Friday, September 17, 2010
Rant: America’s gullibility—our most valued commodity
by Larry Geller
Top of the headlines on yesterday’s Democracy Now shows that US combat troops are still active in Iraq:
An operation involving US forces has left at least seven civilians dead in Iraq. On Wednesday, US and Iraqi troops stormed three homes in the town of Fallujah. According to McClatchy Newspapers, the joint team set off explosives and shot dead members of two families. A young boy said the soldiers shot and killed his father and three of his brothers, one of them in the fifth grade. Four people were also wounded, including a ninety-year-old woman. [Democracy Now, 9/16/2010]
But President Obama said that the US combat role in Iraq has ended. Combat troops have been withdrawn.
Did you believe him? You were supposed to believe him. Our president spoke, we are supposed to believe what he says.
How to describe that very special quality of being an American? Try “gullibility.” We are supposed to be gullible:
easily deceived or cheated.
gullible (ˈɡʌləb ə l)
easily taken in or tricked
…1793 (implied in gullibility ), earlier cullibility (1728), probably connected to gull, a cant term for "dupe, sucker" (1594), which is of uncertain origin. It is perhaps from the bird (see gull (n.)), or from verb gull "to swallow" (1530, from O.Fr. goule, from L. gula "throat," see gullet); in either case with a sense of "someone who will swallow anything thrown at him."
Believing whatever the President or other politicians tell us, especially when they want our vote, isn’t terribly different from believing those ads in the newspaper which want to sell you gold coins, or buy your gold, or cure you with crystals. The newspaper doesn’t mind deceiving you. Gullibility is profitable. There’s one born every minute, right?
Which brings us to elections. Candidates and incumbents make speeches, and of course, they expect us to believe them. We do. We listen, we vote for them. Heck, we have to make some sort of choice in the voting booth, right? Simple belief is easy, checking voting records is tough.
Here’s the game: Politicians gather money from their constituents, the corporations, and use it to run TV and other media ads, to make us believe them. And vote for them, of course.
American democracy is an awkward system, because they still need us to vote. So the trick is to gather enough money from corporations and give it to other corporations (the media) who specialize in making us believe. Our contribution to this democratic system is our gullibility. Check it out—candidates who raise the most money most often win.
If you thought Mufi Hannemann’s campaign chest was impressive, check this out:
[California] Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman gave her campaign another $15 million Tuesday. The latest contribution brings Whitman's personal spending in the race to $119 million, shattering the record for most money ever spent by one political candidate on a single election in American history. [Los Angeles Times, Whitman becomes biggest-spending candidate on a single campaign in U.S. history, 9/15/2010]
It will probably work. There are no guarantees, of course, but this kind of spending should bring results. We’ll see.
Buying campaign ads is like buying votes, but legal. They can’t actually stimulate the economy by buying our votes directly (until we change that: “Why should all that corporate money go to politicians and TV stations when we’re hurting in the middle of a big bad recession?”).
A gullible electorate starts at home
The scene is ubiquitous: parents drag little children to the mall to line up for Santa Claus. It’s one of the most powerful indoctrinations in this country. The kids really believe. We condition them to believe, and it works. Perhaps this is the setup for a lifetime of uncritical belief.
Kids surely believe the myths, even though they are unbelievable. Does it make any sense at all? An old fat guy in an immaculate white fur suit sliding down the chimney on Christmas Eve, then back up? Of course. Then doing the same all over the world in one night. He has access to an endless supply of toys and you can get some if you pretend you’ve been good, regardless of the facts. Even bad kids learn to pull this off and they get stuff on Christmas morning.
Kids are born gullible. Throughout their young years, their elders use this characteristic to teach and indoctrinate children and to mold their beliefs and behaviors. It has its uses. Trouble is, when do they catch wise? Can you remember when you learned that Santa Claus was a fake? I’ve asked several people, none were aware of coming to that realization. Perhaps we never did.
School develops the process and reinforces it over the space of years. Young students are required to accept, say, the goodness of Christopher Columbus, who discovered America. They never hear about mass murder, plunder and genocide. And so on, through their teen years. It’s best if they accept what they are told without questions or doubt. Don’t say anything in class about Columbus massacring indigenous people, you’ll flunk. Keep the faith.
No Child Left Behind assures that children will have no time during the school day for lessons in critical thinking. Could this be by design?
It continues as adults with Fox News and campaign promises. And it never ends. Senior citizens are bilked out of their life savings. Corporations and politicians depend on the gullibility of Americans. They have additional tools, of course, including Fear and Prejudice, which work hand-in-hand with gullibility. It’s hard to instill fear in the average person unless they swallow the lies they are being fed.
Even after the revelations of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions and targeted assassinations, we believe that this country holds people to be innocent until proven guilty. We believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that Obama is some kind of Kenyan Muslim. Because Fox says so. We believe we have the best health care in the world despite all evidence to the contrary. We believe.
All we may have left of value is our gullibility. Corporations no longer need our labor. As Asian markets grow and their people prosper, we will be needed less and less as consumers.
But every couple of years they need our votes.
Our job, until corporations are elected directly to Congress, is to watch television and vote accordingly.
Will voters be thinking critically in tomorrow’s primary, or will they just swallow all the lies and campaign promises? It’s tough to break a lifetime of conditioning. I’ll admit to have been taken in.
Same as always, I think.
By re-classifying the 50,000 troops and ??? contractors as "non-combatant" and placing them (in theory) under the State Department instead of the Pentagon, we escape the status of forces agreement made with Iraq.
No doubt also we deflect a lot of press coverage. No more combat, no more news. Sure.
Thanks, Larry, I quit believing in the possibility of any change from Obama when I saw his appointees. This has the appearance of the biggest scam run on the American people. In the meantime people are dying and the country is a financial ruin for most Americans. Gullible? I say STUPID to keep electing the same type of people and expect different results...it isn't going to happen.