Political Hay

Invisible Gorillas in the Political Mist

From the Super Committee and Occupy to climate change and Penn State.

By 11.22.11

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The Invisible Gorilla.

There it is, right there, in plain sight. See? Right there in the political mist. Actually, make that plural. In reality there are multiples of Invisible Gorillas right there in the open, for everybody to see.

Except, of course, everybody doesn't see them. Which is why the fretting over everything from the Super Committee and Occupy Wall Street to climate change to Penn State.

What is an Invisible Gorilla?

Glad you asked.

Actually, it's a book, The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The book focuses on the idea that "our minds don't work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we're actually missing a whole lot."

The title comes from a video experiment that worked as follows.

Two teams of basketball players were brought together. One team is wearing white jerseys, the other team black jerseys. Viewers of the videotape were instructed to count the number of passes made -- only by the team wearing white. Any pass made by players wearing black was not to be counted. The tape unspools and the assembled viewers begin intently focusing on their task. As one would suspect, this task requires considerable concentration as both teams merge and move around two basketballs being passed this way and that from one teammate to another. Halfway into the video, out in the middle of all this strolls something else entirely -- a person dressed in a gorilla suit. As the "gorilla" crosses the scene from one end to the other he stops right in the middle of all the basketball passing, thumps his chest gorilla style, then moves on. In nine seconds he is gone and the passing, which never stopped, keeps right on going until the end.

Through the wonders of YouTube, you can see the actual video here.

When the tape ends -- there were 15 passes by the white jerseys -- it turns out that half the audience in the experiment never saw the gorilla! Why? So absorbed were they in their instructed task of counting passes by the team in white jerseys -- which also meant making certain not to count passes from those in black jerseys -- they never saw the strikingly obvious fact that a gorilla was casually walking through the scene, smack in the middle, stopping to thump its chest in famously gorilla style before casually walking away.

The point? Human beings can be blind to the most obvious of things -- not to mention being blind to the fact they are blind!

So.

What are the Invisible Gorillas America isn't seeing as the nation breaks for Thanksgiving?

What are the white jerseys everybody is so intently focused on counting -- and the black jerseys they are so focused on not counting?

Here are a few sightings of the Invisible Gorilla.

The Super Committee: The white and black jersey teams are nicely apparent here in the form of twelve people, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. They are busy passing around their respective two balls to their teammates. The nation, anticipating nightmarish visions of looming travel on the most traveled holiday of the year, watches with distracted fascination, if that. Will they make the deadline? Yes? No? Maybe? Last night the answer came in: No deal.

Why? Into all of this commotion strolled the Invisible Gorilla.

The argument that the rich are not being taxed enough is the equivalent here of being told to count the passes by the team in the white jerseys. The argument that more spending cuts have to be achieved is the equivalent of making sure that passes from the team of black jerseys are not counted. All of these endless discussions about cutting or not cutting here and taxing or not taxing there are in fact based on ignoring the Invisible Gorilla sitting right in the center seat of the Super Committee.

And this Invisible Gorilla has a name.

When Massachusetts Senator John Kerry says, for example, "To have something on the table that does not ask the wealthiest people in the country to share [the burden] … is unconscionable" (this, mind you, from a wealthy politician who had his 76-foot luxury yacht parked out of state -- in Rhode Island -- which neatly avoided the Massachusetts sales tax that would have cost him $437,500 plus an annual state excise tax that tallied $70,000), the Invisible Gorilla has begun thumping its chest in the Capitol Hill hearing room.

The name of this Invisible Gorilla is…Resentment.

Or, as the famous Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises succinctly put it:

 …the socialist idea is nothing but a grandiose rationalization of petty resentments… political art [as] political tactics…[those who] have elaborated the technique of agitation, the cadging for votes and for souls, the stirring up of electoral excitement, the street demonstrations, and the terrorism…

This is the Invisible Gorilla appearing inside the Super Committee. The greed for iron-fisted political power as fueled by resentment. The very same Invisible Gorilla that has been busy Occupying Wall Street. To spend time having endless discussions about job creation, basic economics, budget cuts, or raising taxes -- or the pros and cons of the latest from the Occupiers of New York's Zuccotti Park or Oakland or anywhere else -- is, practically speaking, close to useless, as the Super Committee's failure demonstrates anew. It is to quite deliberately ignore the Invisible Gorilla in the room (or the park) that is named Resentment (or Envy or Class Warfare). Although, in this clip from a recent Iowa debate, Newt Gingrich did pretty well at identifying the Invisible Gorilla.

Climate Change: The white jersey team and the black jersey teams have more players when it comes to discussing climate change. A considerable mix of scientists, politicians and pundits are wearing the white and black. But let's focus on just one instance of countless numbers of incidents to see if you can spot the Invisible Gorilla here.

