So Ezra Klein at Vox wrote a post recently asking “What’s the liberal equivalent of climate denial?” Well, there really isn’t one. It’s not that there aren’t liberals or even liberal organization that believe daffy, unhinged things; there are. But to be so overwhelmingly disassociated from reality requires special talent. In the case of the Heartland Institute, a right-wing faith tank best known for its global warming denialism, some of that, no doubt, stems from its interesting personnel decisions. But there really does seem to be a culture of lying–telling little lies for the Greater Truth–among right-wing faith tanks.
Consider this supposed George Carlin quote being circulated around the intertoobz by the Heartland Institute:
Governments don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. That is against their interests.
They want obedient workers who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept it.
Wow! That George Carlin guy sounds like quite the libertarian–which would come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his work. Lo and behold, here’s what Carlin actually said (boldface mine; italics what Heartland misquoted):
There’s a reason education sucks, it’s the same reason that it will never, ever, ever be fixed. It’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you got. Because the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners, now. The real owners, the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They’ve got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying, lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else.
But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.
You know what they want? Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club.
This selective quote-mining would make a creationist ashamed. Not only did they take Carlin out of context, they left out the parts that directly conflict with their agenda: Heartland wants to privatize Social Security and they oppose any minimum wage, never mind better wages and benefits.
I don’t think the denizens of the Heartland Institute are stupid–I’ll posit they’re brighter than average. They had to know that they were twisting Carlin’s words around to mean the exact opposite of what he intended. Admittedly, it’s just one picture, just one more little lie. But it tells you a lot about the ‘Reality Gap.’ Sure, some of it has to do with all of the behavioral sciences cognition stuff that gets the technobrat set all hot and bothered, but much of it stems from a well-funded sociopathic propaganda apparatus. They lie because it suits their needs, and they are clever at tapping into long-standing cultural narratives.
But the unabashed willingness to lie is the key. It’s something that you really don’t see on the left, certainly not in the face of overwhelming evidence like the right does on the key issues of our time. There’s a lot of money to be made being a right-wing propagandist, not so much on the left. The ‘reality gap’ reflects this.