8.05.2009

Recruiting Government Informants

It seems that the White House is now looking for Soviet-style informants to report on their neighbors if they hear anything negative about government plans for health care. Here is a blog post from whitehouse.gov:
TUESDAY, AUGUST 4TH, 2009 AT 6:55 AM
Facts Are Stubborn Things
Posted by Macon Phillips

Opponents of health insurance reform may find the truth a little inconvenient, but as our second president famously said, "facts are stubborn things."

Scary chain emails and videos are starting to percolate on the internet, breathlessly claiming, for example, to "uncover" the truth about the President’s health insurance reform positions.

In this video, Linda Douglass, the communications director for the White House’s Health Reform Office, addresses one example that makes it look like the President intends to "eliminate" private coverage, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the record, the President has consistently said that if you like your insurance plan, your doctor, or both, you will be able to keep them. He has even proposed eight consumer protections relating specifically to the health insurance industry.

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov. [underlining in original, bold added]
I hear that people are sending protest emails to this address, so my guess is that it will be shut down soon.

As crazy as this all seems, this fear of rumors is exactly the kind of thing that Obama and Cass Sunstein hold as a basic guiding premise. Sunstein has been fighting "extremism" and rumor for well over a decade by making vague statements or even writing entire books insinuating that such things are a dire threat to "deliberative democracy."

In Sunstein's book, Why Groups Go To Extremes, he presents the following non-arguments and insinuations about the Internet and extremism, a line of pseudo-reasoning that applies just as well to his fear of rumors (p. 15-16):
Many people have expressed concern about processes of social influence on the mass media and the Internet. ...

If certain people are deliberating with many like-minded others, views will not be reinforced but instead shifted to more extreme points. This cannot be said to be bad by itself—perhaps the increased extremism is good—but it is certainly troublesome if diverse social groups are led, through predictable mechanisms, toward increasingly opposing and ever more extreme views. [emphasis added]
When is "increased extremism" good, in his view? He cites the abolitionist movement as a prime example. When is it... troublesome? Perhaps when people criticize the government's attempt to nationalize the health care market?

I shouldn't be surprised by anything that comes out of the Obama administration, but I honestly didn't expect that they would ask citizens to rat each other out to the secret police. As Myrhaf has said,
Once again, Obama’s radical ideology puts him at odds with reality. It’s uncanny how he gets everything exactly wrong. Barack Obama is Bizarro #1 from the Silver Age Superman comics. Bizarros live on Htrae instead of Earth and get everything backward. They do the opposite of what rational humans would do. [bold added]
It's hard to do, but if you'd like to predict the next absurd move the administration will make, try to think of what should be done, then flip it upside down in the most irrational way you possibly can, and then assume that whatever you come up with will still pale in comparison to what actually happens. Just don't write down or speak any of your predictions, because nosy neighbors good citizens might be listening.

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Update:

Gus Van Horn has a good commentary on this issue, and also addresses Obama's fascination with rumor, but from a more fundamental angle. He quotes Ayn Rand on the nature of second-handers and ties that back to Obama's views and goals:
They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They're concerned only with people. They don't ask: "Is this true?" They ask: "Is this what others think is true?" Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull.
Does that last paragraph not sound familiar? And does it not almost perfectly characterize the form which Obama hopes political "debate" will take? Obama does not really have a self, and he hates those of us who do. [emphasis in original, links dropped]
The concern with rumors, "extreme" views, and the anti-concept of polarization can be understood through the lens of second-handedness. "Is this what others think is true?" is the only question worth asking to them.

By the way, it is fascinating to read Ayn Rand's characterization of "polarization" from the early 1970's because it perfectly describes nearly everything that Cass Sunstein has written in the past 10 years.
One of today’s fashionable anti-concepts is “polarization.” Its meaning is not very clear, except that it is something bad—undesirable, socially destructive, evil—something that would split the country into irreconcilable camps and conflicts. It is used mainly in political issues and serves as a kind of “argument from intimidation”: it replaces a discussion of the merits (the truth or falsehood) of a given idea by the menacing accusation that such an idea would “polarize” the country—which is supposed to make one’s opponents retreat, protesting that they didn’t mean it. Mean—what?

4 comments:

Steve From Virginia said...

Too much Ayn Rand who never worked a day in her life and not enough about the HC debate itself.

Okay, Obamalama is a twit. Surprised? He got elected president, not head of engineering department @ MIT.

Elected president = winner of American Idol.

C. August said...

Are you serious? You leave an asinine comment on a blog you've never commented on before? What do you expect with drivel like that?

Kyle Haight said...

It's not only asinine, the factual assertion isn't even true. Rand had a job back when she lived in the Soviet Union and she worked a number of menial jobs after emigrating to the United States before she sold her first writing project in 1932.

Completely apart from his evaluation of Rand, Mr. From Virginia simply doesn't know what he's talking about on a purely factual basis.

C. August said...

Yup. And he also seems to assert that being a writer isn't working? Whatever one thinks of Rand, that's a stupid assertion. It really just sounded like a troll, so I didn't worry too much about it.