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Exploitable Illusions

Managed Misconceptions

by JAMES ROTHENBERG

Labeling something as a misconception assumes a burden of proof. The acceptance of the proof that something is indeed a misconception is dependent on the number of people desiring the proof. This is not always apparent.

For example, one may hold a belief that nobody has ever walked on the surface of the moon, and another may call this a misconception. To bring the non-believer around, the believer may offer detailed specifics of rocketry capability, launch and pick-up data, and surviving video of suited astronauts prancing light-footedly over a lunar landscape.

The rigid non-believer will always be able to find this type of persuasion unconvincing: rocket capabilities as too abstract, launch and pick-up as so much sophistry, and video evidence technical trickery.

This would result in a stalemate were it not for one thing. An overwhelming number believe it as fact and not just because they believe their own eyes, but because it has been thoroughly infused into habit of thought by its continued reference as being factual by respected opinion. Thus it is generally considered to be a misconception leastly because doubters were convinced but owing to the sheer weight of the opposition.

The degree of stubbornness of a misconception is proportional to the amount that it has been infused into habitual thought, which in turn is proportional to the amount it is supported by respected opinion.

Quickly examining two of our most persistent, national misconceptions will reveal the inadequacy of bare facts when set against a dominant, propaganda producing entity, in this case the US Government together with its supporting cast.

Misconception Number 1 is that we have a functioning democracy due to our form of representative government, and that the political system works equally well for all citizens. There is scant evidence for this. There is abundant evidence that the two major political parties are completely absorbed in self-perpetuation and to this extent serve the interests of a narrow sector of powerful elites and corporate structures that fund and, therefore, control them.

The citizen is encouraged to believe that the successes of giant, multi-national corporations are part of what makes America great. Even the stunning achievements of the capitalist system like outsourcing, plant shutdowns, mass layoffs, forced relocations, environmental degradation, staggering healthcare costs, decreased competition, and ever-escalating wealth and income disparities do not diminish enthusiasm for our two political parties that are wedded to this economic system.

There are some signs of backlash against the political system, popularly summed in slogan form as “Just Vote Them Out”. And then what? Leave the slogan up? Both major parties are inherently corrupt because their fate is tied not to the general public but to the narrow interests they serve.

Necessarily the powerless desire change. It is well to recognize that change is not in the best interest of the wealthy and powerful. The explanatory power of this recognition makes present day circumstances intelligible.

This speaks to something that dares not speak its name. Class warfare. It’s a third rail for political aspirants because it undermines the carefully prepared myth that we are all equals under our political system, that we are all one class. This is a great illusion, although a persistent one.

Misconception Number 2 is that our military defends the country, implying all the people in it. Equally. War is an economic question, and going to war is an economic decision by the stakeholder class. It is the greatest psychological trick ever played on great mankind to convince the masses that someone who has died for economic expansion has died for country. It is also the most cynical as the true motivation for war must be skillfully cloaked by an appeal to that which our organism will instinctively react to. Self-defense.

We defend ourselves from other people by fighting them in their countries. The count is alarming. The illogic even more so. All one has to do is picture the opposite, say Russians defending themselves by invading us, to spot the fallacy.

How did our war criminals get away with it? In attacking Iraq both US and international law was broken. This is quite straightforward. It was a violation of Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, a treaty ratified by the US Senate in 1945 thereby becoming, in accordance with Article 6 of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. Without first engaging in collective measures with other member states of the UN or gaining the prior assent of the UN Security Council, a war of aggression was waged against a sovereign nation.

This is incontrovertible. Even the criminals would have to admit as much. Where they got around things was appealing to (and expanding) UN Charter Article 51 dealing with self-defense, although there are two glaring catches.

First, Article 51 begins, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations…” (emphasis added). Enough said.

The second catch is that any remaining claim of legitimate self-defense went out the window when the claims about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States were revealed as lies. At that point everything resets to the incontrovertible breaking of US law. The war criminals got away with it and, from the point of view of the arid and sanctimonious state, the nation’s honor was saved.

Young men and women are duped into believing that their heroics are preserving the nation’s freedom. This manipulation can be terminal. For this reason utmost care must be taken to insure that the sensibilities of a trained, patriotic public are not offended. Crass descriptions of war as dollar profit and loss must be replaced with comforting, exploitable allusions to high ideals.

JAMES ROTHENBERG can be reached at: jrothenberg@taconic.net