written in 1994
One of the early casualties of the war with Iraq is the idea that perception is reality, or that perception shapes reality. This idea has been popular in a variety of circles.
It was early in April, before Baghdad fell, that Arab television failed to broadcast the fact that U.S. troops were in downtown Baghdad. They were, in fact, denying it! Iraqi officials continued to deny many facts for many days. It was as if they were hoping to shape the reality by their proclamations. When average Arabs finally learned that Baghdad had fallen, they couldn’t believe it. These are the critical events that shattered the idea that perception is reality.
It now appears that Sadaam’s regime was built upon the tenets of perception rather than the foundation of truth and reality. The Iraqi regime talked tough. Strut & posture ruled the roost until shock & awe became wreck & ruin. It appears that Sadaam’s Iraq presented an inflated threat. His was not an empty threat because he certainly was able to bring very real violence to his own people in order to keep them in submission, terror & travail. But his bark now appears to have been worse than his bite.
Sadaam’s regime was built upon strut & posture. I’m reminded of the animal kingdom where some animals puff themselves up when threatened in an effort to scare off a would-be attacker. Such a defense is not based upon greater size or strength, but upon the appearance or perception of greater size and strength.
While one animal may be able to frighten another into retreat, or one person may be able to frighten a whole nation into submission, try jumping out a window and frightening gravity from taking effect. Some things are impervious to fear, bluff and the vagaries of perception. In fact, in the long run, science itself finds that perception is shaped by reality, not the other way around. Scientific discovery and advancement bring faulty perceptions into the light of reality. Scientific advance comes when perceptions are shaped by reality.
Why is this casualty of the war important to Americans? Because many Americans have been carrying on a campaign of deceit and befoggery themselves in an attempt to shape the perceptions of consumers, stockholders and citizens to satisfy their own dreams, desires and pocketbooks. There is and has been for many, many years much effort by many people to make things (products, companies, people, contracts, reports and candidates) appear to be other than they actually are in order to advance some agenda. To deny this fact is to practice strut & posture. Didn’t Enron, et. al. cook the books in order to play strut & posture? Weren’t the spin meisters trying to shape reality by their proclamations during the election ballot chit fracas in Florida?
My patriotism is conflicted by the lessons of this war. On the one hand, I celebrate the liberation of an oppressed people by an awful dictator. Sadaam’s world is now seen to have been firmly established on lies, perception and bravado. I want to believe that American troops are serving the interests of the American way, you know-truth, liberty and justice. News about the war makes me believe in the greatness of the Untied States, the hope of liberation and the end of oppression. On the one hand, we have great and noble hopes for the whole world.
And then come the commercials. The crass, sex-saturated onslaught of shallow strut & posture slaps me in the face. Treat women like sex objects-men, too! Trouble sleeping? Take drugs. Allergies? Take drugs. Indigestion? Take drugs. Depressed? Take drugs. Drive recklessly! Being irresponsible is cool! These are the underlying messages of too many commercials.
The onslaught of advertisements for the depraved and slimy soaps, sitcoms, and so-called reality TV shows follow. More sex, drugs, lies, trivialities, rudeness, violence and dishonesty. The common theme of these shows is the confusion and belittling of ideas like right and wrong, good and evil, polite and rude. I’m old enough to know the differences, but many people are not.
The strut & bravado that works to shape, change and influence the perceptions of Americans, to spin our perceptions to someone else’s values through movies, advertising, script writing and political pontification is at best moral deception, if not outright deceit that stretches the very fabric of legality beyond belief. It might mean big bucks for some, but it also portends serious social consequences and foreshadows the decline of a great nation.
Will we be able to give Iraq the noble hopes and ideals that founded this great country, apart from which democracy cannot exist? Or will they have to settle for the crass commercialism and conflicted values that currently infects our cherished American values?