Page Two: The Vision Thing
Championing idealism over realism is not inherently good, moral, or noble
An example of that last item would be the argument made by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who wrote to this paper to say that of course it was an inside job; look at the historical evidence – which, he argued, was the Reichstag fire that Hitler used as an excuse to tighten his control of Germany. Simply naming these two events in no way proves causality. They very much could be connected, or they could have almost no relationship to each other.
President John F. Kennedy was shot almost a half-century back. Since that tragedy in Dallas, there have been tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of conspiracy researchers. Yet nearly five decades later, all they hold in common is their certainty that there was a conspiracy and a collection of facts (the term is used loosely here). There are many different theories among the researchers, with many of them assuming a widespread government disinformation campaign, which is why there are so few pieces of information they all assume to be accurate. All this extraordinary research does not prove there was a conspiracy, nor is the lack of a smoking gun all these decades later an indication there wasn't one.
Any case that is made, however, is completely circumstantial. The law frowns on but does completely dismiss circumstantial evidence. Given that there is no common central thesis or even an encyclopedic collection of agreed-upon facts, it's near-impossible to believe anything is going to come from all this theorizing.
At an Assassination Symposium on Kennedy in Dallas a decade ago, I watched a group of ardent researchers surround Marina Oswald, Lee Harvey Oswald's widow, barraging her with questions. One showed her the famous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald holding his new rifle. Many argue that this is a completely doctored photo. When asked, the assassin's widow replied, "Of course I remember that photo; I was there the day it was taken." There was no response from the crowd.
Central to my thesis here is the argument that if you examine any major historical event closely, you are going to find an enormous collection of bits of information that don't fit in with the overall theory of what happened. Relationships that individuals may not even be aware they have in common are uncovered; any errors by media or government officials can be understood many ways – but not one of them accidental – and even "documentary" recordings or filming, rather than offering an indisputable truth, are often open to multiple interpretations.
That conspiracy-theory researchers are looking for one kind of evidence while rejecting others taints them as historians. The 9/11 conspiracy community boasts an army of intelligent and devoted supporters, but its case also is entirely circumstantial. Again, there is no single, agreed-upon smoking gun or unanimously accepted theory of what happened.
Driving these researchers is a gut feeling that something catastrophically wrong has happened, and they are determined to find out what it is.
The point of this column is actually not to launch another attack on conspiracy theorists but to continue with the argument I've been trying to get at for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, the dominant political forces and the overwhelming tone of political discussion privilege idealism over realism; passionate, personal beliefs over compromised practicality; and personal conscience over community good. It's believed that not just the government, but almost any large public or private business/institution, is inherently corrupt and monstrous, so any renegade action or radical belief is endowed with purity and visionary courage. Compromise is generally agreed to be evil.
The U.S. Constitution can be read and misread in any number of ways. I argue that at its core is not the will of the people nor the dominance of any set of ideas but rather that compromise, reached through passionately partisan disagreement and debate, makes for the best government. (Again, just because compromise is often good should not suggest that all compromises are good.) Uncompromising, single-issue vetting of all who hold political office is a cancer in our constitutional republic. The loyalist champions of single issues like animal rights, guns, abortion, education, immigration, no matter which side they are on, are also among the most steadfast opponents of our constitutional form of government, whether they believe that or not.
Taking a deep breath, I see that in the case of every one of the oppositions I describe above, I have passionately championed the side that I here cast more negatively. These dualities are not absolutes, and the meaning of those ideas is fluid. Most of my life, for example, has been spent more in the service of idealism than realism (though some would claim this has as much to do with my ongoing mental state as anything else). Repeatedly, throughout the world's and our national history, views considered radical, outrageous, renegade, and subversive during their times in retrospect seem prescient. Renegades and radicals offering unpopular ideas, though attacked and suppressed by the status quo, have proven instead to represent socially aware vision.
The problem is that not every divergent voice or point of view is valid. Almost all embrace the triumph of causes driven by individual integrity. Regularly, certain statements/slogans are offered up as proof that this minority view or that unpopular one have been historically vetted. An observation such as "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is good men doing nothing" is offered up as a justification for all kinds of actions and philosophies. In so many cases, it is absolutely the truth. But as a statement, it is a descriptive caution rather than a prescriptive one. Every anti-government action, every social cause, every renegade act is not inherently good, moral, or noble. That there are times when resistance has proven courageous and correct does not mean that every act of resistance is morally valid. Not to pick on my friends in the conspiracy camp too much, but when they say anything like "Open your mind and open your eyes" or "Are you scared of the truth?" they are being exclusive rather than inclusive. If you do not believe in the government-9/11 conspiracy, that means you are scared of the truth or that you have closed eyes and a closed mind. There is reality and opinion; there is conjecture and supposition; there is research and there is building a partisan case.
But what is "good," "patriotic," "truth," "factual," and/or "historical" is always open to discussion. Anointing oneself with righteousness and morality means nothing. There is a distinction between outside reality and personal opinions and beliefs. All too often, those on every side of every argument confuse the two, using completely loaded language to bless themselves and validate their causes.
Even though it doesn't appear to be, this column is really about taxes.