Sophisticated opinion today believes that the human mind is a storytelling machine. When facing large amounts of confusing information it will try to make it make sense by fitting it into a story.
No one has done more to popularize this theory than David Brooks. Having declared himself an expert in matters psychological Brooks is constantly telling stories that pretend to make sense of what is going on in the world.
Yesterday I posted about how Brooks used a myth to try to explain the turmoil in the Republican Party. It’s the kind of myth that has captured the minds of anti-Republican elites.
Yet, myth and reality are not the same thing. A story might provide a semblance of meaning, but there is no reason to think that it gives you the only meaning or the most useful meaning. If you insist on making reality fit your story line you are going to have to molest it.
When you turn life into a story you make it entertaining, but you do not offer any plans or solutions for dealing with it.
In today’s news we get to see a master mythmaker at work. President Obama was asked in an ABC interview about whether he still thinks it was a good idea to apologize for the Quran burning that took place on an American base in Afghanistan.
He defended his apology on the grounds that it: “calmed things down.”
Of course, this is nonsense. The Obama apology seemed more to inflame tensions than to calm anything down. After it, the situation spun out of control.
And yet, Obama believes—let’s imagine that he believes what he’s saying—that his words calmed things down.
He added that he apologized because his best advisors on the ground in Afghanistan thought it was the right thing to do.
This means that responsibility lies with the generals and diplomats.
It’s the Obama two-step. He claims to have made the situation better. But if you think that he did not, then you can blame someone else.
It’s an easy argument to make if you do not believe that reality has any right to contradict your judgment. If you live in a world of fictions you can reply by saying that if you had not apologized things would have been worse.
It’s an argument by counterfactual. You can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either.
It’s a familiar Obama tactic. The administration claims that if Obama had not thrown massive amounts of stimulus spending into the economy, things would have been worse.
Even though you cannot disprove a counterfactual, you can counter it by saying that if things might have been worse they might also have been better. If reality cannot refute the first it cannot refute the second idea either.
Once a candidate like Obama fashions a narrative, the media will keep repeating it. And they will select out data points and human interest stories to sustain its credibility. It’s nothing more than a sophisticated form of indoctrination. The more you repeat it, the more people will believe it.
So says Dan Henninger this morning in the Wall Street Journal.
Henninger sees clearly that the Obama re-election campaign will be selling America a myth. In his view the Republican presidential candidates are so embroiled in internecine warfare that they have not been able to challenge the Obama narrative. I concur.
Speaking to the United Autoworkers in Washington Obama told a great story. In his mythical kingdom he saved the world, but especially American automakers, and most especially the United Auto Workers, from devastation and desolation. That is, he saved them from a bankruptcy that would have reduced their wages and benefits.
Who were those big bad people who had wanted the Big Two automakers to file for Chapter 11? Why, that would be the greedy Wall Street bankers, the 1%, the parasites who are leeching off the labor of hard working unionized American workers.
While we wait for the Republican candidates to answer these myths, Mickey Kaus has provided an excellent rebuttal in The Daily Caller:
I wanted to hate Obama’s UAW speech, but it’s undeniably powerful–aided by the White House policy of not dropping “g”s in the transcript, thereby eliminating one of the President’s most annoying, condescending tics. Note, however, Obama explicitly boasts that he’s helped fix Chrysler and GM “in the long term,” so they won’t “run out of money” in the future. Doesn’t that mean we can’t judge whether his bailout is a success based on current short-term appearances? You’d be successful in the short run too if the government gave you $80 billion dollars.
Toyota and Honda are coming back online after the tsunami and Southeast Asia floods crippled production. VW is building roomy American-style cars in Tennessee using $14.50/hour non-union workers instead of $28/hour UAW workers. Hyundai is expanding rapidly. Competition is going to be vicious–it’s widely believed there’s still overcapacity in the industry. A new oil price spike could crimp sales of high-profit trucks. Will GM still be making money in 5 years? Or, I should say, will GM still be making money building cars in the U.S. (as opposed to importing them from China) in 5 years? I’m skeptical. I don’t think deficient corporate cultures change that easily. Normally we rely on the market to simply kill them off.
Reality notwithstanding, Obama wants to continue his work as Savior. Note how well he invokes religious tropes. Obama saved the UAW from Republicans. He saved the economy from the mess that Bush had created. He saved the Middle East from dictators, tyrants, and American allies. Now, he wants to save the world by increasing taxes on the wealthy, on those who do not pay their fair share.
Of course, it’s a story. We do not know what would have happened if GM and Chrysler had filed for bankruptcy and had been freed from the union contracts that had rendered them uncompetitive.
We do know that 93% of the private sector workforce is not unionized, so the mythic kingdom where the workers of the world are rising up against their exploitative capitalist bosses has no relationship with reality.
In the real world the vast majority of private sector workers do not want to be unionized. They would rather have a job.
Henninger explains how Obama’s mythmaking works as a propaganda tool:
This is a caricature of a $15 trillion American economy functioning amid the complexities of the world circa 2012. Even Upton Sinclair, who wrote this sort of thing in "The Jungle" in 1906, would be embarrassed to pump out such a vision today.
Embarrassment is not in the Obama vocabulary. Mr. Obama's stock "working man" speech has been designed to paint the affluent businessman Mitt Romney as a cartoon Monopoly figure. Who would buy it? The same sort of people who bought Mitt Romney's caricature of Newt Gingrich in Florida. In politics, simple works, if simple is repeated and goes unanswered. And of course the Obama working-man myth is intended as a marker against Rick Santorum's variation of the myth pulled from the Pennsylvania coalfields.
Mythmaking is a skill like another. It is especially useful for a candidate who cannot run on his record and who has no plan for the future.
Mythmakers are often ideologically rigid. They resort to stories because reality is too much for them. If the complexity of the game is beyond you, you will find more comfort in mythmaking. If you do not know how to govern you resort to campaign mode.
How do you respond to a myth? Beyond challenging its presuppositions and its distortions, the best response lies in policy proposals. Not a checklist of dozens of ideas, but a clear, simple, and definitive concept that will guide a new administration.
If you do not have a plan you will have to pray an economic catastrophe, an event so big and so bad that everyone will awaken to the reality of Obama.
If you are, keep in mind that while flooding the system with money will not revive the economy, but it will prevent it from collapsing… until after the election.