Some notes on the campaign before I disappear for a while.


I might not have e-mail access during September.  I seem to be getting
through alright today, but it probably won't last, and I'm better
off without e-mail for a while anyway.  So don't worry if RRE goes to
sleep for a bit.  Please keep sending me good stuff for the list, and
I'll look at it all when I get back online.


American culture is going insane.  I'm not sure that I mean this in
a clinical way, but I do mean it.  In "The Divided Self", R. D. Laing
described the experience of going insane, and I think that his model
applies well.  Insanity, he says, starts with "ontological insecurity",
which is a doubt about whether one's own self exists.  People who
suffer from ontological insecurity are unhappy, and they may even be
crazy, but they are not insane.  Insanity starts when the individual
decides that his or her own personality is evil, and that they are
obligated to destroy it.

American culture has always been prone to ontological insecurity,
ever since Europe exported all of its religious fanatics to us.
Not all religious people are crazy; indeed, true religion is the cure
for craziness.  Rather, Europe was raked for centuries by horrific
wars and epidemics, and the cultural upshot of these experiences in a
deeply religious and badly educated society was religious fanaticism.
In the American context, religious fanaticism rapidly turned into
a politics of conspiracy theories, and that politics has returned
periodically to the surface ever since.  Conspiracy theories are
precisely but a kind of political psychosis driven by ontological
insecurity: a doubt that the institutions of the country even exist.
This takes extreme forms with wackos, mostly on the right but on
the left as well, who believe that the United States Constitution
was officially repealed in the 1930s, or any number of other wild
scenarios.  But ontological insecurity was also a dominant theme
of 1990s mass culture, for example in the X-Files -- to be sure a
great show, but very much a product of the encapsulated psychosis of
American conspiratism.

But it wasn't just craziness that came to the surface in the 1990s,
but insanity as well: the delusional belief that one has an obligation
to destroy one's own personality.  And this insanity was found equally
on the left and right.  The self-destruction of the country's cultural
personality is easy to find: look for either anger or humor that gets
its bite by stigmatizing and then punching through some boundary of
morality or conscience.  On the left, the highest product of American
cultural insanity is "South Park", whose humor consisted precisely
of -- as the patter goes -- "breaking taboos".  Why is it funny to see
little kids cussing their faces off?  Because it's a blow for freedom
against the uptight ayatollahs of the religious right who don't like
it.  On the right, the highest product of American cultural insanity
is Rush Limbaugh.  His humor works the same way: those politically
correct jerks on the left are oppressing us, so we have to stand up
for freedom by, for example, instructing a black caller to get the
bone out of his nose.  In a normal world this would be racist garbage,
but in the insane world of Limbaugh it's a courageous act of standing
up to the intimidation of liberal thought control.  The very fact that
"they" don't like it *obligates* us to do it.

This sense of continually, purposefully punching through the barriers
of conscience is exactly the process of making oneself insane.  It
becomes a habit of mind, and as one's conscience is slowly cut away
one becomes less and less capable of rational thought.  Music critics
feel a mindless obligation to make excuses for depraved song lyrics.
Any concern for the suffering of an animal is mindlessly mocked as
the product of animal rights wackos.  And so on.  As the insanity
proceeds, public discourse become more and more disturbed, more and
more irrational.  Politicians and pundits can simply lie, saying
things that are obviously not true, because they know that nobody in
the media elite will have enough sense left in their heads to call
them on it.

The most primitive mechanism of public insanity is projection: the
practice of systematically accusing "them" of doing whatever it
is that you are doing.  Projection arises as a special case of the
general mechanism of destroying one's own personality.  Here is how it
works.  Let's say that a voice in your head is telling you to commit
some foul act, such as falsely accusing your opponent of claiming to
have invented the Internet.  Having largely destroyed your conscience,
you will find this idea appealing.  But, you will observe, if you
do such a thing, then your opponent will accuse you of lying.  In
the pseudo-logic of insanity, people like Laing observe, words become
concrete things, and concrete things can have only one location at
a time.  If we put the word "lying" over there, on "them", then we
cannot be accused of lying ourselves.  Projection, in other words,
starts by rehearsing the line "they're really the ones who ...",
and the professional destroyer of conscience will be certain to issue
these accusations proactively.  If you're conducting a dirty political
campaign, or even if you're likely to be accused of dirty campaigning
because that's what your father did, then proactively get out there
and accuse the other side of being a dirty campaigner.  Find tame
members of the press who will print false articles alleging that
your opponent is a thug.  If you're going to spread lies about your
opponent, get out there and falsely label him a liar.  If your whole
campaign is going to be based on character assassination, get out
there and call for "a new tone" in politics, the innuendo being that
your opponent represents the bad, old tone.  Whatever you're planning
to do, proactively pin it on "them" first.

