Sunday, April 25, 2004

Bushworld and America the Arational: Why Bush is likely to win.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: The Orwellian Olsens
The Orwellian Olsens
Published: April 25, 2004

It's their reality. We just live and die in it.

In Bushworld, our troops go to war and get killed, but you never see the bodies coming home.

In Bushworld, flag-draped remains of the fallen are important to revere and show the nation, but only in political ads hawking the president's leadership against terror.

In Bushworld, we can create an exciting Iraqi democracy as long as it doesn't control its own military, pass any laws or have any power.

In Bushworld, we can win over Falluja by bulldozing it.

In Bushworld, it was worth going to war so Iraqis can express their feelings ("Down With America!") without having their tongues cut out, although we cannot yet allow them to express intemperate feelings in newspapers ("Down With America!") without shutting them down.

In Bushworld, it's fine to take $700 million that Congress provided for the war in Afghanistan and 9/11 recovery and divert it to the war in Iraq that you're insisting you're not planning.

In Bushworld, you don't consult your father, the expert in being president during a war with Iraq, but you do talk to your Higher Father, who can't talk back to warn you to get an exit strategy or chide you for using Him for political purposes.

In Bushworld, it's O.K. to run for re-election as the avenger of 9/11, even as you make secret deals with the Arab kingdom where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from.

In Bushworld, you get to strut around like a tough military guy and paint your rival as a chicken hawk, even though he's the one who won medals in combat and was praised by his superior officers for fulfilling all his obligations.

In Bushworld, it makes sense to press for transparency in Mr. and Mrs. Rival while cultivating your own opacity.

In Bushworld, you can reign as the antiterror president even after hearing an intelligence report about Al Qaeda's plans to attack America and then stepping outside to clear brush.

In Bushworld, those who dissemble about the troops and money it will take to get Iraq on its feet are patriots, while those who are honest are patronizingly marginalized.

In Bushworld, they struggle to keep church and state separate in Iraq, even as they increasingly merge the two in America.

In Bushworld, you can claim to be the environmental president on Earth Day while being the industry president every other day.

In Bushworld, you brag about how well Afghanistan is going, even though soldiers like Pat Tillman are still dying and the Taliban are running freely around the border areas, hiding Osama and delaying elections.

In Bushworld, imperfect intelligence is good enough to knock over Iraq. But even better evidence that North Korea is building the weapons that Saddam could only dream about is hidden away.

In Bushworld, the C.I.A. says it can't find out whether there are W.M.D. in Iraq unless we invade on the grounds that there are W.M.D.

In Bushworld, there's no irony that so many who did so much to avoid the Vietnam draft have now strained the military so much that lawmakers are talking about bringing back the draft.

In Bushworld, we're making progress in the war on terror by fighting a war that creates terrorists.

In Bushworld, you don't need to bother asking your vice president and top Defense Department officials whether you should go to war in Iraq, because they've already maneuvered you into going to war.

In Bushworld, it's perfectly natural for the president and vice president to appear before the 9/11 commission like the Olsen twins.

In Bushworld, you expound on remaking the Middle East and spreading pro-American sentiments even as you expand anti-American sentiments by ineptly occupying Iraq and unstintingly backing Ariel Sharon on West Bank settlements.

In Bushworld, we went to war to give Iraq a democratic process, yet we disdain the democratic process that causes allies to pull out troops.

In Bushworld, you pride yourself on the fact that your administration does not leak to the press, while you flood the best-known journalist in Washington with inside information.

In Bushworld, you list Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack" as recommended reading on your campaign Web site, even though it makes you seem divorced from reality. That is, unless you live in Bushworld.

I thought this was a pretty long list, until I realized she omitted economics, the environment, civil rights, health care, etc.

The comprehensive list would be at least 3 times as long.

Yet Bush will likey be reelected -- despite what "people like me" consider one of the worst records in the history of the presidency. Only Bush II could make the first term Reagan look good. (Second term Reagan, when his dementia was inescapable, was really Howard Baker -- a good middle-of-the-road president).

Maybe it's time for "people like me" to step back and think about why this is so. Bottom line -- it's the role of rationalism. Rationalists (of which Star Trek's Spock is the mythic paradigm), even when they are not scientists, respect science and logic. We have models and beliefs, but we test them. When they fail, we at least consider the possibility that the models are no longer making useful predictions. This doesn't mean rationalists agree on everything -- scientific disputes are often vicious. Very few rationalists are atheists, but we may speculate widely about the nature of deity/deities. Many rationalists have conventional religious beliefs, but they rarely expect God to intervene directly in the material world. Rationalists (at least the human ones) have feelings, emotions and intuitions, but we recognize them and balance them with logic and reason.

Rationalism, the respect for logic, empiricism, and science, is a distinct worldview. Rationalism came to fruition in the enlightenment. The "founding fathers" were extraordinary rationalists. Jefferson and Madison agreed on little, but their arguments referenced "reason".

Rationalism is not the only way of looking at the world. Faith and intuition are also powerful. Many very effective people have combined faith, intuition and rationalism in various parts. Faith is not my strong suite, but I think it's fundamentally advantageous; even in the purely material world a capacity for faith an adaptive trait. Many successful CEOs (and even more failed CEOs) seem to have an extraordinary faith in their own correctness -- despite making as many mistakes are most people.

Bush is not a rationalist; he is arational. He's not "irrational" or "stupid" or "insane", he is something far more effective. He operates on intuition unbridled by science and its burden of logic, analysis, and internal consistency.

Evangelical conservatives are also arationalists; this is not a matter of their faith -- it's that their stated beliefs are internally inconsistent. It's the ability to function happily with profound internal inconsistency throughout one's belief structure that marks the arational. Bush is likewise internally inconsistent, yet he is superficially effective in the exercise of power. (GWB is fundamentally ineffective -- unless his true goal is to bring on the apocalypse. Of course if God is speaking with Bush, then apparently God also wants the end-time to come, in which case I have an eternity in Hell to look forward to.)

Why will Bush get reelected? Because 21st century America has a strong arational streak, as does, the middle East, Africa, Russia and eastern europe. It's strong in politics, in the media, in battles over the definition of science education, and in the rise of non-science based healthcare.

Conversely, I think rationalism may be rising in China and India. If we were living in the 19th century this would result in a turbulent but survivable transition in power and influence from arational to rational nations. Unfortunately, we live in the 21st century, with weapons that can annihilate humanity a dozen different ways all at once.

If I were Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Warren Buffett, rationalists all, I'd be pouring every billion I had into trying to change the outcome of the near-term election, then trying to rebalance America. Only 10-15% of Americans will be strong rationalists, and I suspect it's wise to have 10-15% be strong arationalists. Now, however, the ratio is more like 10% to 50%. That's a threat not just to the American future, but to the future of humanity.

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