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May 04, 2007

Still Irritated By Jonathan Chait

Let's take a look again at this section from Jonathan Chait's netroots article:

[P]ropaganda should not be confused with intellectual inquiry. Propagandists do not follow their logic wherever it may lead them; they are not interested in originality...

The implication, of course, is that intellectually honest political thinkers (like Jonathan Chait!) are interested in originality.

But here's the thing: politics, when you strip away the layers of bullshit, is not much more complicated than tic tac toe. It always has been and always will be a struggle between the many and the few. The few in every society have perhaps four strategies for controlling the many, which they've been using in various combinations for the past 10,000 years.

Thus, being "original" about politics is about as possible as being "original" about tic tac toe.

However, you can pretend it's possible to be original. For instance, you can write: the Xs shouldn't choose the upper right hand corner, even though the Os need only that space to win. That's the old way of thinking! Instead, the Xs should use a bold, fresh strategy and go for the lower left corner!"

Then all your friends congratulate you for your contrarianism. Then the Os win again. Then you go home, dazzled by your own originality. And then you live the rest of your life, never seeming to notice that the magazine which pays for your mortgage and your children's food is owned by a consortium of Os.


During the 2000 campaign, the two of us [Grover Norquist and Chait] were making small talk before we were set to debate, and he offered that the event would be clarifying for his team as well as for my team. I replied that, while I certainly have strong opinions, I wasn't working for any "team." Norquist smiled at me in a slightly condescending way and said, "Sometimes, we're on a team and we don't realize it."

Yes, Chait is surely on no one's team. True, there are some unsophisticated clowns who say this kind of stuff:

To me then it appears that there have been differences of opinion, and party differences, from the establishment of governments to the present day, and on the same question which now divides our country, that these will continue through all future times: that everyone takes his side in favor of the many, or of the few…nothing new can be added by you or me to what has been said by others, and will be said in every age.

But frankly, crude propagandists like that just don't understand politics like Jonathan Chait.

Posted at May 4, 2007 02:54 PM | TrackBack

I thought the Chomsky/Trivers conversation explained the foreign policies of all great powers pretty concisely. It'd be interesting to try to boil it down to a bumper sticker-sized slogan--I'm not very good at that sort of thing, but I think it could be done. Or maybe you'd need two bumper stickers.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 4, 2007 03:46 PM

"Simple" Jon, is Aunt Nanny pretending not to notice that the kids are going hungry, the bills aren't getting paid and house is falling apart while Uncle Red continues to indulge his not-so-secret habit of regularly pawning a piece of the household furnishings to maintain Lolita (his faithless young mistress) in the style to which she has become accustomed: Much like Congress cutting taxes and running budget deficits (and Congress, Treasury AND the Fed ignoring trade deficits) while General Dynamics, General Electric, General Motors, General Re, & General Etc. invest the accumulated fruits of our labor in more 'bidness-friendly' places like China and Viet Nam--places which are only too happy to play that 'great' game because those 'governments' are using the money they make off the deal to buy 'our' public debt, our 'private' equities AND the mortgage on Uncle Fed and Aunt Nanny's house...

Posted by: Mike at May 4, 2007 03:48 PM

FREDDY MAC AND FANNY MAE or why does that Bank of China own my mortgage?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 4, 2007 03:58 PM

Why, the guy wants to be clever and entertaining, nothing's wrong with that.

Posted by: abb1 at May 4, 2007 04:13 PM

I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree but I have never found politics to be simple. In fact it drives me to the brink because it causes me to become extremely angry and probably brings out the worst in me. I always end up looking at life through brown colored glasses because I end up being cynical and looking at the worst aspects of humanity which is a very unpleasant affair. I really don’t want to look at the worst side of people but with politics how can you not?

When I delve into the murky realm of politics I am not looking for originality I am looking for answers, I want to know why I am being screwed and by whom and how. But perhaps more importantly I want to understand why a nation like ours, which has so much, continues to violently attack and rob other weaker nations like some kind of super mugger. I suppose you can boil any complex system down to some basic truths but that does not remove the complexity.

One thing I have noticed is when you listen to a true intellectual like Noam Chomsky he speaks in a straightforward and unencumbered manner, he does not need to prove his powers of intellect. What he does do is communicate in a concise way so that even people like me can understand his message. Then you have Mathew Yglesias who is so intent on proving his superiority that he often fails to communicate any coherent message at all but seems to get bogged down in some kind of weird logic. Sometimes he does fairly well but often he just tosses thoughts off as if he is just so witty that anything that comes out of his head is pure gold. Not.

Posted by: rob payne at May 4, 2007 05:19 PM

For propaganda, you never need to look further than The New Republic:

Posted by: at May 4, 2007 05:47 PM

"The few in every society have perhaps four strategies for controlling the many, which they've been using in various combinations for the past 10,000 years."

Like the hearth myth. He who controls the granary must justify it. He becomes the spokesman for God and Nature. The protector of the mother/whore myth. He must wear the flightsuit with the sock stuffed in the crotch and assure us the war is over and we have won.

Like that.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at May 5, 2007 10:12 AM

A sock stuffed in the his crotch? When you LIE TO YOURSELF it's the greatest lie of all.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 5, 2007 12:26 PM

Propaganda was hardly used at all in the ancient world... Most people still had the spine to fight and kill justfully for their freedom, thus making propaganda useless. Basically, you were either a slave or a rebel.

The same "modernism" our quaint society hails as our salvation is exactly what makes us vulnerable to most forms of propaganda.

Posted by: at May 5, 2007 07:56 PM