Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Speaking of Whispers - What's so Good about Great (or bad about awful) pt.3

Speaking of Whispers
So Bill Hennessy opened his five part, thirty five page defense of Eric Greitens and 'Service', with a couple lines which nicely set the tone for the entire set of posts, and others as well:
"You know how to tell when a political camp has nothing on an opponent? It begins making stuff up. That “making stuff up” has become the chief form of amusement among those who oppose Eric Greitens for Governor."
And as I pointed out in the last post, he doesn't address these charges anywhere in those five posts, which brought to mind an old truism,
If you wish to be understood, first seek to understand.
Does that opening sound to you like someone who's trying particularly hard to understand the views of those who don't share their own sense of inspiration? Does it even sound like he's interested in being understood by them? IMHO: Nope. So something else is going on here - but what? I'm going to get to what that what is, but, sorry, I'm going to have to go the long way round for getting there (shocker).

To start with, whatever differences I have with Bill & his latest political tastes, I have a hard time believing he's consciously and deliberately being either this sloppy or this misleading... but... seriously... what the heck?! To charge that those who don't favor your candidate are people who just 'make stuff up,' without addressing exactly what it is you are charging them with making up, that's dismissivness on steroids. Just to recap a few of the issues being dismissed as 'making stuff up', among the concerns which 'Facebook warriors' raised about Eric Greitens, have been:

  1. Is he truly a Republican?
  2. Is he truly conservative?,
  3. What of...his Co-Signer status in the Aspen Institutes Franklin Project?,
  4. ... his relatively recent (2009) endorsement of President Obama's Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act?,
  5. ...his ongoing calls for govt nudged and sponsored 'Public Service' at public expense?,
  6. ...his involvement in and promotion of NGO's (which can be used to effectively steer private and govt money and policy towards private endeavors (some of which are laudable), without public legislative oversight (none of which is laudable))?,
  7. ...his (2007) assessment and endorsement of using U.S. military power towards affecting global social issues as well as conflicts?
Whether or not these concerns can, or cannot, be answered satisfactorily is not the issue I'm interested in here, that they are reasonable concerns based upon what his candidate has, or hasn't, made known, and are not simply 'made up', is a concern, and as such they can and should be addressed. But to dismiss reasonable concerns out of hand as fantasy, is itself an exercise in fantasy, a case of wishing away the real and valid concerns of a large number of people.

How do you do that with a straight face? As it turns out, it's easier than you might think.

I know that, because I noticed that the first thing that came to my mind on reading those charges, was a biting retort with a garnish of insult and a counter charge (or two...) of peddling lies, etc. But in between deleting those rebuttal posts in the midst of writing them, one after the other, I noticed something interesting in what I was replying with - or, more accurately, without. Without bothering to begin with a set of facts presented in a reasonable manner, I too was making
sweeping assumptions and assertions that were absent convincing arguments, and had I published them I too would have been embracing the void and passed it on to who knows how many others, who might have taken it to be true, each of whom would likely pass them on to still others... and... well... that's the path to the rhetorical Walking Dead - zombies everywhere and biting any who'll stop to listen.

So... as I was saying in the last post, assuming the worst about someone is easy - and utterly useless beyond the satisfaction of the moment. Considering the likelihood that they might actually have meant well, and looking for how they, or anyone else, could slip into the same mistake... well... that begins to get interesting for me, and useful. And if we can assume that Bill, and others like him, who are promoting (or attacking) candidates in similar manners without deliberately seeking to mislead or lie to the entire world, then I think we have something worth looking in to.

What explains, or leads, people into making charges that are so easily shown to be unfounded? It's certainly not seeking to understand, or even attempting to obfuscate, it's something considerably less, and at the same time much more disturbing than that - which we'll come back to below.

The Charge of the Slight Brigade
As Bill's 'making stuff up' charges go unaddressed in the entire series of posts, we'll have to go into his earlier posts in order to reply to them here, returning to the Franklin Project a couple posts down the line. As you can see, he set an equally open minded tone in one of his first supporting posts of Eric Greitens, as Bill said:
"Sure, Hanaway’s minions will start whisper campaigns about Greitens. They’ll whisper about his divorce. They’ll wonder why he doesn’t loudly profess his faith. They’ll ask why he left active duty. They’ll find some veteran with an axe to grind and feed the source to their media puppets. They’ll quietly wonder if Greitens isn’t just using Missouri as a step-stone to the White House. If none of that works, they’ll just lie and claim he’s a Democrat."
In light of Eric Greitens' later admission to having been a Democrat until recently (how recently we don't know), we'll let the humor of the last line ferment until the next post when we look at those few words that Eric Greitens actually has had to say on the issues.