In a recent column in the Washington Post Kathleen Parker gets down to the task of having you count the passing among the white jerseys when she writes of what she calls the "Palinization" of the GOP. She begins this way: 

The headline on Democratic strategist Paul Begala's recent Newsweek essay dodged subtlety: "The Stupid Party."

"Republicans used to admire intelligence. But now they're dumbing themselves down," was the subhead.

Democrats couldn't agree more. And quietly, many Republicans share the sentiment. They just can't seem to stop themselves.

She goes on to attribute this alleged stupidity to, but of course, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. And she specifically -- white jersey counters at the ready please -- cites the issue of climate change to make her point, praising GOP presidential candidate and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman along the way.

Writes Parker:

Scientific skepticism, the engine that propels intellectual inquiry, has morphed into skepticism of science fueled by religious certitude. In this strange world, it is heresy to express concern about, for example, climate change -- or even to suggest that human behavior may be a contributing factor. Jon Huntsman committed blasphemy when he told ABC's Jake Tapper that he trusts scientists on global warming.

What Huntsman next said, though refreshing and true, ensured that his poll numbers would remain in the basement: "When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position."

Can you spot the Invisible Gorilla in Huntsman's quote that Parker uses to make her case that the GOP is being "Palinized" -- i.e., dumbed down? Can you name the Invisible Gorilla?

Let's spot it this way.

Take this statement from Huntsman that Parker favorably cites:

"…when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position."

The white jersey-black jersey distraction here is science. You are supposed to be focused on "what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said."

To spot the Invisible Gorilla, let's stick with science and change Governor Huntsman's words a bit, bolding the word changes so they read this way:

"…when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 earth scientists have said, the scientific fact the earth is round, that the National Academy of Sciences has said the earth is round, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position."

Can you see the Invisible Gorilla yet?

Let's try and spot it again, same sentence, another bolded word change, sticking with science:

"…when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 solar system scientists have said, the scientific fact the sun, not the earth, is the center of our solar system, that the National Academy of Sciences has said the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position."

Now the Invisible Gorilla comes clearer, no? You may even be able to name this particular Invisible Gorilla.

If in fact you were told in the 21st century that "98 of 100" earth scientists insist the earth is round -- you would instantly wonder what is wrong with the other 2?!!! Do they think the earth flat -- as was once true in the days of Columbus? Or square? Triangular maybe? 

Of course not. There is no such thing in the 21st century as a genuine scientist or a genuine anybody who thinks the earth is anything other than round -- a globe. This realization, of course, has been around for centuries now.

And, yes, there is no such thing as a genuine scientist -- or anyone else of repute anywhere on this round planet earth -- who disputes the scientific fact that the sun, not the earth, is at the center of our solar system and that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around.

If you were told that "98 of 100" scientists who study the solar system think the sun is the center of our solar system and those same 98 of 100 also believe the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around -- would you not be amazed? Would you not be amazed that 2 of 100 scientists in the 21st century actually still disbelieve old Galileo, not to mention all that space travel since the 1960s -- and that they, 2 serious scientists, actually insist the earth is the center of the solar system, with the sun revolving around the earth?

You wouldn't just be amazed. You would be stupefied.

And yet, there is a "conservative" columnist right there in the pages of the Washington Post approvingly citing a presumably serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination for his smarts. Why? Because he believes that if "98 out of 100" scientists say climate change is actually science -- it is science. So there are 2 scientists who believe otherwise ? (And, of course, there's a lot more than 2!) So what, say Huntsman and Parker.

What is the name of this particular Invisible Gorilla? Why, you probably have now guessed. The name of this Invisible Gorilla is "Political Correctness." In mainstream media circles, in the world of liberalism, science is in fact not science at all. It is political correctness. Everybody we know believes there is climate change -- why, 98 of a 100 scientists say so. What's the matter with you? Are you stupid? Are you Palinized?

No. You, dear reader, believe in science -- not political correctness. In your world 100 out of 100 scientists would know as scientific fact the earth is round. One hundred out of 100 scientists would know the sun is the center of the solar system and the earth revolves around the sun. Not 98 of 100. One hundred. And a 100 out of a 100 scientists -- not 98 out of 100 -- would believe climate change is the real deal. If, in scientific fact, it were.

But that isn't the case, is it?

Last but certainly not least.

Penn State. Everyone in America has now heard the shocking child sex tale of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State. Here's one of a gazillion links if you were living under a rock and missed the coverage.

If the white and black jerseys in this sad story are "who knew what and when, should Joe Paterno have been fired or allowed to finish the season?" and so on and on through a seemingly infinite number of other white and black jersey questions -- what is the Invisible Gorilla in the room?

Here's three different items from recent years that may give you a hint. The first does not involve Penn State at all.

1. Harry Hay: In 1999 and 2001, a man named Harry Hay was honored in San Francisco's Gay Pride parade. The parade, it's full name the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration, is a major civic event for the city, not unlike the Macy's Thanksgiving or St. Patrick's Day parades in New York or the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia on New Year's Day or the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, also on New Year's day.

