You a Spin Doctor?
the O.J. Simpson fiasco and then during the brouhaha over Bill
Clinton's impeachment I watched plenty of shows like Hardball
and became familiar as I never had been before with that variety
of "handlers" and political shills we now know so well
as "spin doctors." What they all have in common, the
reason they all exist, is to shamelessly promote the party line
of those they are paid to represent. They make their boy (or product
or party or cause) look as good as they can in the face of the
most shocking and shameful disclosures. They try to make it plausible
that black is really white, that wrong is really right, and the
odd thing is that they do not and cannot believe there is any
difference in the first place. They observe a double standard.
In practice, argument is merely propaganda. Sentences have no
informational function but only a manipulative function. Not to
convey facts but to minimize damage, to obfuscate, to exculpate.
But all such efforts would be in vain if spin doctors did not
pretend to hold to a very different belief, that there is truth
and that they want to see it established.
is exactly like the revisionist Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's
1984. As thought policeman O'Brien, himself something of a spin
doctor, tells our man Winston Smith, it is precisely because of
the axiom "history cannot be changed" that it can in
fact be changed! Only given the supposed immutability of the past
is it possible to insist upon the reality of a newly-minted "history"
that never happened. The spinmeister is doing the same thing,
though of course we are some eighteen years after 1984, and the
art has only been improved since then. And since then I have been
noticing how spin doctors are lurking everywhere I look: in church,
in academic debates, even in the mirror if I'm not careful.
you a spin doctor? You just might be. Did you arrive at your present
position (on pretty much anything, take your pick) by making the
best informed judgment you could? Or did you just absorb your
beliefs from your peers by osmosis? Or by catechism from parents
or priests? Or by contrast, do you hold your beliefs tentatively?
Provisionally? You know you have changed your mind before, and
on lesser matters, so how can you be so sure you won't need to
again? The only way to avoid such an embarrassment is never to
open your mind to reconsider any question! That's what the spin
doctor does. All right, you can't sit on the fence forever and
sometimes you just have to pay your money and take your choice.
But that is a risk precisely because you cannot know with certainty
that your bet is the right one, and so you need not pretend to!
you find yourself in the middle of a debate marshaling every argument
you can think of for your position, whether or not they are consistent
with one another? If you are a spin doctor, the only consistency
you notice is that they are all pointing in the same direction.
But you would notice the inconsistency in a second if your goal
was really to find the truth. You notice it readily enough when
your opponent is inconsistent.
you find yourself unwilling to entertain an opposing argument?
Is it self-evident to you that your views are right--simply because
they are your views?
you view truth as something you are looking for, or something
you have found and must defend?
you have a vested interest in your present beliefs being true,
so that job one is to try to defend them at any cost? Or do you
feel more duty to yield to the best argument, to admit it when
someone else has a point, in other words, when it starts looking
like you may be wrong? When that point comes, do you automatically
go back to the drawing board to find better arguments? Or to see
if maybe instead you've been barking up the wrong tree?
certain arguments, certain readings of the data, including certain
interpretations of Bible verses perhaps, look good to you only
because, if true, they would tend to support what you want to
to yourself! You just might be a spin doctor. But it's not too
late to stop spinning. Even a gyroscope stops eventually.