The Moment of Truth — January 21, 2006

Petronazis, Turd Salads, and the Differently Stupid

There are now going to be two cable news channels broadcasting poorly researched demagogic turd salad to the people of this once proud nation. CNN Headline News channel has decided it wants to crank out the same kind of turd salad Fox News Channel has had so much success with. When I call this turd salad “poorly researched,” by the way, I’m being unjustly kind. Because often the turd salad Fox News presents is based on just plain lies.

Right now, CNN Headline News is kind of an around-the-clock news ticker—smartly dressed and coiffed anchorpersons read news stories, and there is a smattering of interview shows and 60 Minutes-like “news magazines.”

CNN wants to exchange their somewhere-between-mediocre-and-good centrist reporting for always-worthless-and-often-unconscionable talking heads garbage TV.

Will the addition of another round-the-clock factory of lies and distortions, intended solely to demonize a straw-man “Liberal,” be of benefit to the republic? I know it isn’t cool to care about the republic anymore. I only ask so everyone will shut up and let me commune with the sound of crickets and far-off explosions.

The audience for garbage-style turd-salad big-business-Republican propaganda/slander is an elite group of intellectuals. At any given time there are between one hundred thousand and two-point-eight million of these gifted individuals watching Fox.

What makes this particular group of intellectuals so elite, select, and god damn idiosyncratic, is the peculiar space they inhabit on the spectrum of intelligence. The true connoisseur of always-worthless-and-often-unconscionable talking heads garbage TV, also known as garbage-style turd-salad big-business-Republican propaganda/slander, must hold one strong conviction: all wrong thinking is Liberalism. Then he must be able to turn on the television and find the channel whose sole mission is to turn any discussion of any facet of any topic into a reiteration of the phrase “all wrong thinking is Liberalism.” Then he must be able to leave the television on that channel for the entire day, running to look at the screen only when he hears a keyword indicating a pet peeve of his is being cajoled into a reiteration of the phrase “all wrong thinking is Liberalism.” Finally, despite the mental prowess necessary to navigate the foregoing intellectual obstacle course, he must at the same time be incapable of checking for any independent source material to ascertain the validity of the particular incarnation of the “all wrong thinking is Liberalism” drama unfolding on his TV. This ilk of inept thinkers deserves a sensitive designation, so I have decided to call them the “differently stupid.”

I know it strains one’s muscle of credulity to contemplate that there are more than a couple thousand human beings—let alone more than two million—in the world—let alone in the USA—who possess the precise combination of traits to qualify as members of this special species of mental mediocrity. The explanation can be found in a character flaw of those who fear confronting a reality that may not match what they desire to see: weak, frightened people love to hear the same comforting story over and over again.

Nevertheless, the pool of differently stupid minds, minds that are crippled in just the right way, is not unlimited, even in a democracy, such as ours, which has been sabotaged and mangled to favor cowardice, greed, megalomania and self-aggrandizement, whose press has aided the powerful in reducing the public discourse to one-dimensional sloganeering. I worry that a second channel identical to FOX News will spread the attention of the differently stupid too thin. The AM radio markets have yet to exhaust the supply of more humble citizens willing to hear the same sentence over and over again, but the big money is in supplying media comfort food to those whose wealth and status have required them to earn a college degree of some sort. They are, ultimately, the ones either setting the policy agenda or benefiting from it most directly, if only in an emotional sense. Voters are a dime a dozen, but such players are special. I call such people “intellectuals” because they have paid to have that epithet attached to them, and who am I to dispute the results of the Market, the determinant of all social values and qualities? Yes, George W. Bush is an intellectual. If you thought the words “fascist” and “liberal” had been drained of meaning through overuse, welcome to the vibrant intellectual salon of the twenty-first century USA.

Talk about relativism. What is a proponent of Intelligent Design if not an anything-goes relativist? If Dick Cheney is a public servant, if the war in Iraq did not enrich well-connected corporations at the expense of US soldiers and the US and Iraqi public, if oil prices are responding to ought but the conniving of the oil industry to accustom the US public to higher prices, if drilling in the Arctic is Energy Policy, if No Child Left Behind is an Education Policy, if the organization Mike Brown was head of was the Federal Emergency Management Agency, if Pat Robertson is a Christian, if Fox News is news, if the Supreme Court judges who arrogated to install Bush as president against any reasonable reading of the Constitution are unimpeachable, if a president who considers his every caprice legal is not breaking his inaugural oath—then anything can be true.

What’s amazing is that, every now and then, well-informed observers and analysts of current events have something to show for their attention to details - such details as whether or not there is reason to believe something is true besides that it’s the opposite of Liberalism. In Dover, Pennsylvania, a judge was not only able to distinguish between fraud and fact, as well as between science and religion, he was even able to thoroughly describe the differences. We who believe someone accused of a crime isn’t automatically guilty, or that the harshest punishment is not necessarily the wisest sentence to visit upon a convicted criminal, or that it’s not necessarily a useless endeavor to think of one’s enemies as human beings—we are skeptics who understand that human knowledge is fallible. The crazy relativists are those who believe evidence, history, exploration, investigation—these things are meaningless, no truer than anything we decide is true, and that one need only accept a single allegiance, and stigmatize all others, and somehow this will lead to the best course of action and the most truthful idea.