Whether or not there has been a whisper campaign of the sort Bill predicted, I don't know (maybe I need to check on my minion membership credentials); but that's the least interesting point in this, from my point of view, the more loaded issue (and a self-loading one it turns out), is what would there have been left to discuss about Bill's candidate, if those whispered issues were left off the table?

Think about that. Or better yet, attempt to Google it.

What has Bill's candidate, Eric Greitens, made available in regards to his understanding of Law, of the laws under Missouri's Constitution, of the structure of Missouri Government, of the place of the Governor's office within it, and of how he would approach them if he were given the power to govern Missouri? How does his candidate think that issues such as Obama's 'Serve America' Act, which he endorsed just a few years ago, complement or clash with those realities, and the political beliefs of those he's campaigning for the support of?

Good luck with Googling that. There are, as of yet, no answers to be found, and it seems to me that in a battle of ideas, that is tantamount to shouting 'I'm unarmed! Follow me!'.

Who'd bother whispering about what was spoken of openly?
So taking Bill at his word begins with the assumption that the only people in Missouri who might have questions about who Eric Greitens is, and what his political beliefs and positions are, are Catharine Hannaway's minions (problem enough for someone like me who is not a supporter of Hannaway) who, he said will start whisper campaigns to attack his candidate. But more interesting than that, is the assumptions behind it which are both held, and at the same time disavowed, by Bill. What I mean by that is this:

What are the issues he claims that his candidate will be underhandedly whispered about and attacked upon? Divorce, faith, military status, undisclosed political aspirations, right? What sorts of issues are those? They're all issues of character, right? On what basis is Bill demanding our appreciation and support for his great candidate's campaign upon? Isn't it Eric Greitens 'great qualities' and inspirational character, that are the very things - seemingly the ONLY things being offered for us to follow? In Bill's own words:
"...If the candidate lacks the character and drive to execute his positions, it makes no difference what those positions are."
According to Bill's own arguments, these issues he's accusing others of raising to a whisper, are not only fair game for public discussion - presumably by minions and non-minions alike - but they are the issues that all of us voters should be the most concerned about! Even going so far as to say that:
"... if you don’t know a candidate’s character and heart, his positions are meaningless."
Yet... what Bill tries to dismiss as the stuff of 'whisper campaigns', is what Bill says leaders - inspirational leaders - should all be the most concerned with - and even if those are uncomfortable issues to deal with:
"... leaders say from their hearts what needs to be said. More importantly, true leaders do what must be done."
But shouldn't leaders of a transformational stature have realized the importance of getting out ahead of such whispers by pro-actively saying '... from their hearts what needs to be said'? Shouldn't such a transformational candidate have prepared to deal with such obvious issues even before making his announcement, since "...true leaders do what must be done"?

On the other hand, while Greitens may or may not have commented on his past marriage or issues of faith, he's got a battleship's worth of character ammo stockpiled in 'The Mission Continues', Humanitarian action, philanthropic awards, Presidential Fellowship - he is nearly untouchable on the character turf, why wouldn't he welcome any challenges on that issue by anyone who'd be foolish enough to make them?

But... despite Bill's charges, no one that I've seen has been taking that bait. It's almost as if...his possible character issues - whether whispered or spoken openly of - weren't in question or of concern to us unbelievers - he's got character - that's not our concern. Go figure. His lack of forthcomingness on the substance of his ideas and positions and what he would use power for, that is what we don't know about him, and that concerns us greatly.

The problem in our eyes is that we're unable to find answers on those issues that he should address as a candidate, but hasn't... but then on the very issues Bill is claiming make his Candidate AWESOME, Bill is attempting to cast such issues of character aside as unworthy of being raised... yet if character is what matters, but it's considered too sneaky and underhanded to ask about character issues, then his campaign will have to be based upon issues... but then the issues people want to address, are the ones his 'great candidate' is AWOL on, having offered no substance, history or plans on them at all... and so we're told that character is all that matters... but... to talk about character issues is to whisper... and...groan... [head->desk->head->desk->head->desk->...].

