The lies the government and media tell are amplifications of the lies we tell ourselves. To stop being conned, stop conning yourself.
~ James Wolcott
An otherwise mature and well-educated man I know still believes that professional wrestling is on the up-and-up; that the grapplers who toss one another around in the ring are engaged in fights as genuine as those that take place in gang-ridden neighborhoods. For this man, and so many others like him, such spectacles are more than just enjoyable entertainment: they are the real thing.
Our politicized world feeds on this same gullibility. Politicians, government agencies, and the media recognize that if Boobus is to continue supporting their contrived conflicts, they must be kept entertained in the process. I addressed this connection between politics, war, and the entertainment industry in a much earlier article. Of course, like the wrestling fan, Boobus must remain convinced of the legitimacy of the show: should there be signs of it being a charade, he will stop buying tickets (have you noticed the recent diminution in support for the climate change crusades, or the campaign against swine flu?).
The political establishment has just finished forcing its long-desired "health-care" nostrum down the throats of Americans. In case any of you are of the view that this was a nip-and-tuck, down-to-the-wire contest that could have gone either way, allow me to introduce you to my wrestling aficionado who likewise insists that the outcome of a match had not been carefully scripted. Better yet, let me tell you of a gold mine I have discovered in Des Moines, and which I might be inclined to let you share in for a modest investment!
If professional wrestling is too rough-and-tumble for your disposition, perhaps you can accept magic acts as a suitable analogy. Like wrestlers, the success of a magician’s performance depends upon creating illusions that your conscious mind would otherwise reject (e.g., making an elephant disappear). A good many magicians are quite good at their craft — particularly Penn and Teller — and I enjoy watching them perform. If you have not seen the excellent film, The Illusionist, I urge you to do so. Watching skilled practitioners create plausible deceptions is good experience for all of us, as it helps us to test our own epistemological capacities: how do we know what we know?
Observing and commenting upon that franchise of illusionists known as the political classes is likewise instructive. Like professional magicians — who distract their audiences with the waving of wands, multi-colored scarves, or attractive female assistants — political tricksters have their own sleight-of-hand methods of deflecting attention away from what they are trying to accomplish. 9/11 has served as a virtual grab-bag of opportunities to expand the American police-state and empire; to undertake wars against men, women and children who have done this country no harm; and to transfer trillions of dollars to the corporate-elite.
The recently enacted government health-care grab was accompanied by the kind of legerdemain that would make Harry Houdini smile. While congressmen met behind closed doors to rehearse their scripts — not unlike professional wrestlers or magicians practicing their routines — a few would ascend their media perches to assure their constituencies that they would not allow some trivial measures to become part of the legislation. Government-funded abortions was settled upon as the detractor, thus allowing the public to lose sight of the greater wrong of state-defined and state-controlled medical practice. If the abortion question had not been available as a substitute for colored scarves, the issue of government-funded breast augmentation, or tattoo removal, would have sufficed. (Can’t you envision Wolf Blitzer turning his "Situation Room" into a debating platform for either of these alternatives; or of Glenn Beck bloviating on the anti-patriotic implications of allowing a man to have an American flag tattoo removed from his chest at government expense?)
How many times have you sat in front of your TV set to watch one of these "too-close-to-call" state-power-expanding measures being voted upon by Congress, only to have the proposed legislation sneak through by five or six votes? Did you truly expect otherwise? Do you think this charade was not carefully orchestrated long before C-SPAN arrived on the scene? Did you really expect "Attila-the Great" to lose his bout to "Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy," an outcome that would likely have precluded you from attending next week’s re-match?
Is it any wonder that the political establishment has seen fit, in recent decades, to bring professional actors into the political arena? In the words of Tom Lehrer: "from Helen Gahagan to Ronald Reagan," and with the likes of George Murphy, Sonny Bono, Fred Thompson, Fred Gandy, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, and Arnold Schwarzenegger added for flavoring. Being entertainers, such people have been well-trained in memorizing scripts, following direction, and expressing emotions desired to produce preferred effects. (Can’t you still hear Ronald Reagan repeating his teary stories, with just the right crack in his voice?) While Jesse Ventura has shown an inclination to follow his own script — perhaps because he was never part of the Hollywood culture — the others have been useful to the power structure. Shall we soon hear of Pee Wee Herman, Jerry Springer, or Roseanne Barr running for a seat in Congress?
Professional wrestlers, magicians, and members of the political classes agree on one point: they do not want their secrets told to the outside world, an end supported by Boobus as well, whose sense of identity with the state would be shattered by the truth. There will always be critics outside the system who, by being outsiders, can effectively be ignored or marginalized. Prior to the Internet, the Murray Rothbards, Lew Rockwells, Justin Raimondos, Karen Kwiatkowskis, Bob Higgs, Howard Zinns, Noam Chomskys, et al., could safely be left to a few isolated journals and publishing houses. Even an articulate critic like Harry Browne — a third-party presidential candidate — could be marginalized, left to early Sunday morning cable coverage of debates with Vegetarian Party, Progressive Labor Party, or Green Party candidates.
But it is difficult to so quarantine a man like Republican Ron Paul; a man who has managed to criticize the system from within. We saw, in 2008, the absurd lengths to which the political parties and the media went to try to pretend that he did not reflect a major undercurrent of thinking, particularly among millions of young people. At first, he was denied a place on the debating stage altogether, but later allowed a token spot on the far end of the stage, to be asked nit-witted questions by journalism-school-trained media flacks. But each such effort only reinforced in the minds of intelligent people the sense of the corrupt nature of the political establishment.
When Ron undertook his campaign to publicly audit the Federal Reserve System — and to end it — the corporate-state order faced a serious challenge. The secret nature of its corruption might prove devastating, particularly when being revealed by a man operating from inside the system. What can management do if the ticket-taker persists in disclosing the magicians’ secrets to the incoming audience?
One solution might include the effort to further marginalize Ron Paul’s influence by shifting attention away from his philosophically-grounded critique of statism, and offer up the "Tea Parties" — a gaggle of men and women with often confused and contradictory understandings of peace, liberty, and private ownership of property. These groups — like most of the Reagan conservatives — could safely be entrusted with the secrets of political legerdemain: the virtues of patriotism demand no less. With the attractive Sarah Palin serving as a distraction, the show might then continue as originally scripted. And doesn’t she wear colorful scarves as part of her ensemble?
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918—1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.