Reality Vs. Fantasy

by William Skink

It’s been interesting to watch the attacks roll in lately, sparked by my hasty use of a source tied to the John Birch Society and exacerbated by the calling out of Democrats for being corporate enablers. As one commenter went apoplectic, a quote emerged from the noise, worthy of its own post. It comes from the Hatewatch Blog, an effort of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

A public that loses the ability to separate reality from fantasy will eventually become, one loopy logic leap at a time, a threat to the Constitutional rights of all Americans.

This quote, because of the source, is obviously directed at right-wing sovereign citizen types. But beyond that targeted group, I think a larger question could be posed: how does any American go about the challenging task of separating reality from fantasy?

The task is challenging because Americans have been subjected to very effective methods of propaganda. A writer at Daily Kos a few years back wrote a piece titled In Defense of the Phrase Conspiracy Theory in which the master propagandist, Edward Bernays, is given his proper due:

A really interesting character was Mr. Bernays. He was a double nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud. His mother was Sigmund’s sister Anna, and his father was Ely Bernays, brother of Freud’s wife, Martha Bernays. Did you get that? Frued’s sister married his wife’s brother. That union produced the son, Edward.

Born in 1891, when he was just a year old he was brought by his parents from his native Austria to America. It is hard to overestimate his mark on the American social consciousness. Bernays worked for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War 1. As part of the Committee on Public Information, he was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. That’s right. It was the idea of Bernays to sell warfare as the spreading of democracy, an idea that rules the American thought process to this very day.

To this day, there are plenty of Democrats who believe in the fantasy that American foreign policy is all about spreading Democracy. I guess that’s how they must cope with their team doing the war thing. Bernays was wildly successful in manipulating group think. Sometimes all you have to do is change a few words, and presto! From the link:

Stunned by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public both at home and abroad, he wondered whether this propaganda model could be employed during peacetime. Due to negative implications surrounding the word propaganda because of its use by the Germans in World War 1, he promoted the term “Public Relations”. According to the BBC interview with Bernays’s daughter Anne, Bernays felt that the public’s democratic judgment was “not to be relied upon” and he feared that “they [the American public] could very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing, so that they had to be guided from above”. This “guidance” was interpreted by Anne to mean that her father believed in a sort of “enlightened despotism” ideology.

Here is that thought in Bernays’ own words: “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

The answer is a resounding yes.

The political duopoly in this country has been astoundingly successful in keeping the pesky public divided and easily conquerable. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, can keep the threat to our constitutional rights focused on right-wing extremists while ignoring the much more tangible threat—a Democrat President who can kill an American citizen by drone, sans due process (an executive power that will be passed on to his successor).

Sticking with drones, a Washington Post article last year looked at the accidents occurring with the increase domestic use of drones. Tucked away in that article is this little tidbit:

With the Afghan war waning, Pentagon officials are planning where their drones will go next.

“Assuming the president of the nation decides we’re going to have a very small presence, if any, in Afghanistan after 2014, they’re going to by and large come home,” said Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of bases, ranges and airspace.

In an April 2012 report, the Defense Department notified Congress it was planning to base drones at 110 sites in U.S. territory by 2017. A new Pentagon document, obtained by The Post, suggests that ambitions have grown. It states that the military is preparing to fly drones from 144 U.S. locations.

The sites will be used primarily for training. Pentagon officials said they also expect to receive more requests from civil authorities to deploy drones during natural disasters and other emergencies.

Now pair that with this chilling memo, released last year by Federal courts:

A federal appeals court on Monday released a redacted version of the U.S. Justice Department’s memorandum of justification for a 2011 drone attack that killed Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born Islamist preacher suspected of having ties to al Qaeda.

The memo says that because the U.S. government considered al Awlaki to be an “operational leader” of an “enemy force,” it was legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to attack him with a drone even though he was a U.S. citizen.

The memo says the killing was further justified under Congressional authorization for the use of U.S. military force following the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked-plane attacks.

This justification, as flimsy as it is, could never apply to the other 3 extra-judicial killings, including Anwar al Awlaki’s teenage son.

Four U.S. citizens have been killed with drone strikes by the Obama administration. That is not a fantasy; it’s the reality of the authoritarian creep of the war on terror, which relies on fear and fantasy to keep Americans too scared and docile to realize their constitutional rights are already gone.

