Sunday, May 28, 2006

Conservatives are from Mars....Liberals are from Venus

I have a question: Is it irresponsible for a prominent blogger (whose blog may be read daily by the same number of people who comprise the entire circulation for a small newspaper) to blatantly mischaracterize and take out of context the actions of the United States government in order to foment distrust and even animosity toward that government? Obviously, the First Ammendment guarantees that blogger the right to say what he will without fear of any legal action against him...all I'm asking is: is that irresponsible?

My answer, you may have guessed, is yes...of course it's irresponsible. But the reach of irresponsibility is proportional to 1) the amount of people subjected to it, and 2) the level at which those people are informed on the subject. The blessing and the curse of the internet is that people of all stripes and persuasions have access to readership and it's really hard to wade through all the political commentary and decide who and what to believe. I'm not saying I'm great, or even that good, at doing that, but simply that it's the reality of the situation. With the explosion of blogging in particular and the internet in general, we now have unprecedented access to information about the activities of those in governement...and we also have a wealth of informed, intelligent people analyzing them for us. But who do you trust? The reality of politics today seems to be almost that you construct your own reality...who is to say he or she grasps everything, all the motives and ambitions, the logic and the reasons, behind all the moves in Washington DC? A lot of people talk like they know...people on both sides of the political divide...but does anyone actually understand why those things happen the way they do? I don't even think it's possible for anyone to know the actual reality of what goes down in DC...that's why our constant access to it is a blessing and a curse. So we are left to construct our own version of the situation out of the scraps thrown to us here and there (usually via the internet) which are inevitably laced with political formulations idiosyncratic to the individual conveying them. So that's where the irresponsibility issue comes into play: I believe it is irresponsible for people to blatantly try to alter reality in order to get people to construct a notion of political events that doesn't match the truth (however hard that may be to ascertain) of those events.

So what's the point of all this, you ask? Well, what follows is what I've found to be true, a rule of thumb technique you can use to wade through the bs and inform yourself as honestly as that your version of what's going on best matches what is actually going on, regardless of your political persuasion. The question I posed in the first paragraph will serve as a good starting point:

Is it irresponsible for Glenn Greenwald, on his widely read (and linked to) blog, to mischaracterize and take out of context the Bush administration's policies concerning the imprisonment of terror suspects? I say yes, and I will explain why by examining three blogs that have linked to Greenwald's that provides context and explanation, the other which seeks to misinform even further...and hopefully we will gain some insight into how to distinguish between those who want to inform you and misinform you along the way.

Here is Greenwald's statement:

"That's how this group of Bush followers thinks America is supposed to work. If you are a U.S. citizen, the President can unilaterally order you abducted and imprisoned; does not have to charge you with any crime; can block you from speaking with anyone, including a lawyer; can keep you incarcerated indefinitely (meaning forever); and can deny you the right to any judicial review of your imprisonment or any mechanism for challenging the accuracy of the accusations. And oh - while it would be nice if we could preserve all of that abstract lawyer nonsense about the right to a jury trial and all that, we're really scared that Al Qaeda is going to kill us, so we can't," (entire post link here)

Ok, to begin...what Greenwald describes is obviously despicable and no sane American would support such a policy if it was regularly exercised against U.S. citizens. Greenwald sets up his statement to indicate that this does happen to "U.S. citizens"...which is precisely where the misinformation begins. Greenwald is an attorney, and he obviously is opposed to this policy. So what he is seeking to do is to portray the situation in as believable a hypothetical light as he can...and he already has his readership's (likely) image of Bush as a tyrant power-hungry evil man to play on. So this policy does exist (the reality) but Greenwald's portrayal of that reality seeks to distort it, and I'll show you why by examining three blogs that linked to Greenwald's.

The first two are liberal blogs (1, 2), and, as you might have suspected, both are pretty in step with Greenwald. Notice that they both are "playing the fear card", or trying to make it seem like the government is overreaching and therefore you should be scared. The Canadian calls America a "police state" and the other refers to our "Constitutional freedoms" being taken away by the government (and notice the insinuation that we don't have to worry about terrorists but we do have to worry about our own government...). So this is the classic way that liberals try to convince you to alter your conception of political events: they try to spark an emotional response that clouds an honest appraisal of the situation. They'll try to scare you, make you feel sorry for someone or something, make you feel bad about yourself, etc...anything that will get you to think like them. (note: I don't necessarily even disagree that this policy is out of step with the Constitution...especially in their mischaracterization of it...I just disagree with their mischaracterization).

Now let's examine the response from someone who supports the policy, in this case, a conservative. Tom Elia, at the New Editor, begins by asking a penetrating question that seeks to illuminate the manifestation of the policy in order to shed light on the actual reality of the situation. He begins:

When I read stuff like this, I have just one question: How many American citizens have been detained in the manner described by Greenwald?

And he continues:

I believe the number so far is two -- Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was captured on a battlefield in Afghanistan and subsequently released and flown to Saudi Arabia.

For comparison purposes: the Adams Administration jailed about 100 American citizens under the Alien and Sedition Acts; the Lincoln Administration jailed over 15,000 when it suspended the writ of habeas corpus; the Wilson and Harding Administrations jailed somewhere between 1,000-2,000 in the Palmer raids; and the Roosevelt Administration incarcerated over 100,000 Americans when it put Japanese Americans in detention camps.

Some historical perspective would be nice.

(link to the whole post here)

So let's analyze his technique: he poses a significant question about the scope of the program, answers the question with a fact, then goes on and gives facts about similar programs in order to compare this program to other similar ones from past presidencies which provides context for understanding and forming an opinion. Notice, no emotion....just facts. I would say that his response is more forceful, more direct, more powerful, more effective, and thus better, than those two liberal guys who simply mumble something about how scary the government is, give no facts, and then probably pack up to go off to their next Bush-bashing rally.

So there's the rule of thumb...look for facts, not statements designed to scare you. You ought to be careful though, because facts can be distorted. And while I do believe that conservative bloggers are more convincing in their arguments because they tend to rely on facts more than liberal bloggers, who appeal to emotions more, when moral issues arise conservatives can stray from reason the same way liberals do when the issue involves Bush, the Iraq war...etc.

So yes, it was irresponsible for Greenwald to make the statement that he did. He mischaracterized the program (it has only been used twice...he made it sound like a lot more by using hypotheticals and referring to simply a "U.S. citizen") and he took it out of context (referring specifically to the Bush administration, failing to note how this has been done by numerous presidents). He deliberately tried (and succeeded unfortunately) to bend the truth of the situation in order to make people think like him, using the classic liberal trick of an emotional appeal. Just remember this: Conservatives, like men, are from Mars...they rely on logic, reason, facts, etc. in order to form their political opinions. Liberals, on the other hand, are like women, they're from Venus....they rely on emotion, let their hearts guide their reason, etc and this is reflected in their politcal arguments.

When forming political opinions, a good mixture of head and heart is necessary...but don't let one overshadow the other...let them inform one another. Your heart should not seek to cloud your brain as your brain should not seek to reason without love and compassion. That is the way to construct an informed political opinion.


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Blogger Eric in Ottawa said...

Hey, I'm Canadian.

I can say whatever the hell I want to about the United States government without fear of reprisal.

And, by the way, I'm not "Liberal".

There are more than two political categories in which to place people, you know. You might want to broaden your thinking a little bit.

1:39 PM  
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