The Sad Cost of Crying Wolf
It was a scary story fulfilling the darkest fears of every one of us concerned with the far reaching spying of our government upon us. For a report, a student at the University of Massachusetts was instructed to check out the original Peking version of “The Little Red Book” by Mao Zedong. The student did as directed and was visited some time after by two agents from Homeland Security. The agents informed the student that the book was on a ‘watch list’ and that, coupled with the fact that he had spent time abroad, triggered an investigation. This information was then given to the professor at the university and he decided to make it public. The unfortunate reality? The student later broke down in tears as he admitted that the entire story was made up.
The South Coast Today details how the story began to unravel as the student started adding more and more information to the details that didn't check out or couldn't be proved. The story caught the attention of the International Media just as the New York Times exposed possible spying of the President of the United States on US Citizens and helped give it credence. The good news is, as Dr. Williams stated, “I'm happy to report its safe to borrow books.”
Many of us are concerned with the government becoming tyrannical. As a Libertarian you might surmise that I already feel that it has. But in order to draw attention to the many things that are examples of over-reaching of the federal government we have to avoid jumping on the bandwagon of unproven accusations or stories made up to scare those that do not agree that this type of behavior is occurring or could be a concern if it is.
And worse, it starts to make me pause and wonder if any of the other stories that may or may not have been substantiated were made up as well. I usually do a fair amount of research before believing some story about the government, even though I personal feel that it might be likely such as this one, before accepting as truth. It was during the investigation of this charge that I came across the very unreported detail that the charge was false. But how many people simply latch upon any potential injustice and use it as a underpinning of their already rabid hatred of government, whether it is due to a knowledge of the real power of government or because of an adversarial hatred due to partisan politics? How many hoaxes and incorrect assertions have been made in the name of 'fighting the good fight'?
We, as civilized thinking animals MUST strive to ensure that we do not fall into the trap that I see many people getting caught up in. We have to put aside our emotions and examine accusations on the merits of the specific accusations and not use them to bolster are already made up minds. I've seen too many people say "I don't know if this story is true or not but it fits with what I know about ....” NO, run from this trap if you see yourself starting to say those very words in your head. Take the extra effort to make sure that you are truly adding a factual injustice to your arsenal of tyrannical examples before making a fool of not only yourself but the very cause you are working so hard to represent, not only in this subject but any other you might find yourself involved in.
Don't give the people who are willing to allow tyranny to grab hold of us an excuse to dismiss our concerns and embrace the path of giving up their freedoms for perceived security. It will only get us less free, less secure and more oppressed. And I think we can all agree that is not what we want to have happen.
Posted by Rhinehold at December 29, 2005 11:30 PM
Fear of government by the governed isn’t something new.
Our government put a whole race of people in camps because of fear. We all had Reds under our beds because of fear. We all “ducked and covered” because of fear.
What has the government done lately to assuage our fears?
We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars to fight a “war on terror” overseas, and done window dressing to stop the flow of undocumented aliens over our borders.
We have ordered cities and states to create programs for “homeland security” and didn’t fund them.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself?
This all sounds like a cosmic hand job to me.
I read an interesting article the other day written by Arthur Miller. I was doing research on the whole “Are you now or have you ever been” scenarios in our history. It was a topic I thought I might write about in the future.
While I agree with you Rhinehold that we do have to carefully research stories we hear because many times people have a hidden agenda whether it be a cause or some twisted desire for attention, our government has at times acted in a manner that does cause this fear to still exist. Fake kidnappings, false stories add to the other side. So I encourage a healthy amount of skepticism for all of us. Too often there is a rush in the media and especially by the blogosphere to make a story “news” that later is discovered was not quite as it first appeared.
Arthur Miller’s article makes some valid points about his experiences if anyone is interested it is Here
While I agree with you, I do wish you had added some of the lies that were used against opponents in the elections. Those are even more disgusting than this one.
I have no way of knowing whether this particular case is an example of an inoculation, but the method is certainly SOP for the Bush administration, especially Rove. This example is trivial, yet the story somehow receives media coverage. The underlying moral of the story? No need to worry about controversial Patriot Act provisions!
As the linked article says: 1) warn of the attack, 2) make a weak attack, 3) force the receiver to actively defend.
