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Blinded by Propaganda

Today I listened to a Philosopher’s Zone podcast which discussed politics. One of the messages was that the more moral a political power tries to be the less truly moral they become. Actually, I’m not sure that’s exactly what they were saying but that’s the angle I’m taking here anyway.

There are so many examples of (especially conservative) politicians, political parties, and governments who have inflicted their own idea of morality on others that I really don’t know where to start… actually I do. The obvious recent example is the Bush administration and I’m sure that’s the one that almost everyone would initially think of.

So what philosophical errors did Bush and his administration make? How about these: simplification, projection, and dogmatism.

By simplification I mean the idea, perhaps best expressed through the expression “axis of evil”, that the sides in a conflict can be simply divided into good and evil. Bush also said that if you weren’t with him you were against him and so denied the possibility of a neutral stance or one with a more subtle understanding of good and bad.

By making the enemy pure evil understanding of their motivation is lost and so are chances of reaching agreement. By making yourself pure good you make mistakes because you can’t see your own inadequacies.

What about projection? Here I mean that the politician (and this doesn’t just apply to Bush remember) projects his (or his party’s or his country’s) own defects onto the enemy. The US owns weapons of mass destruction so Iraq does too. The US regularly uses torture for its own ends so that means the enemy must engage in that sort of immoral activity as well.

Its the ultimate form of hypocrisy that one group would attack another for doing exactly what they do themselves, and often to a far greater extent.

Finally there is dogmatism. This is a lack of flexibility and failure to engage in any real thought regarding a new situation. Dogmatism can come from many sources but the most common are political, economic, and (of course) religious. Most conservatives suffer from all three forms to a significant extent.

If a person or group is convinced a certain action is correct, either because that course is dictated by a holy book or because of traditional beliefs relating to that political group, then they are very unlikely to change course even when there is clear evidence that a different approach is needed.

I have picked on conservatives here a bit so I should clarify this by saying that everyone suffers from these effects to varying degrees. I think conservatives are by far the worst example though, but that could be just a result of my own politics being liberal!

So the Bush administration really had to attack Iraq because they had projected an evil image onto that country. What were the two main accusations which lead to Iraq (and other countries) being labelled “evil”? Possession of weapons of mass destruction and aiding terrorist groups, two things the US itself was guilty of far more than Iraq ever had been.

And we all know that Iraq was far from perfect under the control of Saddam Hussein but simplifying the situation and making him seem the ultimate villain when the US had previously cooperated with him is hideously hypocritical.

But the religious and political dogmatism which guided Bush was never going to let a few small details like the facts get in the way. The US was blinded by its own propaganda. Maybe the US administration should have listened to a few philosophical podcasts and they might have understood their own motivations a bit better!

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