The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Addressing a question

A question asked that should be addressed, concerning my comment that:

"My confidence is that, if they actually open their eyes and make a decision, that those decisions will express the true intent of the people, and I happen to trust people to do what is in their own best interests--when they are awake."
The reader asked:

“Steve, who is going to decide when they are "awake"? Whose definition are we going to use? Yours? Why should your definition be any more accurate or legitimate than Jerry Falwell's or David Koresh's?”

In an absolute sense, it isn’t.  I’m not seeking the office of President.  I’m just saying that if I had it, I would have to make tough decisions, and this is the basis I’d make them on.  There is NO WAY for a leader to have the support of all the people, and some will ALWAYS consider him to be a tyrant or a weakling.  I can live with that.

“My interpretation of what you said above is "I trust the people to do what is in their best interests- when they adopt my point of view and agree with my decisions." Taking your above statement, you've said that you do not trust your fellow citizens to make the "correct" decisions.”

I trust them to make “correct” decisions when they have “correct” data and clearly understand what they want—long term.  I would only enforce my opinions about these things within the limits of Constitutional Law, however, and remember that just because I have an opinion doesn’t make me correct.  Ultimately, if I am the Chief Executive, I’d have to make executive decisions.  I clearly, honestly, said that I don’t think I’m smart enough to be President.  But if I had the job, I think I know how I’d approach it: by putting my ideas out in public and letting them be savaged.  Then take the most reasonable and intelligent of the savagers and get their advice on who to talk to.  Then talking to those, and seeing which of them can interact in the most fluid and ego-less fashion, and creating my braintrust/cabinet from those.  But always, always, ultimately I would have to decide.  That’s the job. 

“Again, I think you are taking a distinctly fascist point of view here. How many horrors have been perpetrated in the name of inducing people to think correctly?””

Most of them.  And anyone who thinks they  could be President without people justifiably thinking some of his behaviors fascistic is kidding themselves.  I would solicit all the opinion I could…but ultimately, would have to make decisions.

“The equilibrium of a free society is not groupthink, it is a variety of opinions all exisiting in the public sphere in competition. It is the freedom to stand in Times Square and yell at the top of your lungs "The President is an ass!" and the worst thing that happens is some people look at you funny.”


“You don't trust your fellow citizens because you think they aren't "awake". Fine. A great number of your fellow citzens don't trust you and think that you aren't "awake" either. Of course, to you, the idea that you are less awake than them is ridiculous. Well, vice-versa applies as well.”

You’re wrong on a number of points here.  I don’t think their opinion is ridiculous.  I merely, in my scenario, find myself as President.  There is no way in the world to get everyone to agree.  Someone will always think me a monster, fool, or tyrant.  Ultimately, within the laws of the land, I would have to find a way to make peace with my conscience, and make decisions.

“That aside for a moment. Let's say you get your chance to spend your four years inducing people to "awaken". “

What will you do if 90% of the media who you rely upon to transmit your message voted for the other guy and routinely let their dislike of you and your policies shape their reporting. As the old joke goes, you could walk on water and the headline says you "can't swim". What do you do then? Do you bring the machinery of the state onto play to induce people to think differently?”

Not illegally, no.  My task would be to find a way to use the legal machineries to move us forward.  If I believed that there was a circumstance that would not tolerate the usual legal machineries…dear God, I hate to contemplate that.  Here’s what I’d say: if I had to become dictator in order to create a solution, unless I was willing to die after eight years, I would assume it was just ego and power hunger blinding me.  I would never, ever want that responsibility.  I think no human could handle it, no matter how positive their initial intent.

“”Imagine for a moment- every reaction you have against Bush- his media appearances, his speeches, any gov't announcement- the feeling you have towards those that you've written about. Imagine trying to get past that reaction in roughly half of the population. How would you do it? Ask yourself- how difficult would it be for Bush to induce you to think differently? (no cheating- you can't say "well if he did what I want him to I'd agree with him more") If he was to change not one policy but simply communicate with you differently. How would he have to do it to persuade you?”

He would have to show me the building blocks of his thought, one step at a time, and convince me it didn’t originate in hatred, prejudice, cultural contempt, or greed.  This would be difficult, but not impossible.

“If you have the perfect answer on how he'd do it. Great. Now find the means he would tailor his message to change the mind of Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Dan Rather, Al Gore and 50 million other Americans.”

Again, I feel that the problem isn’t one of communication—it is that his actual intentions don’t match what he has said.  Might his real intentions be positive and just?  Possibly, and if they are, I think that there would be far fewer than 50 million (or whatever)
Americans disagreeing.  Some would hate him just because they are haters…just as you have with any other leader, or party.  But most people can be reasoned with, if you demonstrate how what you are doing is in alignment with their values.
“For real ambition, try to figure out how this would work if you were president of the world, and you were trying to get the world as a whole to awaken to ideas such as women's rights. How would you peacefully persuade several dozen cultures that regard women's rights as an abomination?”

Actually easy, but I wouldn’t expect to do it in a generation.  I would start with the assumption that all of these beliefs are based on cultural survival memes. Remove the fear that they protect, and the beliefs begin to waver.  As long as people think they will lose power, or sex, or life itself if things change, they will not.  So I’d look deeply into the survival value of the negative belief, and address that, trusting to time and the evolutionary nature of Mankind to take care of the rest.

“Somewhat ironically, you stumbled across the answer to why Bush doesn't spend all of his time attempting to induce changes in people's opinions and keep his support 50%+ or higher.

"I’m sure some of you will think me a moron. Fine. My ego is less important than the future of our children."”
--That’s assuming that he is an honest, moral man.  History has shown us that we cannot automatically assume that of our leaders.  What has he done to earn my trust, my confidence, my belief in his honesty?  Not enough, I’m afraid, and after 9-11 I suspended ALL judgments about him, wanted with all my heart to believe that our Commander In Chief was a good man, a man worthy of sending our children into battle.  Sadly, I no longer believe that…but there was nothing automatic at all.  And I don’t believe in a “Liberal Media” that twisted and perverted his positions.  Not by any definition of “Liberal” that I understand.   Conservatives think the media tilts to the left.  Liberals think it tilts to the right.  Split the difference.

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