UnCivil War and the American Public

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Public opinion oh public opinion…. so often I find the significance public opinion to be one of the worst side effects of this era of alleged instantenous communication.

Not to undermine the importance of people’s thoughts, experiences, and ideas… those things are fundamentally of interest and should ideally – be shared. But often times I look at public opinion reports, consider the kinds of initiatives different publics have supported throughout history, and I start to think – why the hell should we trust what is called “public opinion”? Seems like more often the public has behaved like an angry and fickle mob, who will support some very violent or irrational practices and then change their minds a year later, only to change their minds again sometime later. And what contributes to such poor judgement and dangerous behavior? – Misinformation. Poorly educated – or rather – educated in such a way that their world view is skewed to be based on half-truths and nationalistic revisions of history.

I bring this up because lately I see the news stories and blog posts about the American public opinion regarding the occupation of Iraq. I see them all the time on blogs like Americablog and Talkleft – pointing out the lack of support the government has from its citizens on this issue.
Granted – this matters in this type of democracy, especially when an election is coming up. But what strikes me is the idea that this opinion is a good barometer to measure what is happenning in Iraq. It almost assumes that the American public is very in tune with what is REALLY going on in that country. This, in turn, suggestions that the more popular sources – CNN, FOXnews, NYTimes (less popular than the first two obviously) – that they provide enough information for the viewing public to make a proper evaluation. Which at a certain level, I do not agree with.

Some will say it’s very Machiavelli of me, to distrust the public. But I am one of the public, and one thing I know for sure, is that the basic education combined with the dominant media outlets, did not give me the critical tools and a broad world view, which would allow me to see world events unfold through a wider and more informed lense. That ability came from other sources, university professors, people in my life, the internet, life experience abroad… not the typical education the average person can afford or will seek. Which means although I respect collective action and social consciousness, I refuse to accept “public opinion” as a reliable measure of how foreign policy should be carried out. That may not add up within the American political system, but that is my personal opinion.

That being said – there are voices that have proven themselves more qualified over the years, especially as first hand observers of the events as they unfold. And one major source for me regarding Iraq observations, over the past 3 years, has been Chris Albritton at Back-to-Iraq. And indeed – he has described the situation as a medium-grade civil war. Similar observations have been made by a man who’s been at the epicentre for years – Robert Fisk. And then I look to infrequent bloggers like Dear Baghdad, and I get another clue to what’s going on.

Anyway all this to simply say – public opinion polls are nice and important in the foggy context of american politics. It is also nice, but somewhat wishful, to think that the American public is just now waking up from a deep sleep, and seeing things more clearly. But do I actually trust the opinion of the american public when I look back over the past 6 years? Hell no.