Democrat apologists are very uncomfortable with the reality of what the Obama regime has accomplished in 8 years. It’s so much easier to attack messengers than to acknowledge it is they who are enmeshed in the fantastical public relations that frames death and destruction as “humanitarian intervention”. To that end, junk thinking attacking conspiracy theorists is always appreciated, like this article bashing the intellectual character of conspiracy theorists:

Meet Oliver. Like many of his friends, Oliver thinks he is an expert on 9/11. He spends much of his spare time looking at conspiracist websites and his research has convinced him that the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, of 11 September 2001 were an inside job. The aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have caused the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to collapse. The only viable explanation, he maintains, is that government agents planted explosives in advance. He realises, of course, that the government blames Al-Qaeda for 9/11 but his predictable response is pure Mandy Rice-Davies: they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Polling evidence suggests that Oliver’s views about 9/11 are by no means unusual. Indeed, peculiar theories about all manner of things are now widespread. There are conspiracy theories about the spread of AIDS, the 1969 Moon landings, UFOs, and the assassination of JFK. Sometimes, conspiracy theories turn out to be right – Watergate really was a conspiracy – but mostly they are bunkum. They are in fact vivid illustrations of a striking truth about human beings: however intelligent and knowledgeable we might be in other ways, many of us still believe the strangest things. You can find people who believe they were abducted by aliens, that the Holocaust never happened, and that cancer can be cured by positive thinking. A 2009 Harris Poll found that between one‑fifth and one‑quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation, astrology and the existence of witches. You name it, and there is probably someone out there who believes it.

You realise, of course, that Oliver’s theory about 9/11 has little going for it, and this might make you wonder why he believes it. The question ‘Why does Oliver believe that 9/11 was an inside job?’ is just a version of a more general question posed by the US skeptic Michael Shermer: why do people believe weird things? The weirder the belief, the stranger it seems that someone can have it. Asking why people believe weird things isn’t like asking why they believe it’s raining as they look out of the window and see the rain pouring down. It’s obvious why people believe it’s raining when they have compelling evidence, but it’s far from obvious why Oliver believes that 9/11 was an inside job when he has access to compelling evidence that it wasn’t an inside job.

I want to argue for something which is controversial, although I believe that it is also intuitive and commonsensical. My claim is this: Oliver believes what he does because that is the kind of thinker he is or, to put it more bluntly, because there is something wrong with how he thinks. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not, as the US legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues, that they have little relevant information. The key to what they end up believing is how they interpret and respond to the vast quantities of relevant information at their disposal. I want to suggest that this is fundamentally a question of the way they are. Oliver isn’t mad (or at least, he needn’t be). Nevertheless, his beliefs about 9/11 are the result of the peculiarities of his intellectual constitution – in a word, of his intellectual character.

I will conclude this post with my favorite quote from the above article, which is mostly devoid of actual substance. I like it because it just as easily applies to those who believe America is spreading “Democracy” when it destroys other nations as it does the intended target of derision, the conspiracy theorist:

The gullible rarely believe they are gullible and the closed-minded don’t believe they are closed-minded

  1. (General Jack D. Ripper/Sterling Hayden)
    Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?

    (Group Captain Mandrake/Peter Sellers):
    No. I don’t think I do sir, no.

    He said war was to important to be left to the Generals. When he said that, fifty years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

  2. Your comments about Obama and extrajudicial killings … Might want to look in the mirror, Mr. Skink. I am picking up on a racist slant here.

    Support the troops.

  3. Reality? SPLC inspires hate.

    “After a man shot a security guard at the Family Research Council (FRC) last summer, the organization claimed it was targeted because the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) listed it as a “hate group.”

    The shooter has now revealed that he indeed used that SPLC map to find his target. And CNN has not only promoted this list of “hate groups” in the past, but after the shooting it re-affirmed the FRC’s place on the list as “hate spewing hate.”

    As Paul Bedard of The Washington Examiner reported, the shooter “told the FBI that he wanted to kill anti-gay targets and went to the law center’s website for ideas.”

    – See more at:

  4. Here is a link to Alexander Cockburn’s 2008 piece on SPLC.

    ACORN was a great community based anti-poverty organization that was put out of business. The Democrats hardly lifted a finger to help. Sad.

