Virtue In The Margin

by Richard Macintosh

November 3, 2003


                                                  "The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanized automaton."
—Percy Bysshe Shelley (Queen Mab)

As in statistics, the truth is in the margin.

These days, those who speak truth to power are marginalized in a variety of ways, not the least of which is calumny, often expressed in ad=hominem statements demeaning whole groups of people and selected individuals.

A couple of examples are apropos:

Rush Limbaugh used to be relentless in demeaning opponents, until he lost his voice -- so to speak. "Environmentalist Wackos!" he would shout. "Feminazis!" he would sneer. "Little Dick!" he would laugh. You know the drill. Whether his recent drug problems will humble him and erode the faith of the "Ditto-heads" remains to be seen. Alas, probably not. Knaves starve not in the land of fools.

Ann Coulter, a Republican reincarnation of Lady Diana Mosley (née Mitford) (1) holds forth on Fox News and writes tomes denouncing anyone to the left of Dick Cheney as a traitor -- especially those who spoke up against the Iraq War. In her recent book, "Treason," she indicts the entire Democratic Party pantheon. One need not wonder what she thinks about the Green Party, or peace groups in general.

The Right have spent much time and effort to create the impression that they are the truthful ones. So-called "mainstream" news outlets, such as CNN or Fox News, parrot Administration press releases as if they were Gospel truth. Out on the Clear Channel Radio Network, talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage hold forth. Limbaugh, who claims to have half of his brain tied behind his back, "just to make it fair," calls himself "The Doctor of Democracy" and "El Rushbo, the Truth Detector."

Here are a couple of Administration "whoppers" that "El Rushbo" and his ilk had to defend:

"The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped for liberators." --Paul Wolfowitz, CNN, 3/11/03

"For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." --G. W. Bush Interview with TV Poland, 5/11/03.

As time progressed, however, it became evident to more and more people that something was awry, that the leadership may have been misleading them with "spin" in order to justify radically different foreign and domestic policies.


Of course, there were some of us who knew the leadership were lying all along. Those who had the temerity to question authority and expose the lies of the Bush II Administration were called "Bad Americans" by the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. The audacity to speak truth to power begged the attention of right-wing attack dogs. We are the ones who the Limbaughs, Savages and Coulters called "traitors." The interesting thing is that the situation was (is) exactly the other way around.

Those who seek extra-legal methods to rule -- methods that subvert the American Constitution -- are the traitors. Their willing attack dogs are complicit in the treason. Many of us wondered what had happened to our country. Suddenly, it was possible to understand what ordinary Germans must have felt in the mid-1930s. The title of Michael Moore's latest book asks a very pointed question: "Dude, Where's My Country?" (2)

So, where is my country and where is the truth? Has my country been laid to waste, gone, dead as a dodo, or sold out to snake-oil salesmen? And where is the truth? Is there such a thing?


The truth is in the margin. The key is to expand awareness from the margin into the mass. THAT is our task.

Let us run this thought along an imaginary bell curve. Expanded public awareness can skew it in our favor.

Our "fearless leaders" have sought to create the impression of truth when, in fact, they do everything they can to keep their actions secret in order to obscure the truth. On top of that, they have been lying to mask a hidden agenda for world domination. (3)

In statistics, truth is to be found in the tail of the curve -- the margin if you will -- and not in the mass of the bell, itself. In dealing with human beings, the mean has an IQ of 100, give or take a few points each way. Think not? Run a chi-square on general populations and you will find out for yourself. If you don't care to do that, think of it this way: think of a jam-packed sports stadium -- any stadium in America -- with screaming, shouting, painted-faced bodies jumping up and down, many shaking their index fingers signifying "We're number one!" There may be more than a hundred thousand people, shoulder-to-shoulder. You have the picture, don't you? Then remember the aerial-cam shot from an overhead blimp (always advertising something). The picture is of a seething mass that resembles a huge chancre on the surface of Mother Earth.

That chancre represents the mass of the bell curve and it has the previously mentioned IQ of 100. That is where the constituency of political demagogues resides -- right smack dab in the middle of the bell curve, oblivious to anything outside their immediate focus and as dumb as rocks. The bad news is that we have a President who is just like them.

Somewhere outside the stadium, a small group is standing with signs that say things like "Peace!" or "Stop the Madness!" or "Stop the killing of innocents!" Those people represent the tail of the curve -- the "margin" so hated by the powerful. They are hated, because they represent Truth. There is nothing that power fears more than that. That is why the powerful almost always work in secret and employ legions of assassins (uniformed and otherwise) to discourage the truth-tellers and keep them limited to the margins. What would happen if the "mass" got infected with the "wrong ideas" and actually started to think? That possibility is enough to make the blood of the powerful run cold.

Better to keep the stadiums packed with screaming fans and the "reality shows" running on TV. Both affect nothing and are without virtue. (4)

C-Span and Public Television are not competing with this "market." Balanced political debate is not something the corporate-controlled media want. It makes little sense for them to spend millions of dollars to lobby corporate causes and then allow someone to speak who would debunk them. Hence, political debates at election time are carefully controlled -- "skewed," as it were -- to favor "known" candidates. (Read: "bought.")

Alternative candidates, such as "Greens," are marginalized as irrelevant and are regularly excluded from public debates. In the last presidential election, the "Empty Suit" debated the "Wooden Indian," each assured in advance of what sort of questions would (and would not) be asked. The handlers of this charade were scared to death of outsiders like Ralph Nader and made sure they wouldn't be included. Can you imagine what Ralph Nader would have done to George W. Bush and/or Al Gore in an honest political debate? It would have been a massacre. The Empty Suit would have gotten his "tang tongueled" and the Wooden Indian would have been reduced to "duh."

But the 2000 election is old history. To quote the President's handlers, "We have to move along." We must not be like the generals who are always fighting the last war. We must engage this one.

What do we do now? Calmly be who we are and not be distracted by red herrings, or run off on the latest snipe hunt. Each one of us, then, must focus on where we can be most effective.

Yes, we have to find a way to stop the madness of power run amok! And yes, we have to find a way to stop the murder of innocents, masked as "collateral damage." We also have to find a way to stop the greedy from raping and pillaging the Earth for profit.

We cannot do all of these things at once.

We can begin, however, by exposing the lies of the powerful and put an end to their free-wheeling mendacity. It's a tall order, but possible if we begin with our circle of friends and speak out in our own neighborhoods. We must tell the truth as we see it and not be intimidated by threats, or daunted by slander.

Speak truth to lies! The action doesn't have to be grand. Simple dogged truth is brave enough and will get the job done. The words of the Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, in his poem, "Talk," are inspirational:


You're a brave man they tell me.
                     I'm not.
Courage has never been my quality.
Only I thought it disproportionate
so to degrade myself as others did.
No foundations trembled. My voice
no more than laughed at pompous falsity;
I did no more than write, never denounced,
I left out nothing I had thought about,
defended who deserved it, put a brand
on the untalented, the ersatz writers
(doing what anyhow had to be done).
And now they press to tell me that I'm brave.
How sharply our children will be ashamed
taking at last their vengeance for these horrors
remembering how in so strange a time
common integrity could look like courage.
—Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Moscow, 1956 (5)

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References and Resources

1.  Lady Diana Mosley (Mitford) was the sister of Jessica Mitford, a noted British author who wrote several books, including "The American Way of Death," "The Trial of Dr. Spock" and "The Muckraker." On the other side, politically, Diana and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, were apologists for Hitler and the Nazis. Although Diana was quiet during World War II, she never recanted her views. She recently died at her flat in Paris at the age of 93. In her prime, she was a tall, willowy, icy-blue-eyed, blonde, who fascinated the press, as much as she did Hitler. It is probably unfair to link her with Coulter. What ever else can be said about Lady Mosley, at least she knew when to shut up.  (back)

2.  Moore, Michael. Dude, Where's My Country? Warner Books, New York, 2003.  (back)

3.  Project for the New American Century (PNAC). See http://www.newamericancentury.org/  (back)

4.  A history film I used to show in my Western Civ classes included an interesting quote by Leonardo da Vinci: "Some people deserve to be called nothing more than passages for food, for they affect nothing and they are without virtue." I have thought about this for years and I have come to the conclusion that he was (is) correct.  (back)

5.  Yevtushenko, Yevgeny. Yevtushenko Selected Poems. Trans, Martin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi, S. J. Penguin Books, Baltimore, MD, 1962, p. 81.  (back)

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Richard Macintosh on Swans (with bio).

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Published November 3, 2003
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