About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Can a third of the American people be delusional?

Apparently, the answer is yes. At least if one measures delusions by the degree of support for President Bush, which seems as reasonable a measure as any.

The most recent CNN poll indicates that Bush's approval rate is stable at 36%, which means that a bit more than a third of Americans hold to opinions that simply fly in the face of facts. Since the dictionary definition of delusion is “a belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument,” I rest my case. QED.

Let us be clear, this is not a simplistic partisan shot. I can understand, not empathize, but understand, why someone would vote Republican. I understand why people can be against a woman's right to choose, or think that military intervention can actually solve a problem, or opine that “big government” is a bad idea (though Bush is in fact responsible for the biggest increase in government in recent and not-so recent memory). I can understand all of that and more, though I have what I think of as good arguments challenging each one of those positions.

But supporting Bush and his insane war after all these years is just insane, it's the result of pure ideological blindness and has nothing to do whatsoever with facts or reasonable opinions. And the fact that a third of the American population can so be characterized is worrisome in the highest degree. How can any reasonable person not see that Bushy Boy is simply kicking the can of the Iraq war in no specific direction (except backwards), with the only plan to unload the problem to whomever will be unlucky enough (Democrat or Republican) to inherit this huge mess he has created?

How can anyone not laugh at General Petraeus (if ever there was a name reminding one of the ancient Roman empire that is it!), who claims that he has recommended to Bush to begin withdrawing troops (maybe), bringing them back to pre-surge levels within a year? Since the amount of the withdrawal is the same as that of the recent increase that characterized the surge itself, this is like telling you that I'll be glad to give you a present worth $30,000, just as long as you in turn write a check for $30,000 to me. Who cannot see this as the outrageous shell game that it is?

Oh, but there has been progress in Iraq! Have we not seen Petraeus' diagrams during his testimony on Capitol Hill? Right, all I have to say is: Powell and the weapons of mass destruction (remember? They were clearly identified by the satellite photos produced in front of the United Nations. Too bad there wasn't anything there...).

The good news is that according to the same CNN poll, a whopping 50% of Americans think that Democrats would do a better job in Iraq than Bush. Duh, you might say, but this is huge, considering that Democrats have a long-standing reputation (invented by Republican demagogues) of being pussies when it comes to foreign policy in general and war in particular. How much longer until W. is out? Too long.


  1. A recent poll also showed that a third of Americans believe Iraq was involved with 9/11 and there are currently commercials running in which wounded Iraq vets say that Iraq ("they") attacked us on 9/11.

    Apparently you can fool approximately 30% of the population all of the time.

  2. To be fair, a reasonably large amount of liberals believe that Bush knew about, or even orchestrated, 9/11. Sometimes it seems like political differences are just substituting one kind of insanity for another.

    While I agree with Massimo, what keeps me awake at night is that, along with the idiots, people as smart and informed as Chris Hitchens still support the war. I guess no one can be right all the time.

  3. I find it funny (in a sad way) that alot of the arguments AGAINST the war (ie, it will create instability in the region leading to more terrorism)are now the arguments FOR the war.


  4. "To be fair, a reasonably large amount of liberals believe that Bush knew about, or even orchestrated, 9/11."

    Chris and others,
    I am going to go out on a limb here, but pay attention to what I actually say.

    I argue that it is a plausible hypothesis that Bush and Co. did know that the 9-11 plot was in the works, and that they chose to allow it to happen.

    They had intelligence and warnings throughout the year that Al Qaeda was planning a big attack (Richard Clark).

    The FBI was on the trail of the plotters as it was about to occur, i.e. the Arabs in flight training only wanting to know how to take off. Communications about these findings were ignored.

    The intelligence community also knew that flying airplanes into the Trade Center towers was a possible Al Qaeda plan. (That was from a Frontline interview with a FBI agent investigating Al Qaeda).

    Motive. Neocons needed an event to shock the American public out of their reluctance for military adventures, so as to invade Iraq.

    There were many other claims of suspicious events surrounding 9-11, and it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction. Probably most is fiction.

    These are simply correlations of events. You could argue, and I might even agree, that what explains the lack of action by the Bush administration prior to 9-11 is simply incompetance.

