Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Power Of Denial

Huffington Post
Ross M. Levine
Weapon of Last Resort

When it comes to the nuclear option, my dear mother is always prepared to reach into her well-stocked arsenal for her most lethal weapon - denial. No matter what she has said or done, all she has to do is go into denial mode and the battle is over. Her denial is as impenetrable as the walls of Alcatraz, and once it's been deployed, the only option is to retreat to fight another day.

I bring this up because I am of late reminded of the power of denial in the world at large. As you have probably heard, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently held a conference in Tehran on the subject of the Holocaust. In a nutshell (no pun intended), it was an event designed to give expression to the idea that the Holocaust may well be nothing but a myth -- a myth meant to justify the existence of Israel and to give Western powers a moral rationale for supporting her.

Here in the West, Holocaust denial exists on the fringe and is not a sanctioned governmental viewpoint. I can think of few other historical events, other than the Armenian genocide, that have had to wage such a fierce campaign against the power of denial. I've never heard anyone deny that the world wars occurred, or that the Great Depression was real, or that the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower. Yes, history does get rewritten as perceptions change, but it's usually a change in attitude toward an event as opposed to a denial that the event ever occurred at all.

Consider the virtual extirpation of the Indians from the land east of the Mississippi. Does anyone deny that this occurred? Certainly our viewpoint on it has changed, but to my knowledge, nobody has declared that the phrase "Native American" is a misnomer.

Denial elevates a political debate to another level. Or should we say, lowers it to a level where debate is not possible. The word "debate" infers that two sides are in conflict, and that through this conflict, some kind of truth or understanding may emerge. But denial does not allow for debate. Denial is a position of last resort - it's where all discussion stops. In denying the Holocaust, the deniers force the other side to continually present evidence that what millions of witnesses saw and experienced was real, proof which the deniers simply re-deny. It is doubtful at this point that there will ever be a critical mass of evidence that will at last bring the deniers to acknowledge that six million Jews met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their friends.

No, denial is more than simply denial. Or it is simply denial. It's the decision that no matter what evidence is presented, no matter what testimony is produced, truth remains completely relative. And it takes the idea that all truth is relative to its ultimate degree - that no truth is not relative, i.e., that just by believing something, one can make it true.

Or, perhaps better said, that by not believing something, one can make it untrue. Yes, disbelieve and it will become false - that's the denier's mantra.

Which brings us to another denier in our midst, the decider turned denier, George W. Bush. In the face of the Iraq Study Group, all the neo-con think tankers and Republican senators who have abandoned his policies in Iraq, and at least 75% of the American public, George Bush denies that his vision of victory in Iraq is no longer an option. And there seems to be nothing that can enlighten him. Once a leader slips into such an advanced state of denial, convincing him to acknowledge what to the rest of the world is obvious is like convincing a non-Copernican that the world revolves around the sun: there is no end to the evidence, but what the denier sees is what he must believe. If he sees the sun set in the west, then surely the sun is moving, not the earth. If he sees that our forces are battling ragtag Islamic insurgents, then surely they are al Qaeda operatives determined to destroy us. If he sees that to admit he was wrong is to invalidate the concepts of preemptive war and spreading peace via the sword, then he must stand by his folly to the bitter end.

Occasionally, a denier is a person of such vision that their stubborn determination to maintain their own truth is rewarded, sometimes even in their own lifetime. Columbus, the aforementioned Copernicus, Einstein, Martin Luther King - one can call them deniers of a sort. But it is doubtful George Bush can be counted among these. If there were indeed evidence that his Iraq campaign was hurtling toward success, if the Holocaust deniers could indeed produce proof that six million people died of natural causes without any assistance from poison gas, perhaps we could understand their propensity to "just say no." But as it is, these deniers are more pathetic than prophetic.

President Ahmadinejad, six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, so you needn't hold any more conferences. President Bush, "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," so wake up and smell the blood.