I have no way of knowing whether this particular case is an example of an inoculation, but the method is certainly SOP for the Bush administration, especially Rove.
I love it. You are only one step away from the real truth my freind. One step. If only you knew that Rove was only the tip of the iceburg. Let me spell it out for you: I-L-L-U-M-I-N-A-T-I.
Why not? It’s just as plausible.
An attempt at sacrasm, eric?
Or, do you hold Rove in such low regard that you think he couldn’t have created this scenario?
Yes, this student was a liar — f*cked-up, sad and pathetic.
But when this story first came out, it wasn’t what the student said that I found to be most frightening and disturbing. Instead, what bothered me most was the fact that when they interviewed the dept. head and the professor at Dartmouth who had taught the class, both were immediately willing to cancel other classes they’d had planned. They claimed they didn’t want to endanger other students who would be requesting books and surfing websites about Al Qaeda, or terrorism, or any political philosophies that are frowned upon in the US.
The idea that knowledge is now very potentially dangerous. The idea that certain knowledge might be held against our citizens, and therefore, such knowledge should naturally be avoided lest it cause someone trouble with our government.
THAT just ain’t American! And THAT to me was, and STILL IS, the more important story that was born of this incident — despite the fact that we now know it was all a hoax. That instantaneous self-censorship. That hair-trigger intimidation. That implication that we have already quite comfortably and automatically accepted a totalitarian atmosphere in America following 9/11.
To me if this is the way people are going to react, and how things are going to be from now on, America is no longer the “Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free”, and the “war on terrorism” has in reality, already been lost.
I couldn’t agree more Adrienne, and I am afraid you are correct in your fear that we have already lost.
I hadn’t been on a plane since before 9/11 until recently, I’m sure I missed a lot of the paranoid actions of airport security, but I was still appalled at how people were treated because they simply wanted to travel from one point to another. The simple fact is that the type of attack we witness on 9/11 will never ever happen again. Not because the terrorists won’t try but because the same end result as happened with the 4th hijacked plane will occur. We were told for decades to ‘just be quiet and do what they say’ when a hijacking occured. I daresay that that option has been thrown out of the window now…
So maybe we DON’T need to take people nail files from them anymore? Geeesh.
Ethan, one of the huge problems today is literacy. I just saw this week that 50% of college graduates in the U.S. as literacy under achievers. This is a huge problem for the relationship between government and the citizenry. Here is how it works:
A politician hires a PR person or firm to help them with a problem. They want to convince the public of a thing which is not true, but, at the same time, they want to state this untruth in a fashion that will be misinterpreted by the public, and can be shown at some point in the future to have been technically accurate.
The PR person/s then write a speech or statement which uses words with double or multiple meanings where an obscure meaning would make the statement technically true, but, the commonly understood meaning would lead to a false conclusion, one which the politician wants disseminated.
Example. Pres. Bush announces in both his election bids, that he will cut the deficit in half. This is actually a perfect example. In light of his never having, to date, vetoed any deficit item of spending, it is clear he never intended to start reducing deficits in 2001 or any subsequent years to date. However, his campaign promise will be technically correct if in 2008, he does cut that one year’s projected deficit in half.
There are many ways in which this can be a very deceptive statement. For example, if Congress in 2007 proposes a budget with a deficit of 1 trillion dollars and it is approved. In 2008, if Pres. Bush threatens a veto if the deficit is not cut to 1/2 trillion dollars, and the Congress responds with a deificit of 1/2 trillion, then the Pres. will have remained true to his election promise.
But, clearly, running up 2.5 Trillion dollars in deficits from 2001 through 2005, is not what the poeple envisioned when they heard the President promise to cut the deficit in half. But, clearly, the President never said in what year of his terms he would move to cut the deficit.
This kind of hoodwinking of the public with sophisticate language play, takes advantage of the public’s low literacy competency. The public has pride, and is not zealous about admitting it was hoodwinked or misled. So, much of the public would never admit their original interpretations did not meet the reality of a politician’s words, especially after it is shown that the politician’s words were technically correct. For to do so, leaves a bit of egg on the public’s face for not having been more skeptical and demanding of clarification in the first place.
