reality is a dilemma which has long intrigued philosophers and commoners alike. What is reality? How do we know something is real and not just an illusion? How do we even know that the world is real, or that we ourselves are real?

Descartes in his pyjamas famously wrote: "I think, therefore I am." We are forced to assume that our perception of reality, although necessarily subjective, is sufficient basis for further rationalisation. Otherwise, everything becomes absurd and nothing whatsoever will stand up to further analysis, logical inspection or reasoning. Consciously or otherwise, we all make such a leap of faith as the basis for our understanding of reality.

But how can we prove something is real, if another person says that it is not? My view of reality and your view of reality will necessarily differ from time to time. This difference is often demonstrated by reviewing the testimonies of witnesses to a car accident - although a dozen people may have seen the incident occur, all may have widely varying beliefs about what actually happened. A detective trying to ascertain what really happened needs to analyze all these viewpoints in relation to other solid facts that can be universally verified by all (the tyre marks on the road, the broken windscreen...). By such means, an objective version of reality can be reached, proven and generally agreed upon by all parties. The acknowledgement of such an objective reality is the basis of civil society.

I like to think that this all has something to do with the purpose of our lives here on earth. Objective reality can be maddeningly frustrating sometimes, but it teaches us valuable lessons which help us grow as spiritual beings. We learn to understand and tolerate the differing viewpoints of others. We follow the road rules, remember our manners and generally obey the laws of the land because we understand the potential for chaos if everybody were to behave too selfishly. From all this, we develop a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, even good and evil.

Of course, not everybody respects or appreciates these lessons in co-operative altruism to the same degree. Some people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the viewpoints, interests or feelings of others. Some people lie, cheat, steal and even murder, seemingly without guilt or remorse. Some of these people may be desperate because of poverty, illness or other pressures. Some may have lacked good teachers in their childhood - given careful mentoring, they can often be taught to change. Others, of course, are sociopaths, seemingly incapable of the mental leap required to empathise wtih another person's point of view. Others are simply insane.

Others, however, are relatively intelligent, well-educated and even wealthy, well-connected people who make a very conscious, deliberate decision to enforce their views on others, whatever the cost. Such are the neo-conservative ideologues who currently control the Bush White House. These people have taken the dark arts of political spin and pressure lobbying to bizarre new depths, relentlessly distorting or supressing facts in pursuit of their stated goal - turning the USA into a supreme, global empire with so much military and economic power that it cannot be challenged again, ever, by anyone (including, it now seems, its own citizens).

*

The key ideological component of neo-conservative philosphy was famously explained to New York Times reporter Ron Suskind by an un-named Bush aide:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
The arrogance, the surreal, self-indulgent deception and the wilfully fantastic ignorance of such a statement is simply staggering. You can almost hear the inevitable crunch of reality - and here I'm talking about the shared, objective reality which has governed our universe for millenia, not the more recent Fox News version - coming down on this un-named aide's sneering little head. And yet, as events of the past few years have proved, this neocon mouthpiece was very nearly right.

Over the past decade, the neo-conservatives have infiltrated key government departments, media organisations, the judiciary and even foreign governments. They have closely aligned themselves with big business interests, fundamentalist Christian groups and powerful political insiders on both sides of US politics, to form what they themselves have laughingly called a "cabal". This cabal has hand-picked a malleable puppet president and squeezed him through not just one but two national elections, despite any number of horrific gaffes and tragic miscalculations. They have engineered a pre-emptive attack on a soveriegn nation, in contravention of international laws which the USA itself helped to set up only 50 years ago. They have torn down civil rights and liberties enshrined in the US Constitution for centuries, while building up a national deficit that will cripple the US economy for generations to come.

Amazingly, they have done all this (and much, much more) with the full and vocal support of a huge swathe of the US public. This has only been possible because of massive and relentless media support, aided and abetted by more subtle support from voices in the Christian right. These Bush supporters preach "moral values" while aggressively casting anyone who disagrees with them as a "terrorist", a "terrorist sympathizer", or - worse yet - a "liberal". It is a negative, fear-based modus operandi which will readily discard the truth in favour of any lie that scores a political hit or a 5-second sound-bite. Worse yet, the Bush cabal are always ready to launch an immediate, hysterical, over-the-top campaign of intimidation against anyone who dares criticize their antics.

