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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 12-Feb-07
This week's idiot of the week: Robert Reich

Web Log - February, 2007

This week's idiot of the week: Robert Reich

"Cognitive dissonance" is turning people from the Boomer generation into fanatics.

First, let me make it clear that this stuff about fanatics is a generational thing, not a political thing. The Republican Boomer "neocons" were wrong that the Iraq war would bring democracy to the Mideast, and they blame that on Bush's mistakes rather than a fundamental error in reasoning. Also, as Democratic bloggers and columnists often point out, many Boomer neocons are now advocating military strikes on Iran to bring democracy to the Mideast, which is a sign of neocon fanaticism. So this is not about politics.

The "common wisdom" in Washington these days, especially after the November election, is that the Boomer neocons were fanatics whom history proved wrong. The subject of this article is that the leftist Boomers have also turned into fanatics, and to explain why Boomers are turning into fanatics irrespective of political beliefs.

I've pointed out several times on this web site how journalists and politicians are looking more and more like complete idiots.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos looked like an idiot in November because Jordan's King Abdullah had to tell him five times of the importance of the Israeli/Palestine situation, but he was still clueless. NBC's Chris Matthews exhibited vitriolic partisanship and sheer stupidity after President Bush's speech, making it clear that he knows nothing about such things as the Iran/Iraq war or the Truman Doctrine. CNN's Michael Ware, talking about the Iraq war, said "If this isn't a civil war, then I'd hate to see a real civil war," apparently completely unaware that there is a real civil war going on Darfur, and that the Iraq war is nothing like that.

Incidentally, Chris Matthews has done it again. In a telephone interview on Wednesday on MSNBC and on "Imus in the Morning" radio show, Chris Matthews said, "We love good mayors because we love our cities and Giuliani is the city guy, and Iím so sick of southern guys with ranches running this country. I want a guy to run for president who doesnít have a f--king ó Iím sorry, a ranch." Matthews used explicit over-the-top language to refer to both of the President Bushes, and he said it on nationwide radio and television news programs (although his swear word was apparently bleeped on MSNBC).

On Sunday's news shows this week, the unchallenged assumption was that Iraq is in a civil war and headed for a bloodbath, with a few Republicans expressing the hope that the "surge" will prevent a bloodbath.

As I've explained many times on this web site, Iraq cannot possibly be headed for a civil war bloodbath, because Iraq is in a generational Awakening era. I won't go over the reasoning again today, except to note that everybody is making policy recommendations based on assumptions that are completely wrong, with the result that the policies are almost certain to be wrong. It must be very depressing to these Boomers that their predictions of a bloodbath keep turning out to be wrong, but that's life.

But let's now turn to the idiot of the week.


Robert Reich on <i>This Week With George Stephanopoulos</i> <font size=-2>(Source: ABC)</font>
Robert Reich on This Week With George Stephanopoulos (Source: ABC)

On Sunday morning on the ABC news talk show, the guest pundit was Robert Reich, President Clinton's Secretary of Labor and now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Reich predicted that the Iraq war was headed for a bloodbath civil war, and added, "I hope I'm wrong, but the surge is not going to work, and [the situation in Iraq] will be worse."

In fact, Reich has been predicting a bloodbath for a while now. In a November entry in his blog, he wrote: "I think McCain knows Iraq is out of our hands Ė itís disintegrating into civil war, and by 2008 will be a bloodbath."

Now, speaking as someone who makes predictions, this is a very foolish prediction. Even if you ignore the fact that Generational Dynamics says that a bloodbath civil war is impossible at this time in history, Reich is making a prediction based on unpredictable chaotic events, and so there's no way that this prediction could be anything more than a wishful guess.

And now look at a recent entry in Robert Reich's blog, where he wrote the following:

"Question: Why is Bush willing to risk his partyís future, as well as his own legacy, by putting more troops into Iraq when itís clear to almost everyone Ė including top military brass, foreign policy experts, and most analysts and journalists on the ground there Ė that Iraq is descending so quickly into civil war that more troops wonít make a bit of difference except causing more American deaths and instigating more violence?

(Choose one):

A. Itís a [political] delaying tactic [to allow him to delay exiting the war until the end of his term.] ...

B. Itís a predicate for extending the war into Iran. ... Weíve been this route before. Bush preemptively launches a missile into Iran to wipe out its nuclear facilities. The American public forgets the quagmire in Iraq, Sunni Arab nations and Israel rush to defend Bushís preemptive move, and Bush calls for a regional solution. By this point he claims vindication and turns the even bigger problem over to the next president.