    However, I don't think there has been any conclusive evidence or argument put forth to reject the "allowed it to happen" hypothesis.

    Now a disclaimer. I don't believe the Bush admin. actually orchestrated the 9-11 events. Nor do I even consider plausible these silly ideas about intentional demolition of the towers by U.S. agents, or things like that.

  5. "The good news is that according to the same CNN poll, a whopping 50% of Americans think that Democrats would do a better job in Iraq than Bush." -- MP

    There is no such thing as "better" any more, thanks to the idiots, err, politicians we elected who put us there. Even withdrawal, the least of all the evil options, is fraught with danger. And when we did not flood out reps with anti-war sentiment BEFORE we started it, we abdicated our right to complain, no? Ny daddy used to say, "You've made your bed, now sleep in it."

    And Sheldon:

    The conspiracy theorists could use a heaping helping of what I like to call "Sagan's dictum": "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

  6. sheldon,

    I concur with thump - simply lumping together a bunch of disparate facts does not a constitute a good case.

    Also, by that same logic, since much of the planning and knowledge about the attacks occurred before Bush was president, does that mean that Clinton was looking to give neocons an excuse to go to war? I doubt it.

    Hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to look back and see the clues preceding 9/11. But this is being very selective about the evidence. How many other unlikely, but still possible, plots were justifiably ignored?

    I believe that Bush et al (democrats included) were opportunistic in response to 9/11, but there is no need to invoke conspiracies of any kind without a lot of evidence.

  7. "Can a third of the American people be delusional?"
    Yes they can, and I'm sure it's closer to 80 - 90%. I have seemingly intelligent friends who have fallen for such things as acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, Scientology, and The Secret. Even my mother whom I respect greatly has gone in for Reiki and crystal healing lamps. I don't much know of anyone who is a Bush supporter but it could just be that they are keeping quiet.

    As for the conspiracy 'theory' (hypothesis?), here is my standard reply: "Never attribute to malevolence what you can attribute to stupidity."
    And we're talking George Bush here so the stupidity level is pretty high. (how in the hell did he ever become president? the man can't string 10 words together in a coherent sentence.)

  8. Why would someone vote Republican? Republicans I know voted for Bush in 2000 because of promised tax cuts or because of moral outrage over Monica Gate.

    And they, of course, naively believed that Bush was a "middle of the road" conservative, and not a radical. All have said now that they "made a mistake" voting for Bushy or that they "were sold a bill of goods". Bought a "bill of goods" is more like it.

    Love of authority and religion go hand in hand. And Bush has a strong religious base to support him, hell or high water. To the base, he is like the Pope. In their eyes he can do no wrong.

    Personally, I'd like to see Bush banished to Elba (Iraq). No one should be able to just walk away from this mess, as if it were simply a bad business decision. A "sorry, my mistake" isn't good enough.

  9. Chris and Thumpy,
    I actually agree with much of what you both say. And that is why I asked you both to pay careful attention to what I actually said.

    Yes, the string of facts I list don't neccessarily make for a strong case for the "allowed it to happen" hypothesis. As I myself said, these are simply correlations of particular events. They are very weak support for the hypothesis.

    Occams' razor would lead us to favor the incompetance hypothesis. This is actually my position that I would argue for with any conspiracy theorist.

    Many of these 9-11 conspiracy theories weave such a complicated plot that they would need to include so many people, that they would be impossible to keep secret. I have no problem dismissing them as kooky on those grounds.

    On the other hand, I argue that the much simpler "knew about it and allowed it to happen" hypothesis does not deserve to be dismissed as insanity or kooky so quikly. Note, that doesn't mean I believe it to be true either.

    It may be the case that good evidence to support the hypothesis is not easily available. It may only become availble years from now. It also may be the case that there is no evidence for the hypothesis because it is completely false.

    So what I ask of you both, or anybody else. Give me your reasons or evidence for concluding that it is not a plausible hypothesis. Also note, I have continually used the word "hypothesis".

