Selective reality – how information works politically, with Terry Pratchet

I’m reading an author that is both really fun, funny, smart and simultaneously escapist and very relevant. Terry Pratchet writes about discworld (mostly) which is a bit like middle earth or any other mythical place, but funnier. I am reading Monstrous Regiment and just finished Night Watch. This is not for everyone. It is satire, mystery, myth fiction (sometimes called fantasy fiction, but more precisely, it is really it’s own thing.)

It always is about a small number of very bright people struggling against the general stupidity of everyone else. This may smack of intellectual elitism, but let’s face it, everyone thinks they think they’re smarter than someone else. And more morally grounded. And have “common sense”. And are “better than average” drivers.

Remember Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average?

This one starts out as a lesson in Patriotism, Nationalism, Jingoism or other generally Bushy behavior. Don’t worry about the U.S., we’re not special that way. The only concern is whether, here in the U.S. or anywhere else, that approach to government becomes dominant. Then, whether we swing left or right, we all end up in the same place: a few people making all the decisions regardless of the needs, or the will, of everyone else.

So here’s to the magic of words, and symbols.

Are you more moved by the Flag? Or the Constitution? Why is it that people who wave the Flag are the most willing to waive the Constitution.

Robert Byrd, a very old, very shaky, but relatively wise Democrat who is prone to old-fashioned speech-making, has proposed making Sept. 17th Constitution Day. Federal funds would go to provide educational materials, and schools would take time to teach the Constitution to the kids of the U.S. We teach about Thanksgiving more than we teach about the Consititution. No wonder people who consider themselves patriots so often promote anti-democratic, unconstitutional policies. Lately it seems like the courts find half the stuff coming out of our House of Representatives to be unconstitutional.

Interestingly, the town where I grew up (and still live, nearby) is Nevada City has had parades and speeches on Constitution Day, each year.

Byrd said in a speech the other day:
In the federalist papers, James Madison reasoned that in framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. Accordingly, Madison and the other framers of constitution divided power so that no one person or branch of government could gain complete advantage. As Madison explained it, ambition must be made to counteract ambition. That is why the framers viewed the separation of powers with such importance. No single man, no single branch of government was to be given absolute power. No single man was to have sole authority to decide the fate of the nation. Oh, how different — how different today.”

This article from the Raleigh/Durham News Observer shows an indication of the problem:
“Students at one of the area’s largest Christian schools are reading a controversial booklet that critics say whitewashes Southern slavery with its view that slaves lived “a life of plenty, of simple pleasures.”

One blog joked about the states of South Carolinastan and Talibama. This is where most of the activity around stopping schools from teaching evolution as fact has actually become law.

This crap fits into the same category of those who have written that the Nazis didn’t kill Jews, that Native Americans just died off from disease or lack of buffalo (like all indians lived on the plains and hunted buffalo), or that all our guys in Iraq are happy little soldiers, of perfect moral integrity, and heroic (on our side) and grateful Iraquis (on the sidelines) and Iranians and a few Saudis (causing all the trouble.) Or, that the deficit isn’t a problem. Or… I could go on forever.

I actually think visiting generals in Iraq probably believe a lot of this stuff. After all, who’s telling them the truth? Does a private talk directly to a general frankly about problems, or does he kiss ass? How rare is the guy who stood up and asked a direct, unscripted question of a guy like Rumsfeld? I know the truth doesn’t get discussed in the modern corporation, where the worst that will happen is job loss or no annual raise… in the military, the consequences are more serious for people who speak up.

It’s all about communication, folks. If it is euphimistic, source-limited, or generally bad, everything goes haywire. We’ve all worked in Dilbert-esque situations. The core problem is lack of willingness to deal with, sort out, and resolve situations that are negative, in any intellectually honest way.

That is what our constitution was designed to do: create a governmental structure where all information comes out, is debated, and the result is based on a compromise of competing interest.

That is what the scientific method was intended to do: Overcome the natural human tendency to believe whatever is convenient, career enhancing, or traditionally accepted, by putting it to the test of observation, repeatability, and peer review. The interesting thing is both our constitutional democracy and the scientific method only maintain credibility by way of argument. It progresses in fits and starts, and experiences long delays. It is very messy and frustrating. Sometimes the results are wrong for a time, but they tend to self-correct. But we have to keep an eye on, and a commitment to honest practice of each method.

’nuff for now…

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