C. Bush is clueless. He doesnít know how bad the situation is in Iraq because he has surrounded himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear, the only TV he watches is Fox News, and the only radio is the Rush Limbaugh Show."

Now really, dear reader, for those of you who criticize me for sometimes calling politicians, pundits and journalists idiots, can you really blame me for calling Reich an idiot? This has got to be one of the stupidest things I've ever seen, and it's amazing to me that he hasn't disowned it as a relic of temporary insanity.

So he's making a lot of hysterical claims based on two false, unsupported assumptions: that Iraq is headed for a bloodbath civil war, and that the Administration is planning to launch a war against Iran.

In the process he calls President Bush "clueless," when it's perfectly clear that Bush is smarter than Reich. In fact, as we said, Reich is a moron.

However, here's the interesting part:

I went back through Robert Reich's blog, which he began in April, 2006, and through a bunch of Reich's columns dating back to 2001. I wanted to see when it was that Reich started predicting that Iraq was a civil war bloodbath.

Well, apparently he never made that claim prior to his November blog entry, quoted above. Maybe he thought it, but he never said it publicly, as far as I've been able to find.

In fact, skimming through all his articles back over six years, he never made any predictions whatsoever prior to the November election. (Actually, to be more precise, the earliest prediction I could find was his incorrect 4-Aug-2006 prediction that "Senator Joe Lieberman will soon be former Senator Joe Lieberman.")

Prior to that, I can't find any predictions whatsoever. He writes about the economy, the labor market, the Iraq war, and is always critical of the Bush administration, but never predicts anything!

Why is that? What changed in November?

I honestly don't believe that this change is a figment of my imagination. There are too many things -- many of which I've already commented on on this web site -- that indicate that something has happened.

For example, I've seen Chris Matthews on MSNBC many times over the years, and I've never seen him come unhinged the way he has recently. I've noted that Boomer politicians appear to more angry and desperate than before, and that they seem to almost manic-depressive, recalling their giddy, giggling manic stage, that I described on December 7.

As I also mentioned, I've seen this same kind of behavior in friends, as well, both personally and online. There's a kind of desperate fanaticism, as they panic and almost become crazy. It happened recently to the entire city of Boston, as people exploded over the cartoon hoax, which I compared to the 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio show panic.

I've come to relate this to a situation known as "cognitive dissonance."

The thing that characterizes the Boomer generation, as opposed to the older Silent generation and the younger Generation X and Millennial generation, is that Boomers are absolutely certain that they're right. Boomers developed this opinion of themselves in the 1960s and 1970s, when their concerted action forced two Presidents to leave office in disgrace -- Presidents Johnson and Nixon.

Today, Boomers are totally convinced that they're right (no matter how many times they change their minds). They're so certain they're right that their minds don't even have room to question their assumptions. Their minds can't handle "disconfirmation," proof that their assumptions are wrong. That's cognitive dissonance.

The craziness of the leftist Boomers is totally apparent. To them, Bush is evil, Obama is good, Hillary Clinton is evil. The leftist Boomers overwhelmingly supported the Iraq war when it began, and now have decided that they should overwhelmingly have opposed the war. Their minds can't handle this conflict, resulting in the fury and anxiety and idiocy that I've been talking about.

The term "cognitive dissonance" was coined in the 1950s by Leon Festinger, who performed a fascinating experiment, described in his fascinating book, When Prophecy Fails.

Two members of Festinger's team infiltrated a religious sect predicting the end of the world by a specific date. The predictions were based on messages from extraterrestials known as the "Guardians" that one cult member, Mrs. Marian Keech, started receiving [p. 32]. The members of the sect would be rescued by flying saucers and then, four days later, there would be a huge flood drowning everyone left behind. The members of the sect were highly committed to this belief: Many had given up their families and all worldly belongings to join the other sect members in a vigil in a member's home, waiting for the end.

The first disconfirmation came when the flying saucers didn't show up at the predicted time. There were four wrenching days of waiting, as the saucers failed to come at each newly predicted hour, as specifed by Mrs. Keech as she continued to receive "messages." The final and biggest disconfirmation came after the four days were up, and the world did not end.

Although the group were a private sect, what they were doing had become known, and they received ridicule through the newspapers, and they received visits by people who believed them and people who ridiculed them. During the four-day wait, a couple of people, the people who had joined most recently, left the group, but everyone else stayed. Here's what happened:

Chaotic though they may seem, the days immediately preceding December 21 [the day that the floods were supposed to appear] were at least loosely organized around a dominant theme -- cataclysm and salvation. By dawn on the 21st, however, this semblance of organization had vanished as the members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs. In succeeding days, they also made a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true, and they conducted a vain search for guidance from the Guardians." [p. 174]

This is beginning to look very much like the behavior of today's leftist Boomers.