This is making me dizzier than getting into a battle of wits with a Sicilian... poor Bill... what's a minion to do? About the only thing a minion can do, I guess: make stuff up. Whether out of negligence or willfulness, if the candidate provided no information to go to battle with, they are sending their wouldbe followers, like Bill, into battle unarmed. And that concerns me as well. What is it about that, that is supposed to be inspiring?

It's hard to imagine, on several accounts, that such weak rhetoric is intentional; but blind spots, on the other hand, we all have those, and with some issues, or at least with the way we approach them, we create these blind spots in us - and that again becomes something worth paying attention to. Again, it is the easiest of things to shout 'Minions! Whisperers! Making stuff.. up'rs!', but it's difficult to 'seek to understand', let alone to 'be understood', when you have zero information to consider or engage people's concerns with, which, empty handed, leads you back around to shouting 'Minions! Whisperers! Making stuff.. up'rs!' - and that's the clue to the 'What' that I've been circling back around to.

When lacking the information to create understanding, first seek to dis-understand.
This is one of the problems of those who demand support from others, while providing little or no substance on that candidate's qualifications and plans for wielding power from that office. Bill is less a target here, than a very handy local example of rhetorical gravity, of how informationally challenged candidacies are defended by their inspired defenders substituting their inspiration for substance, and the first play in the otherwise unarmed enthusiasts playbook, is to treat questions as attacks, to paint their motivations as darkly as they possibly can (and how else do you respond to dis-inspiration?), and again, as easy as it is to assign motives, it's often more difficult, truer and more valuable, to assume the best of them, rather than the worst, and try and figure out how they got themselves into the mess they did.

So how do they manage to say and support such things?

A blogfriend, Gagdad Bob, passed on a marvelous aphorism the other day, and an explication of it,
"'Reducing another's thought to its supposed motives prevents us from understanding it.' --Don Colacho
Which is why they do it. It's not really misunderstanding, but preemptive dis-understanding."
Permit me: Boom.

What's so good about Great?... or so bad about awful?
My point in asking 'What's so good about Great?', is that a candidacy that begins with a lack of substance in regards to what should be the starting point of any campaign - the candidate demonstrating their understanding of the nature and purpose of the office they're seeking to be elected to - has no means of making substantive appeals or responses to those concerns that are voiced about their candidacy. Bill truly could not defend against questions of substance, because there's no info to reply with!

And this doesn't apply only to the low-Info candidates, but to the reflexive attackers of them as well - neither camp shows any more interest in your concerns than with your understanding of their concerns - understanding is Not their goal, compliance is.

 And again, it doesn't have to be consciously done. When you believe in someone or some cause, if you're not careful, you'll find a way to defend it, and the easiest, most natural way to do so, is to stop the questions/attacks before they can reach you, not by answering them, but by either stopping them before they can be successfully launched (attacking their motivations), or by not being there when they land (changing topics) or by counter attacking with charges against those asking the questions (making stuff up), all of which helps you to dis-understand the threat before it can ever reach your precious enthusiasm.

The person attacking you as a fool for responding to some portion of Donald Trump's 'message', is no more interested in your understanding their point, than Bill has shown himself to be with concerns over how his candidate satisfies the basic requirements of office - they only want your compliance with the enthusiasms they are substituting for that substance they'd rather not deal with - that, after all, is what drew them in to begin with... why isn't it good enough for you?!

Neither the inspired defender of 'greatness', nor the ire filled opposor of 'awfulness', gives a damn about what actually is or should be known, and their preserving that void in place of substance is what sucks their rhetoric into a pattern of asserting positions and attributing motivations to shield their own beliefs - they pre-emptively dis-understand your concerns, assigning positions and attributing motivations to them, so that the void is avoided, they prevent themselves from understanding your concerns, let alone feeling a need to be understood by you, and their enthusiasms remain intact.

