Ignorance is Strength

Barbara Tuchman, in “The March of Folly,” quoted Nelson Rockefeller on the resumed bombing of North Vietnam:  “We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against.”  Tuchman rejected this view, quoting Gunnar Myrdal: “‘Foreign policy decisions are in general much more influenced by irrational motives’ than are domestic ones.”

Paul Goodman summed up the official “epistemology of democracy” in “Like a Conquered Province”:

“We elect an administration and it, through the Intelligence service, secret diplomacy, briefings by the Department of Defense and other agencies, comes into inside information that enables it alone to understand the situation.  In principle we can repudiate its decisions at the next election, but usually they have led to commitments that are hard to repudiate.  Implicit is that there is a permanent group of selfless and wise public servants, experts, and impartial reporters who understand the technology, strategy and diplomacy that we cannot understand; therefore we must perforce do what they advise.”

Anyone who seriously believes the legitimizing ideology need only go back to all the amazing “secret intelligence” Colin Powell presented to the UN Security Council before the Iraq War, the pressure on the intelligence community to stovepipe intelligence telling the neocons what they wanted to hear, and the reprisals taken against Joe Wilson for telling them something they didn’t want to hear.

And never mind all the deliberate lies to whip populations into a frenzy of hate and obedience, like the British propaganda about bayoneted Belgian babies in 1914, or the propaganda in 1990 about Kuwaiti incubator babies.

The question isn’t whether the government knows all sorts of top secret stuff bearing on the “national interest.”  It’s whether the “national interest” has the remotest bearing on the real interests of a majority of the people who actually live in the U.S.

I would submit that the so-called “national interest” promoted by the national security establishment is the interest of the people who own the nation, not the people who live and work in it. The ideal “democracy” of the owning classes, in the words of Samuel Huntington almost forty years ago, is a country which is “governed by the president acting with the support and cooperation of key individuals and groups in the Executive office, the federal bureaucracy, Congress, and the more important businesses, banks, law firms, foundations, and media, which constitute the private establishment.”

The irony of it is that, even as the government justifies its unaccountable power based on the stuff it knows that we don’t, it’s simultaneously warning us not to acquire any knowledge it doesn’t want us to have.

On Friday, the OMB General Counsel instructed all federal agencies to warn their employees to safeguard classified information by not accessing Wikileaks — presumably at home as well as at work. Wikileaks’ disclosure, it said, did not alter the classified status of the documents. Consequently, they may not be viewed over an insecure channel.  The Social Security Administration is warning its employees that even looking at Wikileaks could be a criminal offense.

That’s right: All us good little citizens have a patriotic duty to stay ignorant about what the government’s doing, or it might hurt the National Security! We should “trust and obey” because “they know stuff we don’t” — but trying to find out the stuff they know so we can critically evaluate it from the standpoint of an equal is treason!

Meanwhile, the usual right-wing mouth-frothing idiots at places like TownHall.com — not to mention certified Moderate and Serious, Responsible Person Wolf Blitzer — are demanding explanations for why the government was so negligent as to allow the sovereign citizenry to find out stuff that we should remain ignorant of for our own good. It seems the one case in which it’s permissible for an authoritarian personality to be critical of authority is when the authority’s not being authoritarian enough. There’s a venerable history of authoritarians demanding that the government “get tough” on out-groups and dissidents, “teach them a lesson,” and “show them who’s boss.”

I submit that the real danger to “national security,” from the government’s standpoint, is the possibility that the “sovereign” people which it allegedly represents might acquire enough knowledge to critically evaluate its actions and stop swallowing what they’re fed.  The real enemy they want to keep in the dark is not al Qaeda, but us.

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