Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Managing of Impressions II

A local young man was killed in Afghanistan this week. His mother has worked in the public mental health system for many years, and several of us know her slightly, so I mentioned the connection to several of the old hands. I was prepared for the inevitable complaints that “we shouldn’t be over there.” As one of the mantras of the left these days is that they were in support of going into Afghanistan but not Iraq, I responded each time by raising an eyebrow and asking “Afghanistan?” I think they adopt that posture as a way of communicating “I’m not always against military intervention, but we’ve gone overboard/Bush is stupid/it’s for oil/they don’t like us/whatever.” A way of seeming balanced, thoughtful.

I don’t want to accuse them of dishonesty about this. When they stop to think it out, they may well have coherent reasons for Afghanistan yes/Iraq no. But the reflexive response gives away a lot about how they’re storing their information about the Middle East. Their knowledge and opinion isn’t stored as a complex and subtle analysis, it’s stored as a vague negative impression. We all do this more than we would like to admit. But it is this type of thinking which most requires examination on our part. Where does it come from? Why do I think that?

When so many people aren’t thinking very hard, and are thinking just about what the MSM opinion is, you have to wonder. Interestingly, I think the hard left Kossacks and DU have something of a point in their complaint about the MSM, similar to the conservative complaint. They follow the national issues and opinions more closely than the average person. They have examples, quotes, analysis, and statistics about their issues, including the WOT. They don’t want the American public to be just mildly negative about Iraq, they want them to be incensed. At election time, they’ll take even half-hearted votes (as do we all), but they really want people to pay attention, look around, and see what they see. The left is upset at the MSM because it carries all this horrible corruption and warmongering so mildly, as if it had little importance. To them, letting Bush off with mild negatives is letting him off easy, not challenging him and investigating him as he deserves.

They would have a point, if the original premise were true. If BushCo really were guilty of all the things they suspect it of, it really would deserve the amount of energy they’re putting in. We call them unhinged, but that part isn’t. If it were true it would deserve that much anger. If it were true, then the rather emotionless news coverage would be a travesty. It all hinges on the “if,” of course.

I wonder if a certain specie of leftist confuses the passion with importance. The fact that Erin Brokovich and Silkwood made it to the list of most inspiring movies would suggest that. Also, people are impressed with Al Gore’s “passion” in An Inconvenient Truth, and this seems to be used as a proxy for accuracy.

When I prepare a presentation for work, or a note transferring a case, or a little article for the company newsletter, I have to think and write much as a journalist does. What is the most important thing people should know about the conference I went to? What is the range of prior knowledge of my audience on the topic? What piece might be easily misunderstood? What misconceptions do I want to clear up?

That is not very different from someone who wants to persuade you of something. One is reporting, the other editorializing. The line is easily crossed, but that doesn't make it right.


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