Throughout Bush's term in office, in almost all areas of his administration, facts have been distorted, suppressed or just plain made up. The Iraq War itself has been nothing if not a war of propaganda from the moment it was conceived. Same goes for the "urgent" need for Social Security reform. Whatever it takes to steamroll the project through the US public's consciousness. The same disregard for truth characterized Bush's presidential bids: what was all that crap about being a uniter, not a divider? Bush's first 100 days were riddled with pre-planned, divisive policies and deliberately controversial decisions, even before 9/11 provided the perfect opportunity for the Mother Of All Lies.

The "Bush Bulge" story is a perfect example. The whole world saw a wireless transmitter stapped to Bush's back during the presidential TV debate, but the Bush White House insisted that there was no bulge, or it was just a rumple in the suit, or in the shirt, or it was a medical device, or something else, anything but the truth. Faced with such blatant dissembling, even the New York Times and Washington Post refused to publish the truth. Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times later insisted:
You can't just say the president is lying.
Why not? Every paper in the USA reported it when Clinton lied. Why can't you report the truth in Bush's USA? Who or what is stopping you? As websites like this haved proved again and again and again, Bush really is a liar!

If a tree falls in the Amazon rainforest on Bush's watch, but the New York Times does not report it, has it really fallen? Well, yes it has, as we are painfully learning - and when thousands and thousands of such rainforest trees fall, our climate changes inevitably for the worse. The same thing goes for icebergs melting in the Arctic Circle or bodies rotting on the streets of Baghdad. Ignoring truths does not make them any less true. It just increases our ignorance.

As former CIA agent Robert Steele says, "This administration has chosen to use the propaganda tools of Hitler, Goering, and Goebels." But no amount of propaganda can change the fact that the truth is still the truth, and will always remain the truth. Suppressing facts does not make them stop existing. Making up facts does not make them real.

*

So now to the Downing Street Memos, which prove that Bush's cabal fixed the intelligence around the facts to justify his illegal invasion of Iraq. Or do they?

Bush's team insist that the memos are "old news". The facts revealed in these memos are nothing new, they say. It's already been dealt with a long time ago. Let's move on to the next question... Meanwhile, the Bush cabal's fighting 101st Keyboard Brigade is busy spreading online rumours that the memos are fakes, even though they know this is not true. But what does that matter, as long as their propaganda gets through to the target audience?

The US media say they are not running the story of the Downing Street Memos because they don't prove anything that was not already widely known. Well, it's true that Knight Ridder was already quoting "senior administration officials" back in February, 2002 (five months before the memos), saying that Bush had already decided to go to war with Saddam:
"This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein. That debate is over. This is ... how you do it."
Prescient reporting, non? Of course, we now know that the debate was over before it even began, which is why we are still having the debate today.

But do stories like this mean that the evidence contained in the memos is "old news"? Or is there actually a difference between anonymously-sourced reports and an official government memo, which quotes the head of British intelligence debreifing his UK cabinet colleagues about top-level conversations with the US leaders?

Why are we even having this debate?! What's wrong with this picture?!

Mark Danner at Alternet disects the Downing Street Memo and the media's wilfull ignorance of it. He quotes this section from a typically dismissive Michael Kinsley article, suitably titled "No Smoking Gun":
Of course, if 'intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,' rather than vice versa, that is pretty good evidence of Bush's intentions, as well as a scandal in its own right. And we know now that was true and a half. Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the war in Iraq. But C offered no specifics, or none that made it into the memo. Nor does the memo assert that actual decision makers had told him they were fixing the facts.
As Danner wonders:
One might ask what would convince this writer, and many others, of the truth of what, apparently, they already know, and accept, and acknowledge that they know and accept. What could be said to establish "truth" -- to "prove it"?

... failing the discovery of a tape recording in which President Bush is quoted explicitly ordering George Tenet that he should "fix the intelligence and facts around the policy," many will never regard the case as proved -- though all the while accepting, of course, and admitting that they accept, that this is indeed what happened.
As always with the Bush cabal's arguments, the Orwellian logic is almost enough to drive you insane. But when the President himself declares that it's his job to "catapult the intelligence", what can you expect?