  5. Have you considered that Cassam might be, you know, correct?

    Take this for example: At the beginning of his 3 part thesis on ‘Critical thinking’, MarkT pulls off a magic trick. It has all the earmarks of such, save one. He doesn’t think it’s a trick. He begins with the suggestion of random improbability, a coin flipped 10 times has a very small probability of coming up heads all 10 times. That randomization is the glamor, the same as a magician shuffling a deck of cards. It suggests that the improbability of the result will be that more astounding when revealed. He then shows how the improbability of his randomized example shows that in no way is it probable that 4 hijackings could possibly have succeeded in the manner of the official report of 9/11. Do you see the trick?

    When the magician pulls ‘your card’ from the shuffled deck, you know that there was a plan behind it, but you remain amazed because of the randomizing event, the shuffle. Ohh magic. Of course you don’t believe in magic so you are entertained by thoughts of just how the magician did it. MarkT haughtily suggests that the events of that September never happened as described by Authority, they couldn’t have. That’s the success of the illusion. You damned well know that the magician palmed the card of marked it or had some *plan* for success, yet somehow, it is inconceivable that 19 individuals with a plan pulled off a trick that was never subject to a randomization at all. See, if you actually go back for 40 years and look at highjackings, redirecting a plane to another destination, the overwhelming majority of those have been *successful*, just as 3 of 4 were on the morning of September 11, 2001.

    A ‘critical thinker’ would actually go back and check such a relevant fact, the success rate of airplane highjackings. But that’s Cassem’s very point. The kind of intellect that wants to see conspiracies will offer inadequate reasoning masquerading as ‘the real thing’ with a sole agenda to support a predeclared thesis. Notice, I’m not making any assumptions about the events of 9/11 (nor does Professor Cassem) nor am I at all interested in defending the official view of what happened on that day. It’s not important to me that I do so, only that I think clearly about the possibilities, and recognize when others are not.

    In this post, Lizard, you state that you are being “attacked” when Pogie hasn’t written anything about you for months, and as he pointed out below, the Polish Wolf hasn’t written anything in a year. You are welcome to hold up LK (you know which one) as the example of the dire combat you find yourself in. It’s your website. I would point out that you follow the rules of human engagement set for you for Rupert Murdoch if you do. But at least question this: You claim that “Democrat apologists are very uncomfortable” with the Obama “regime”. Really? You are. Does that encumber others to fit the role you’ve written for them or does it mean that you are a “Democrat apologist”? Reasoning minds kinda want to know. Or is it possible, just possible, that others can be very aware of extra-judicial killings and still not be as uncomfortable with them as you are? You judge those folk, and then caterwaul about how they attack you? I’m not convinced that you’ve thought your thesis through.

    • Hijacking a web site, I see.

    • lizard19

      Rob, this post isn’t about 9/11 or your beef with Mark. it’s about reality vs. fantasy. to answer your first question, yes, I’ve considered the author is correct regarding the fictional caricature he’s provided to smear all “conspiracy theorists” as lacking intellectual character.

      the problem, as I’ve written a hundred times before, is that this pejorative label is used to dismiss any skepticism about official narratives, like Assad’s sarin attack and the shoot-down of MH17.

      those who use the pejorative seem to think their sense of reality is superior, yet even the author of the article has to admit that sometimes the conspiracist point of view is correct.

      the same problems that some conspiracy theorists have with their intellectual character can be applied to Dem apologists because in order to insulate themselves from the reality of what the Democrat party has accomplished these last 8 years, they must selectively focus on the worst aspects of the right while minimizing and omitting the evidence that Democrats are nearly as bad.

      that makes them susceptible to the fantasy that America’s foreign policy is about spreading Democracy. I think belief in that concept is crazier than being skeptical of the official narrative of 9/11.

      anyway, thanks for commenting.

      • No, this post wasn’t about 9/11 or “my beef” (sloppy thinking that) with Mark. It was about reality vs, fantasy which is exactly what I wrote about. Your implication otherwise seems suspect, Lizard. The greatest of flawed ‘critical thinking’ is that one circumstance is exactly like another. MarkT seems to think that if one does not buy into his magic trick, than that one fully accepts the ‘official version’ of 9/11. You seem to think that if one does not agree with your assessments than that one does not think critically about Democrats in the manner necessary. That’s nothing more than the manner which pleases you. Hmmmm.

