FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The High Price of American Gullibility

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

 

What explains the gullibility of Americans, a gullibility that has mired the US in disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and which promises war with Iran, North Korea and a variety of other targets if neoconservatives continue to have their way?

Part of the explanation is that millions of conservatives are thrilled at the opportunity to display their patriotism and to show their support for their country. Bush’s rhetoric is perfectly designed to appeal to this desire. “You are with us or against us” elicits a blind and unquestioning response from people determined to wear their patriotism on their sleeves. “You are with us or against us” vaccinates Americans against factual reality and guarantees public acceptance of administration propaganda.

Another part of the explanation is that emotional appeals have grown the stronger as the ability of educated people to differentiate fact from rhetoric declines. The Bush administration blamed 9/11 on foreign intelligence failures; yet, the administration has convinced about half of the public that mass surveillance of American citizens is the solution!

Many Americans have turned a blind eye to the administration’s illegal and unconstitutional spying on the grounds that, as they themselves are doing nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear. If this is the case, why did our Founding Fathers bother to write the Constitution? If the executive branch can be trusted not to abuse power, why did Congress pass legislation establishing a panel of federal judges (ignored by the Bush administration) to oversee surveillance? If President Bush can decide that he can ignore statutory law, how does he differ from a dictator? If Bush can determine law, what is the role of Congress and the courts? If “national security” is a justification for elevating the power of the executive, where is his incentive to find peaceful solutions?

Emotional appeals to fear and to patriotism have led close to half of the population to accept unaccountable government in the name of “the war on terrorism.” What a contradiction it is that so many Americans have been convinced that safety lies in their sacrifice of their civil liberties and accountable government.

If so many Americans cannot discern that they have acquiesced to conditions from which tyranny can arise, how can they understand that it is statistically impossible for the NSA’s mass surveillance of Americans to detect terrorists?

Floyd Rudmin, a professor at a Norwegian university, writing in CounterPunch (May 24, 2006) applies the mathematics of conditional probability, known as Bayes’ Theorem, to demonstrate that the NSA’s surveillance cannot successfully detect terrorists unless both the percentage of terrorists in the population and the accuracy rate of their identification are far higher than they are. He correctly concludes that “NSA’s surveillance system is useless for finding terrorists.”

The surveillance is, however, useful for monitoring political opposition and stymieing the activities of those who do not believe the government’s propaganda.

Another reason for the gullibility of Americans is their lack of alternative information to government propaganda. The independence of print and TV media disappeared in the media consolidations of the 1990s. Today a handful of large corporations own the traditional media. The wealth of these corporations consists of broadcast licenses, which the companies hold at the government’s discretion.

Newspapers are run by corporate executives, whose eyes are on advertising revenue and who shun contentious reporting. The result is that the traditional media are essentially echo chambers for government propaganda.

The Internet and the foreign news media accessible through the Internet are the sources of alternative information. Many Americans have not learned to use and to rely on the Internet for information.

Many Americans find the government’s message much more reassuring than the actual facts. The government’s message is: “America is virtuous. Virtuous America was attacked by evil terrorists. America is protecting itself by going to war and overthrowing regimes that sponsor or give shelter to terrorists, erecting in their place democracies loyal to America.”

Sugar-coated propaganda doesn’t present Americans with the emotional and mental stress associated with the hard facts.

In National Socialist Germany, by the time propaganda lost its grip, Germans were in the hands of a police state. It was too late to take corrective measures. Not even the military could correct the disastrous policies of the executive. In the end, Germany was destroyed. Does a similar fate await Americans?

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: paulcraigroberts@yahoo.com

 

 

 

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail