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Thursday, August 23, 2007


Great post! Thanks very much.

I'm glad you chose to pay attention when the facts and the news releases didn't seem to fit together anymore. Most Americans who have reached that point have apparently decided to fall asleep. And now, as we see, waking them all up is turning out to be a big job.

It's common to elide the articles and prepositions you wouldn't capitalize in acronyms; following this recommendation yields the briefer and more memorable "DIG US," which about sums it up.

I recall not knowing what the hell was going on in Iraq or Bosnia, seeing the TV-things so far away they were barely real, and trusting that people who knew more were doing right. I had other things to worry about. Most Americans don't suffer cognitive dissonance between DIG US and the massacre of the indigenous peoples or the invasion of the Philippines or PBSUCCESS or the war in Laos (to name a few other episodes) because they didn't notice. No one told them or wanted them to be told, and they weren't paying attention, so there's no conflict at all. You don't have to bother rejecting reality or rationalizing it if you never heard it in the first place.

A person called Dan Kervick really took apart the DIG US in the comments. It's too bad no one was won over.

DIG US does have a certain elan. But I was thinking of DOTIGOTUS (doe-tee-goat-us) in analogy to SCOTUS or POTUS. Though applying your suggestion to the latter gives us PUS, which I have to admit seems like a much more fitting acronym for Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan....

It's true that many people will never get to the deeper stages of cognitive dissonance, but almost everyone has to contend with it to some extent; consider the near-universal negative portrayal of Vietnam in popular culture, especially throughout the late 70's and the 80's. That was a case of cognitive dissonance so widespread that it has its own name: the Vietnam Syndrome (a serious malady that renders the sufferer capable of seeing non-Americans as actual human beings).

You look at the actions, and you wonder where the inherent goodness lies; it eventually seems it can only be in the form of "a noble spirit." Then justification can flow from person to action, like in Nietzsche, I guess. Although there is a parallel to divine right of kings, too. It certainly doesn't seem to have to do much else with ethics as explored by philosophy.

School taught me the US sometimes made mistakes, but I don't recall ever questioning the DIG US. If all American politicians were bad (I was taught that very young), that didn't necessarily make America bad. One quickly comes to a very abstract view of what America is. And if you separate America from the actions of its government and from its populace, and perhaps some other things, maybe what's left, whatever that is, is inherently good. I don't know.

But I didn't live through the Vietnam War, and I didn't know what "Iran-Contra" referred to until maybe 2002, and it was pretty easy to write off various US interventions, wars, and ethnic cleansing as little itty-bitty boo-boos. And my high school history teacher gave us readings from Zinn.

I can only imagine how easy it is for most of my peer group to never get to any stage of cognitive dissonance.

The good thing about the "DIG" acronym is that one could also append it to other countries as well, much abbreviating discussions of the history of colonialism.

"do as I am, not as I am doing?"

As Chomsky writes:

As in the case of Democracy and the Market, the factual record merely deals with Hegel's "negative, worthless existence," not "God's plan" and "the pure light of this divine Idea." The point has sometimes been made explicit by contemporary scholars, notably Hans Morgenthau, a founder of the realist school, who urged that to adduce the factual record is "to confound the abuse of reality with reality itself." Reality itself is the "transcendent purpose" of the nation, which is indeed noble; the abuse of reality is the irrelevant factual record.

It's amazing how much mental effort people will expend constructing these tortured rationalizations.

I have to say that you picked the most confusing paragraph on that page to quote. So tortured indeed are these rationalizations that I had to read the whole passage to figure out what Chomsky was saying. I would have come out both on the side of Reality and the Factual Record until I learned they were incompatible.

"[T]hat to adduce the factual record is 'to confound the abuse of reality with reality itself'" is a perplexing contention to hear from something called "the realist school."

The underlying problem is simple. These whackjobs confuse Patriotism, love of a land and its people, with nationalism, love of the State.

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