We all have one, it seems, a sister or brother-in-law who isn't quite on the same political track. I found myself in a shouting match with mine in my Mom's kitchen, to her consternation. It was in the Reagan 80s and we were discussing U.S. Central American policy. The term “gun-boat diplomacy” came up, him admitting that maybe in the distant past it happened but today... no. As sort of a crescendo to a rising-to-maximum rude volume he triumphantly shouted, in italics, bold, with exclamation points and in my face, “Open your eyes!!!”
I backed up a few steps, turned and went into the bathroom where I took some deep breaths, calmed down, unhooked ego and returned to the fray with this: If your government were going into Nicaraguan villages, killing school teachers, postal workers and otherwise terrorizing the unarmed population, would you support that?” He said that he'd have to change sides if that were the case. I said, well it is the case and I will send you documentation. Back in Atlanta I copied a few pages from Noam Chomsky's Turning the Tide and sent them off. Bro-in-law reported that he threw the pages across the room, claiming that “Chomsky was just trying to embarrass the U.S.”
On our journey to adulthood we encounter and adopt a myriad of influential personalities and points of view that can't possibly all be correct. So a percentage of what we think we know about the world is simply mistaken. Some of it is trivial, like how far is it to the moon, or who was vice-president under Hoover. Some of it is more consequential, like uncle Bill says the government shouldn't be in the business of providing health care, or Italians (Africans, Irish, Catholics etc; take your pick) aren't quite human, or the “free market”, if unhindered will usher in Utopia. It takes an unusual person and a different education system than the current obsession with testing to take on the task of subjecting these beliefs to scrutiny, sorting out the frivolous/substantial, the erroneous/verifiable.
Scholar and scientist Noam Chomsky has taken on that work, publishing an astonishing number of under-reviewed books over the years that share his penetrating conclusions and save us a whole lotta trouble. He seems to read virtually everything, amassing data for a convincing argument, one of which goes about like this:
the most successful in our society at accumulating wealth tend to place a high priority on maintaining and expanding the profits, privilege and power they have acquired. Since they own the mainstream media and understand the third paragraph above, they will carefully hire people to run it who will exclude points of view that question or threaten the three Ps. The managers, to qualify for these well-paid positions, need to demonstrate that they firmly hold beliefs that, though mistaken, will allow them to blatantly censor perfectly reasonable views as if they were extremist nonsense. Thus the thorough lack of socialist commentators across the major television and newspaper spectrum, coast to coast.
In Chomsky's book, Imperial Ambitions, he presents an interesting example. A New York Times article relays the views of the then chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, Gregory Makiw, Harvard Professor. Here is a widely respected economist whose textbook on the subject is widely used in college curriculum, a person at the top of his profession. Professor Makiw, the article solemnly reports, believes that social security will have to be reduced because we won't have the money to pay for it. As now structured the system will be broke by 2042. Chomsky points out that instead of hysterically calling for cuts to a program that's healthy for another 30 years we could use that 30 years to come up with a solution – the obvious one, increase the cap on social security taxation, is available right now. Income above $90,000 is not presently taxed. So, one of the leading economic personalities in our nation fails to see beyond the apparently imperative but obviously mistaken belief that we cannot institute, or apparently even think of, policies that encroach on the three Ps.
It is as if attaining a highly privileged, influential and respected position in society was reserved exclusively for those holding certain beliefs, however mistaken, that just happen to benefit the 1%. Any house servant could tell you it's so (even though to aspire to such, one must see it as the best of all possible worlds – or at least claim to).