There's plenty of issues to criticize Donald Trump about, Dr. Carson too, but slurring them and those who show some interest in some aspects of what they are saying, is no honest attempt at evaluation and understanding, it is only substituting ones own inspired fears for the substantial arguments they willfully lack and seek to avoid. They can't afford to understand your concerns, they can only hope to infect you with their own inspiration or ire, and if it doesn't sink in, then you are fit into the pattern as the opposition, the whisperer, the fool - parts that are as interchangeable as the void that they are selling.

Such glaring gaps in their arguments, for or against, a candidate, are too much for most reasonable people to tolerate, serving only to sow division amongst those who should have been their base supporters, which is the unavoidable result of seeking not to reason, but to rationalize - not to discover what is true, but to remake it as you wish it to be.

Why do they do it? It's called enthusiastically losing your head. Is that really what you want driving your support for political power? One of the goals of education is to teach us how not to lose our heads, and it's one of the easiest lessons to fail to practice; everyone would like for what they want to be true, to actually be true, it takes deliberate attention to stop yourself from pretending that it really is true.

That's the template behind every fallacy that Aristotle first discovered three thousand years ago, and the few innovations that have popped up since - logical fallacies aren't simply poor or tricky techniques, they are what results from - intentionally or not - recasting reality as you wish it was, rather than looking past your desires to see it as it actually is. The attempt to impose your views on others is an even easier lesson to forget to remember; it's an intellectually seductive abuse of power because you just know what's best for them, and it naturally follows when we try to achieve affects without causes.

When we desire what is not yet justified, we either recognize reality and do the hard work of trying to fill in the blanks, or we avoid, pretend, attack and dis-understand.

Once we begin to run with that, then our goal is no longer to understand or to be understood, but to pre-emptively dis-understand what is in your way, preserving that inspiration, or ire, while biting and passing it on to as many others as we possibly can. It's the rhetorical equivalent of a zombie's bite, each instance of which creates more and more biters, leaving the rest of us to navigate the treacherous world of the Walking Dead.

We are not amused.

And here's the dangerous part: if you react to those who are attempting to impose it on you, when you begin calling out names and accusations you either don't have knowledge of being true, or aren't willing to take the time to convincingly present what you know to be true, then you are drawn into repeating the same old, same old, pattern yourself. It's hardly a new tactic, but it is an easy one to fall into.

But you don't have to become a carrier. Just remember, when confronted with zombies, aim for the forehead; when given "You have it in for my transformational leader!", fire back a single logical round of:
"What examples of your candidate's meeting the basic requirements of the office, and explanations of his political philosophy can you offer me? Nothing? Thanks... next please...."
Or if lunged at with "You're a fool for even listening to that blowhard!", point and shoot:
"Not too foolish to recognize that millions of Americans see that issue as an important one, which you and your candidate have hidden from - why is that?" (and remember zombie hunters, double-tap for safety!) "Why haven't you or your candidate had the wit to use the opening he's given you to pursue the issues more intelligently than he has?"
A Nation of Great or Awful Men... or of Laws?
The plan and the goal in establishing the United States of America, was to achieve 'A Nation of laws, not of men', and the people we seek to elect to office in our government, need to understand, defend and demonstrate their understanding of the laws that they will govern under, and of those laws and policies which they perhaps intend to alter, create and/or implement. If instead, we allow ourselves to be driven by our enthusiasms for or against 'great' or 'awful' men, we will be turning even further away from that original American ideal, and the only ideal we can possibly survive under.

Anyone foolish enough to promote or pillory candidates on the basis of their great qualities alone, is not only jeopardizing the American ideal, but putting themselves in opposition to it.

Keep your heads. Use them.

Don't allow yourselves to become so enthused over candidates for office - or opposition to them - that you lose your head. No candidate, no man, no women, can save or restore America - it is not only beyond their power, but the very goal itself is destructive to it. We are a nation of laws, not of men, and if we want to reinvigorate that, we have to begin with our own understanding of them, and we have to hold our candidates to their understanding of that as well.
"...the very definition of a republic is “an empire of laws, and not of men.” That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or, in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the laws, is the best of republics."
John Adams, The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams
“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin

Nothing less, no matter how inspired, will do.

In the next post I will be looking at Eric Greitens status as a Republican and a Conservative, on the basis of his own words, not Bills, and my assessment of them.

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