Unfortunately for the Bushites, feigning ignorance and stammering incoherent nonsense is not an acceptable method of dealing with the uncomfortable facts contained in these memos. And if the press won't cover the story because it's not "new" enough, we will make the story news. Those of us who still care about the truth are going to keep hammering and hammering this issue until it is properly addressed.

Just as the central issue of the lies that led us to war has refused to die, so too will the evidence provided in these damning memos continue to reverbrate. The truth will out.

7 comments:

elendil said...

I suspect that the quote about the reality-based community is inaccurate. See, for eg, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality-based_community

gandhi said...

elendil,

Thanks for the feedback, but I don't see the difference between the quotes... Am I missing something? In any case, isn't this just nit-picking?

elendil said...

The difference is not in what the words say, it's in who the words are attributed to. According to Wiki, it was an unnamed aide, not Perle, and the reporter wasn't Hersh, it was Ron Suskind.

elendil said...

The only reason I noticed was because your post set of a bunch of ideas in my own head. It was a good post.

Ever thought it was strange that the extreme religious right are so attracted to neocon ideas? Religious folk are used to the idea of a created reality - they understand the power of faith to shift reality (or more accurately, a perception of reality, rather than objective reality itself). In a world where everyone believes and behaves in accordance with a religious worldview, things will occur such that this worldview might as well be true. e.g. prayer will work, because we'll only count hits, and ignore the misses. Unanswered prayers are an aberration, or just require more prayer. In much the same way, the neocon vision of bringing democracy has worked, because all hits are counted to their intervention, and all misses are ignored as aberrations, or work still yet to be done.

This might also explain why criticism is not permitted during war, and considered unpatriotic. Remember O'Reilly telling us all to shut-up with our criticism and rally behind the president? It is well known that paranormal phenomenon is impaired by the presence of skeptics ;-)

I don't think this is about left versus right -- not at its heart. e.g. Check out this quote from Orwell:

Already our control over matter is absolute. We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation - anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.

gandhi said...

Thanks Elendil, and you make a very thought-provoking point. There is a major philosophical divide between those who believe we control our own destinies and those who prefer to think that the whole world is on auto-pilot!

But even if you subscribe to that philosophy, it's no excuse for tolerating such massive lies.

BTW the quote from Orwell is spot-on. I also do not believe this is a left-versus-right thing at its core.

PS: I've updated the text to credit Suskind, but I'm pretty sure the author of the remark was later revealed to be Perle - anyone got any proof or dis-proof of that?

elendil said...

but I'm pretty sure the author of the remark was later revealed to be Perle - anyone got any proof or dis-proof of that

Before I sent the comment to you, after I saw the alternative attributation, I did a quick Google using parts of the quote and the names 'Hersh' and 'Perle'. I didn't find anyone who attributed it to them - the source was always unnamed. The closest I found was this, where the wording of the paragraph immediately following quotation -- concerning Hersh and Perle -- could be misread as referring to the quotation.

However, I was eager to get some dinner, so my Google was limited to the first few pages or so.

Where did you source it from? Maybe that will help track the meme, and see if it mutated somewhere.

gandhi said...

Sorry, I can't trace or remember exactly where I got that quote/connection...

The key Perle-Hersh document is Hersh's description of Richard Perle's meeting with Adnan Khashoggi in the New Yorker magazine. During the Reagan Administration, Khashoggi was one of the middlemen between Oliver North, in the White House, and the mullahs in Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. You can link half the Bush White House to that scandal, which was never properly prosecuted to the end.

Perle threatened to sue Hersh over this article but it seems he never did.

The Suskind piece describing the "reality-based community" quote was titled Without A Doubt, which examined the meaning of the USA's first ever "faith-based presidency".

Like many others, I was amazed by the "reality-based community" quote when it first came out. And seriously, who else COULD it be but Perle? I don't think even Wolfowitz is that psychotic.... But since I can't confirm the source, I will remove Perle's name.

Well spotted, elendil, and thanks again.

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