This isn't a political post. It might appear as such, but it's not. I feel strongly about the dangers of self deception and I think that relates heavily to tech. I have what I call "the Jetsons rule" which is that I believe 95% of what you see on a Jetsons cartoon is possible with today's technology but that technology isn't implemented because the industry can't seem to get people to use it.
I think self deception is a big part of that so when I see a good example of self deception I like to highlight it. For the next couple years (at least) I suspect a lot of those examples are going to come from politics. That has nothing to do with the politicians in power. It has everything to do with the media's feelings towards those politicians (e.g. they love President Obama).
But again, this isn't political. I'd hope if President Obama read this entry he'd agree with everything in it. Because none of us truly benefit from people deceiving themselves.
Onto the issue. Michael Hirsh of Newsweek has a post about how quickly the Bush administration's policies are disappearing. My contention is that almost all the things he claims have happened didn't and that he's simply deceived himself into thinking they have out of his love for our new President.
Now again, the issue here isn't "Has President Obama done anything?" because quite frankly he hasn't had time to do anything yet. But this reporter speaking as if he has and the self deception that represents is what I really want to focus on.
That said, lets begin with Mr. Hirsh's basic premise...
After Inauguration Day, departed presidents usually become footnotes pretty quickly. What we are witnessing now is far more dramatic. It's closer to a liquidation, or a cauterization. George W. Bush is being turned into an unperson, like a character out of Orwell.
OK, now for his first offering of proof.
The process of erasing the last eight years from American history began with President Obama's inaugural address on Tuesday. Between condemning torture and expressing a willingness to talk with enemies, the new president began eliminating Bush even as the former president sat listening behind him.
I won't spend much on this. Anyone who takes the stuff in an inauguration speech seriously needs a reality check. These speeches are designed for history not political reality and are always packed with meaningless platitudes. Also, for the record, former President Bush has repeatedly stated he is against torture and that he doesn't believe what he's authorized is torture. So he could very well agree with what President Obama said.
Then, on his first work day, Obama signed executive orders reversing the Bush administration's emphasis on secrecy and reliance on revolving-door lobbyists, to be followed by three more orders: closing Guantanamo Bay (within a year), forbidding torture and suspending military tribunals for foreign terror suspects.
On Lobbyists he instructed his staff to form a task force to create guidelines for administration officials. At which point he will implement or reject them. But he didn't actually implement anything this was just PR at this point.
On torture he basically banned waterboarding. So that's something.
On Guantanamo he agreed to pursue closing it within a year meaning nothing has been done yet and anything could be easily rescinded. In fairness it would be irresponsible for him to shut Guantanamo down immediately and again I stress this isn't a political post against President Obama. But that doesn't change the fact that nothing's been done yet. The policies of George W. Bush, as of this moment, are essentially intact.
Then, on Wednesday, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the appointment of two permanent envoys to major trouble spots—George Mitchell to the Mideast and Richard Holbrooke to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was perhaps the surest sign of all that Obama intends a 180-degree reversal from the ultimatum-heavy approach of the Bush administration
The "surest sign" would be for President Obama to outright say that. Which he didn't. I'm sure he has a plan for the Middle East but I'm equally sure that, at this point, we have no idea what it is. But the U.S. has had a constant dialogue with leaders in both these areas for at least my entire lifetime. Nothing different has really happened yet.
Obama himself, in his remarks, signaled strongly that his approach to the Mideast would immediately move from unswerving and unquestioning support of Israel, as seen in the last eight years, to more of a broker's role. While making the requisite commitment to Israel's security—and its right to respond to rocket fire from Gaza—he also said it was unacceptable to permit "a future without hope for the Palestinians."
Again, Mr Hirsch takes what is a vague statement and reads it as exactly what he wants to hear. The statement in and of itself is no different from statements made by all previous Presidents ("These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent."" - George W. Bush, Jan '08)
So again, it might be a sign that things are headed in the right direction but it might not. We just don't know and that is the important point: Nothing has been done YET.
Again, I can't stress this enough, the issue here isn't politics. It's self deception. It's the danger of becoming complacent because your imagined victory causes you to stop paying attention to something that you care about.
A perfect tech related example of this is RSS/Atom Syndication. When I started reading blogs everyone was pushing the feed readers. Your best friend, your grandma, you uncle Fred who you barely talk to...they all need to be reading feeds. But in recent years that talk has disappeared. Why?
Because they think they've already won. You hear it all the time. RSS in now ubiquitous, everyone uses RSS whether they know it or not, etc...
But anyone paying attention last year saw several studies placing adoption around 11%. That's dismal. But it doesn't matter because people have convinced themselves that they've already won the war so they see no reason in continuing to fight it.
There really is no trend more dangerous than self-deception because it essentially makes you useless. You can never achieve an actual goal because it will always be easier to take the first step and then deceive yourself into thinking that's all you needed to do.