Monday, May 30, 2005

George Will on Bryson

George Will and I are not exactly ideological allies, but I have no particular animus towards the guy. As conservatives go, his positions are reasonably nuanced and fair, and in a world where people will attentively listen to Bill O'Reilly, lefties might be thankful that there are conservatives like George. The fact that he is a baseball fan is unforgivable, but until the U.S. Congress comes to its senses and outlaws baseball, there isn't much to be done for it.

So I was kind of enjoying George Will's article on Bill Bryson. Good to see Bryson getting props from a fairly broad political spectrum. Then I hit the second to last paragraph:
This is so because the greatest threat to civility- and ultimately to civilization- is an excess of certitude. The world is much menaced just now by people who think that the world and their duties in it are clear and simple. They are certain that they know what-who-created the universe and what this creator wants them to do to make our little speck in the universe perfect, even if extreme measures- even violence- are required.
Did you just hear a high keening sound, followed by a loud 'POP'? That was the sound of my much-abused irony meter redlining again, and finally burning out. An excess of certitude? Even violence? Mr. Will, may I please remind you that you are a REPUBLICAN for crying out loud? Do you recall what your party calls someone who has only an intermediate amount of certitude? You call him a FLIP FLOPPER! Does not the phrase "certain that they know what- who- created the universe and what this creator wants them to do" describe EXACTLY the religious wing of your party? The current president of the United States is not exactly a guy to ponder the subtle complexities of issues, he knows that he is right and he acts on his certitude.

I wonder what Bill Bryson would say...


Red A said...

I think there's a big yawning chasm between excess certitude and a finger in the wind.

Flip-flopping for no other reason than political gain or opposition for opposition's sake is what pisses people off. Just for example, Hillary consistently was for the war - no flip flopping. Even if she now came out and said she had changed her mind based on new information (e.g. no WMD's) it would be reasonable. Kerry, however, was against GW I, then after we won, he was for it, then he voted for Gulf War II, even acted hawkish on the TV show, then sort of went against it to get the nomination, etc., etc. In other words, we have no idea his real position, we have no idea how he makes decisions, except possibly based on what the polls say and who he needs to convince.

And of course, I am sure there are billions of GOP examples of this as well. But Kerry was arguably the master: "I voted for it before I voted against it."

p.s. I am looking forward to 2006 mid-terms where you guys will probably pick up seats and 2008 when Hillary will win. It should bash the GOP back into shape and I'll enjoy sniping rather than taking hits. Power definitely corrupts!

Angus Barrs said...

Well, being open to new views and new information and trying to take into account the changing political climate - yeah, that's again one of those things that is bad when the Dems do it but OK when the Republicans do it. I think what bothers me and what Karl is getting at is the sort of fella who becomes unable to even examine both sides of an issue, who doesn't want to know. The severely impacted political attitude that makes people constantly willing to attack basic facts and defy reason for their political ideology or Repubican-worship. Party line and party thought is not a replacement for careful consideration and active thought process. It's scary how many are immune to dialogue and simply shout whatever Rush or Bush or Pat Roberts told them in the face of any request for examination and debate. This is a growing trend here among the right, and I also see it as a result of the propagandizing by the right, though it does exist on both sides. (It's more of a religious thing, so the seeds are more on the religious right) It's not good for anyone. The oversimplification (us good them BAD) attitude and the inability to recognize good people on the other side is a terrible rot at the core of a democracy. The Right seems to feed this trend. My opinion.


Red A said...


Religious people tend to view things as good/evil because its part of their belief system. I don't know how they can work around this.

Unlike communists their system can only be judged a failure after they die and then don't go to heaven or hell.

I don't understand why you even want a dialogue with the right since we are only Rush spoutin' religious freaks. (heh heh)

Robin said...

Its hardly limited to the "right", Karl. Need I tell you how many Democrats have insisted on beliefs devoid of factual basis? What is that certitude but a religious belief of its own?

And don't get me started on the full Leftist moonbats.

Angus said...

Well, talking with those who are not open to reason and willing to examine the basis of their conclusions is largely pointless, true. But it eases my conscience that I make an honest effort before I proceed to crush their heads like rotting cantaloupes with my bare hands.

It is distressing to me to see so many who refuse to acknowlege that good people can be of a different opinion or belief, though.

Red A said...

Now, here you go calling people "good" as if there is an objective "good" and also a "bad."

How could I have honest dialogue with you when you label people in black and white like that without any shades of gray?

Honestly, you are starting to sound like one of those people with excess certitude.

Angus said...

Sigh - please, I merely lament the increasing inability to consider the possibility of good (aka well intentioned) people on both sides of a debate.

More and more propagandizing is going on in both camps. Personally, I witnessed the rightists propagandize the Shiavo issue to the extent of asserting that this woman was being held down and starved to death as she cried and screamed "I want to live!" (Cue the "Bring out your dead!" scene from Monthy Python's Holy Grail)as well as the many assertions regarding her husband..despite Jeb Bush's own personally appointed watchdog finding no evidence of consciousness and extensive DCF investigations finding no evidence of abuse...

The Ten Commandments of Propaganda

1. Divide and conquer.

Possibly the oldest political tactic known to man. As long as the people are busy fighting each other, they will never know their real enemy. Hate speech is valuable to this end.

2. Tell the people what they want.

Not to be confused with telling them what they want to hear.You are telling them what they want, and why they cannot live without it.

3. The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it

Coined by Joseph Goebbels, this truth has been proven time and time again, especially in times of war.

4. Always appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly said "you can't fool all of the people all of the time." But, if you can fool enough of the people, enough of the time, you can get away with anything. The trick is to find the common hopes and fears of the largest majority.

5. Generalize as much as possible.

Specifics are not very important. Most people would prefer to think in the simplest terms possible - black and white, good and evil, Communist and Capitalist, etc.

6.Use "expert" testimonial.

A degree and screen presence is pretty much all you need to be an authority on anything in the modern world. People like celebrities.

7. Always refer to the "authority" of your office.

Once your authority is established, you need to periodically remind the people of it. It will add credibility to your purpose.

8. Stack the cards with "information".

Statistics and facts work wonderfully, especially when the average person only partially understands them, and when conflicting data is censored.

9. A confused people are easily led.

When a person hears the truth, he won't know it, because it will be lumped together with disinformation, half-truths, and lies.

10. Get the "plain folks" onto the "bandwagon"

John Doe is your propaganda agent. Middle Americans will "relate" to him, and so will their friends, and their friends, and their friends, and their friends . . .

And remember, when all else fails, use FEAR.

Pardon me now, I have to go choke to death a mildly disabled person who uses a cane. And the sad thing is, I'm a registered republican.

Angus said...

BTW - Red A, I dunno if I fit into the Left or Right or Blue or Red camp, though all disappoint me. A silly online "quiz" gives me this profile:
Your Political Profile
Overall: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Social Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Ethics: 25% Conservative, 75% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal