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Monday, 25 August 2008 11:13

Dr. Bryant Welch Unravels the 'State of Confusion' Suffered by the American Electorate

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A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

This is what's happened with John McCain with the Paris Hilton ads. They're trying to say that Barack Obama's the most popular person in the world. Now, liberals are making fun of those ads, but the ads are very sophisticated and very dangerous. Obama has a very short period of time in which to understand what's happened, because they're doing two different things. It comes in two steps.

Obama is so popular. Obama receives all this adulation. All of us would like that somewhat. So they build up our envy. But, then, in the next step, they say it's unfair that he has it. He's not qualified. He doesn't care about us. We're suffering. He just goes about collecting his adoration and adulation. Now, that is a powerful, powerful message. It taps people's envy, and it is going to make them hate Obama.

-- Dr. Bryant Welch, author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind

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BuzzFlash gets sent a ton of review books, and we try to consider each one, but can only post a limited number of them. One reason for that is we only want to offer books that we recommend with a positive review.
And sometimes that is a book that hasn't received its due in the marketplace or in the corporate media. That is the case with State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind.
As we noted in our review of the book:
This is one of those few books -- and a bit under-noticed -- that is a virtual Rosetta stone to understanding how so many Americans are living in an alternative reality.

They have been emotionally and psychologically manipulated by a "manufactured reality" of the right wing consortium: think tanks, public relations spin, advertising techniques, corporate media, psychological tactics, and politicians, among others.

The author, a psychologist/attorney, compares the process we have gone through as a nation in the last 30 years -- and particularly the last 8 years -- to a film from 1944: "Gaslight" (starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman). Directed by George Cukor, it is distinctly Hitchcockian in its rendering.
And although it's a psycho-social analysis of the American psyche at this point in our history, it is in many ways like a Hitchcockian film that leads us from a state of confusion to a clarity about the current existence of an alternative reality among many Americans, on Capitol Hill, and in the corporate media. (FOX "News" is virtually a sci-fi program when it comes to national politics.)
It's an overlooked book that shouldn't be. It should be on the NYT bestseller list way ahead of the fictitious anti-Obama books, because State of Confusion explains how such trash could come to be on the bestseller list in the first place.
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BuzzFlash: You're a clinical psychologist, an attorney, and author of a new book: State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind. Why do you posit that we are living in a state of confusion, which you liken to the one portrayed in the film "Gaslight," which we rented after reading your book. What's going on with Americans who see themselves as patriotic and perhaps wear American flag pins and listen to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly?

Bryant Welch: One of the things I emphasize in the book is that, because of the way the mind works, we all need to feel that we have a firm reality that we can believe in. We take our reality for granted, but really the mind goes through a process to construct our reality. When we start to have difficulty in constructing a cohesive reality, we get very anxious and very perplexed. At those times, we're quite vulnerable to someone like George Bush or Bill O'Reilly or Jerry Falwell, someone who comes along to tell us what's real and what's not real.

The people that you're describing who confuse wearing a lapel pin with patriotism, or confuse putting a bumper sticker on their car with supporting the troops -- what they're doing is avoiding confusion or psychological perplexity. What I argue in State of Confusion is that that's the very problem -- and that they are extremely vulnerable to the authoritarian people who will tell them what to do.

BuzzFlash: You also write about sexual identity perplexity, which may explain why the issue of gay marriage, for instance, became such a hot-button issue for awhile. You say that, like other political gas lighters, Karl Rove has made widespread use of sexual perplexity, questioning the sexual orientation of his adversaries, planting rumors that some were pedophiles, and making other specific allegations of a sexual nature. This issue of gender identity, and threats to male masculinity, to the traditional concept of marriage between a man and a woman -- there seems to be a lot of confusion in terms of sexual identity among a lot of Americans. When Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or James Dobson says that the only recognizable marriage is between a man and a woman gives a certainty, it clears up the confusion. So it seems from your book what we're getting from people like Karl Rove and Roger Ailes or Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh is some certainty. There's no confusion. They're completely clear about who they see as wrong. They're completely clear about being against people who don't have a traditional heterosexual identity. So, how does sexual identity fit into this?

Bryant Welch: Sexual identity is important because it's probably the single biggest component of our overall identity. We define ourselves in terms of whether we're male or female, but unfortunately we are not either male or female. We're a combination of both in fact, as Kinsey, in particular, helped us to understand. The fact that we are all a mix of masculine and feminine creates a built-in sense of uncertainty. We then have the gender roles that we use to help us define more definitively whether we're male or female. When those things are attacked, we get very, very anxious.

I believe that society would be much, much healthier if we were to identify our anxiety. Once one does that, you're on the road to working it through. If you can live with fear, you can gradually get over it. But if we're defending ourselves, we just turn away. We then get rigid and we start adhering to the rigid rules that require the hatred of people who are different from us, so we can differentiate ourselves from them. So I think we pay quite a price for our homophobia.

I have a lot of experience working with gay men and lesbians in therapy. I started out with all the technical explanations -- that homosexuality was a function of the core relationship with the father and so on. But I think that was a psychoanalyst's fantasy; it wasn't a reality. I think homosexuality is a bedrock sexual orientation that occurs in about 10% of the population of just about any culture. I began to feel that the real issue concerning homosexuality was not that they are deviant, but the heterosexual fear of seeing someone who is different. That is the problem that our culture is wrestling with in terms of assimilating and not having to be defensive about the existence of homosexuality.

BuzzFlash: In Chapter 9 you write about the assault on professionalism. You point out that, collectively and individually, the major professions have traditionally fortified our natural defenses against gas lighting, meaning the intrusion of a parallel or alternative narrative that's not real. Now those major professions -- reporters, lawyers, doctors, scientists and teachers -- are all under unprecedented attack and have suffered significant reductions in their professional autonomy. They are being increasingly displaced by corporate America, fundamentalist religious leaders, and media-based ideologues. Some of this is intentional. Some of it is not. None of it, however, is having a salutary effect on the American mind. Can you go into that a little bit more?

Bryant Welch: Sure. Just look at the professions that you listed. Every single one of them has had their autonomy sharply curtailed. You have teachers who now must teach according to the dictates of a conservative Republican administration. They have to emphasize the 3 Rs under the No Child Left Behind Act. If you think about what that does, it emphasizes rote learning and robs the educational system of any emphasis on civics, on creative thought, on a whole host of skills, the development of which is critical to our successful participation in a democracy. So our teachers are controlled.

If you look at doctors, with the advent of managed health care in the Eighties, you now have the term "medical necessity" hanging over treatment decisions. And many insurers don't even want to pay for that. Our doctors are now sharply curtailed.

If you look at scientists, we're finding that the Bush administration has treated scientists as an inconvenience. Scientific research should always be subject to questioning and rigorous examination. Now people think they can just throw it out in wholesale fashion.

If you look at lawyers, everyone hates lawyers. And some lawyers certainly deserve it. But lawyers have played an important role, and represented non-criminal individuals who have been badly, badly abused by corporate America. Those lawyers are being sharply curtailed by what is called tort reform.

Increasingly, if General Motors, for example, provides a truck or a car that they know is going to result in a gas tank explosion, the most you can get as a victim is a few thousand dollars in the way of compensation for your emotional damage. That's important because, under the old system, if you could catch corporate defendants doing that, the jury could absolutely slap them with punitive damages. Half of the population lives in states where you can't do that any more. So lawyers are curtailed that way.

In terms of tort reform, the famous case was the McDonald's one where a woman drove to McDonald's, spilled coffee on herself, and came out the other end to collect supposedly four or five million dollars. Well, as I point out in my book, when you look at that case, that is not at all what happened. What actually happened in that case was that the jury heard the unbelievable indifference of McDonald's executives to the fact that people were getting scalding burns. With complete contempt, McDonald's executives were saying, well, it's cheaper to pay off these petty claims than it is to change the coffee system. And then the judge lowered the verdict anyway.

So all of these professions have been undercut, and we lose the benefit they have of keeping the overall system in line.

BuzzFlash: And they provide a balance in reality. If we look at what the Bush administration has done with scientists, for instance, it's almost daily that we have accounts of whistleblowers saying that a report was stifled or censored or not distributed, and the scientist was told to say something else. In California, the EPA reversed its mandate on emissions, even though their staff had recommended that the emission standards should be enforced in California. We could go on and on. The official science of the Bush administration represents a science that's politically managed. It's not unfettered science.

Bryant Welch: I think that states what I was trying for very, very well.

BuzzFlash: As a society, given our diversity of backgrounds, we are held together primarily by the rule of law. The legal system was at the root of our society in resolving grievances. Without it, there'd be anarchy, particularly because we aren't a homogeneous culture. The law becomes the arbiter between citizens, and between citizens and corporations. But if you don't respect lawyers, and you only respect judges appointed by the right wing, you're not living in a constitutionally structured state that respects the separation of powers and due process.

Bryant Welch: I couldn't agree with you more. And you made the point that I don't think is getting enough attention with the Bush administration, in terms of the federal judiciary being stacked with conservative judges. Last week in one courtroom a 26-year-old African American man was there because he had had consensual sex with a girlfriend who was a few months under the age of 16. The judge, after careful thought, as he said, sentenced him to 17 years in prison.

BuzzFlash: This was after prayer, not after reading the law.

Bryant Welch: The maximum sentence was 20 years for statutory rape, and that's not that unusual across the country. But the judge exercised his "discretion" and gave him 85% of the maximum sentence. I mean, you're sitting there and you're watching the whole family when the sentence is pronounced. He can't hug his mother. He's just gone.

BuzzFlash: That seems to represent the imposition of a moral code. You do have a chapter on the alternative reality created by the religious right, and how it starts to impose itself on the legal system.

But let me ask you about your Chapter 7, because Fox News is of endless interest to our readership. Some of our readers may watch Bill O'Reilly as much as readers of right-wing sites. Fox News creates an alternative reality that reinforces, perpetuates and actually helps mold the world view of its viewers. It doesn't deal in "fair and balanced" information. That is the ultimate of ironies. It's really there to perpetuate an alternative world view.

Bryant Welch: Well, as you know from reading Chapter 7, I couldn't agree with you more. I start the chapter with what I think is the most under-appreciated fact about Fox News, at least in the population at large, and that is that it's run by Roger Ailes. Now Roger Ailes in the media is a well-known man, but not if you ask the typical Fox News viewer. Roger Ailes was the first President Bush's PR man. And as I described in the book, he also worked for American tobacco interests. I describe in the book some of the experience I had with these PR people who had worked for tobacco. It was absolutely bizarre, the way in which they understood the role of symbols over the role of logic in the way the mind works. Ailes continues to be extraordinarily clever in the way that he uses symbols.

If you want to present an unfair, totally biased media outlet, the first thing you do is stake out a claim for being "fair and unbiased." And that, of course, is what they've done. They say it over and over and over. And it really does become like an implant in the viewer's mind. I had dinner with some friends long ago who had watched Fox News. And I said to them, "Why do you watch it?" They said, "Because it's fair and balanced." Literally, it's just zip -- here, I push the button. They activated that chip. That was the answer to that.

BuzzFlash: Well, it used to be, if a politician was caught lying, they would eventually ‘fess up. But in the current administration -- and Cheney is a great practitioner of this -- if you say a lie five times, it becomes the truth. It used to be most politicians would back off if confronted with a lie, or they would shade it a little, but then they wouldn't bring it up again. But what you have now -- at Fox News, in the Bush administration, with Cheney -- is that they keep coming back with the lie. They keep repeating it.

As an example, one of the many lies and deceptions about the Iraq war was that there was a connection, prior to 9/11, of a serious sort, between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Even after Bush finally, once admitted that we don't really have any proof of any such connection, Cheney kept saying there was a connection. He referred to some meeting in Czechoslovakia, and just kept saying this. He didn't back off to this day.

This is a group of people that know if you're bold enough and you repeat things often enough, that a certain number of people are going to think it's true. If the President and the Vice President of the United States say something over and over again, even if it's not true, it becomes the truth -- I mean, as far as perception is concerned.

Bryant Welch: In the case of Fox News and the like, if you listen to Sean Hannity, if you listen to Bill O'Reilly, they really are very reminiscent of playground bullies. They just keep the powerful bombast, which, of course, is what Rush Limbaugh does, as well. It's really a matter of just asserting, asserting, asserting. Eventually people find it easier to just accept that version of reality.

BuzzFlash: One of the points that interests me about the right wing and Fox News -- and this is something that's not discussed a lot, but it kind of fascinates me -- is that there's an inherent sense of victimization in them. They've been victimized, according to what Bill O'Reilly says.

Who is really a victim? From my perspective, who's really affecting Bill O'Reilly's life? What are liberals doing to him or Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh? If you listen to them, somehow they convey the sense that liberals -- whoever that might be -- are almost the root of all evil in the United States. They're just below Osama bin Laden in terms of being the enemy. What is going on there?

Bryant Welch: Yes, and I do use a lot of examples in the book that are very similar to what you're saying. What I think is at play in that is that I don't think that O'Reilly et al. feel like they are personally victims. What they're doing is manipulating the envy and the frustrations and accumulated envy of their audience. I talk about this happening in what I call the three battleground states -- that is, the three psychological states that are manipulated to undercut people's confidence in their own reality sense, and to make them then become more dependent on the more authoritarian gas lighters or manipulators. And something I think is most important right now is envy. What O'Reilly, Limbaugh and the others are doing is they are harnessing the resentment that we all accumulate in life.

The audience they target does have a lot of resentment and unrecognized envy. And envy is ubiquitous, but we don't talk about it in our culture much. But if you can find a way to trigger off people's envy and help them disguise the fact that it is envy from themselves, and convince them that it's morally appropriate for them to be outraged, you have created an enormous amount of hatred that will be attached to the political target that you're trying to defeat.

This is what's happened with John McCain with the Paris Hilton ads. They're trying to say that Barack Obama's the most popular person in the world. Now, liberals are making fun of those ads, but the ads are very sophisticated and very dangerous. Obama has a very short period of time in which to understand what's happened, because they're doing two different things. It comes in two steps.

Obama is so popular. Obama receives all this adulation. All of us would like that somewhat. So they build up our envy. But, then, in the next step, they say it's unfair that he has it. He's not qualified. He doesn't care about us. We're suffering. He just goes about collecting his adoration and adulation. Now, that is a powerful, powerful message. It taps people's envy, and it is going to make them hate Obama.

BuzzFlash: It converts envy into resentment and anger.

Bryant Welch: Right. That's why negative campaign ads work.

BuzzFlash: And it returns to the theme of victimization, in essence, because he's unfairly being elevated, I'm being victimized, even though I'm a hardworking, church-going person. I'm not getting the sort of adulation he is. He doesn't deserve it.

Bryant Welch: That's right. All of the things that I would like to have for myself, are being unfairly kept from me by these liberals who have an unfair advantage, who lie, cheat, and steal. And then I've got every reason to hate them. It's not that I'm envious. It's that they're cheating me out of my just desserts. Obviously people don't go through that cognitively and think that. But those are the feelings that these negative ads take people to. That's why you see someone like Al Gore losing to George Bush, and John Kerry being tarnished as "unfit" to lead. And it's George Bush, with his military record, that's fit to lead?

So the first point is, you've got people there sitting on a molten lava of hatred. Next, it's pretty darn easy with television to get it targeted to whoever you want to target it to.

BuzzFlash: Isn't this basically demagoguery?

Bryant Welch: Oh, yes.

BuzzFlash: Isn't the essential Republican strategy, since the Nixon years, demagoguery and manipulation of emotion rather than policy?

Bryant Welch: That's right. And State of Confusion is my attempt to get inside demagoguery and show how it operates inside the mind. And particularly, how vulnerable we are to it with techniques like television.