Another change of behavior was equally familiar today: Led by Mrs. Keech, the cult members began actively proselytizing. They had previously kept information about the cataclysm secret, "in order to prevent panic." [p. 129,182] But now they sought out even the most skeptical nonbelievers, in order to convert them. For example, one sarcastic commentator whom Mrs. Keech had repeatedly refused to speak with suddenly was welcomed with open arms. In fact, Mrs. Keech couldn't stop talked, as he recorded the interview, and answered all his questions in detail. [p. 175]

Another reporter who hosted a program on women's issues asked her to comment, and she spoke at length on what's wrong with education, and how the messages from the Guardians explained how to straighten it out. [p.176]

Hordes of reporters and visitors came to the house, resulting in an "amiable, manic uproar." [p. 177]

One further trend was noticeable on December 21. As the day wore on, Mrs. Keech began to make more and more of the importance of some recent news items. The morning newspapers contained an article about an earthquake in Nevada that had occurred about five days earlier, pointing out that if the quake had happened in a populated area, the destruction would have been enormous. Mrs. Keech showed the story excitedly to the members of the group, emphasizing the fact that, indeed, catalysms were happening.... Here, she declared, was evidence for the validity of the prediction. This theme ... grew in importance in reponse to further disaster news.

At about 2 p.m. both the Associated Press and the United Press called [Mrs. Keech] to inform her of earthquakes that had occurred that very day in Italy and in California. She took this news in stride, telling the inquiring editors that "it all ties in with what I believe." [p. 180]

The next day, the group put out a press release:

Press Release. "Due to the confusion which has arisen from the prophecy we have decided to unite forces to complete the prophecy.

It wa reported on the 21st that the cataclysm was stayed by the hand of the God of Earth. The date was given in order to alert the people to the possibilities in case of a disturbance so that we could avoid panic.

It has come to our attention that the Flying Saucers, or more correctly, the 'Guardians of Earth,' are here for a definite purpose. They have been surveying the earth where there are faults in the earth's surface and they are prepared to land in case of an impending emergency and evacuate some of the people before the disturbance occurs.

It is necessary for the people to be prepared and alert to the possibilities in order to avoid panic." ...

We wish to call the people's attention to the fact that there have been a number of violent disturbances in the past few years, particularly the one several years ago in Assam and Tibet, and more recently in the Mediteranean area and Wesstern United States." [p. 182]

We'll quote one more incident from the book, and as you read this, please think of the name: "Barack Obama."

On December 24 a new participant observer was introduced into the group. We shall describe his reception in some detail, for it stands in vivid contrast to the treatment accorded [previous visitors]. They were received politely, but somewhat distantly. The new observer was dined, wooed, and made the center of attention. As the reader will see, the warmth of his welcome is attributable in good measure to the hope and expectation that he, at last, would bring the group their orders, would give them a plan for the future. Had he done so, it would have provided independent verification of their beliefs.

The new observer knocked at the door ... and asked to speak to Mrs. Keech. He was ushered inside where he immediately became the center of attention. Let him tell the story in his own words:

"Mrs. Keech asked me why I had called and I told her I read about her in the papers and wanted to know more. [They] picked up pads of paper and with pencils poised and were apparently ready to record our conversation.

"The significance of this didn't immediately occur to me although I realized quite soon that what they were looking for was a sign of some kind, and thought I had a special kind of message to deliver. ... I said that one of my courses had dealt with a little astronomy and that this had aroused my interest in space travel and I wanted to learn more.... At this point she looked at me and suggested that there were perhaps some things that I could tell her and this increased my feeling of being on the spot.... I, of course, said that I had nothing to tell her and that I knew nothing, but wanted to learn....

The role that I assumed ... was that of a person who was somewhat confused by the times and was lonely and sought guidance and understanding of many of the things that are happening today. [I was asked] if I had ever felt if I didn't belong on this planet.... I answered, of course, that I had [no such knowledge], but simply that I thought that I had been born in the same way that everyone else is born. This brought a smile from Mrs. Keech who looked at me again with a very knowing look....

[In a phone call with a friend that evening, Mrs. Keech said], "And we had a very, very, very, very, very special guest for dinner.... So it has been the most joyous, the most joyous Christmas that any of us have ever known." ...

