"All You of Earth ..."
December 9, 2000
Greetings. The ongoing election from hell, from which a President will
emerge that half the population will view as having less legitimacy than a
wooden nickel (no matter who is ultimately declared the "winner"), has been
a battle of perceptions as much as reality. But who are the usually
mysterious people who mold public opinions about these and other important
events? I was lucky enough to speak to one of these secretive yet
powerful individuals, who asked that I only identify him as "Vern" ...
"My clients are among the most seriously downtrodden in the country," said Vern, "the rich and powerful."
"Fascinating," I said. "I wouldn't normally think of those particular folks as getting the short end of the stick."
"Ah, but you forget your history," Vern replied. "In ancient times, rulers could use their armies and other physical threats to keep the serfs in line and force them to hand over the king's weight in gold, you know, the good old days! But now it has to be handled more, uh, delicately, and public perception, or as I like to say, 'public misdirection,' are key to keeping my clients from taking a very big fall."
"I don't quite understand," I said.
"OK, look. It's the same story both in the financial world and in politics. You can never go wrong by underestimating the people. If you assume that they are easily confused by glossy ads, slick commercials, fast talk, and patriotic music, you'll always come out on top! I made a bunch of little signs that I keep on my office wall that say 'Ignorance is Strength.' That's the key to my success."
"A bit jaded aren't you?"
"No, not at all. It's just common sense. Say you want to convince people that having one company controlling the PC software industry is good public policy -- you come to me. Want big mergers so that the rich get richer? I can help. Want the people to believe that oil drilling in the Alaska wilderness is good for nature, or that big tobacco really isn't so bad? Or how about convincing voters that billionaires need tax breaks? Hey, I'm your man!"
"Those all sound like really tough sells to me," I said.
"Naw -- they're child's play! Like the guy said in 'Plan Nine From Outer Space': 'All you of Earth are idiots!' Oh, maybe that's a little bit strong, but it's still a solid foundation for planning!"
"Is there any sort of misdirection that you can't pull off?"
"Well, some jobs are tougher than others, but I'm pretty damn good -- I'm beginning to think I could cure a rainy day! The last few weeks I've been going pretty much full time on the election. I'll admit it takes some work to convince people that votes rejected by machine card readers shouldn't count and that hand counts are dishonest, especially when state laws specifically allow them and they've usually been routine. And it's one big hassle when experts on both sides admit that it's been known for decades that hand recounts are necessary in close elections with that kind of equipment. But if you're a pro like me, you know how to twist and spin and distort, and before you know it you have the people eating out of your hand, especially the ones who have been trained to believe all the bizarre, paranoid fantasies we feed them on talk radio every day."
"Don't you worry that all of this manipulation could lead to harsh reactions from the other side?"
"Other side? They don't worry me a bit. Remember, my side has most of the guns. What are the pencil-necked geeks on the 'other side' going to do, shut down their Web servers in protest? Ohhh, I'm sooo scared ... "
"But you're setting the stage for political gridlock and hate all around. Don't you feel even a bit responsible?"
"Hey, 'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department,' says Werner Von Braun ... "
"That's from an old Tom Lehrer song isn't it?" I asked.
"Yah, now there's a man who knew what reality was all about ..."
"Well Vern, I definitely appreciate your talking with me."
"Anytime, Lauren. Say, would you like one of my 'Ignorance is Strength' signs? I've got some spares. When this election goes my way, I'll be sending one out to Washington for the Oval Office," said Vern.
"It might well be appropriate there," I said.
"Yeah, it is catchy isn't it?" said Vern. "A little ignorance can take you a long way!"
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For information about the author, please see: http://www.vortex.com/lauren
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