Useful Idiots and Socially Altered Memory

01 Jul

San Diego –– I’m not sure why I keep reading the claptrap that passes for political philosophy on Facebook.  Maybe it is in the forlorn and doomed-to-failure hope that at some point individuals that I like and otherwise respect would actually read the policies and statements about which they wax poetic and attempt to give credibility with cutesy cartoons or pithy slurs.

I was aware that early Soviet authors coined the phrase “Useful Idiots” to describe with contempt those adoring followers who thoughtlessly supported the words they spouted and were ignorant that the words were meaningless and used only to sway followers to help them gain the power they wanted.  But I did not understand how modern people, educated people, could remain useful idiots for the same philosophies now presented in softer phraseology when so much of that historical data existed and was easy to research on the web.

And then I saw a program this past week on the science channel about experiments in memory and memory alterations and I was at once frightened at the obvious conclusions and suddenly provided an understanding of the willful (it seemed to me) suspension of intellect in the blind service of a blatant attempt to completely transform our country into a model of society that has failed every time it has been attempted throughout human history.

In the experiment to learn more about how the human brain creates and processes memories, participants were asked to watch a short video that included clips of a young boy in cowboy attire including broad brimmed western styled hat. Immediately after viewing a true/false test was given based on that clip and what they had just seen.  Now despite the weight given it by jurors, law enforcement officials know that eyewitness testimony is among the least reliable types of evidence available except in the broadest of terms.  So these questions were not designed for small details but for larger ones, for example, “The boy in the clip was wearing a hat (T/F)?”

Most of the participants got it right most of the time.  However after a week went by they were given the same test.  This time the test included “data” on how the other participants had answered the questions except the information was purposefully incorrect.  For example nearly all had actually recalled he wore a hot but this time the data asserted that nearly all of them had said he was not.   So what happened?

Most of the participants that had gotten it right, upon “learning” that their peers gave a different answer, changed theirs to fit the consensus indicated in the so-called data.  The social pressure to conform was too great and overwhelmed their accurate recall replacing it with the conforming answer.

A week later they were given the same test one last time.  Even though the false data was no longer included in the test, those that had changed their answers to fit the “data” now held to the changed but false answer.  The socially imposed “reality” even though false, was stronger than their own eyes and initial memory and had, in fact, replaced the truth.

If that does not frighten you with its implications then you are not paying attention.  Goebbels, the propaganda master for Hitler, wrote about the “Big Lie” noting that a lie repeated often enough will slowly but surely start to be accepted as the truth. And more, that a HUGE lie, one that no one would believe you would have the nerve to make up, would be accepted even more readily.

But when you remove the BS, the drivel, the bumper-sticker philosophies that passes for something profound, the cutesy slogans and cartoons that remove the need to actually think through the issues at play and encourage you to accept the reports of incorrect data as truth, here is what the divergent political philosophies driving the debate boil down to:

  1. On the Right are people who believe the words of the Constitution are still good and established a country based on personal responsibility and personal accountability and in which government’s very limited role was to be precisely delineated and only those things spelled out were allowable.  This group believes in consequences for choices and behaviors.
  2. On the Left are people who believe the Constitution is merely a loose guide to be ignored when desired and that the extensive role of government is to ultimately replace family, faith, and individual efforts as the arbiter of our daily behaviors and, along with that, replace personal responsibility and accountability with government entitlements that bring everyone to the same lower level of survivability while accumulating power in those upon which the people will become dependent.  This group believes choices and behaviors should be consequence free.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe for a second that the current presumptive candidate from the “Right” side really believes the approach set forth in number one above or that he will turn the ship of state now steering in a lefterly direction back to the course laid out by our founders.  At best he may buy some time to find the one that will do those things before such a correction is impossible.  I am once again going to vote against a candidate not for one.

Both believe their vision is a good and proper one for America to follow, both attempt to demonize the other side because that is the easiest way to avoid those pesky issue ridden discussions for which it appears neither side is very comfortable anymore.  Both are so blinded by partisanship that even when one of their own ideas is presented by the other side it must be opposed.

But for me to accept the frothy pabulum from the left I would have to burn all of my history, sociology, anthropology, political philosophy, and ethics books in my library and pretend I had never read them.  I would have to be rendered amnesiac about having owned businesses.  I would have to, in essence, shut down my brain as they have and let my heart rule in its place.

And before you assert that I have succumbed to the social pressure on my side let me tell you that my college days were filled with activist professors and fellow students, my career in photography was people largely by folks leaning left, and my current career as a professor myself is one surrounded by left-wing sentiments.  If I were philosophically the product of my environment for the last 40 years I would have voted for and support Obama.

But I have (in their eyes) an unfortunate propensity to read and read ALL sides of issues; and worse, to test them against my own experiences and sense of logic and logical extensions to see where they lead ultimately and how they stack up to historical precedence.    To note that virtually every autocratic tyrant of the 20th century was propelled into power by the denizens of academia was revealing.  That in every case from Lenin and Trotsky to Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, even the Ayatollahs it was students and professors who led the charge but that once in power they were turned on ferociously if they strayed from the tyrant’s orthodoxy seemed to be left out of their narrative.   I would have to forget that throughout history,  the first or nearly first act of all tyrants was to remove from the people the ability to resist oppression.

Years ago I wrote that I believe I have been privileged to live during America’s peak, its golden age and that we are now seeing the perhaps inevitable decline of a experiment gone off the rails.  This election, as it is shaping up, is not about getting it back on the rails or heading to instant disaster, it is about the speed at which our descent is measured.

How sad.  The younger generation of my students will most likely become the most entitled generation in our country’s history, but they will not know the pride and accomplishments of the giants on whose shoulders they refuse to stand.  The rarified air from atop those shoulders is terrifying to them at worst or, at best, disagreeable because it actually contains the gall to expect of them some personal accountability for themselves and their own choices and behaviors.

When we see no problem with statements like “I was for it before I was against it” or better yet, “No way is it a tax and it is sheer coincidence that I am making the IRS in charge of compliance” until the tune changes to “Of course it’s a tax and that is why we have the power to do it.”  If that does not cause our sense of logic to simply gasp in disbelief and tell us all we need to know about the ethics and approach of those doing it, then we are truly lost.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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One response to “Useful Idiots and Socially Altered Memory

  1. Geoff Griffin

    July 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    It is a shame when so many cry out for government to be their advocate instead of being an advocate for themselves. Until we learn to question and inform ourselves about our health, finances, pleasures and all other aspects of our lives including our leadership as you have stated we will continue a path once again into slavery and dependancy. Thanks for your thoughts.


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