Wikiepedia defines groupthink as:
…. a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas.
I wanted to make a few comments on what can best be called “ideological groupthink.” If you have ever heard people talk in terms of their ideological views you may notice that they rarely subject them to scrutiny.
Everyone has probably encountered the family dinner rule of “no religion or politics.” Mom or Dad or Grandma doesn’t want to hear fighting. They just want everyone to get together and have a good time. The validity of the views and whether there are any flaws or contradictions will go unnoticed and even if pressed it is unlikely one party will say, “You’re right. That is a good question. I haven’t thought of that before.” I have always gotten the impression that this because when people discuss religion and politics it’s not usually up for debate. We are expressing our opinions. We are going through the polemical motions of defending them.
One of the best examples may be religious beliefs. A believer may talk about the glory of God and how Jesus died on the cross for our sins but “the problem of evil” is an irritant not wanting to be discussed. In a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, really all we want is for others to agree with us. We want to speak our minds and have others agree. If they don’t then, “no religion or politics.”
There is a gubernatorial election going on in my home state of Texas. Rick Perry has a particular attack on his opponent: Kay Bailey Hutchison “votes with Washington.” In “conservative” political discourse “Washington” is a four-letter word. At least in terms of domestic policies. One common refrain from conservatives on healthcare reform is they adamantly don’t want government involved. They’re too corrupt. It would be a nightmare. I will come back to this…
In terms of foreign policy “conservatives” often think Washington is sacrosanct. Rally round the President. Old Glory. Bald Eagles. Patriotism. Yellow ribbons. Pride in country is not in short supply when it comes to our actions overseas. Washington may err from time to time but its motives are always pure.
The wikipedia page also describes “mind guards” as “self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.” I bring mind guards up because I think understanding them is important to getting some insight into why “conservatives” are pro-government when it comes to foreign policy (i.e., aggression, colonialism, imperialism) but anti-government when it comes to domestic policy (i.e., healthcare, education, social programs).
The first thing that comes to a dissidents mind like mine is “Cui bono?” To whose benefit? Why do mind guards repeat conflicting narratives over and over? Is there a pattern that emerges? Interestingly enough, yes.
If we look at foreign and domestic policies from a class perspective and see what private economic interests are involved we see there is no conflict. Now remember, in our political system elected officials are paid-for by corporate donations and predictably reflect their donor’s interests a la Tom Fergusson’s Investment theory of politics.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the US is so militarily involves in the Middle East. We don’t really need to turn to declassified internal documents to see that access oil is an important commodity in the global system. I remember some years ago I found a 1996 RAND publication at a local Half Price Books store. It was titled US Nuclear Strategy in a post-Cold War Era. This is a study funded by the federal government – “Washington” – to justify the continuation of a nuclear weapons program since the dissolution of the USSR. We needed a new paradigm and this was theirs:
The dependence of the West and Japan on Persian Gulf oil and the power and wealth that come from controlling that oil guarantee U.S. interest in that part of the world for as far into the future as anyone can see.
In other words, we should keep our stockpile of nukes to project our domination over “Persian Gulf oil” because we will guarantee power and wealth for as far into the future as anyone can see.
It wasn’t just this study. Long before World War Two it became apparent that the US would be a leading actor in global affairs. Even during WW2 the State Department began planning on their role in the Middle East. In a 1944 U.S. State Dept. we learn that: "…oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history."
In an August 1990 memo – National Security Directive 45 – spells out the U.S. interests in the region: “U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf are vital to the national security. These interests include access to oil and the security and stability of key friendly states in the region.”
Even Jay Garner, the (retired) Lt. Gen who was the first “administrator” of occupied Iraq, admitted as much:
The Philippines for the lack of a better term was in essence a cooling station for the navy. It allowed the US Navy to maintain a great presence in the Pacific. I think it is a bad analogy but we should look right now as Iraq as our cooling station in the Middle East where we have some presence there and it gives us a settling effect there and it also, though, gives us a strategic advantage there.
It’s not just the Mideast. We see an imperial foreign policy all over the globe. From Europe to Latin America to Asia to Africa.
Let’s turn to domestic policies and in particular: healthcare reform. There is a persistent narrative being pounded out that says the federal government wants to control healthcare and set up “death panels” and that if the government gets involved all hell will break loose. But the real reason for the opposition is not this. The real reason is that a national healthcare program – a Medicare for all or singlepayer – would be an end to profits for the insurance companies and they have been very active in lobbying congressional opposition to any reform that spells their death. And it shows by singlepayer even being an option.
I routinely hear folks regurgitate the quip they hear from mind guards: I don’t want a bureaucrat between me and my healthcare. But what about an unelected lawyer or accountant or corporate officer?
Here is the reality: we spend over $2 trillion a year on healthcare (16% of our GDP) yet nearly 50 million are uninsured, countless more under-insured and we rank low for quality of health. Over half of all bankruptcies filed in the US are for medical bills and over half of them have insurance.
Elsewhere in the developed world we see much less spending, with total coverage and higher quality of health. This is done by the government being involved. Taiwan, for example, spends just over 2% of their GDP on healthcare. They modeled their national insurance plan on our Medicare program but extended it to everyone.
If we had a Medicare for all reform our spending would go down. This would be a boon for the economy since our healthcare spending is doing more harm than good. True, taxes for Medicare would go up but you wouldn’t be paying a premium (or co-pay or prescription, etc). For nearly all Americans, our out-of-pocket expenses would be less.
In both areas economic interests of the wealthy come before the general population in the countries we impose our will on and at home. Of course it takes some false narratives to ensure popular support. We invade to fight communism, terrorism or to spread democracy. We oppose a national healthcare plan because “Washington” would ruin everything.
I don’t suggest we should look at all foreign policies as being imperial and all domestic policies as being for the social good, but I do suggest we look more carefully and critically. Relieving Third World debt or giving billions of dollars in aid to Africa to help with AIDS and other treatable diseases isn’t necessarily for imperial purposes (though Bush’s PEPFAR certainly stunk with it). And the bloated Pentagon budget is no more of a social good than Social Security is in a crisis. Well, Social Security is in a crisis of sorts. It’s being threatened with extermination by falsely saying it’s facing a financial crisis. More revenue is coming in than going out for the program and that won’t change until the 2040’s and that’s assuming there are no changes. If, however, we remove the cap which is highly regressive then the program can increase its benefits and remain rock solid for a much longer time, possibly forever. But so long as Bill Gates continues to see less than half of one percent of his annual income taxed for the program while a single-mom working double-shifts at IHOP continues to see 100% of hers taxed then we will have a problem – just decades away.
Beware of Mind Guards….