Saturday, March 24, 2007

Weapons of Mass Ridicule

Assimilated Press has done it again; and I am beginning to appreciate the extent to which their satire goes beyond what I have previously called the representation of "reality with far more accuracy than conventional prose could ever do." This time the target is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, christened (isn't that an appropriate verb?) "KSM" by the mass media almost immediately after the story of his mass confessions had broken; but did the story really "break?" This was one of those classic cases where mass enthusiasm drowned out the few voices that tried to raise question. This was particularly disconcerting, because one of those voices was Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl. Since KSM had claimed to have personally executed Daniel Pearl, one would have thought that the reaction of his father would deserve some attention; but the mass media seems to have thought otherwise.

At this point I should offer up a disclaimer about my own opinion. Back when I worked in Los Angeles, I knew Judea, who was teaching at UCLA. I would often sit next to him at cognitive science seminars, because he was good about letting me grumble aloud at some of the proclamations we would hear. Judea has a keen mind for logic; but he always was patient with my more-to-life-than-logic rants. My point is that, if he could detect logical inconsistencies in the KSM confession and how it was reported, then he had the professional credentials to do so; even if it involved subtleties of reasoning that the mass media not be able to follow very easily. If he had misgivings about the text, that was, at the very least, incentive to ask more questions.

The obvious question to ask had to do with the fact that these confessions really were not "news." At least some of the media were willing to acknowledge that they had been "on the books" for some time. The only thing new about the story was its connection to the closed tribunal being held and the decision of which parts of the proceedings would be disclosed to the media. What was new that week was that the heat was finally turning up on Alberto Gonzalez and the "President's bidding" to overhaul the practice of "due process" in unprecedented ways. Something needed to be done to turn down that heat; and, as I have said on many occasions, there is no better way to undermine a narrative than with another narrative. In other words KSM was a "narrative weapon of mass destruction," whose main purpose was to distract attention from what was turning out to be (with apologies to Al Gore) "an inconvenient truth" for the White House.

However, there is another rule of thumb, which is just as important as the one for undermining narrative. That is the one I first invoked on Thursday: "all a blogger can do today is ridicule." I formulated this rule as a way to deal with the ways in which intolerance and discrimination were worming their way into becoming normative practice. However, it is just as applicable when media distortions come into play, and that is where Assimilated Press enters the picture. They have decided that absurdity counts for more than fact (KSM confessed to at least one activity that took place while he was under our custody). Today's post exhibits such absurdity at its finest:

Today, after after another round of waterboarding, K.S. Mohammed added to his catalog of crimes by confessing to complicity in the new Medicare Prescription Drug Law, inflated housing prices in San Francisco, the introduction of hemorrhoids to America, and most shocking of all, the killing of Bambi's mother.

So, if the logical voice of Judea Pearl is not enough to make us realize just how suspect the whole KSM media blitz has been, we can thank Assimilated Press for explaining it to us in language that, hopefully, we can all understand!

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