  10. Too long is right! Where and how are these polls conducted? I bet ya that if they called the Northeast and conducted a poll on " W", his approval rating would probably be at about 10% or less. So cheer up! It may be lower than reported ( I hope ). We'll see in November 2008.


  11. What scares me is that so many of these delusional wackos hold positions of power, both here and in other countries. 21st century weapons and iron age thinking are a bad combination.

  12. Since the amount of the withdrawal is the same as that of the recent increase that characterized the surge itself, this is like telling you that I'll be glad to give you a present worth $30,000, just as long as you in turn write a check for $30,000 to me.

    I don't like this analogy. Time is a critical factor in both the real-world "surge" (silly name) and your hypothetical situation that effectively constitutes a loan. Is it unreasonable to think that a large number of additional troops in-country for some time (a few months, perhaps) could have an impact on the current political situation in Iraq? Is it unreasonable to think that if you gave me $30 000 today and I give you $30 000 next week, I might actually end next week a little ahead by doing something (investing) with that money?

    As for the war and Mr. Bush (aside: sounds like a good name for a play, released off-Broadway circa 2015), the widespread phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, plus a little old-fashioned stupidity, allows a person to simultaneously believe that Bush is doing an acceptable job as President of the USA and that the war in Iraq is not going well and the USA should probably withdraw as soon as possible.

  13. "We'll see in November 2008"

    I hope so, but beware. With all these shady voting machines, strange closed computer voting and voter list manipulations...

    And in flashing news, poll results suggest 1/3 of the American public is stupid.

    Years ago I used to joke, in jest and some prejudice, that the brightest Americans must really be outstanding people, to compensate for the amount of stupidity going around. Nowadays, after almost 6 year living in the "US and A", I still say the same, but now seriously. And I'm sure I haven't seen the tip of the iceberg yet...

    May the brightest ones improve and become more numerous. Please, for I'm afraid it's getting harder to compensate.

  14. Sheldon --

    I don't assert that the conspiracy theorists cannot be right. I merely state that they have yet to muster the evidence to do so, given the extremely high hurdles this hypothesis must pass.

    One thing I learned in the military is that nothing in the federal government is done without paperwork and distro lists. Where is this evidence?

    You already touched on the participants objection. Have you ever known a large group not to have one "unidentified source"? Leakage is sport in DC.

    The very efficiency of the operation is a circumstantial objection as well. The federal gov't is many things, but efficient is not one of them, and that holds true no matter the clique in power. Despicable as the operation itself was, it was a marvel of economy-of-force.

    Again, I don't say that a conspiracy is impossible, just that it is unsupported by the evidence at hand.

  15. There is no worse evil in the world than dictatorship where most people suffer at the expense of a few favourite ones. Bush and Blair did alright when they stopped it in Iraq. If it were for the reasons of the resulting caos and violence than all the African colonies shouldn´t had become independent and South Africa should still live under the apartheid regime since more people die nowadays as a result of urban violence than before as a result of war and persecution. Viva democracy, freedom and Bush.

  16. "Viva democracy, freedom and Bush." -- Tina

    A splendid example of cognitive dissonance. :D

  17. "A splendid example of cognitive dissonance. :D"

    Would you care to say why? No, because people like you are cowards who hide in the shadow. Always like that, that´s why I feel good dissociating of any position people like you take.

  18. Tina,

    what annoys me, on the other hand, are self-rigtheous people like you who think that their own one-liners are "arguments" while everybody else's are insulting. Either engage the discussion (plenty of people have written quite a bit about Bush on this blog) or do not waste out time. Not even Cal on is that bad, for crying out loud!

  19. Massimo, for crying out loud, I gave explanations and asked them in return. To no avail, as expected.

  20. Tina,

    use your little fingers and do a search on "Bush" on this blog. You'll get explanations galore...

  21. "Not even Cal on is that bad, for crying out loud!"

    Oh sure I am. Don't ruin my hard earned rep now.
    My strategy is not to be a super-intellect or anything, just basically to be the last one standing. ;) Standing exactly where or over what, still remains to be seen.