In fact, in 1999, Harry Hay was the parade's Grand Marshall. In 2001 marching behind Harry Hay in the parade, according to the San Francisco Chronicle -- a media sponsor of the parade -- was one Nancy Pelosi, now the ex-speaker of the U.S. House and current minority leader of the House Democrats, then as now the U.S. Congresswoman from San Francisco. Who was Harry Hay? Yes, he was a gay activist (and he died at 90 in 2002). But Mr. Hay was in fact famous not simply as a gay activist, he was famous for being an advocate of "man/boy love."

Said Mr. Hay at a 1983 New York University forum on the subject:

"Because if the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world."

Harry Hay's views on this subject were quite well known, and he is and was lionized not just by the North American Man/Boy Love Association, a group that is a fierce advocate for its favorite topic. He was favorably profiled by PBS and celebrated in the New York Times, not to mention saluted as a hero by San Francisco officialdom.

Let's move on from Mr. Hay and back to Penn State for story number two, a story of white and black jerseys that took place several years ago and involves neither Jerry Sandusky or Joe Paterno.

2. Rene Portland: In 2007, a longtime (26 years) winning Penn State woman's basketball coach resigned. The coach, a mother and grandmother named Rene Portland, had been subjected to a federal lawsuit from one of her players, as well as reported to the state Human Rights Commission. The Penn State president -- Graham Spanier, the same president fired along with Joe Paterno over the Sandusky affair -- had previously insisted Coach Portland do time in a university-sponsored diversity training program -- as well as be fined $10,000.

Why all of this white jersey/black jersey counting furor over a woman nicknamed the "Mommy Coach" who had a reputation as a terrific not to mention winning coach?

Can you see the Invisible Gorilla in this other Penn State saga? No? Let's keep going.

Here's one more story, and like the Harry Hay story it does not involve Penn State.

3. Kevin Jennings: At the dawn of the Obama era Mr. Jennings, a gay man, was selected to be the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, working with Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A firestorm over his appointment flared because, as seen in this Op-Ed by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, a charge arose that in a Jennings-authored book Jennings had advised an underage gay boy having a fling with an older man to "use a condom." There were charges back and forth that the boy was 16 -- meaning of age. Others came forward with a 2000 quote from Jennings at a rally that the boy was a "high school sophomore, 15 years old." Sean Hannity picked up the story on both radio and television, zeroing in on Jennings' record as a left-wing gay activist, only to be promptly accused of "witch hunting."

Facing a serious allegation that Jennings had closed his eyes to gay sex -- predatory sex -- between a young boy and an older man, Secretary Duncan was adamant: "He is uniquely qualified for his job, and I am honored to have him on our team."

Said then Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs: "I think there are many good people from every political persuasion that seek to serve their country and serve in government.

So.

The Jerry Sandusky case, the Harry Hay case, the Rene Portland case, the Kevin Jennings case. 

What is the Invisible Gorilla in each instance?

Yes, that's right.

The role and acceptance of homosexuality in American society. It is decidedly not the white and black jersey issues of who knew what and when did they know it (the Sandusky case), or should San Francisco's Pelosi have participated in a celebration of Harry Hay or should the Penn State women's basketball "Mommy Coach" be packed off to diversity training, fined, reported, sued and forced to the conclusion she should resign. Nor is it "was Kevin Jennings qualified for his job as an Obama Education Department bureaucrat" and wasn't he being unfairly picked on by that mean Sean Hannity?

No, the Invisible Gorilla in these rooms is homosexuality itself.

Good? Bad? Indifferent? Moral? Immoral? Gay marriage? Civil Unions? Gay adoptions? Gay bureaucrats with gay agendas? Does being an advocate of man/boy sex really make for a reason for a city and its public officials to honor a man, with the liberal media doting on his accomplishments as a fighter for civil rights? Does this help legitimize the issue -- Harry Hay's goal? If so, why is it OK for San Francisco elected officials like Nancy Pelosi -- there were others, including then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom, later mayor and now California's lieutenant governor -- to march in parades honoring a man who is quite publicly celebrated in San Francisco and the liberal media (PBS and the New York Times) for advocating an agenda of man/boy love -- that Jerry Sandusky is now indicted for pursuing?

That's the Invisible Gorilla that's standing in the middle of the Penn State scandal thumping its chest.

And like the Invisible Gorilla named Resentment in the Super Committee and in Occupy Wall Street, like the Invisible Gorilla named Political Correctness in the climate change debate, no one will notice the Invisible Gorilla named Homosexuality because they are too busy, figuratively speaking, counting passed balls by people in white jerseys.

Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Enjoy the turkey on the table.

But keep looking for the Invisible Gorillas on the American scene.

They are there somewhere. Usually in plain sight.

The question is: Who will notice? Who will not?

And who running for president will have the nerve to speak up when they spot one?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.