That's projection.  It is the most primitive of mental processes, and
it has become a high art.  It has also become a widespread cultural
form.  I wish I had a dollar for every speaker of the new political
jargon who has said to me, "you're really the one who ...".  In fact,
I can already hearing them saying it about the piece that I am writing
now.  After all, I *am* saying that they are themselves the ones who
do all the things that they accuse others of doing.  But the psychosis
does not consist simply in saying, "you're really the one who ...".
Rather, it consists in doing so automatically, habitually, and above
all *falsely*.  If two people are saying "you're really the one who
..." to one another, it should be possible to determine who is right,
simply by looking at the evidence.  So let's consider the evidence.
And there's a lot to consider.  Fully three-quarters of the press
coverage of the Gore campaign has consisted of false attacks on his
character.  These numbers are like something out of communist Albania.
Even the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which can find liberal
bias in a bowl of Cheerios, has found extreme media bias against Gore.

But we're not talking centrally about the media here -- although
American media pundits are whole-heartedly engaged in the destruction
of the national conscience -- but about candidates.  And George
W. Bush, whose surreal campaign compares to absolutely nothing that
I have ever seen in my life, not even Richard Nixon's, not even George
Bush Senior's, has been a fanatical practitioner of projection.  The
conscience-wrecking pundits constantly remark on what a clean campaign
Bush has been running, and yet he and his people have been calling his
opponent a liar just about every day since the campaign began.  It's
somehow in the nature of the new political jargon that nobody notices
how routine and how offensive it is.  In April, for example, Gore said
that Bush's foreign policy proposals treat China and Russia as enemies.
USA Today  (5/1/00) quotes Condoleeza Rice as follows:

  [Bush] has said that China is a competitor and we should reach
  out to Russia.  It is very much like the vice president to distort
  [Bush's] record.

In other words, not just that Gore had distorted Bush's record,
not just that Gore has often distorted Bush's record, but that
"it is very much like" Gore to distort Bush's record -- an attack
on his character, and on the thinnest of arguments.  Of course, it's
theoretically possible that these routine character attacks are right.
But are they right in reality?  The fact is, the Bush campaign is
now preparing to broadcast television commercials that make two harsh
accusations against his opponent -- both of which are false.  Not just
arguably false but straightforwardly false.  This commercial makes
the grave claim that Mr. Bush's opponent raised funds at a Buddhist
temple.  This is not only unproven, but as even prominent Republicans
have observed, it is simply not true.  The evidence is overwhelming
-- it's not even a close call.  Yet the media routinely refer to the
Buddhist temple thing as a "fund-raiser", even though it was not any
such thing.  Most of the basic facts of the case are never reported,
and those that are reported are routinely spun in the most deceptive

The Bush advertisement's other claim is that Al Gore falsely claimed
to have invented the Internet.  This, too, is false.  It simply never
happened.  The advertisement quotes half of a sentence, the first
half of which makes clear what Mr. Gore plainly and obviously meant
-- the accurate, true claim, forcefully acknowledged by the Internet's
scientific leadership, that he did the pioneering legislative work
that made the Internet possible.

This is it: this is the Bush campaign's best shot, and all they've
got is lies.  And not just any lies, but projective lies: in order
to lie about their opponent, they are accusing him of being a liar.
Everything they say about their opponent is actually true about them.
They are deeply disturbed.  But it's not just them: it's a culture, a
culture of insanity, something deeply rooted, even institutionalized,
routinized in a thousand turns of phrase, a thousand points of spin,
hundreds of words carefully twisted into dishonesty, and all of it
motivated by the psychotic belief that thereby destroying conscience
is a courageous, heroic act that God Himself, and the Constitution,
and morality and justice and truth and honor, all of them, insistently
demand of their humble servants.

Is this a lot to hang on one commercial?  It's not one commercial:
it's a whole way of life.  Let's listen to the disturbed thought
processes in action.  Here is Mr. Bush in a 9/2/00 New York Times
article by Frank Bruni, who has written some of the most shocking
propaganda in his favor:

  Asked whether he was raising questions about Mr. Gore's truthfulness,
  he said, "No, I'm just saying this is a man who'll say things, like,
  he's for campaign funding reform and then conveniently forgets he
  went to the Buddhist temple".

