Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Just One of the Things I Like About Wikileaks

8 December 2010

The diplomatic cables released by Wikleaks recently tell us many things. They tell us how nations, particularly superpower nations like the US (those nations who dominate the world through their political, economic, military, cultural, and technological power and dominance), really operate. In this regard they are a treasure trove to historians interested in understanding the history of our times.

The cables themselves, while important, are not the only things that Wikileak’s leaks reveal. Reactions to the release of the cables also reveals much about human beings, human culture, and human ideology, Reactions to the release of the cables, in other words, show us that humans create the reality or realities through which they see the world

Most humans simply don’t want to understand how the world really works. Those living in superpower nations, in particular, don’t want to know how their nation really operates and what it does. Most Americans, for instance, don’t want to know that their country has historically behaved like other superpowers past and present. Most of the citizens of modern superpowers, in other words, want to believe that their nation, that their superpower, is exceptional in some way, shape, or form. Many Americans, for instance, want to believe that “other” nations may indiscriminately target civilians during war, may kill prisoners of war during war, may assassinate their “enemies” during war and in peace, may have soldiers who commit rapes during times of war, and may have engaged in imperialism and colonialism, but we, America don’t.

Many Americans prefer to believe the comforting myth that America, America the exceptional, fights wars in a gentlemanly way and that America the exceptional is simply helping the world become more “democratic” and “successful” (in other words, laissez faire capitalist) just like us (pun intended). When confronted with the realities of American superpower—the indiscriminate bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, the killings of Japanese POW’s during World War Two, the rounding up of Japanese civilians into concentration camps during World War Two, the many massacres of civilians during the Vietnam War, the brutal treatment of America’s indigenous peoples as the US colonized the “American frontier”—many Americans simply bury their heads in the ideological sands of the America the exceptional myth. They, in other words, manipulate if not ignore real reality and transform it, through ideological frames, in the process turning the real world into an imagined world they can, presumably live with or want to live with.

And there is virtually nothing one can do to convince those who live in these ideological fantasy worlds that reality reveals a different story. Ever since I was an undergraduate in Bloomington where I learned about cognitive dissonance theory in a folklore class I have recognized that when most people are confronted by empirical evidence that contradicts their myth most humans, including most Americans, will ignore the cognitive dissonances associated with empirical evidence and continue to live in their doped (pun intended) up nationalist fantasy worlds that are presumably comfortable for them morally and ideologically. Empirical evidence may change a few minds but only a very few. The moral? Nationalism is simply a far more powerful meaning system than any other religion devised by man and woman.

I would really like to see a time when those doped up on the drug of manichean nationalism (us and our allies good, them bad) actually no longer need a hallucinated ideologically driven fantasy "reality" in order to survive in the real world. I would like to see a time when people can look clearly at reality and accept the world for what it is and accept America for what it is, a superpower that acts like other superpowers have and will. I don't expect reality to break out in the world or in the US in my lifetime, however. Most humans prefer to live the myth.

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