        I repeat, restated, that someone is accepting a fantasy here, and I remain unconvinced that those other people …

        • You’re off on a tangent here, and again, this is not the place. The coin toss experiment is merely probability 101. Most people do not know how to evaluate random chance and so accept that the most improbable of coincidences are indeed possible. Four successful hijackings using weak tools against a system heavily prepared for such occurrences … No. Understanding probability merely introduces some rigor into thought processes … asking the question, can that be? It is otherwise kmown as skepticism, and applied along with other logical thought processes, critical thinking.

          • Nameless Range

            We can pick out the independent events of nearly any occurrence, and posteriori, claim immense improbability.

            That’s why Bayesian Probability is so more important, and is the most salient form of current Probability Theory.

            “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” – Richard Feynman

            What was the chance?Therefore, energy beams.

            • Like that is new? It is also irrelevant. It is no different than the golf ball experiment I wrote about: the odds of a struck ball hitting a piece of grass on the green are near 100%. The odds of it hitting the same blade of grass twice? Astronomical. It is only in comparison of letter events that probability has meaning. In your example, it has no use.

              And so, on 9/11, we supposedly have four planes hijacked by 19 small famed men with box cutters. Those are related events. I would say that the odds of even one success are infinitesimal, as security at that time was very good, and any of eight pilots could have hit a squawk 7500 switch to trigger air defense forces, among other security measure in place. No pilot did.

              What are the odds, Nameless? I say near zero, and that there must be some other explanation for events of that day (especially given failure of a air defense response).

              You, on the other hand, believe in what appears to be a wild eyed conspiracy/fairy tale involving 19 rag tags and a guy in a cave. You apparently believe in miracles.

              I am the sane one here.

              • Nameless Range

                Nameless doesn’t believe in the energy beam theory, therefore, Nameless believes in the mainstream theory.

                Spot the fallacy.

                Your conclusions don’t follow Mark. Nothing new.

              • My conclusion is that the official story cannot be defended based on logical and science. As to what really happened, we will learn over time, and of corse too late. The event had its desired effect, a fear regime in place and seven wars.

                Lizard is going to boot me here as he doesn’t want his web site branded a Conspracy hangout. See me at my blog if you are sincerely interested in logic, science, debate and exposire to contrary ideas.

            • Sorry about typos. Regarding the question of how 80% of the population can be coaxed into believing fairy tales, see my 5:26 post last evening down below regarding the history of opinion management in the USA. There’s a long story to tell these. It did not happen overnight.

    • steve kelly

      Its always a thrill to see those angels dance on the head of a pin. Arcane never gets old for you does it?

  6. You’ve obviously read some of Bernays, who is very accessible. He cites four other men in his writing, Trotter and LeBon, Wallas and Walter Lippmann. I’ve only read Lippmann but know that the others were involved in a new science of the day, turn if the 20th century, the study and control of the “group mind.”

    Trotter or LeBon discovered that crowds have characteristics apart from the individuals who make them up, and suggested that the group mind could be controlled even as the individuals within were not aware of that control. This is the essence of modern advertising.

    Bernays was more an advertising man than anything, though his work prior to World War One was important – the American counterpart to the British Creel Commission, The Committee on Publicn information. The Nazis built on Creel and CPI work – they did not just invent propaganda out of whole clotth. The Committee on Public Information’s work was so effective that they were burning books in Lewistown, MT.

    Propaganda works in the same principle, but to understand it we need to think bigger. It is not used to promote this or that war or candidiate or false flag operation. Rather it is immersion in a lifetime of ideas and values, including history and icons and ideals that have a sacred quality about them. Agitprop only works as well as it does in our country because we are immersed in propaganda from birth. It has to be built on a solid foundation, what Jacques Ellul called “pre-propaganda,” and what Pogie calls “teaching.” He has no clue he is just another brick in the wall.

    Ellul is a good source to, his 1965 work, Propaganda, a classic. He describes the nature of the beast in detail and examines the three prominent propaganda systems of that era, the U.S., USSR, and China.

    I obviously know too much about this shit. I don’t know why, but it is where my mind takes me. Lippmann and Reinhold Niebuhr are our prominent 20th century liberals, and were completely immersed in the idea that the public could not and should not be trusted with the affairs of state, and should be controlled with propaganda. Chomsky’s book, Necessary Illusions, as a critique of Niebuhr’s work.

    This much I know: Most people are not well read or informed, but do not suggest that to them, and don’t ever dare tell them their original thoughts are merely ideas suggested by others.

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