BuzzFlash: I want to go to your last chapter and the last paragraph. And this is, you know, one attempt to be sort of hopeful, which sometimes I find difficult. But anyways, you end with - let me just read the last paragraph and the last sentence.

There is an old "Far Side" cartoon that shows a dinosaur giving what appears to be a State of the Union address to a distinguished-looking audience of fellow dinosaurs. He says, "The picture's pretty bleak, gentlemen. The world's climates are changing. The mammals are taking over. We all have a brain the size of a walnut."

And then you ask, "Is this America?"

Bryant Welch: We need to understand how to fight back against the kind of thing that John McCain is doing today to Barack Obama. We have to understand how envy works, and we have to learn how to place John McCain on his own petard.

The notion is that if one speaks nicely and doesn't say anything bad about your opponent it is going to lead to victory -- that really is fools' folly. Now that doesn't mean be dishonest or lie or cheat. It's like Abraham Lincoln said before he unleashed negative counterattacks -- if you don't stop lying about me, I'll start telling the truth about you.

John McCain repeatedly talks about Obama's age, says he's not mature. But we're not allowed to talk about John McCain's age? John McCain is 72 years old now. He's had melanoma three times. And if you watch him come down a ramp from the airplane, his wife holds him up. Now I'm sorry -- it may be a bit awkward and it may hurt John McCain's feelings. But as a country, we have an obligation to factor that into whether he's suitable to lead.

Now we failed that with George Bush. We had a man who was a drunk by his own admission until he was 40. Well, what are the implications of that on the functioning of a man who's in his early fifties? You think of what a young man learns in his thirties and forties that prepares him to lead in his fifties. And George Bush didn't go through that, and it shows. And we've paid a heck of a price.

But we weren't allowed to look at those things during the campaign.

Look at the issue of mental stability. We have to look at the mental stability of John McCain. Now, if we look at the kind of person we want to answer the phone at three in the morning -- what is the one folly you don't want them to have? It's a bad temper. We don't want someone answering the phone at three in the morning who is hot-tempered, shoots from the hip, and has a long history of temper tantrums. That's John McCain.

Barack Obama doesn't have temper tantrums. He's remarkably calm and cool.

What about morality? We're not allowed to talk about the fact that John McCain has a lengthy and pretty well documented history of adultery, including that's how his marriage started? We can't talk about that? Why not?

What about integrity? John McCain got on finance reform as an attempt to distance himself from his behavior in the Keating scandal. Do you hear people talking about the Keating scandal in this election? But isn't integrity in public office relevant? We're not allowed to talk about that.

John McCain is making the fact that he has possibly helped clean up the mess he made in Iraq with the surge. But no hammers away at the bad judgment that going into Iraq was. They don't talk about his employment of lobbyists nearly to the extent they should. You don't see ads coming out talking about the fact that here's a guy that's going to be making a decision about the conflict of the Soviet Union and Georgia. And one of his campaign advisors -- lobbyists -- are working for the government of Georgia.

So, there are all these things -- these subtle social injunctions that liberals are adhering to that they don't want to go negative. But every single one of those things could be talked about in the context of responding to the attacks John McCain is making on Obama.

Now, Obama is better than Kerry in that he will at least respond back and kind of parry and shoot back a little bit of a counterpoint. But you do not see the kind of powerful statement of what John McCain is like. John McCain's old. He's got a bad temper. He's not emotionally mature enough to be president. He's got a history of immorality. He's got questionable integrity. And his judgment has been remarkably bad for going to war, hanging out with lobbyists, being in compromised situations with women. That's not being suitable to lead the free world.

We have got to get over our fear of saying these things. It's certainly got to be something that we in the progressive media are talking about loud and clear.

BuzzFlash: Thank you again for a book we highly, highly recommended and proudly offer on BuzzFlash for our readers -- State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind.

Bryant Welch: Thank you, Mark. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for your interest in the book.
Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.

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Resources:

State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind by Bryant Welch, available from The BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace.
Read 625 times Last modified on Friday, 05 September 2008 11:23