    But seriously, you commented about Starbucks awhile back. Would you air something similar about Boba Tea company? They just raised their prices like 20 or 30 %.
    A bit disgruntled about this. wahh!

    love you, too

  22. I replied to Massimo "Use your little fingers to answer my question", using similar irony to what he used in first place, and my comment was deleted. Before that, my comments where I exposed my thoughts about this subject, were also erased. I guess the author of the blog didn´t like his own answers, for instance, when he suggested that some countries were not fit for democracy. So he deleted the whole discussion. I insisted, wrote a summary of what I had said before and this time was published. I can see that this is not a democratic blog at all; it is instead arrogant, authoritary and suppresses people´s voice. Now I understand how can some people tolerate dictaroship so well, themselves inside they are little dictators. The funniest thing is that this blog is called Rationally Speaking. I know this comment is also going to be deleted but what it matters is that it reached the authoritarian blogger himself.

  23. Tina,

    you certainly are a character, I believe the most nonsensical addition to this blog since Cal. Welcome.

    First of all, as you can see, I have not deleted your latest rant.

    Second, I only delete posts that contain overt insults or that are one liners that add nothing to the discussion. I did not delete any "argument" you have posted, nor do I have any intention to do so.

    Latly, this is my blog, and I set the rules; if you don't like them, start your own blog.

    Have fun ranting on this one.

  24. T,
    I've known some real & seriously committed dictators in my time and Massimo's not that bad. I'd never defend most of his views, except for possibly his views on Fox and Starbucks, but I do defend his right to have them. I also think he has, to a certain extent, hardened and taught (convinced) himself to be decisive on matters revolving around politics and "science". But inside I think he's like a real human being...Guess I just choose anymore to look at most everybody like one of my kids, then I can uncompromisingly love everyone.

    Tina are you maybe instead "Dennis" the philosophical, retired truck driver? Just wondering...

    Can't imagine why anyone would do that. But then, I can sort of imagine Dennis trying to show me how silly I and my world view happens to be..

    well, whoever you are...


  25. Cal

    You don't fool me. You are really

    a)Noam Chomsky
    b)Stephen Colbert
    c)Newt Gingrich

    I'm just not sure which.

  26. suf,

    hee hee
    probably all of the above.

    A little to the right and little to the left, a bit anarchistic sometimes..and even anarchist against the anarchists SOMETIMES.

    Don't know who Colbert is tho.

    But who are YOU really, suf? seriously, would you care to tell? :) I'm curious

    One of my older sisters is here visiting from Tx going over "quick books" stuff with my hub for one their orgs that feeds about 2000 children a month. So back to my OH SO IMPORTANT job of making some pumpkin bars w/cream cheese. I think we are going to be at this for a while.

    Hey, you forgot the possibilities of ..

    a) Julia Childs
    b) Paula Dean or
    c) Rachel Ray


  27. Cal

    You got me on Paula Dean (don't know her).

    Stephen Colbert is on Comedy Central right after Jon Stewart.

    Hmm.. Julia Childs. So you can cook? Good.

    Suffenus. Obviously not my driver's license name, but a penname that appears in public documents going back to 1990. Apart from that, a nerd, a father of three great boys, a retired philosical Zamboni driver (amongst other things).

  28. Typing too fast. I meant "philosophical"

  29. "But supporting Bush and his insane war after all these years is just insane, it's the result of pure ideological blindness and has nothing to do whatsoever with facts or reasonable opinions."

    Sorry mate, you don't get to say stuff like that. I've heard people give good reasons for supporting the war, and although I disagree with them, they're certainly not ideologically blind.

    If we call everyone that disagrees with us insane, we're no better than Bush n' co calling the antiwar movement traitors.

  30. Oh, Paula Dean is a kind of bombastic, rather funny southern cook on one of the food channels.

    I love the fact that she does not try to take the things out of food that make it taste good. Namely butter.

    I am not probably a really fantastic cook. But I like to cook and bake and have won some 1sts. Last fall or instance, on a coconut cream pie. My father, father-law and husband's fav pie.

    Doing your best for the people you love, that's all that really matters. I've had offers to "sell" some other things that I make, but I'm not into it. It would ruin everything.

    And on that note, it is also so nice to hear about how much you love and admire your boys. I so much appreciate to hear that from people.



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