I recently ran across an amusing piece of irony in another of Edge.org’s recent collections of essays by the intellectual avant-garde. It appeared in the introductory essay of the book, entitled “What Have You Changed Your Mind About?” edited by John Brockman. According to its author, Brian Eno, “There is now an almost total disconnection between the validity of a story and its media success. If it’s a good enough – or convenient enough – story, it will echo eternally around the media universe.” Eno then goes on to unwittingly prove his own assertion with the observation that, “The result is a diminishing accountability at almost every level of public discourse and a burgeoning industry of professional Swiftboaters.”
The rest of the essay is a ringing appeal to the virtues of intellectual flexibility and the ability to admit being wrong, closing with the sentence, “Changing our minds is our hope for the future.” The irony in all this is that, by using the term “Swiftboaters” in the context above, Enos identifies himself as both a denizen of the ideological left and an ideologue. He could no more change his mind about the Swiftboaters than a leopard could change its spots, because a particular perception of who the Swiftboaters were is part of his ideological identity. It defines the ideological box he lives in, and, if he changed his mind about it, he would lose that identity in the process.
The Swiftboat myth, which has been anchored in concrete in leftist dogma lo now these many years, is of a piece with the equally imbecilic “Astroturf” myth. The Swiftboat veterans served in Vietnam at about the same time I did. During the 2004 election campaign, we were to believe that scores of them, older men approaching retirement age who had everything to gain by their association with a heroic new President, suddenly threw honor, respectability and common decency out the door and decided to recite a pack of lies in unison like so many mindless zombies at the behest of Karl Rove. Absurd and implausible as this story was and is, it was seized on by the political left and believed implicitly because it was politically expedient to believe it.
Today we see the same phenomenon in response to the Tea Party Movement. Against all odds, we are to believe that all of the hundreds of thousands of people who have attended these events have no real political concerns of their own, but are merely the mindless tools of lobbyists, corporate bosses, and GOP operatives. Those who would foist this grossly distorted version of reality on us refer to the process as “astroturfing.”
Lacking expertise in such matters, I cannot presume to advise those who create these myths with respect to their political expedience. I can only speak for myself and note that, when the odor of the rotting corpse of the truth becomes too strong on the left, atheist that I am, I tend to turn to the right to avoid the stench.