There’s only one way a plurality of FOX-like cable channels can be profitable, and that’s to increase the population of these specially-incapable, “differently stupid,” intellectuals. Keeping the nation on the brink of disaster is one way to achieve that goal—insecurity breeds faith in false assertions stated with conviction and repeated twenty-four hours a day. Some are born to believe lies told over and over in an authoritative tone of voice; others must be manipulated into believing them. If that manipulation creates a critical mass of believers, then the public will support coercing the rest of us into believing. Of course, you can’t really coerce someone into a belief, just into pretending to believe. At least for a while. Eventually a performed belief may become genuine; if the performer is prevented from leaving the stage, she may forget she’s in a ritualistic pantomime rather than, say, a functioning democracy. Federal elections have become just such pantomimes. It’s a testament to the stagecraft of the US political drama, and our own imaginations, that we still call them elections at all.

Garbage is easier to make than, say, good food, good policy, or good journalism—or even fair-to-middlin’ journalism. It’s also cheaper. The most efficient way to profit in a marketplace is to package garbage and sell it as quality goods. This only works if the garbage dealer can at the same time limit the supply of actual quality goods, or simply defame such goods effectively. Think about that next time you hear a differently stupid intellectual railing about the “mainstream media.” Hey, at least the New York Times and CBS eventually fire their Judy Millers and Dan Rathers and Jayson Blairs—some news organizations even fire journalists for writing the truth, if it involves experiments with sarin gas on Americans living in Laos or selling Oliver North’s cocaine in Los Angeles’s black neighborhoods.

But you won’t see FOX looking into differently stupid jingoists John Gibson’s and Bill O’Reilly’s slanders against, say, the people of Vermont, and Ben and Jerry, whose liberal tendencies they lambaste, paradoxically, because of the actions of a conservative judge appointed by a Republican governor. If sales of any Vermont products dip, I’d say the state’s residents have a pretty good injury case against those two. Damn, that’d be sweet. But don’t look for O’Reilly to be held to a Dan Rather standard. He’s got the best of both worlds: he’s got the journalism label without having to meet the criteria. It’s like MacDonald’s versus kosher beef: it calls itself food, but it doesn’t have to answer to a “higher authority.”

So the makers of garbage will defame the makers of better quality products every chance they get. Look for CNN’s Bill Bennett, the differently stupid gambling addict and self-appointed Miss Manners of personal ethics—a naturally gifted hypocrite—to badmouth the “mainstream media.” And note that “mainstream media” comprises anyone who still bothers to look outside their own heads to find and research news.

There’s a point where a political system is damaged beyond the possibility of reform. The next three years will be very telling. Then again, it’s possible the system has been damaged beyond reform for some time now. It’s almost as if those who thrived on the conflict between the USA and USSR during the Cold War miss their enemy so much they want to become him. Or maybe it was only our standard of living and freedom to compete capitalistically that made us different from the Soviets, rather than the durability of our ideals. Since the 1970s, wealth has been leaching out of the arenas that supply money to the earning, buying, and owning powers of the rank-and-file US citizen, being drawn up into the highest levels of the financial food chain. Even as the workweek gets longer, we toil the same amount or more in return for a dwindling share in the prosperity resulting from ever-increasing productivity. Where is the benefit to the species, here at the beginning of the Third Millennium? What doth it profit humankind to hold all the information in the universe in a wafer of silicon but lose liberty, and Heaven and Earth, and all creatures and vegetation that dwell thereon? Why doesn’t increased productivity allow us to cut our workweek in half? We can’t split a fulltime job between two workers and pay both a living wage? Surely our astounding productivity would suggest otherwise. So where are all the profits from that productivity, that could be buying us working people six months of leisure out of the year? Why have real wages gone down? It’s ain’t cuz the Fortune 1000 are feeding the hungry or giving away drugs to the ailing poor. Why aren’t we living in the future yet? Where is all the wealth? You know where.

Three things can bring down a government other than an outside enemy. One is a revolt of the aristocracy. Well, in the case of our aristocracy, mission accomplished. Another is a bankrupt treasury. The third is the dissatisfaction of the people. How much longer are we going to be satisfied getting dicked around like this? It’s insulting, really, that we’re expected to play along as if everything were just fine. It’s not just fine. The petroleum economy is nearing its end, and those who live off it aren’t going to leave the stage gracefully. Both Islamo-fascist militancy and the Bush administration’s excesses are symptoms of the world economy’s violent transition out of the always-violent-in-any-case petroleum age. That’s why oil interests have done and will continue to do everything they feel is necessary to control the foreign and energy policies of the world’s only superpower. In the old regime’s final days it will attempt, as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos did when ousted from their Philippine dictatorship, to carry off as much of the treasury as possible. Dick Cheney and his Halliburton are in the process of doing exactly that right now. The US Constitution, with its elections and rights to privacy and promises of equal opportunity and equal representation under the law and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, will continue to be eaten away as the old regime clings ever more ruthlessly to power, and may not survive into the next economic and geopolitical phase.

Personally, I’d prefer a smooth, peaceful transition. Desperate in petroleum’s final throes, though, the petronazis, regardless of which nation they headquarter in, seem unwilling to give up without a Blitzkrieg. And with CNN stepping up to join the propaganda wing of the petronazi party, and petronazi propaganda such a tempting business model for the news industry, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to avoid a finale in which a really big turd salad hits the fan.

But, you know, when shedding ugly flab: no pain no gain.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!