George W Bush

It was no surprise that the right-wing response to Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment criticising Bush’s out of touch statements (lores version at C&L) would be both vociferous and personal. However, much to his credit, Olbermann acknowledged in his response to these personal attacks that a key principle in depth psychology was at play.

(Original at MSNBC, lores version at C&L)

It is perhaps instructive, that to the right-wing commentators, and the right-wing blogs, those terms should first evoke not the war-mongers of the Pentagon or the gun-men from Blackwater but U.S. troops.

“I cannot imagine that kind of evil knee-jerk reflex. I feel very sorry for those who have shown it.

It seems to me that these right-wingers have inadvertently shown their true colors, their instinctive hatred of and contempt for, these self-sacrificing Americans, who have been needlessly placed in harm’s way by these very commentators and the politicians they support.

They hear criticism of our nation’s collective conduct in Iraq, and immediately assume it’s the fault of the soldiers.”

Olbermann recognised that his critics were projecting their own subconscious hatred for US soldiers onto him, and then attacking him for carrying what is essentially their own shadow. In the words of depth psychologist, C. G. Jung:

“We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior “soul” has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of betes noires and scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves”

Those who fail to recognise they are subconsciously projecting their shadow on anyone they disagree with are often considered to be, in Jungian terms, not totally enlightened and self-realised:

Every person who is not totally enlightened and self-realised has an “ego” (that) is full of lower emotional poison (toward) its own ugliness and imperfection… it cannot acknowledge this ugliness in itself, because to do so would shatter the narcissistic illusion of its own wonderfulness and specialness, and confront it with its true nature. The result would be either madness or a spiritual self-judgement by which the ego is forced to confront its own negativity. Therefore, in order to maintain its own equilibrium, its own sanity in other words, as psychological defence mechanism, the ego has to constantly project its ugliness onto an appropriate scapegoat.

This is how they cope with their unacknowledged and repressed psychic contents, which can only be tolerated as hatred for another, for a pereceived enemy who has slighted them or their family or tribe or culture or ethnicity or nation or religion or ideology.

This happens everywhere, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance, xenophobia, fear and hatred of the “other” are universal. … Only one who has totally gone beyond the limitation of their finite self, and realised their identity with the Supreme, will no longer project their ego-ideal onto those they identify with, and their shadow onto all those they choose to scapegoat, whether out of prejudice picked up from parents or peers or social condition, or whether these are people who have slighted or insulted the object of ego-identification, or who even if they haven’t are paranoidly misinterpreted as wanting to or actually doing so.

Prolonged failure to acknowledge one’s shadow can lead to what Jung termed possession:

A term used to describe the identification of consciousness with an unconscious content or complex. The most common forms of possession are by the shadow and the contrasexual complexes, anima/animus. A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps. Whenever possible, he prefers to make an unfavorable impression on others.

What sort of impression does this Olbermann critic prefer to convey?

According to Gerhard Wehr, those possessed by their shadow act out in the voice of the shadow without consciously choosing to do so and often without realizing this is happening. He mentions that mob psychology can make one particularly vulnerable to shadow projection. Psychology of the mob may be the best explanation for why those most likely to misinterpret criticism of the Bush administration as an attack on the troops, are the very same people who defend actions that would increase US soldiers’ exposure to danger and who refuse to support improvements in veteran benefits.

According to Wehr, an essential step towards the path to what Jung calls individuation, is to acknowledge when one is projecting or being possessed by one’s shadow, and refusing to let our personality be dominated by this. Many cultures have historically provided spiritual support for this journey through shared rituals. Many are starting to believe that modern western civilization fails to provide this much needed support. Perhaps all the scapegoating that pundits carry out night and day over mainstream media are a reflection of a society lacking in meaningful ritual. Through shadow projection visible enemies are conjured up so that the mob can commence a verbal stoning of the devil. It is as if the unindividuated have substituted their own inferior rituals as a release for a spiritual calling for inner reflection that they refuse to acknowledge and yet cannot ignore.

George Bush Sr. blames the bloggers for worsening adversarial politics:

and also reveals his son won’t use “the email” because they might subpoena it and pressure him to tell the truth.

Still, it doesn’t stop Dubya from product placing “Dell televisions“.

One day before the Nov 7th mid-term elections in America, a video appeared on YouTube insinulating that the Bush Administration was guilty of Soviet-style revisionism of history. Initially, the video demonstration of suspicious cropping out of the “Mission Accomplished” banner seemed convincing and many commenters invoked Orwellian visions of government sanctioned manipulation of the recorded truth. According to this Spiegel International article, in the heated political atmosphere the video rapidly spread across the Net. However, as the audience for the viral video grew, flaws were soon discovered in the evidence. A counter YouTube video appeared revealing that many other videos on the Whitehouse government website also featured the same suspicious signs of being cropped. The accusations were discussed on prompting commenters to question whether the now embarassing banner could have appeared in the original shot at all. But even in the absence of the dissenting opinions, which one may have suspected of partisan motives, closer scrutiny of the original evidence would have revealed the visual subterfuge.

