The second sin: self-deception

Peter Gillette

Let me start by confessing that I’m a conformist.Nevertheless, I was excited when I saw Ayaz Amir’s insightfully troubling editorial, reprinted partially in last week’s Lawrentian, entitled–perhaps slightly ironically–“The first sin: conformity,” the full text of which can be found at

Amir laments the “company line” approach of global media outlets, as well he should; Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, and Donald Rumsfeld dominate the news, and yet have “done” very little, other than talk. Amir is right. He has a point: and make me sick. Literally, my stomach starts to hurt.

“Freedom of expression in all its glories is spread out in the democracies, guaranteed by law and constitutional dispensation,” Amir writes. And yet, who has that right? It seems a tad inconsistent to me: to evoke freedom, and yet claim, “if the tyrannical nature of a regime were an excuse for war there would be no end to strife and conflict on our planet.”

And yet, the Palestinian cause is just? “That all the cards are stacked against the Palestinians and every advantage given to Israel is beside the point,” says Amir. “How much of this reality is accurately reflected in the global media?”

The troubling trend of leftism is its movement away from pacifism and toward a defeatist championing of violence only when it has little hope to succeed or improve “liberty” to any measurable degree.

In America, this inconsistency breaks down sometimes by party lines. President Clinton was bombing Iraq throughout a good portion of the ’90s (because of the “No Fly Zone”) in addition to “peacekeeping” excursions into Bosnia and Somalia, a risky policy in Taiwan, and a bombing raid on a Sudanese factory.

One Republican governor was so opposed to U.S. meddling abroad that he used that as his foreign policy in the 2000 presidential election. Al Gore got more votes, though. Times change.

Amir attributes what he calls “conformity” to the existence of a single super power. This attribution betrays much in the way of articulating the place of dissent in the 21st century “global village.” It seems coincidental at best that Amir, condemning conformity, condemns U.S. will on each issue, and comes down on the side of most anti-Americans on each issue.

Amir fools himself into thinking he is a non-conformist; rather, his views are a typical, albeit remarkably articulate, manifestation of what I would like to call Counter-Conformism. Counter-Conformism sacrifices coherence for convenience.

This is not to deride it, or to understate its importance within and without American borders. It should be the duty of the press to take the U.S. government to task for its action: to fashion a counterpoint to the 24-hour-a-day sensory bombardment.

To understand why Amir and others sharing his positions write is to understand that the “global village” is increasingly composed of two families: the U.S. and the not-U.S.

We ought to consider Amir. We ought to question our motives in the Palestinian region. We ought to question our motives for war. We ought to question, though, our definition of “non-conformist.”

Amir also exhibits a tendency to value originality for its own sake; a tendency that seems rather American–not, of course, exclusively American, but American nonetheless.

It’s a rather disheartening realization, that “non-conformity” must be sacrificed in the name of political allieances. Let me take this opportunity, though, to dishearten you: You are not a non-conformist. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will reevaluate the faith you will put in not only CNN, but also Amir, the UTNE Reader, the One Minute Left, your own inclination to accept a piecemeal set of opinions.

I hope you do not formulate your opinions from editorials you read. I’m not being ironic. Editorials should help change your thought process, but never give over your decision-making powers to an ideology or monolith; and if you do, don’t call yourself a non-conformist.

And those who rightly criticize CNN and all the corporate compromise it represents should remember that CNN makes deals with Al Jareeza, the Arab mega-network.

And in one of the tapes that Al Jareeza aired, Osama bin Laden reluctantly supported Saddam Hussein. That doesn’t mean it’s time to send the tanks to Baghdad. It just means that even underdogs know how to play politics.

This is just my opinion; you do yourself a disservice not to hear what a smart person has to say about it. Don’t miss Fareed Zakaria Tuesday at 11:10 a.m. in the Chapel. He will present his convocation, “Why Do They Hate Us? America in a New World.” Few understand the changing world with Zakaria’s clarity and intelligence.