the psychology of homo peckerwoodus

Over at TPM, M.J. Rosenberg refers to this perfectly wild interview with Wolfowitz published in the beating heart of the Murdochian nightmare, the Australian. After a brisk summary that can only bring a cheerful heh heh to the hearts of its readers ("He was forced out of this job for allegedly organising an over-generous promotion out of the bank for his partner. It was an absurd charge and the bank ultimately decided he had behaved ethically. Nonetheless there was a kind of frenzy of hostility to Wolfowitz, really from the day he started at the bank"), we then turn reverently to the man himself. The first question, of course, is:

'O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing…”

But no, that isn’t the first question, I’m getting my notes mixed up. Rather, the birds are singing like jiminy, and they are singing in Iraq, that happy happy land. As every rightwinger knows, following the intrepid reporting of Michael Totten, Michael Yon and Michael Fumento – the three Michaels of the Bush apocalypse, brought to you by Pyjamas media - Iraq is almost a superpower of happiness at the moment. It is all about the kids. Kids kids kids. Pictures of kids. Candy distributed to kids. Although one must admit – they are Muslim kids. Being Muslim has long been a rightwing crime, up there with being black and being Mexican. Luckily, due to a rigorous training in self-lobotomy, the warmongers are able to handle both the idea that the democratic, freedom lovin’ Iraqis are Moslems and that we have to drop nuclear weapons on Muslims with the greatest of ease in order to win the GWOT.

Well now. Having decisively brought freedom to Mesopotamia, one would think that Wolfowitz would be posing for statues. But you are misunderestimating the power of the MSM, which, as any good rightwinger can tell you, is in cahoots with the terrorists. Alas, Wolfowitz, whose brilliance is being shown every day, doesn’t even have a bankrollable girlfriend anymore. So the Australian reporter was surely apprehensive- would he be interviewing a broken man?

“He looks well and he seems to have absorbed all the strife that befell him. He agrees what happened to him was an injustice, but says: "I don't feel particularly bitter or resentful, I manage to get on with other things. I've developed some of the feeling for Africa that I've long had for Indonesia. It would be exciting to be able to help."”

Oh no. Africa, run for the hills! Wolfowitz saying “it would be exciting to help’ is like Genghis Khan opining about vacation destinations he’d like to go to with his kids.

However, the whole genius of the interview is in the interviewer knowing that, five hundred thousand dead Iraqis later, the man of sorrows is… Wolfowitz. To immediately spot the martyr like that is what reporters are paid for.

For what it is worth, Wolfowitz has his memories – and good ones they are!

`I think it is worth remembering January 2005. When Iraqis got the chance to vote for the first time, and the enemy threatened death to those who voted, and some said the indelible ink on the thumb may be mark of death, 9.5million Iraqis voted. That said something important. It’s an important asset to build on. I think the vote itself tells us something about what the great majority of Iraqis would like to see.’’

Now of course, we are going to go into September and do nothing again to bring home U.S. troops in Iraq. LI isn’t going to write about that on this blog. What we are going to write about is – a psychological experiment that was performed, years ago, by Leon Festinger. I came across this experiment in Lauren Slater’s charming book, Opening Skinner’s Box. Festinger’s article is here . As Slater points out, according to the then orthodox Behaviorist theory, human behavior was absolutely wired to reinforcements, such that the more a behavior was rewarded, the more it would be preferred. Festinger’s experiment showed exactly the opposite. A subject that was paid a dollar to lie about his opinion x was more likely to start shifting his opinion around to his expressed false opinion than a subject who was paid twenty dollars. In other words, those who made more were quite willing to admit they lied; those who were paid less had a tendency to try to make the lie come true, and were less willing to say that the lie was a lie.

Why? That’s a good question. Slater says:

“Festinger hypothesized that it is much harder to justify lying for a dollar; you are a good, smart person, after all, and good, smart people don’t do bad things for no real reason. Therefore, because you can’t take back the lie, and you’ve already pocketed the mealy money, you bring your beliefs into alignment with your actions, so as to reduce the dissonance between your self concept and your questionable behavior. However, those people who were paid twenty bucks to lie, they didn’t change their beliefs; in effect, they said, Yeah, I lied, I didn’t believe a word of what I said, but I got paid well.”

This hypothesis tells us some interesting things about the support for the war. The peckerwoods who bought it hook, line and sinker and are still convinced that the U.S. should win – or as they usually put it in comments sections on blogs, WIN – in Iraq know, on one level, that they were lied to. But the lies were so cheap, so transparent, that of course in a sense accepting them was like accepting some cheap shoddy reward for doing a bad thing for no real reason. It is important to remember that 99.9 percent of the American public, in 2002, could care less about Iraq, knew nothing about Iraq, and had never, previously, ever thought that the security of America, or even our most minor self interest, depended on anything having to do with Iraq. Furthermore, they still could care less about Iraq. Most news stories about Iraq center, logically enough, on Americans. They quote American analysts. The Iraqis are segregated into the special, once a month story where an interview is conducted with the stray Gunga Din figure. The idea that we should devote a trillion dollars to making Iraq a democracy never emerged, spontaneously, from the burning, yearning heart of the American homeland. And, in fact, what the American homeland thinks, almost always, is that Moslems should be killed or converted. We are talking Northern Idaho here. We are talking rural Minnesota. We are talking Kansas, Oklahoma. We are talking the crystal meth/fundie imperium.

So, what we have here is clearly a classic case of dissonance.

What is puzzling, though, is the more highly rewarded. But here one should notice something: the ease with which the pro-war pundits have taken back their ‘support’ for the invasion. While the yahoos continue to bray that we brought down Satan Hussein, who hid those WMDs in Syria, the higher ups are (ahem)most regretful, dreadfully sorry that this happened in the first place. Mistakes were made. Ignatieff has already explained it was because he was just too good a person. Beinart has said that he listened to some wily Iraqi exiles - Muslims, come to think of it. The Washington Post editorial board has said that they, uh, trusted in Bush's competence. Although what the mistakes were, in the end, is rather misty. The upper deck people, too, were advocating for a war for no real reason. But the reward was enough – in terms of positioning, etc. – that looking back, they can afford to be a bit regretful. What they can’t afford is any shaking of their little positional niches. So they have made up the story of how they were serious all the time, day and night, and still are. A higher reward gives you greater leaway to admit mistakes, but the repair work to keep your world view clean and bright and consistent - and to keep being published on the Washington Post Op Ed page - will prevent any fundamental questions from being asked. That would be tres icky.


Mike said…
Gee, I noticed you hyperlinked to the other Michaels but not to me. Could that be because despite what you STATE, you couldn't actually find any articles or blogs by me that showed me to be a Bush cheerleader. I go to Iraq and I report back what I see. In one case I said I saw dramatic improvement in Ramadi and soon the MSM was full of stories about dramatic improvement in Ramadi. So yeah, I've risked my life in Iraq to report back first hand (and on my first trip almost lost it). Somehow that makes me a Bush sycophant, huh? Or what does it make you?
Fletcher said…
Good God, Fumento; do you do anything with your spare time apart from google your own name?
Scruggs said…
No linky? I can help!
roger said…
Mike, I was thinking of the Lancet link given by Mr. Scruggs. On the other hand, you are right, I should have linked to that. And I should not have linked you to Totten and Yon quite so cavalierly.