The author of the original accusatory video, Mike McIntee, presents as his evidence a video with a mysterious black bar (which according to Mike is evidence of cropping) and a wide angle still showing the “Mission Accomplished” banner just above Bush’s head:

Mission Accomplished feature correspondence

A cursory inspection of the background reveals that the two views are not from the same camera – not even from the same viewpoint. Perhaps the whole background was replaced? We can dismiss this idea easily by observing the positioning of the microphones in relation to the President’s shoulders. The viewpoints are indeed different, but given the corresponding background features one can easily align the aircraft carrier’s island in the two images:

Background realigned between photo and video

This composite view implies that the banner is much further above Bush from the point of view of the video camera. Note also the alignment of the fighter jet’s nose cone with the fusilage on the right. As one can easily see, the suspicious black bar is far too narrow to account for the simple vertical shifting of the video frame that McIntee is suggesting. Perhaps a more extreme crop had been done. To test this theory we can reframe the video view in an attempt to reconstruct what the original uncropped view might have been:

What the hypothetical uncropped image would have looked like

So if Mike McIntee’s conspiracy theory is correct, the original video would have Bush occupying the lower 40% of the video frame, and less than a ninth of the screen area. Such framing of anyone delivering a speech on national television is extremely unlikely. The teleprompters would have been in full view, treating viewers to a sight of their leader obviously switching his focus between two screens and breaking the illusion of talking directly to the audience.

Why were people so easily taken in? In the polarising climate of American party driven politics and a loss of trust in the government, people fell victim to unconscious confirmation bias. Those already predisposed to a particular opinion are more willing to accept evidence that confirms this viewpoint without question. The effect had been demonstrated using functional MRI in an experiment conducted by Professor Drew Westen on the brains of Republicans and Democrats. It is this unconscious process that is responsible for the many Democrats accepting McIntee’s video as truthful, and for the many Republicans interpreting Kerry’s botched one-liner as an intentional verbal attack on the troops. Outside of the political realm, the forces of unconscious confirmation bias have been observed throughout history. A few early astronomers observing Mars via telescope reported seeing a vast network of canals and cited this as conclusive evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. Nicolas Hartsoeker claimed that spermatoza contained a homunculus (“little man”) based on his observations using early microscopes.

Several lessons can be drawn from the “Mission Accomplished” viral video incident. Distortion of the truth (deliberate or otherwise) is not only a tactic of the extreme right, and as power shifts in the US Congress, those with an interest in preserving the truth will need to be more sceptical of the claims from the left — reality may be starting to lose it’s “well known liberal bias”. If the fruits of the marketplace of ideas are to be realised, one must be willing to look for and to seriously consider the dissenting views. The advent of the blogosphere, social networking sites, and powerful search engines is the best opportunity thus far to achieve this goal, but only if we acknowledge our inherent biases and actively seek to overcome them.

Update: A blogger has posted the most plausible explanation for the black bar I’ve seen so far. Just goes to show how conspiracy theories can sprout from the most innocent of misunderstandings.

To drum up support for the Republicans in the final weeks before the US mid-term elections, George W. Bush has been holding “Victory 2006” rallies all across USA. Virtually every speech reiterates the same talking points and plays well to Republican audiences who tend to applaud in almost exactly the same places. Here is one excerpt:

“You do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. (Applause.) Iraq is not the reason the terrorists are at war with us. I would remind that Democrat that we were not in Iraq when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 1993, we were not in Iraq when they blew up the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, we were not in Iraq when they blew up the USS Cole, and we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001 when they killed nearly 3,000 of our citizens. (Applause.)”

(See also here and here for comparison.)
It is quite obvious that these compassionate conservatives are not applauding the terrorist attack that killed so many Americans. Rather they are showing their support for the view that Bush’s Middle East policy is not worsening terrorism, despite the views of the security agencies in both the US and the UK. Tony Blair parroted a similar talking point just weeks after the London bombings of 7th of July, 2005, when the government’s support for the America’s war in Iraq was being blamed for increasing the risk of terrorism in Britain. On 19 July 2005, Blair twice reminded the press of the obvious:

“Of course these terrorists will use Iraq as an excuse, they will use Afghanistan. September 11 of course happened before both of those things, and then the excuse was American policy, or Israel….As I say, how you try and put this together is extremely important, because September 11 of course happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, and it was planned under the Presidency of President Clinton, not President Bush.”

