Self-fulfilling Quagmire

One of the concepts that stuck with me from my days studying sociology (man does that seem like a long time ago) was the self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s such a powerful concept. We believe something to be true, conduct ourselves as if it’s true, and the result of our conduct reifies our original belief. I recall an example the professor gave in the context of discriminatory behavior. When he was young he worked in a store in a neighborhood which had a number of recent Polish immigrants. Apparently Poles were generally viewed with suspicion in his neighborhood, and his boss told him to watch out for them stealing from the store. Sure enough, over the next several months my professor caught a few stealing. “My boss was right”, he thought, “they are thieves.” Of course the moral of the story was that Poles were no more inclined to steal than anyone else. He had simply focused on Poles to the exclusion of all others, and so his prophecy had been fulfilled. Let’s take this concept out of university setting and see where else it applies.

With the aid of a biased media that practices agenda journalism, irresponsible partisan politicians may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of massive proportions with respect to the Iraq war. Central to a self-fulfilling prophecy is a one sided view that is blind to facts that do not fit with the preconceptions. While there can be no doubt that there has been significant bloodshed in Iraq, just compare the stories one hears in the MSM (well actually it’s hard to call them stories rather than a constant news cycle of fifteen second spots highlighting the latest bombings) and what we learn from the blogosphere. There is good news from Iraq – shops are opening, commerce is increasing, infrastructure improving, the press is free, democracy is taking root – but the media never, and I mean never reports it. To put matters in perspective, imagine if you lived in China, knew nothing of the U.S., and the only source of information you recieved was a daily stream video of the most horrific homicides from across the country. No Yankee scores, no crop reports or factory openings, no other indirect sources of information about the U.S. such as books, movies or T.V. shows, just news reports of the most horrific murders several times a day, every day. Sure those individual reports would be technically “true” but collectively the image portrayed would be of a country embroiled in bloody anarchy.

The media has created the perception of an irretractable quagmire in Iraq, and many irresponsible politicians on the left, and even some from the right, are acting as if this media-driven perception is the truth, thereby beginning the process of fulfilling the prophecy. You see, there is a very real terrorist insurgency in Iraq but it lacks the necessary popular support and military capability to overthrow the government. Contrary to what you read in the papers, Iraq is carrying on despite the bombings and kidnappings. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that if the U.S. cuts and runs before Iraqis are militarily self-sufficient, two things will happen: the current Iraq regime and military forces with be weakened both in terms of actual strength and morale, and the terrorists will be emboldened and likely gain in strength. The prophecy is fulfilled.

Just like the shopkeeper only looking at the Poles to find thieves, if all we look for is a quagmire, a quagmire we will have.

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