Sunday, May 18, 2008

Problem with the truth

... is that people start to expect it, at least those who still thirst for it.

This New York Times story quotes from a 1985 article about one of poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko's criticisms of the Soviet system:

“The session was a closed one, but even so the poet’s strong words against distortion of history, against censorship, self-flattery, silence and privilege in the world of letters were strikingly bold.”
At that time, it was not yet obvious that the Soviet Union was doomed, though there had been signs for some time. In the late 1970s, my political science professor Thane Gustafson brought back a joke he had heard in Moscow. It went something like this:
Brezhnev hasn't seen his ancient grandmother in some time, and he wants her to see how well he's done for himself. So he sends a man from his security detail to pick her up and bring her to his palatial (ahem) apartment in the Kremlin.

She comes in but says nothing. Brezhnev is a little put out but calls for a Zhiguli limousine to drive them to his posh mansion in the best Party enclave in suburban Moscow. Again, his grandmother is silent.

Brezhnev calls for his helicopter, which is always on standby for his use. He whisks her away to his dacha on the Volga. Yet, after all this, grandmother says nothing, and Brezhnev can't keep the impatience out of his voice.

"Babushka, I show you all these wonderful things, yet you say nothing. Are you not impressed at what I have achieved from humble beginnings?"

She pauses and thinks before replying.

"Leonid, it is all wonderful what you have. But what will you do when the Communists come?"
How different is the American empire that the PNAC advocated and the Bushist neocons so badly botched in delivery?

Certainly, on the good side, we are not censored, and Ari Fleischer's infamous warnings didn't provoke silence, though they did slow down the popular realization of the war in Iraq for the debacle it still is.

We Americans are, however, thoroughly enamored of flattery from any source. This is why the McCain campaign tries to make hay whenever Obama tries to depart from the self-reverential formulas of capitalist realist art. Americans can't be bitter or discouraged! They're too heroic to admit that anything about America needs to be changed.

Distortion of history? Check. Eurasia had always been at war with Oceania. The Bushists are happy to distort the present. Why would they hesitate to rewrite the past, all the while using the timeworn but practical propaganda technique of charging that your opponents are revisionist historians?

Of course, our thirst for privilege and our assumption that privilege will always be ours is not a Bushist innovation. They've merely exploited it to divide us, rather than taking policy steps that would secure our future. Instead, they have sold our birthright to all buyers, especially the seldom open Chinese, for a mess of pottage (or is that a Mess'o'potamia!).

If America is to continue its leading role - even to escape the threat of economic and political ruin - we need to reacquire our taste for the truth over the treacly, sweetened bullshit fluff of voter flattery that currently dominates our political conversation.

Public domain images from Wikimedia Commons. Click images for info.

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