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Why can't we see what is in front of our faces?
By Mike Lofgren
In 1946, George Orwell wrote a piece about the unfortunate human habit of failing or refusing to see what plainly lay before one's face. Whether through conscious mendacity, or intellectual laziness, or the universal tendency to euphemism, or because facing the truth would be too personally unsettling, people espouse beliefs blatantly at odds with the evidence. Orwell titled his essay "In Front of Your Nose."
Several of the examples he cited there and in much of his postwar writing arose from the fact that what was obvious to any unbiased observer -- that Britain's global status had diminished and political decision-making must take that into account -- was intolerable; therefore it had to be ignored, contradicted, or euphemized.
Seven decades on, this attitude is still endemic to Britain: witness Monty Pythonesque upper-class twits like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg (the UK appears to have an inexhaustible supply of these walking caricatures) breezily opining that Brexit will teach all those bloody foreigners on the wrong side of the Channel.
The world headquarters of the syndrome Orwell identified seems, however, to have moved across the North Atlantic. This is most clearly evident from the pronouncements of Donald Trump, his cabinet, and his assorted hangers-on and sycophants. Every statement issuing from them is a riot of illogic, contradiction, distraction and appeals to authority, emotion, or fear -- all designed to camouflage the intolerable fact that Trump's administration is essentially a syndicate dedicated to stealing anything that isn't nailed down when it's not too busy rigging the system on behalf of its cronies and campaign donors.
This state of affairs is unprecedented. While the Harding administration scored high in the league tables of corruption, it lacked the unrelenting, feral malice of Trump and his gang. And although Nixon was no stranger to malice, he wouldn't confuse the Baltics with the Balkans.
But as horrific as Trump's systematic perversion of reality is, it is a symptom of the problem, not the underlying problem. A distorting misrepresentation of evident facts, deliberate or unconscious, already suffused public life in America. It preceded Trump, paved the way for his ascent, and entrenches the misrule of the president and his cohorts. It is a "see no evil" mindset that always finds the most benign interpretation when facts and evidence suggest otherwise.
If we read The Washington Pos t, we see the serial fabulist and pillar of the Right Wing Media-Entertainment Complex, Jerome Corsi, identified as a "conspiracy theorist." Is he really? Does he sincerely hold theories about certain ideas in the same manner that Albert Einstein was a relativity theorist? Or is he just making it up?
And is "conspiracy" the right word? According to the U.S. Code, anytime two or more people act in concert to commit a criminal act, it is a conspiracy. Conspiracies do happen.
Reviewing Corsi's output, it is difficult to find anything original that he asserts to be true, from the Swiftboat saga to Obama's Kenyan birth. It is possible that his deluded readers might believe his writing, but it strains credulity to think that a person making the effort to fabricate such tales and give them a patina of plausibility with meretricious footnotes doesn't know exactly what he's doing.
So why doesn't the press plainly label what lies in front of their noses? Why isn't Corsi identified as a "retailer of political disinformation" or a "fake conspiracy-monger" and given the same credence as any troll at the Russian Internet Research Agency? Is it intellectual laziness or fear of stating the truth that causes the imprecision?
A similar dynamic has been at work for years with respect to the topic of anthropogenic climate change. "Climate change skeptic" is the preferred label for a James Inhofe, or a Donald Trump, or an S. Fred Singer. But this tortures the ordinary meaning of the English language. Skeptics are open-minded people who are sincere about not being convinced by the available evidence for a phenomenon. But that does not mean a knee jerk, dogmatic opposition to the possibility that the phenomenon exists: if the required evidence is forthcoming, they will change their minds.