I had to laugh a bit when I saw this Boing! Boing! post about a poll that aimed to find out what people know about candidates they’re planning to vote for. The short version is that many people who support President Bush don’t know the first thing about his actual positions. For example, it found that a majority of Bush supporters don’t realize that he’s opposed to the Kyoto Treaty or the International Criminal Court.
Frankly, I don’t find it that surprising that people are misinformed, but Boing! Boing! and the person who did the poll have to take it one step further — Bush supporters aren’t just misiniformed, they’re actually suffering from cognitive dissonance. Or, as Mark Fraunfelder succinctly puts it in the title of his post, “Poll shows that Bush supporters lie to themselves to feel better.”
This is a bizarre line of reasoning. For example, we know that there is disagreement over whether Osama Bin Laden was really at Tora Bora in late 2001, and so far there’s no definitive evidence either way. Despite this John Kerry has taken to claiming that Bin Laden was definitely at Tora Bora and Bush let him escape.
Should we consider people who agree with Kerry to be suffering from cognitive dissonance and lying to themselves? In my opinion this is dangerous as it creates a situation where we begin to believe and argue that those we disagree with politically are not just wrong or misinformed, but that they suffer from personality disorders or worse.
I’m not surprised when I see this from Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, but when it comes from otherwise reasonable people like the folks at Boing! Boing! I am surprised.
Consider, for example, a post that Cory Doctorow made on October 15th in which he linked to a cartoon video, Pirates and Emperors, and headlined his post “Schoolhouse Rock that tells it like it is.”
Really? According to Pirates and Emperors,
Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were all mass murderers when they were on the CIA payroll. That’s why they got the job. Either that or Uncle Sam is just a bad judge of character.
This is simply not true and, in fact, is directly contracted by the 9/11 Commission Report,
Twenty-three when he arrived in Afghanistan in 1980, Bin Ladin was the seventeenth of 57 children of a Saudi construction magnate. Six feet five and thin, Bin Ladin appeared to be ungainly but was in fact quite athletic, skilled as a horseman, runner, climber, and soccer player. He had attended Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. By some accounts, he had been interested there in religious studies, inspired by tape recordings of fiery sermons by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian and a disciple of Qutb. Bin Ladin was conspicuous among the volunteers not because he showed evidence of religious learning but because he had access to some of his family’s huge fortune. Though he took part in at least one actual battle, he became known chiefly as a person who generously helped fund the anti-Soviet jihad.20
Bin Ladin understood better than most of the volunteers the extent to which the continuation and eventual success of the jihad in Afghanistan depended on an increasingly complex, almost worldwide organization. This organization included a financial support network that came to be known as the “Golden Chain,” put together mainly by financiers in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. Donations flowed through charities or other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Bin Ladin and the “Afghan Arabs” drew largely on funds raised by this network, whose agents roamed world markets to buy arms and supplies for the mujahideen, or “holy warriors.”21
In fact, while it’s a popular claim among far Left wing activists, there’s no evidence that Osama Bin Laden was ever on the CIA payroll. The United States practice in Afghanistan during the mujahadeen war against the Soviets was to give arms and aid to Pakistan’s ISI which then disbursed such aid and largely had a free reign over how it did so. CIA officers did meet with Afghan leaders, many of whom were themselves Islamist nutcases, but apparently not with Arab fighters. After all, the Arab fighters didn’t need American or Pakistani help — Bin Ladin was reportedly bringing in $20-$30 million a month in funding through financial networks he helped set up and coordinate.
For what it’s worth, Bin Laden has also denied that he ever received any aid from Americans.
Moreover, it is simply wrong to call Osama Bin Laden a “mass murderer” at this point in his life. Bin Laden’s main role in Afghanistan through the end of the Soviet occupation was as a source of funding for and recruitment of Arab fighters.
At this point, I guess I should write that those responsible for Boing! Boing! are victims of cognitive dissonance who simply ignore any information, such as the 9/11 Commission Report, that might upset their world view, preferring to lie to themselves instead.
But that seems a bit extreme and silly. Can’t people just be wrong or have honest disagreements without throwing around accusations that people are lying to themselves?