This line of reasoning seems quite compelling: Since X happened before Y therefore should X happen again, Y cannot possibly be the cause. Those denying anthropogenic global warming, in spite of overwhelming supporting scientific evidence, often use a similar argument. During the medieval warming period, the climate warmed centuries before the industrially related rise in carbon dioxide, therefore the currently observed warming of the planet cannot possibly be caused by human activity. Unfortunately this line of reasoning is a logical fallacy that is easy to discover when one applies it to other domains and derives ridiculous conclusions:

  • London won the right to host the Olympics in 1908 and 1948, both of which happened before Lord Sebastian Coe was born. Hence London winning the 2012 Olympics bid was not helped by the efforts of Lord Coe.
  • Italy won the World Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1982, many years before Fabio Cannavaro played football for Italy, thus proving he doesn’t deserve any credit for Italy winning the 2006 World Cup.

Unlike Bush, Blair does at least acknowledge that US foreign policies predating 11 September, 2001 are often cited as “excuses” for terrorism, which makes his employment of the logical fallacy even weaker. But even if leaders were to accept some form of causal link between their foreign policy and terrorist activity, this does not automatically relinquish policy decisions to the whims of terrorists. Bad strategy should be discontinued because it is wrong, and not because an extremist objects. However, the war in Iraq was sold to the electorate on the basis that it would reduce the terrorist threat. The evidence that the citizens have made a bad buy is becoming difficult to ignore.

In the 1970’s, an appetite-suppressant candy was being marketed to Americans by the Dep Corporation, and was made available in chocolate, butterscotch, caramel and peanut butter flavors. They decided to call their product, AYDS, a name which seemed innocent enough at the time during which it enjoyed strong sales.

What a difference a few years make.

By the mid-80’s fear of the human immuno-deficiency disease, AIDS, pervaded western society and sales of the now unfortunately named dieting product plummeted. Changing circumstances can quickly render proven marketing slogans lethal to one’s goals. This is the fate that befell the warmongering campaign phrase “stay the course” this week as the flaws in the current US policy in Iraq became too big to hide. Progressive blogs and YouTubers were the first to ridicule the revisionist way this policyshift was announced. Keith Olbermann drew attention to the self-contradictory spin (i.e. lying) a number of different times on his show, and his latest eulogy to the now defunct rhetoric nicely summarises the developments of the last week:

However he did forget to mention one member of the “coalition of the willing” who also once used the phrase that everyone now avoids like a bad disease — Tony Blair (used twice in his statement while standing side-by-side with George W. Bush).

Why do people continue to listen to bad prognosticators? Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, a website that explores and corrects many misconceptions in space science, explains why astrology is believed by so many people despite having no basis in scientific fact. Astrologers rely on people’s tendency to remember the hits while forgetting the misses. It is not just astrologers that take advantage of selective memory, but also anyone in the business of predicion. It takes special effort to draw one’s attention to the misses before one loses trust in their chosen method of forecasting the future.

Bill Maher recently drew attention to all the failed predictions made by the members of neocon think tanks (namely The Heritage Foundation and the Project for the New American Century), asking why they are still in the business of making predictions. It seems there needs to be many high profile failures on record before one loses trust in the policies that these poorly prognosticating think tanks promote. There are signs that this threshold in wrongness has finally been reached as some members of the Bush administration seemed to be willing to adopt a drastic change in strategy.

Of course any such reversal on previously held positions will be seen as flip flopping on the war and one cannot have that, unless one redefines what one means by “strategy” and performs some Soviet-style revision of history concerning the “stay the course” mantra. (Jon Stewart also tackled this sudden policy shift back in August.) Such chaotic thinking is no better than when the Republicans last used astrology to make decisions.

Stephen Colbert analyses US politics via by way of analogy suggested by Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum, with hilarious results:

Fantasy analogies seem to be in vogue this US political season — perhaps as a way to introduce children to political concepts. E.g. the “Alice in Wonderland” analysis of propaganda. For more advanced readers of fiction, there is the obligatory 1984 comparison. Those who are less well read but follow American sports will better understand the football analogy:

“This is the fourth quarter, there’s two minutes left in the game, and we’re down two touchdowns. There may not be enough time left.” — Larry Diamond, one of a panel of experts advising the Iraq Study Group.

But count on Bush for the ultimate fantasy analogy. After years of flatly rejecting the comparison, he finally admitted the parallels between the Iraq and Vietnam wars. How is this a fantasy? The Bush administration believes the US could have won the Vietnam war had they not withdrawn.

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