This cognitive dissonance often works to politician’s advantage. Sen. Kerry used it frequently, flip-flopping and then arguing the public misunderstood his words. Kerry’s problem was that that his opponents exposed his double meanings upfront and on the spot before he could be elected, leaving the egg on Kerry’s face, instead of the public’s at large. So, it can backfire.
But, by and large, politician’s still get away with this tactic far more often than they get caught at it. That is why PR firms and Speech writers get the big bucks they do. They do far more than just string logical well punctuated sentences together. They create both plausible deniability and illusory images out of the same text. This is no easy feat and is a talent of sophistry that is in very high demand.
The only defense against such sophistry, (the lying kind - sophistry has multiple meanings), is a highly literate public with skeptical and inquiring minds. Since a highly literate public with inquiring skeptical minds would be the enemy of politicians, is it not clear why our government is dividing the resources and efforts of education in this country instead of doubling them to vastly increase literacy?
High levels of literacy are the voters friend, and the politician’s enemy. So, it is no surprise, the politician’s today are attacking institutions of higher education, instead of shoring them up.
“I couldn’t agree more Adrienne,”
Can I just take a moment to say that it’s so darn nice when you and I can agree? :^)
“and I am afraid you are correct in your fear that we have already lost.”
But the good news is, not entirely! That’s why I hope that people who are immediately aware of these kind of things will voice their opinions (such as yours and mine) and that this will actually make others think about their own reactions in our post 9/11 world.
You’re a Libertarian and I’m solidly a Liberal, but obviously neither one of us are willing to throw away our Constitution, or live in fear of our government!
Like I said, it just ain’t American — no matter how this administration wants to try to change things. We’re not supposed to be passive or fearful, we’re supposed to keep a sharp eye, and to live free all the time — and this country shouldn’t go down without fighting tooth and nail to hold on to both our vigilance and each and every one of our Constitutional rights and freedoms.
“I hadn’t been on a plane since before 9/11 until recently, I’m sure I missed a lot of the paranoid actions of airport security, but I was still appalled at how people were treated because they simply wanted to travel from one point to another.”
Hey, I’m starting to worry that we haven’t seen anything, yet. Have you heard about the brand-new procedures they’re enacting?
Now, this is something I’m not proud of, but I happen to be a bit of a nervous flyer. Despite the fact that to visit my entire family, I’ve got to put myself aboard a giant chunk of metal that somehow flies through the freaking air for a really long time in order to land on the East Coast. Does this mean I’m to have a thorough interrogation and/or a strip search for wanting to visit my folks? Or does this actually mean I’ve now got to down a whole bunch of cocktails in the air-lounge (not always convienient or desired) before every flight so I can act as though I’m totally unconcerned over whether some guy I don’t even know will do a good job flying the plane I’m about to get on?
“The simple fact is that the type of attack we witness on 9/11 will never ever happen again.”
I agree. Personally, I think that Al Qaeda terrorists are trained to be nothing short of diabolically clever. Therefore, we should have been covering our asses on all fronts from that day to this — not just focusing on the same exact method they used on 9/11.
“Not because the terrorists won’t try but because the same end result as happened with the 4th hijacked plane will occur. We were told for decades to ‘just be quiet and do what they say’ when a hijacking occured. I daresay that that option has been thrown out of the window now…”
Exactly. Every single person I know that has flown since 2001 that I’ve talked to about this subject claims they’d never sit passively while a hijacker tried to take control of their plane. I know that I certainly wouldn’t — unless of course I’ve had too much to drink in the air-lounge before the flight! :^/
Adrienne and Rhinehold, actually, ironically, and with tongue in cheek all at the same time: America needs a good solid dictator or authoritarian to take over. Nothing so motivates a people toward freedom like not not having it. A lesson passed on to us by the Colonialists. And nothing so motivates celebration of freedom as the bringing down of a tyrant. A lesson evident in Iraq in 2003.
One Iraqi taxi cab driver was asked by a journalist why he was driving on the wrong side of the road forcing others off the road? The taxi cab driver replied: No, its OK, we got freedom now, it’s OK.
(A lesson in anarchy: freedom without the ability to respond appropriately [responsibility]). In this way, Iraq and America now have much in common.