[There were repeated visits from the stranger, and Mrs. Keech kept pressing him for information. After several days, he finally met with Mrs. Keech alone and later described their conversation this way:]

"She said in a very, kind of last-straw voice -- that's the only way I can describe it -- she seemed sort of at the end of her rope and she said, 'Are you sure that you have no message for me? Now that we are alone, we can talk.' And I said, 'Gee, I'm sorry, I just don't know of any message that I have.' She said, 'Do you feel that there are any disturbing influences around? Anything that's disrupting your giving me a message?' I, of course, answered that I wasn't aware of anything of this sort." ...

The experiences of this observer well characterize the state of affairs ... -- a persistent, frustrating search for orders. [pp. 190-192]

There are many, many similarities in this story to the way in which the leftist Boomers are acting today.

The manic-depressive behavior that I've documented on this web site is reflected in this story. The manic period began when the stranger arrived: "And we had a very, very, very, very, very special guest for dinner.... So it has been the most joyous, the most joyous Christmas that any of us have ever known." The whole episode illustrates that we've seen in leftist Boomers, culminating in a depressive state with "a persistent, frustrating search for orders," or a persistent, frustrating search for a solution to the problem in Iraq, reflected in the unrealistic hopes that many on the left are placing in Barack Obama.

A couple of weeks ago, a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote this about the attitude toward Obama:

From now on, and especially when he formally announces his candidacy on Feb. 10, he'll have mobs around him, security people and media people, and handlers, and party and money people, and the Daleys, and reporters, all prancing about, endlessly excited.

Not all reporters prance when Obama's name is mentioned, but there are more than a few. I'm thinking of those who are so enraptured that they write in prose evoking the excited shrieks of adolescent girls squealing at the Beatles when Obama was a child. National media coverage of the man has become so ridiculous, all but embarrassing, and he knows it, what with a veteran political writer longing to follow him into a locker room, to glimpse those pecs made famous in a People Magazine photo."

What I especially want to emphasize is the changes in behavior of the committed sect members after the disconfirmations.

Leon Festinger describes several ways in which the group members started proselytizing, starting with publicity seeking: "Most dramatic, of course, was the precipitous change in attitude toward the press." [p. 209] Whereas previously they had maintained secrecy and avoided the press, "This situation reversed itself with explosive immediacy within minutes after the group had developed the rationalization for the major disconfirmation on December 21." [p. 210] The visit by the stranger was especially striking: "In part, his reception is attributable to their clear need for guidance; in part, to their hope of confirmation, so desperate that a complete stranger is nominated as one of their elect -- a Guardian." [p. 211]

This is the behavior that I've been seeing over and over. Chris Matthews, who might previously have thought certain things without saying them, now is melting down, ranting and raving, invested in the belief that the President is evil and stupid. Robert Reich, who never predicted anything prior to last August, now desperately and openly predicts a bloodbath in 2008 in the hope of gaining confirmation for his political beliefs. And the entire Boomer left is going through a manic-depressive process which might end up anywhere.

However, as I said at the start, this article uses the Boomer left as examples, but its about the Boomer generation, not just one part of it.

In fact, it's not even just about the Boomers. The "Baby Boomer" generation is America's name for the generation born after World War II. For Generational Dynamics, the any generation born right after a crisis war is called a "Prophet generation," because they end up guiding the society or nation into the next crisis war.

What we're seeing here is the transformation of the Boomer generation into a generation of angry, desperate fanatics.

Why is this a problem? Because it's very, very dangerous. This fanaticism is a disease that can lead to disaster:

What we've all seen is that the Washington Boomer population really is in a state close to total hysteria and fanaticism. Everyone was giddy on December 6. Now, like a bunch of manic-depressive people drug addicts, the Boomers in Washington have gone thoroughly into the depressive phase. Everything is now a disaster and chaos. All is lost. Death is the only possibility.

The Washington crowd are in a depressive phase, and anyone who's depressed will grasp at anything to relieve their anxiety, and so Obama has been getting the "manic" treatment. Sooner or later the press will turn on Obama, and then he'll see what it's like to get the depressive treatment.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, lived through the Franco-Prussian war and the extremely bloody Paris Commune civil war in 1871, and saw the same craziness; that's presumably what he meant when he said, "Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule."

And at some point we'll see the result. Any international crisis in any country with Prophets as leaders will exhibit the same insanity that Nietzsche described. Any international political crisis, any bursting of any of the many financial bubbles that are currently extant, could cause a chain reaction. The United States would be blamed immediately (isn't it always?), the Prophet generation would quickly turn into a bunch of raving lunatic fanatics (as had already happened in Washington, incidentally), and our young Hero generation will start packing for war. (12-Feb-07) Permanent Link
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