But the ad was clearly, obviously "raising questions about Mr. Gore's
truthfulness".  It accuses him of "claiming credit for things he
didn't do" and ends by displaying the phrase "".
A 9/1/00 Washington Post article says this:  

  RNC spokesman Clifford May, noting that Democratic ads have assailed
  Bush, said, "We're showing Al Gore on a TV show speaking in his own
  voice.  That's not an attack".

One of the Bush campaign's tactics, endlessly repeated by the media,
is to blur the distinction between "attacks" that disagree with Bush's
policy record and proposals, which have indeed been insistent, and
"attacks" on Bush's character, which have been almost nonexistent.
But Mr. May's quote, which is *not* an aberration, goes much further,
and claims that the advertisement in question is not an "attack" at
all!  The argument is that the ad cannot be an attack because it uses
Gore "speaking in his own voice".  But, of course, the ad does more
than simply quote Gore, and when it does quote him it takes his words
out of context and falsifies their meaning.

This twisting of Gore's words has been a constant throughout the Bush
campaign.  For example, they routinely quote Gore's words in favor of
eliminating the internal combustion engine -- something that is just
short of a commonplace in the auto industry -- and paraphrases him
as advocating the elimination of the family car.  And then the Bush
people, as part of the general pattern of projection, proactively
accuse Gore of not knowing what words mean, just as they did to Bill
Clinton when a lawyer paid by his political enemies asked him a very
twisted, ambiguous, complicated question in a court case, one that
used words in an artificial way that did not correspond to normal
usage: he cut through the thicket of twisted language as best he
could, to the point of trying to reason through what the questioner
meant by the word "is", whereupon the practitioners of projection
jumped on *him* for twisting language!  This was such a success
that now they're trying to do it again, twisting phrases such as
"fund-raiser" and then falsely accusing Gore of having twisted them.

I have been following these patterns for months now, and I find them
tremendously disturbing.  The good news is that they do not seem to
be working.  When the people finally got a chance to see Al Gore live,
without the nonstop smears of the media, his message of democracy was
a hit.  It was quite the controlled experiment: no liberal media bias
to blame this time.  But the smear campaign is not over.  The current
media buzz is the remarkably positive coverage that Gore is supposedly
getting, even though false attacks on his character continue to be
printed and broadcast as truth every day.  And now, in the darkest of
all possible projections, we're hearing the first media rumblings that
maybe Gore's mental health is suspect, given that he and his family
went into therapy after his son was hit by a car.  It's so twisted
that I need to take a break from it, and that's what I'm going to do.
I'll be back in a bit.  Meanwhile, I can only trust in normal Americans
to confront insanity with truth, and conservatism with democracy.
Go to it.


In response to my slightly facetious prognostication that...

  You'll wear devices that will feed your stats back to the doctor, and
  you'll have other devices that let you treat yourself, or at least be
  treated at a distance.

one reader replied as follows:

  A colleague here in Pittsburgh has formed a company focusing
  specifically on the monitoring task that you describe above.  This
  company is fabricating comfortable and fashionable devices that
  may be worn for substantial periods, feeding health measurements
  via radio to the net, where a web-based interface allows either
  the wearer or her doctor to monitor and analyze the results. 
  The company is called BodyMedia.  They have a sparse web site at
  "".  One of the founders is Astro Teller, a CMU
  PhD graduate and relative of prominent physicist Edward Teller.

The world is not only weirder than we know; it is also weirder than we
can know.


Some URL's.

media smear campaign

Study Finds Media Boost Bush

Will Pseudo-Scandals Decide the Election?

Tale of Two Press Corps

Gore Media Coverage: Playing Hardball


GPRS Takes Wireless into the Future

Despite the Hype, Bluetooth Is Still Teething


Physical Place and CyberPlace

intellectual property wars

The Right To Read: Time Limited Textbooks

sinister record industry lobbying

Napster's appeal

court decision in MPAA suit against DeCSS

everything else

National Story Project

LaborTech Conference, Madison WI, 1-3 December 2000

Microsoft Word Documents that "Phone Home"

Directions in IT and Writing

Experts Cast Doubt on New York Plan to Fingerprint for Medicaid

Toward a General Modular Systems Theory

Computer Randomly Plays Classical Music

Dealing With Community Data

Gel Pens Recalled by Colorbok

Online Commerce Creates Strange Competition

Internet Geography Project

The 100 Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century

What the Internet Cannot Do

Pew Internet and American Life Project