The High Price of American Gullibility
By Paul Craig Roberts
Clearing House" -- -- What explains the gullibility
of Americans, a gullibility that has mired the US in disastrous wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan and which promises war with Iran, North
Korea and a variety of other targets if neoconservatives continue to
have their way?
Part of the explanation is that millions of conservatives are
thrilled at the opportunity to display their patriotism and to show
their support for their country. Bush’s rhetoric is perfectly
designed to appeal to this desire. "You are with us or against us"
elicits a blind and unquestioning response from people determined to
wear their patriotism on their sleeves. "You are with us or against
us" vaccinates Americans against factual reality and guarantees
public acceptance of administration propaganda.
Another part of the explanation is that emotional appeals have grown
the stronger as the ability of educated people to differentiate fact
from rhetoric declines. The Bush administration blamed 9/11 on
foreign intelligence failures; yet, the administration has convinced
about half of the public that mass surveillance of American citizens
is the solution!
Many Americans have turned a blind eye to the administration’s
illegal and unconstitutional spying on the grounds that, as they
themselves are doing nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear. If
this is the case, why did our Founding Fathers bother to write the
Constitution? If the executive branch can be trusted not to abuse
power, why did Congress pass legislation establishing a panel of
federal judges (ignored by the Bush administration) to oversee
surveillance? If President Bush can decide that he can ignore
statutory law, how does he differ from a dictator? If Bush can
determine law, what is the role of Congress and the courts? If
"national security" is a justification for elevating the power of
the executive, where is his incentive to find peaceful solutions?
Emotional appeals to fear and to patriotism have led close to half
of the population to accept unaccountable government in the name of
"the war on terrorism." What a contradiction it is that so many
Americans have been convinced that safety lies in their sacrifice of
their civil liberties and accountable government.
If so many Americans cannot discern that they have acquiesced to
conditions from which tyranny can arise, how can they understand
that it is statistically impossible for the NSA’s mass surveillance
of Americans to detect terrorists?
Floyd Rudmin, a professor at a Norwegian university, applies the
mathematics of conditional probability, known as Bayes’ Theorem, to
demonstrate that the NSA’s surveillance cannot successfully detect
terrorists unless both the percentage of terrorists in the
population and the accuracy rate of their identification are far
higher than they are. He correctly concludes that "NSA’s
surveillance system is useless for finding terrorists."
The surveillance is, however, useful for monitoring political
opposition and stymieing the activities of those who do not believe
the government’s propaganda.
Another reason for the gullibility of Americans is their lack of
alternative information to government propaganda. The independence
of print and TV media disappeared in the media consolidations of the
1990s. Today a handful of large corporations own the traditional
media. The wealth of these corporations consists of broadcast
licenses, which the companies hold at the government’s discretion.
Newspapers are run by corporate executives, whose eyes are on
advertising revenue and who shun contentious reporting. The result
is that the traditional media are essentially echo chambers for
The Internet and the foreign news media accessible through the
Internet are the sources of alternative information. Many Americans
have not learned to use and to rely on the Internet for information.
Many Americans find the government’s message much more reassuring
than the actual facts. The government’s message is: "America is
virtuous. Virtuous America was attacked by evil terrorists. America
is protecting itself by going to war and overthrowing regimes that
sponsor or give shelter to terrorists, erecting in their place
democracies loyal to America."
Sugar-coated propaganda doesn’t present Americans with the emotional
and mental stress associated with the hard facts.
In National Socialist Germany, by the time propaganda lost its grip,
Germans were in the hands of a police state. It was too late to take
corrective measures. Not even the military could correct the
disastrous policies of the executive. In the end, Germany was
destroyed. Does a similar fate await Americans?
Dr. Roberts [email@example.com] is Chairman of the
Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the
Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall
Street Journal, former contributing editor for National Review, and
was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan
administration. He is the co-author of
The Tyranny of Good Intentions .
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