Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Things That Sound Like Numbers, But Aren't"

So here’s me, ready to impart my wisdom, stopping to consider if I have any actual wisdom to impart. I can’t wonder long, or I’ll get gagh-gagh-gahg…Writer’s Block. That’s a large part of what Writer’s Block is about – the paralyzing fear that you have nothing meaningful to say.

One trepidational thought is, “They know that already.” I’m offering insight, but delivering “Duh!” But there’s an even greater concern that can eat me up, if I let it.

“They know that already. And they don’t care.”

This one easily fits my M.O. I’m the one who, at camp, when everybody knew that the food was bad, was the only one who didn’t eat it. I was being consistent, you see. I had scruples. I had principles. What did everyone else have? Full stomachs. They knew the food stunk but they ate it anyway. The hypocrites!

I have to believe that this – “this” meaning, what I’m about to write – is at least slightly meaningful. I have to believe that you haven’t already thought of it yourselves, or not thought of it in exactly this way.

Alternatively, I have to believe that even if you have thought of it, and decided, “I don’t care”, that, after you’ve read this, you’ll think, “Huh.” Not “Huh?”, but “Huh”, as in “Hm”, meaning, “That wasn’t totally obvious, irrelevant or dumb.” I don’t ask for a lot.

That my work elicits a momentary pause for reflection? That would be heaven.

Thank you for that gratuitous introduction, Earl. Now, take your shot and take your chances.

Okay, Italics Man, I will.

It’s officially “Election Season” (in contrast to that two-year warm-up we recently endured). And during “Election Season”, they – “they”, meaning the people who address us during “Election Season” – like to throw words at us, the electorate, in an effort to control our brains and affect who we vote for.

They’re extremely skillful, these people. Last “Election Season”, they were able, through words and images, to make John Kerry, a decorated combat veteran, look like a traitor, and George W. Bush, whose National Service record was, at best, unclear, look like a patriot. They did that with straight faces. And it worked.

That’s skillful. It’s sick, but it’s skillful.

(Next stop? Making a former community worker look elitist, and a guy with a bunch of houses, a man of the people. Stay tuned.)

What professionals can do with word and symbol manipulation is astonishing. Maybe you think you’re “on” to all their tricks. Maybe you are, but, maybe, subconsciously and subtly, they work on you anyway.

You think you can drive on an icy highway. I don’t mean to insult you by reminding you to keep your eyes open. It’s just real slippery out there.

Okay. First

“The American People” is not a number. It sounds like a number. A really, big number. But it’s not. “The American People” is a manipulating symbol, masquerading as a number.

“The American People are sick of its government lying to them.”

“The American People do not want to live in a country where millions lack affordable health care.”

“The American People will never surrender to tyranny.”

“The American People like cheese.”

Nobody knows what the American people believe about anything. That’s a lot of people, “The American People.” It’s impossible to canvas them all. Some of them aren’t home. And yet, people speak for “The American People” as if they’ve consulted us all. And that we speak with one voice, which couldn’t be true, or we wouldn’t keep having such close elections.

Who are these people who are speaking in our name? Politicians, campaign operatives, TV pundits, people who, at most, has met a few thousand people in their lives. Yet they presume to speak for three hundred million.

Having lost their own credibility, these people are selling their agenda by coasting on ours:

“You probably know who I am and maybe you don’t trust me. You believe all politicians are liars, and I’m a politician, so blah.

“Fine. I get it. You don’t trust me. You think I’m scum, I’m manipulative, I’m a sellout, and I’m okay with that. But, hey, here’s someone you can trust, okay?

“‘The American People.’”

“‘The American People’ believe this – ‘this’ being what I’m about to say after I say ‘The American People’ a few more times. Sure, I happen to believe the same thing, but forget about that. What’s important is that ‘The American People’ believe it, and ‘The American People’ is a really. Enormous. Group of people.”

“Now you don’t have to listen to me. And a lot of you won’t. But can you really ignore the considered thoughts and the passionately held feelings of the ‘American People’? If the ‘American People’ believe this – I mean, come on, now – who are you to believe otherwise?”

Who am I to believe otherwise? I’m a person who believes otherwise. Which invalidates your whole setup, Jack! It’s not possible that all “The American People” believe what you say they believe, because I’m one of the American People, and I believe what you’re selling me is a load of crap!”

Awright, Italics Man!

Now, if the person who says “The American People” comes back and says, “You’re taking this too literally. I didn’t mean all the American people, I was speaking symbolically”, this is what you say in response:

First, you say, “I know you were just speaking symbolically.” Then you say, “Do you know how many people actually believe the thing you symbolically say ‘The American People’ believe?” If they say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that”, it means they have no idea, or they know how many, and it’s not that big a number, and basically, it’s over. The point has been made. And it’s very likely you’ll never see that person again.

“The American People” is the biggest fake number there is (except for “The Chinese People” and “The Indian People”). But there are other fake numbers, which, though making more reasonable claims, are equally uncountable. One of those fake numbers is “many.”

“Many people believe that the right privacy is asserted in the Constitution.”

“Many” people believe that, it is claimed. How many? They don’t say. Is it a lot? It’s quite a few. It’s “many.”

Yes, but how many. Is it “all?” No. Is it almost “all?” No. Is it most? “Most” is a more persuasive fake number than “many”, so if it were “most”, they’d have said “most.” But they didn’t. They said “many.”

Also, “most” means more than half. “More than half” is measurable. You can check if it’s “most.” You can’t check if it’s “many.” Since “Many’s” not a number, you can never know how many “many” is.

Making a considerably smaller claim, though equally as unverifiable, “many” is “The American People” without the arrogance.

One last drop down.

“Some people still believe in good manners.”

“Some” people. A truly modest claim. But it’s as unverifiable as the larger ones. “Some” people? What exactly are we talking about?

It’s more than “a couple” of people. That would be two. Is “some” people more than “a few” people? I don’t know. It sounds more, but not a lot more. “A few” plus, maybe, seven. In truth, “some” people and “a few” people could be the same number. You really can’t tell.

I’m thinking the era of fake numbers is coming to an end. I hear the words, “The American People” or “many” people, and it’s like a “Red Flag”, signaling that what’s about to follow is a partisan opinion I can easily ignore, and I immediately tune out. When a technique elicits the opposite of its desired effect, it’s a sign that its days as a “persuasion strategy” are over. That’s one person’s opinion.

And that’s a number you can count.


wcdixon said...

Ha! I forwarded this post to 'some' of my friends, and I'm sure 'many' of them will read and enjoy it.

growingupartists said...

So, if "the American People" don't have a voice, or proper representation, who then, shall we trust? Perhaps it's the experience of our elders that needs reinforcing...maybe some of you old-timers should finally speak up.

"I've experienced life first hand, you can trust me by the integrity you hear in my voice." John Kerry was virtually unknown, but he didn't have to say more than three words, and I knew he was a human worth understanding. The question up for debate, is could we trust where he'd lead?

What seems to stand between my own acceptance of the Republican party's tired dance steps, and reality, is all those secrets they insist we keep hiding. If they are the authors of Babylon, and its implentation keeps us safer, then we need more lessons of history, especially man's true nature...what are we capable of?

Or, maybe working together is what kept those Egyptians so successful.

Rusty James said...

Of course there's the American People, and then there's the Electoral College - who aren't that 'many' at all.