At the 2012 CSICON (a conference dedicated to science and skeptical inquiry), psychologist James Alcock gave a presentation regarding belief.  He showed how the "feeling of knowing" is linked more to emotion than knowledge. 
Furthermore, he explained that people tend to "automatically believe new information before {they} assess it."  The brain, apparently, has separate processes for dealing with content and truthfulness. So a person will hear something, decide if it's true, then (hypothetically and often unlikely) will go looking for verification of this new truth.

I recently purchased and read No One Left To Lie To, a vitriolic polemic by Christopher Hitchens.  It's a book designed entirely to show how vile a person Bill Clinton is... excuse me, how vile a person Christopher Hitchens believes Bill Clinton to be.  And there are copious examples of ever rising grotesquery which easily map out why one should agree with this demonic portrait of the 42nd President.  That is, assuming all of them are true.  
 
Christopher Hitchens is a fantastic writer.  I have the utmost respect for his abilities as a journalist as well.  Ass kissing aside, No One Left To Lie To is a prime example of what James Alcock said.  As the March/April Skeptical Inquirer summarized, "Some beliefs are based on reason and carefully assembled evidence, but many are based on social constructs (we rely on the perceptions and reactions of others we trust) and feeling."  
  
There are many who take Hitchens at his word.  Plain and simple.  His body of work almost supports this kind of dogmatic position:  Hitch wrote it or said it, so it must be true.  I even confess to inclining towards such foolishness.  However, after reading this particular tome I was kindly reminded by my friend, Bryan Miller, that not everything should be taken as absolute truth.  It's vital to foster doubt because it prevents blind following.  But then, isn't a person left with nothing in which to believe?  No, because eventually it becomes necessary to exert that most terrify of human abilities choice.  
 
Louis Menand of New York Times Magazine is quoted on the back of my edition of Hitchens's book.  It should have been my first warning.  He says, 
             
"You don't buy Christopher Hitchens's book because you want to find out whether Bill Clinton is really as terrible a liar as some people say he is.  You buy it because you know he is a terrible liar... {confirming} every prejudice you ever had on the subject, plus a few you might not even have known you had, is an invitation you cannot resist."
 
I certainly couldn't.  Let's be plain:  I don't like Bill Clinton, mainly for the same reasons I despise all politicians, however, I recognized the reality I didn't have many facts to back up that dislike. My distaste was more visceral than rational, so I selected a book by a journalist whose opinion I respect -- "we rely on the perceptions and reactions of others we trust" -- in order to have an informed loathing.  Consequently, I accepted the reality presented by Hitchens as fact instead of argument.  There is a difference there many in this country have intentionally forgotten.  
  
Bryan pointed out to me that several of the book's sources had, over time, become less than reputable.  He also reminded me of Hitchens own notorious blind spot when it came to the Clintons. In essence, a good reporter swayed by his intense hatred may have allowed debatable facts to enter into the discussion.  This means, simply, certain events portrayed in No One Left To Lie To can be called into question.  The responsibility (as I should have kept in mind the moment I opened this book, as I like to think I do with most other nonfiction) then falls to the reader to confirm the historical narrative put forth.  This is where most people (and on this occasion myself) falter.  
 
It's like giving yourself homework after finishing your homework.  No one wants to do that.  Wasn't getting informed the purpose of reading this or that nonfiction? Yes, however, an informed opinion does not emerge by reading that with which you are already likely to agree. In that regard one simply becomes the proverbial choir nodding in the background.  Informed opinions emerge by engaging contradictory material as well as verifying, as best one can, the statements, or in this case accusations made.  Granted, eventually a choice has to be made as to who is telling the "truth," however, it's important to recognize which truths are facts and which are merely emotionally satisfying. 
  
For example, Hitchens is at his best when tackling elements of the Clinton era which are difficult, if not impossible to deny.  I'm speaking specifically about things like the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act as well as the Defense of Marriage Act.  Since the adoption of the PRWOA the number of households with children living on $2 per person per day has doubled, more than 1.5 million low income single mothers are without jobs and cash aid; and to call this mere hindsight is to ignore the fact that people like Peter B. Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor, resigned from the Clinton administration in protest of the law.  Several liberals at the time foresaw how the PRWOA would further disenfranchise the poor.  As Jason DeParle recently observed in the New York Times:  
           
"The old program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, dates from the New Deal; it gave states unlimited matching funds and offered poor families extensive rights, with few requirements and no time limits.  The new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, created time limits and work rules, capped federal spending and allowed states   to turn poor families away."

Hitchens criticism of this type of so-called reform is scathing and no holes can be punched in it... till he postulates the Machiavellian scheming behind it.  
 
