Torturing the Obvious

by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

The New York Times reports that a National Intelligent Estimate (NIE) from April 2006 concludes the Iraq War has actually increased Islamic radicalism. You don’t say! Americans want to know why our bombing, devastating and occupying a country that has done us no harm would inflame its people.

"Common Sense", wrote Einstein, "is prejudice acquired before the age of 18". In science, the obvious is often contrary to the truth, which explains why scientists are sticklers for ‘proof’. As Isaac Asimov said, anyone could ‘see’ that the sun revolved around the earth. Mistrusting the obvious is thus the first attribute of any scientist.

In human affairs, on the other hand, the obvious may be the most important thing. Not for nothing does the Declaration of Independence say, "We hold these truths to be self-evident". If instead, Thomas Jefferson were to have set out to prove why Life, Liberty and Happiness are essential commodities for human existence, the British might still be here. As it is, the document calls out to us across the centuries. The great leaps in politics are made by appeals to the heart, not the head.

The great truths (eternal verities, my dad called them) have no proof, nor are they pious. They are merely based on emprical, societal, experience. In the old saying "Honesty is the best Policy", the use of the word, "Policy" is worth noting. It appeals not to ideology or ethics, but to simple everyday practicality. It says that any temporary gains of dishonesty are bound to evaporate and cause a loss over the long run.

The devotion to such obvious truths was America’s salvation. It was a uniter. It was obvious that rules were to be obeyed, that the law was majestic. Even more, it was obvious that the law acquired teeth not by adding provisions, but by first enforcing the ones that existed. Scrapping or changing laws was difficult by design. Even people on the street seemed to have a working understanding of the Constitution and were aware of things like the first or fourth amendments, no mean achievement for a large society.

What should one say when, in a few short decades, a people whose native pragmatism and instinctive linkage of societal and personal self-interest made their country unique, suddenly seem to have reached a stage where the obvious requires a dissertation? We live in a milieu where coffee stores need to put up signs warning patrons that spilling hot coffee on your crotch can be painful.

Whence this sudden descent? Not so sudden, actually, for the signs have been there all along. As Michael Neumann wrote, the onset of Dementia Americana seems to have its origins all the way back in the election of Ronald Reagan. Whether or not Neumann is correct, take a look at this list; blunders that would have been immediately obvious to a previous generations, but which barely trouble the current one:

The proposition that budget deficits and lowered taxes would together usher in the millenium, an obvious crock, gives the Gipper a 49 state reelection win,

The notion that shutting down American factories and getting things manufactured abroad, touted and accepted as the way to enduring prosperity,

NAFTA, whose obvious consequence was described best by Ross Perot’s "Giant Sucking Sound" (a prediction realized in greater measure than even Perot might have imagined),

Attacks on the preservation of the environment, an American ideal dating back to Teddy Roosevelt, steadily under attack begining with James Watt, with state after state voting for the notion that land conservation was inimical to individual prosperity,

The obvious advantage of having a common language for the country, undermined by a tawdry appeal to multiculturalism and multilingualism (signs in every language, so long as we can sell in one of ’em!),

Country actually entertains a serious debate about whether illegal immigration is bad,

President ignores warnings of ‘bin Laden determined to strike inside the US’, vacations, reads My Pet Goat, and refuses to order an inquiry into 9-11 until over a year later, when forced,

Responding to 15 hijackers coming from a country which financed madraasas and recognized Osama’s hosts, by going to war against a country which had no connection to 9-11,

Responding to the attack by training our guns on the American Constitution, a la the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, detentions without trial …,

Reelecting a President who had not only flubbed 9-11, but was so obviously clueless three years later that he had to explain in the first presidential debate, "Of course I know Osama Bin Laden Attacked Us. I know that".

Comedy happens when the fool pays inordinate attention to some trifling problem while disaster looms in the background, unknown to him but obvious to the audience. While America gets riled up over gay rights (for or against) and engrossed in who won Survivor last night, state and country totter under a quarter century of determined movement (see James Kurth’s excellent essay, The Rich Got Richer) toward a split society.

Now, three hundred billion dollars (and counting) have bought us, we are told, the spread of Islamic radicalism. The obvious solution? Go after those who leaked the story, of course. Thank God for that brand new torture agreement. Now at least the President is bound (unless he decides otherwise) to permit the Times and the leakers to see the evidence.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.




 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman