Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Devious Birds, Frogs, and Pres. Bush

There is a fascinating article in the science section of the N.Y. Times regarding the benefits of deception to an individual in a group. Why do most of the animals in question present factual information about themselves or their surroundings, but some other deviants present falsehood, which often leads to the benefit of the deviant?

The article presents this conundrum. If there is an advantage to be gained by falsehood, then why doesn't every other individual use the falsehood in trying to gain the same advantage? For instance, as described by the article, some birds use alarm calls to warn of approaching predators, but every now and then some miscreant bird will use that call to scare another bird from a food source. Thus the feathered miscreant is able to eat more, and have a better chance at successfully reproducing healthy chicks.

Frogs also have their share of neoconservatives lying liars. Frogs generally can tell the size of the frog they are thinking of challenging for territory by the deepness of his croaking. The deeper the croak the bigger and badder the croaker. Well some little toadies have learned that simply croaking unnaturally deeply gives the rest of the pond the notion that you are a big toady. Generally speaking, croaking is a legit way to gauge the size of the frog, but there are those who game the system and pass their little froggy genes on down the line because they aren't being their pipsqueak croaking actual selves.

There are several such examples of animal behavior that generally works to convey accurate information to those who know how to read the animal in question, but can be used deceptively. The problem of course is that once the deception becomes prevalent to a great extent then the original purpose for the behavior is corrupted. If every bird routinely sounds the predator alarm whenever another bird approaches a coveted food source then soon the entire community learns to not heed predator alarms. You don't have to have a science degree to see the problem here. The article describes scientific efforts to find the balance at issue: why do some animals benefit from deception and pass on their genes, but the entire community doesn't follow suit. Turns out the answer leads to some pretty complicated mathematical equations, and it probably makes sense to my wife (graduated BYU with a math major) but I just have to take their word for it.

I do see parralels in American society for all this however. I believe the determination by this administration to create their own reality is the basis for fundamental shift in public sentiment regarding this administrations trustworthiness. Past Presidents have been dishonest, some nearly patholigicaly so, but none have proudly governed in such a manner as to try to create an alternate reality of their choosing. There is an intrinsic difference in a President saying he did not have sex with that woman, and a President trying to remake the middle east in our image in contravention of all facts, figures, history and logic.

To me what this administration has attempted goes beyond the generic run of the mill day to day deception we can expect in political gamesmanship. That kind of daily political deceptiveness can be described as the occasional frog going an octave lower when he croaks. It is intrinsic in societal organizations with any group of animals including humans. We expect this low level deceptiveness and probably would wonder what was wrong if it went away. What the administration is trying to convince us of, beyond all basis in fact, is that an entire alternate reality is truth. They are taking this deception to a whole new level. In trying to create the alternate reality, they have marched us to disaster, and can not take the steps necessary to extract us from this because they can not be made to see that the reality they tried to create in the first place is not actually reality. We as a nation are caught by this conundrum. Someone needs to bring reality as it really exists to the President, and make him understand that the attempt to create the reality envisioned by his administration has led to unmitigated failure.

So we can understand the propensity of a leader to prevaricate about personally embarrasing situations. We can even understand the little lies that go into minor policy decisions. But when we hear the President and his deep throated toadies insist that the only problem with Iraq is progress isn't being made fast enough, in an effort to make Iraq a nation as they see fit, and they persist in this type of straight faced insistence that their delusions in the face of all evidence is the true state of affairs, society as a whole just has to give up on them.

On a bit of an aside with this point, this type of societal shift is actually very damaging to the insitution of the Presidency and thus to the consitution and America as a whole. It has long been the conservative ideal that government may not be trusted. It seems to be the neoconservative goal to put that ideal into deadly practice, and allow a massive groundswell of public disgust with the policies they have fostered to be the mechanism that gives Americans the anti government mindset they themselves foster. It is a horrible self fullfilling prophecy.

Back to the subject of the article and my post however. President Bush was selected to office after repeatedly asserting his moral superiority to the previous administration, Al Gore, Democrats in general, the rest of the world, and anyone who didn't go to church regularly. (The last sentence is intentionally overblown, in order to make a simple point.) He entered office based upon his supposed honesty, but in proudly pursuing policies that have no basis in reality, he has squandered the sense of honesty he once so carefully fostered. He has morphed, even beyond the miscreant bird, calling out alarms for his own base purposes to the bird insisting to all the other birds that the food is poison, or some such other alternate reality. On a grand scale he has become his own "heckuvajob Brownie": a patently absurd prognosticator about a rolling disaster of failed policy, which policy is seen by the entire world to be the failure it clearly is, yet the President insists is correct. In publicly claiming policies which are self evidently proven to have failed to be successful, he invites the public to no longer find his future pronouncements believable. The only ones who believe him now are the most gullible, or partisan in nature.

Unfortunately for us, the constitution calls upon us to have a leader who communicates with us as a society on these matters. The powers of the commander in chief are vested in President Bush. He is called by the constitution to "faithfully" execute the laws of our nation. The question I would love to have studied by a future Times article is what happens in the animal kingdom when the leader of the group continuously misleads the group, with horrendous consequence, in order to gain their own ends? If the example being set by President Bush is anything to judge by, the leader eventually makes himself irrelevant and slides into the dustbin of history as a failure.

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