He makes the distinct insinuation that Clinton's welfare reforms produced:  "a large helot underclass disciplined by fear and scarcity, subject to endless surveillance, and used as a weapon against any American worker lucky enough to hold a steady or unionized job." Basically, Clinton backed the poor into a corner turning them into virtual slave labor for major corporations, particularly those like Tyson Foods who donated to his campaign.  It's all part of the book's overall theme concerning triangulation.  Triangulation is a political maneuver which involves promising things to one side then delivering to the other -- promise the Left and pay off to the Right. Clinton's welfare reform is such an example since it mainly pleased the Right.  The Defense of Marriage Act takes this even further.  Clinton promised an expansion of homosexual rights as president. Yet, he signed into law a bill that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  
  
Again, the facts are simple and incontrovertible:  these acts exist, Clinton passed them into law, and their effects are fairly plain.  Where Hitchens falters, unfortunately, is the supposition that Clinton made promises he intended to break.  That implication runs throughout No One Left To Lie To:  Bill Clinton is willing to do anything to seize and hold onto power.  I hate to be cynical, but he's a politician, so such a conclusion feels like a duh moment until one sits back to consider how does Christopher Hitchens know what Bill Clinton thinks?  Wanting to believe this is true doesn't make it a fact.  
 
And I think a part of Hitchens may have felt the same because the structure of the book is very leading in and of itself.  The opening observations on Clinton's triangulations seem like nit picking, but they are then followed by material such as the abovementioned.  Bolstered by more concrete conclusions, Hitchens brings on the big guns.  He almost seems to say, "If you aren't buying this by now, let me begin the atrocity exhibition."  I'm referring primarily to Chapter 6, Is There a Rapist in the Oval Office?.  This is a difficult chapter to read from any standpoint.  I actually get nauseous at the (I fear all too likely) prospect of some adamant Clinton hater drooling over the details of Clinton's alleged rapes. I have no desire to be lurid, so I won't go into the explicit details.  Suffice it to say allegations were made which have Bill Clinton throwing women down and biting their faces as he rapes them.  The problem is determining the truth of these claims.
 
The most public accusation was made by Juanita Broaddrick.  She appeared on Dateline NBC and was featured in a Wall Street Journal article.  However, Joe Conason and Gene Lyon's book Hunting the President dispute the credibility of her story.  As does Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times, who said, "This is a story that's been knocked down and discredited so many times, I was shocked to see it in the Wall Street Journal today."  I hate to sound cold, but there is no proof of the event.  I am not saying the story is false, merely that from a legal standpoint it is Mrs. Broaddrick's word against Mr. Clinton's.  (Consider what people might have thought of Monica Lewinsky if she had not had a dress stained with the President's semen.  It doesn't make the story untrue, but it makes the truth a matter of choice.)  Hitchens contends that the story is so obscene no one would possibly want to make it up, and I am inclined towards that same opinion.  Unfortunately, without tangible proof one is left to choose what to believe.  This is what makes the use of the Clinton rape allegations so shamelessly provocative.  It sets things up so that the reader is forced to either call a potential rape victim a liar, which no decent person desires to do, or accept at least the possibility of the event occurring in which case what else about the President might be true?  In a way, it's emotional blackmail.  What makes it worse is that Hitchens primary proof is that Clinton never vociferously denies the allegations.  His contention is that most men when confronted with such accusations immediately, loudly deny them.  Again, I'm partially compelled to agree with this line of reasoning, but am I doing so because I don't like Bill Clinton or because the facts prove the truth?
 
I think Bill Clinton turned welfare into a mechanism that ground the poor deeper into poverty, and I also think he betrayed gay rights advocates with the one two punch of DOMA and the pathetic compromise known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Truman used an executive order to desegregate the army, why not do the same for gays Mr. Clinton?).  And I think there are myriad other matters which are harder to dispute if one wants to jab at the Clintons.  The allegations of Clinton's abuse of the military to distract from his own political scandals, for instance, hold more water than stating presumptions about his Machiavellian machinations as fact.  What works best in No One Left To Lie To is the arousal of one's curiosity regarding the Clinton era.  It was a surprisingly divisive time considering the extensive peace and prosperity which occurred.  In many ways, one could easily make the case that the Clinton era is a precursor to the times we inhabit now.  However, that's not the point of this book.  This is the closest anyone has ever come to a written assassination attempt; and what's worse is that it could have worked.  Tragically, Christopher Hitchens allows too much of his passion to get in the way.  Normally, that works to his benefit.  On this occasion, it puts him on shaky ground.  Many of the claims put forth are ones that a person chooses to believe.  But isn't that the basis of all reality?

 


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