Why think when you can feel? Why reason when you can react? Why contemplate when you can obliterate?
These are important questions, I’m afraid. Altogether too many of our fellow countrymen believe things that are not only untrue (we’re all guilty of that to some degree), but things that are pernicious and evil, things that are to their own disadvantage. Al Gore wrote a book titled Assault on Reason wherein he discussed this at length. I would recommend that anyone who values intellectualism, ideas, and ideals read it.
The recent attacks on Barack Obama are really attacks on intelligence and reason. The people we’ve recently seen on Youtube who have bitterly clung to these memes are doing something monstrous. They are taking a mental shortcut. Barack Obama is a square peg and the Presidency is a round hole. He doesn’t really fit their preconceived notion of what a President should be. This is not wholly racial. He is an overt intellectual. Bill Clinton is one of the smartest presidents we’ve ever had, but he did not win on that. President Clinton ran on empathy and camaraderie, with his skill less displayed than his pluck. Barack Obama’s life story and his family story are very unconventional. He doesn’t come from an old family, nor a hardscrabble long shot story such as Clinton’s. No, Barack Obama is very different in a number of ways.
If you ask people on the street how many of the hijackers on 9/11 were Iraqi (or Iranian, for that matter) you will get a non-zero answer more often than one would hope. If you ask these same random people what involvement, if any, Saddam Hussein had with that attack, you’ll get answers that should chill you to your bones. If you ask people if Al Gore claimed to invent the internet, many will say yes. The list is long, and I won’t go through it at length. I haven’t the time (no man’s life is long enough for that).
Perhaps this is endemic to human nature, this need for shortcuts, archetypes, caricatures, and stereotypes. I cannot say. All I know is that most people don’t want to put the mental effort and time into understanding someone or something as it truly is, yet they’ll gladly spend more time mocking him or it. In many ways invalidating the existence of another is the most quintessentially human way of validating our own. I fear that many people see Barack Obama as a stereotypically “bad” person in these ways (terrorist, Muslim, etc) because these are the easiest round pegs around. He isn’t normal. His very exceptionalism, that which rocketed him to his current orbit, that itself gives rise to the countervailing forces we see before us.
When people yell “kill him” or “terrorist” at McCain or Palin rallies I am scared to death. These people have decided on a narrative and a shortcut. Never mind the fact that there is a wealth of information about Barack Obama available to any and all who want it. Never mind that he is probably the best known American in the world right now. These things do not matter! Facts do not matter to some. Facts are the very things the current Administration has massaged (or raped) in order to fix policy. I mention this for a reason. The same sorts of people who have done that for the current Administration are doing it for the McCain campaign. They have realized that people will believe whatever is easiest to believe. Their lives are busy, and times are often hard. Who cares to take the time to learn about Barack Obama’s days in Chicago? Why bother? You know everything you need to know because John McCain and Sarah Palin say the word “terrorist” in association with his name as often as they can get away with. Sound familiar?
The association exists because others created it for us. I fought against that in 2002 and 2003. Few listened. Even worse, the few times I could get someone to actually listen and hear something that ran counter to that narrative it would almost invariably fail to change the perception. People believe what they want to believe, no matter what you think. Does this mean that people are stupid? Some are, yes. I am, certainly. That isn’t the problem. Even smart people fall into these traps. Why? They’re busy. This stuff is hard. If it were easy PBS and NPR would rule the roost. They don’t. Why not?
It’s easier to believe than it is to think. I don’t know how to fight that. I wish I did. When someone tells me they won’t vote for Barack Obama because “he’s a Muslim” there is literally nothing I can do to change their mind. I’ve tried. That belief is every bit an article of faith. There isn’t anything substantial behind it. Oh, we can blame the people who push those scary e-mails, but at the end of the day those folks aren’t the problem. It isn’t really that so many people are highly suggestible. No, the problem is that people are highly receptive to things that “feel” right. Feed them that and many will partake. Why not? It just fits.
Our society seems to reward this sort of approach. “Go with your gut” is advice we hear often. To be sure, there are far too many things one could attempt to reason out during the course of the day. It’s always a question of priorities. Sadly, making sure the guy who runs our country is fundamentally similar to us, that he “sees America the same way you or I do,” this seems to really resonate. People want to feel comfortable. Hell, George Bush has been wrecking this government (if not country), but he’s like us!
At least, I think so….