Obeying the Dog Whistle

In George Orwell's immortal dystopia Animal Farm, the ruling pigs distilled the revolutionary ideology for the stupider animals, such as the sheep, hens and ducks, to a simplistic but highly useful slogan, "Four legs good, two legs bad". Not only did it explain to the dumb masses the essence of the pig-led revolution, but it also performed an important ancillary function of silencing the opposition. Any time somebody tried to question the leaders' guidance, the proletariat on cue would start chanting in unison, "Four legs good, two legs bad," drowning out the miscreant.

How often have I wondered, listening to left-wing intellectuals bloviate on TV, how these ostensibly educated and intelligent people could, with a straight face, robotically spout arrant nonsense while contemptuously ignoring the contrary factual evidence cited by their ideological opponents, or their attempts to point out glaring contradictions in progressive "reasoning" (to the extent that reciting the talking points by rote can be characterized as "reasoning").

Conservatives are particularly aggravated not so much by the arguments of their leftist opponents as by the latter's superior attitude and reluctance to engage in serious intellectual debate. The leftists always look and sound as if they know everything worth knowing and see no need to validate their beliefs in an open give-and-take. They show palpable disdain for the opponents of their worldview whom they barely acknowledge as really human, much less respect as their equals.

But why do leftist intellectuals seem so unabashedly, even proudly, dumb? What's behind their utterly predictable, kneejerk behavior? Are they just plain stupid? To be sure, there is no dearth of dumb individuals on the left (just watch MSNBC), but most of them are smart enough. The real reason is different: They are just Pavlovian dogs obeying the dog whistle.

In his famous experiments Nobel-prize winning Russian biologist Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to react to the bell they had been taught to associate with feeding in exactly the same way as if food was actually being delivered. The conditioned reflex, as Pavlov called this behavior, or the dog whistle in contemporary American parlance, hold pride of place in the ideological playbook of the progressives.

Many of them have impressive intellectual equipment which they employ quite effectively in their mundane pursuits. But in all matters political and ideological they rest their brains, allowing the progressive software planted in their minds by upbringing, brainwashing in the guise of education, and mass culture to take over.

From early on, they are trained, like Pavlovian dogs, to respond in a prescribed manner to certain stock terms and formulas: "wealth sharing" good, "capitalism" bad; "progressive" good, "conservative" bad; "'New York Times' good", "Fox News" bad; "Democrat" good, "Republican" bad... In short, four legs good, two legs bad. It is a very effective way of inculcating the approved attitudes and views into the minds of the adepts of the dominant creed.

The power of the dog whistle is vividly illustrated by an experiment run by media analyst Mark Dice. Using familiar progressive shibboleths like "trust the government", "ban all guns" and "keep everybody safe," he easily induced a number of California college students to sign fake petitions to ban the Second Amendment, put all registered gun owners in prison or concentration camp and even to execute them. A typical response of the signers was, "No problem."

Trying to open the eyes of committed liberals is a waste of intellectual ammunition; they don't want to endanger their ideological brain-stuffing by exposure to the free marketplace of ideas. It's much more comforting for them to masticate prepackaged pabulum than to think independently at the risk of being cast into the outer darkness and condemned as knuckle-dragging troglodytes and stooges of Big Business.

Just try to discuss any particulars of Obama's disastrous presidency with his acolytes. Responding to the dog whistle, the Pavlovian reflex kicks in and -- bang! -- the lids on their ears slam shut. They refuse to listen, they don't want to hear, their minds are set; they know that Obama is the epitome of sweetness and light while his opponents are despicable villains and evil racists -- and that's all there is to it.

It is an old standby of warfare to demean and dehumanize the enemy. Hence the caricatures and scornful nicknames that each side in war uses as propaganda tools to boost the patriotic sentiment and foment hatred for the enemy. Carl von Clausewitz famously said that war is politics by other means. Inverting his formula, what is politics if not war by other means? That's what the Democrats believe and practice even if Republicans don't understand it.

Progressives have worked long and hard to demonize their conservative opponents and largely succeeded in turning the very word "Republican" into a term of opprobrium. "Nazis" is how many Democrats habitually call their political opponents. Republicans refer to Democrats as their "friends across the aisle;" for Democrats, Republicans are the enemy.

Once the progressive ideology has acquired a sizable following and gained the allegiance of the elites; once it has become fashionable, hip and with it, the bandwagon effect kicks in. People yearn to belong, to be part of something bigger than themselves, to be on the side of the angels (that is to say, the winning side).

To a regular person no fate is worse than that of the outcast. The Greeks of antiquity knew it and invented the institution of ostracism, which many considered to be worse punishment than death. Normally, people find it far more comfortable to toe the line, blend into the surroundings and lose themselves in the crowd than to plant one's banner on a lonely hill and challenge the dominant worldview. Martin Luther's "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise" is not for the faint of heart.

And if you think that in their eagerness to belong, proud intellectuals are much different from the proles whose most strenuous cerebral exertion doesn't go beyond guessing which celebrity has the sexiest butt, think again. If anything, intellectuals are even more susceptible to propaganda. They are more heavily invested in the ideological Zeitgeist and easier to control than man in the street, for they have an acute need to validate their status in the eyes of their peers.

Voltaire pompously proclaimed, "I may not agree with what you say. But I will defend, with my life, your right to say it." Really? Isn't that the same Voltaire who vehemently demanded to demolish the church: "Écrasez l'infâme" (let's crush the infamous thing). The modern disciples of that hatemonger and anti-Semitic poseur love patting themselves on the back for being so morally superior, so noble and, above all, so tolerant, but extending that tolerance as far as defending their opponents' right to contrary views, much less with their own lives -- you gotta be kidding!

Rather than laying their lives on the line for the right of conservatives to have their say, the left does everything in its power to shut them up. Just ask the Hollywood conservatives (yes, Virginia, there are conservatives in Hollywood) who for the most part have to lead a catacomb existence, like early Christians in Imperial Rome, trembling in constant fear of being found out and deprived of their livelihood.

Just ask the nearly extinct conservatives on campuses, where free speech is all but stamped out under the guise of "hate speech codes"; where the rare conservative guest speakers are routinely shouted down so as not to expose the students to the views that run counter to the ruling dogma; where the only officially sanctioned conflict is that between the left and the far left.

Sound familiar? Students of Soviet art will readily recognize one of the most important precepts of "socialist realism": only one kind of conflict is allowed: the good vs. the better. Or, as students of totalitarianism will recognize as its paramount principle: everything that is not permitted, is forbidden; everything that is permitted, is mandatory.

So the upshot: there is no point trying to open the zombie liberals' eyes. It's a total waste of time and energy. The real target should be the young whose minds have not yet completely closed and who still might be receptive to appeals to their common sense. "We'll get you through your children!", the lefty poet Allen Ginsberg yelled to his erstwhile fellow radical Norman Podhoretz. That's exactly why the Bill Ayerses and Mike Klonskys have given up open terrorism and burrowed into the educational system to gnaw America from within. This is one field which conservatives can't afford to yield; the battle should be joined.

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