Here’s an interesting post on the Cliff Notes for The Education of Henry Adams. A passage in which Adams is clearly lamenting the stifling of the religious impulse is perversely interpreted as being a celebration of the same. The poster notes that she has encountered such anomalies in Cliff Notes before and wonders if others have noticed this phenomenon.
I can remember having this same reaction as a kid, experiencing it with ever greater frequency as I got older. The teacher says the story is about such and such, but it really seems to be about quite the opposite. The news reader on TV says something means this, but it really seems to mean that. It got worse in college and graduate school.
But it didn’t even begin to dawn on me that I was being flat out lied to until I listened in on the radio broadcast of the Democratic Convention in 1976 (I didn’t own a television at the time). I had been a liberal in high school and college, a radical even, and had not yet begun my reluctant move to the right. I tuned in to the Democratic Convention because I was, or thought I was, a Democrat.
Barbara Jordan was giving the keynote address. I listened — for 20 excruciating minutes — to the most pompous, stilted, overwrought, platitudinous address I’d ever heard in my life. Finally, I turned the radio off in disgust. It was an aesthetic reaction, mind you, not ideological. I have no recollection of the content of the speech.
I waited 20 minutes or so before turning the radio on again. When I did, I was shocked to hear the anchor people marveling at what a magnificent speech they’d just heard. At first, I thought they must be talking about someone else. Barbara Jordan must have finished and the person following her must have been quite the orator. But no, they were talking about Jordan.
How could that be? Hadn’t we heard the same speech? How could our wildly different reactions be a simple difference of opinion? Were they insane? Was I insane?
In retrospect, it seems so obvious to me; but, back then, I honestly didn’t know the answer. I didn’t realize that we were being conditioned to have the “acceptable” opinion: The favored people are wonderful, no matter how they may seem lacking; the disfavored ones are awful, regardless of their apparent merits. As I commented on the post linked above, “They tell us what to think and most of us oblige.”
I’m not one of the obliging ones. I fight back, whenever and wherever I can. When I find a politically correct definition in our dictionary, for instance, I amend it. I cross out the misinformation and write an honest entry in the margin. I do this in ink, because it’s my book and I have a right to fix the errors in it.
When I encounter an ideologically motivated commentary in our movie review book, I make the necessary changes to bring it into compliance with truth and decency.
To my great delight, I’ve discovered that my older children have adopted my tactics. These are little things, of course, and only a sampling of my efforts as a counter-change agent — but, little by little, we’ll counter-change the world and the Truth will out.