Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Alternate realities

Here's E&P editor Greg Mitchell asking an extremely relevant question: In the week after (Newsweek's) retraction, where is the comparable outrage over the military's cover-up of the "friendly fire" death of Pat Tillman?

The answer is, sadly, that those of us on the right are so bitterly entrenched at this point that they simply cannot consider that question. They literally cannot see it.

Orson Scott Card's take on the Newsweek mistake is far from typical, but it demonstrates the absurd extremes of this "discussion."

Some of his stranger bits:
I’m talking about informal consequence, like Newsweek’s correspondents being frozen out of news stories. Being banned from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department for at least a year. But if any administration did such a thing, all of the media would unite to crucify them.
Apparently Scott hasn't been keeping up with the decertification topic over at PressThink, or else he'd understand that pool reporters are already being frozen out for offending the White House. The media hasn't exactly been breaking out the nails and crosses over that offense, but such speculative "truths" are simply articles of faith on the far right.

But shunning isn't Scott's real goal. He wants to make the reporting of damaging truths during wartime an act of treason.
Our country is at war. And it’s a war in which victory absolutely depends on the Muslim world perceiving it as a war between the US and its allies on one side, and fanatical murderous terrorists on the other.

If it is ever perceived as a war against Islam, then we have lost. The world has lost.

So during such a difficult time, even people who think the Iraq war or even the whole war on terror is a horrible mistake still have an obligation of loyalty to the nation that offers them protection, prosperity and freedom.

I mean, what kind of idiot breaks a hole in the hull of his boat during a storm, just because he doesn’t like the guy at the tiller and thinks the storm could have been avoided?

Even if the allegations about Quran desecration were completely and absolutely verified, why in the world would you publish the information during wartime?
Perhaps because some of us believe that such actions are wrong, no matter who does them. Perhaps because some of us think that such actions will be damaging to our country if they are allowed to continue. Perhaps because some of us simply cannot endorse a rationale for war based on the notion that "In order to save our ideals it was necessary to destroy them."

I believe that condoning torture and abusive acts spits on the grave of every American who ever died for the idea of a country that was founded on better stuff.

Scott doesn't believe any of those explanations to be true. He concludes instead that only one group benefits from the reporting of such stories: "People who want to bring down or weaken President Bush and everything he stands for, no matter the cost."

And how does he justify this? By dehumanizing his enemy, the press.

To say that the media culture is unpatriotic isn’t a political ploy, it’s an obvious observation. Oh, if my words actually mattered to them, they’d howl and scream about my illegitimate attack. But in private, they are perfectly happy to mock patriotism in all its forms. They’re only patriotic when somebody says they aren’t.

They are loyal to a community – but it’s not America.

It’s Smartland. The nation of the newsmedia people. That’s where they live. Not in America. These newspeople generally don’t even know anybody, apart from “sources,” who serves America in the military. Smartland consists of a very different crowd.

I know that crowd. I’ve heard them jeer at all the values that most Americans still care about, laughing at religious people, at the middle class, at suburbanites, at the poor ignorant saps who don’t think correct thoughts all the time. You know – the citizens of Heartland.

Once upon a time I considered Scott Card a friend and mentor. He is a tremendously talented and thoughtful human being, a man with an enormous personal generosity. Not only is he an excellent fiction writer, he's also a challenging and charismatic teacher. He wrote the introduction to my first published science fiction short story, and I will always hold those words with great fondness. I know that he is a man who has endured loss, pain and discrimination, and that he has borne up bravely despite it.

But Scott's most recent column is sad evidence of the dangers of the extreme. His rage is palpable. He has been seduced, not by the dark side -- as if right or left had some monopoly on light and dark -- but by the evils of abstraction. His message: You're either for us or you're against us. And this is a dead end on every level I can imagine.

Take a digital photograph and crank up the contrast as far as it will go. Black and white, with no midtones. And the first thing you notice is, it doesn't look anything like reality. It's hard to recognize what you're looking ar.

Scott Card has become like Walter Sobchak from "The Big Lebowski" repeatedly demanding to know "Am I Wrong? Am I Wrong?" Walter's problem is that he's lost all sense of proportion. He pulls a gun on a guy for being "OVER THE LINE!" in a league bowling match, then screams "Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one here who gives a shit about the rules?"

Abstraction to extremism is both seductive and addictive, because human beings hate to be wrong. Pretty soon it is easier to demonize those who disagree as terrorists or elitists or traitors than it is to actually hear what's being said. After a while one is reduced to condoning all sorts of dishonesty from one's own "side," if only because the people you've demonized are pointing out that dishonesty..

I believe a day will come when Scott will look back at words like those above and feel great remorse for them. In his defense of America, he has lost the thread of what America is all about.