Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates' debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.
I'm fond of reading books on logic and rhetoric, but it's frustrating and annoying in the extreme to recognize the dishonest and deceptive methods of persuasion that make up nearly all American political discussion. Some 15 years ago I began writing about such things on Usenet, and Compuserve and I've been blogging on the Web for the last ten. I've lost any belief or hope in the idea that clear speech and valid reasoning could compete with the self serving belief, the love of snarky zingers and the tribal chanting. I really don't know why I do it any more and the ritual political exercises the public takes to be debate, illustrate the futility of hope.
Candidates lie. They distort, they embellish, they deny. They make up statistics, quote dubious authority, they make simplistic generalizations, they manipulate a large deck of fallacy with as much dexterity as any Las Vegas illusionist. It doesn't matter. We're not looking for facts, we're looking for confirmation of prejudice, and what's overlooked in our candidate is seen as catastrophic, as egregious, as unforgivable in another. There's simply no other reason for conducting a campaign or listening to it but to delude or protect our delusion. When I see the same tricks used by proponents I was once sympathetic toward and tricks quite as slippery as the other side uses, I have to question my motivations for continuing.
You simply can't trust the propaganda put out by either side of any serious issue. Is the problem worse or better or unchanged? Does the incident or scandal du jour represent anything other than an isolated case? Is something we are urged to panic about, be angry about, to go out and riot about or even vote in response to only a thing chosen or invented by pressure groups as an example? We can't trust the statistics or the people who quote them. "Studies show" too often means there was no study and cited "linkages" have nothing to do with causation, because all that matters in political salesmanship is the Framing Effect.
Our politics are fundamentally dishonest because certain groups take advantage of the technology and the science of dishonesty to manipulate us in ways familiar to Aristotle but invisible to us. We make no effort to verify despite the technology and instant access to information and we will simply deny facts and elevate fiction as suits our vanity, our pride, our delusion and our affiliation. Truth doesn't matter, faith does and if we fear vaccinations it doesn't matter that claims and fears are proven utterly false. We can always come up with a conspiracy, we can always deny, we can always throw dung at the truth and anyone who tells it.
Will this fundamental instability of human nature, our tendency toward hysteria and panic bring down our Republic, or is the question really about how soon? Will we even notice with all the howling of all the players?