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Tuesday, May 04, 2010


“From error to error, one discovers the entire truth.”—Sigmund Freud


“People believe what they want to believe.”  This “very profound [sic] conclusion” is the theme of Lloyd Omdahl’s Tuesday, 4/27, column.  As a generalization, “people believe what they want to believe” expresses a shallow sort of truth.  There are, of course, exceptions.  For instance, I wanted to believe that our first black president would be successful; but, alas, he is a failure.  That is what I now believe, and I believe that this belief is backed up by a considerable body of fact.  In ancient Greece, it was believed that, after death, one carried on a marginal existence as a “gibbering shade,” a blood-craving, demented shadow of one’s former earthly self.  There is no evidence that belief in this post-mortem state was widely celebrated at the time.  Sometimes people do have to believe things—unpleasant things—because the evidence gives them no option.

Believing what one wants to believe is an aspect of every area of human thought, and without specifics, it is a pretty useless notion.  Omdahl states specifically that this all-too-human failing—if you will—is very much a part of both religion and politics.  I would say believing what one wants to believe is also a common problem in the sciences as well as in medicine, where one finds beliefs in any number of theories and therapies to persist well beyond the time when their flaws and failures have been quite adequately demonstrated.

In a pair of columns appearing earlier this year, Omdahl characterizes certain groups—those petitioning for term limits, and those petitioning against the property tax—as angry, indeed as “having fun at being angry.” (See my article “Lloyd Omdahl, Anger Manager,” The Dakota Beacon, March 2010.)

Since Omdahl’s comments follow the bogus anti-Tea Party themes peddled by the mainstream media, I assume it is the Tea Party people that he has in mind.  In his latest put-down of the North Dakota citizenry (“Citizens should attend Constitution 101,” T-R, 4-27) Omdahl makes known his attitude toward the Tea Party movement very clear.

Lord Omdahl has observed that many ordinary citizens of this state flash copies of the Constitution about without the necessary intellectual pedigree.  Having real jobs and families in the real world, these people may not have had time to study the documents of the Founding Fathers to the depth required by Lord Omdahl.  Never mind that constitutional lawyers differ widely on the interpretation and applicability of these documents, never mind that an entire branch of government composed of some very bright people has been created to interpret the Constitution according to the intentions of the Founding Fathers—and never mind that the resurrection of popular interest in the Constitution among the general population is something praiseworthy.  His Lordship has pronounced that the average North Dakotan is not to concern himself with matters best left to his superiors. Lacking the level of insight required (Lord Omdahl’s), the rest of us should just shut up!

Omdahl makes too much, indeed, way too much out of the banal assertion that “people believe what they want to believe.”  It might be said of the Constitution, the Federalist papers, and other founding documents that these are themselves the products of the Founding Fathers’ own desire to believe.  For instance, the Founders had to believe that Americans would become and remain a virtuous people. (As Benjamin Franklin, who was skeptical about the durability of the Constitution, stated: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”)  The behavior of the current United States government may demonstrate that what the Founding Fathers wanted to believe was, indeed, mere wishful thinking, i.e., what they wanted to believe.

Who is really misrepresenting the Constitution—abusing or violating it?—The Tea Partiers (who may or may not have adequate knowledge of the document) or our elected representatives?  Those in positions of power who understand the Constitution, yet deliberately violate it are far more disturbing and destructive than those who misunderstand the Constitution and have no power.  Those who have no power may, through the passion of their beliefs and in the course of civic involvement, unwittingly misrepresent some part of the Constitution.  For the powerless, such misrepresentation is rarely for purposes of exercising illegitimate force—as is the case with the present Congress and Administration—but is far more likely to arise from patriotic feeling and love of country.


I have a vision of Lord Omdahl, feet spread, hands clasped behind his back, chin raised, gazing westward from the window of his Grand Forks office (or wherever) at our great state, a land stretching to the Missouri and beyond, a land he considers populated with pathetic half-educated rubes.  From whence comes this magnificent Omdahlian contempt?  Is it the usual ill-disguised contempt of the Liberal for the electorate?  Was he passed over for a much-desired position in the Obama Administration?  Did he have a bad supper?  Does he see himself as doomed to live out his life as Lord of the Hicks?

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