Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Julian Sanchez has an interesting post up on his blog where he comes to term with the terrible thought that his government might actually lie about matters that could lead to the death of thousands. Up until now he didn't consider that a viable line of thought. But recent events have begun to make him wonder. I have argued many times against conspiratorial thinking because it is just to easy to read nefarious meanings behind innocuous events (read "Foucault's Pendulum" for an excellent story about the dangers involved in going overboard on these matters). The human brain is very good at reading patterns in the noise. It's part of what helps us to survive. But it is also very easy to see patterns where none actually exist (like hearing satanic messages when playing rock music backwards). But, even given my innate skepticism of conspiracy theories, this does not mean that I naively assume that the people who are my leaders aren't capable of the worst sort of atrocities. I can believe this and accept it without a feeling of horror because (1) history is so full of examples of leaders who commit atrocities and (2) I don't have any arrogant notion that my leaders are somehow immune to this behavior simply because they are my leaders. Hermann Goering had an interesting perspective on this (link via snopes, who confirms the quotes authenticity):
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
Goering may have been a fat nazi fuck, but that does not mean he didn't know what he was talking about. As I suggested in my post below about Chris Matthews, people who think they are incapable of making the mistakes others have made in the past are, in fact, some of the most easily manipulated into doing just that. We want so much to believe that we are better than that that we are willing to dismiss all evidence to the contrary. So, just as the conspiracy kook might be to quick to read the worst into the actions of others. The "patriot" might be to willing to ignore the signs of evil that are around them. Not me. I've always been a cynic when it comes to human nature. I fully accept that my country can be just as capable of great evil as any other. So, when I see commentators on TV dismiss the (rarely broached) idea that the Bush administration might be deceiving us, I have to laugh at their naivete. And weep for our future.

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