George Soros Visits USC

One hour is not nearly enough time to delve into the topic of George Soros’ latest book, “The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror“, but in the presence of a world-class panel, today’s lunchtime discussion / book-signing at the Annenberg School for Communication was still a memorable treat.

USC Annenberg Dean Geoffrey Cowan, George Soros  Robert Scheer, Manuel Castells, Geoffrey Cowan, George Soros
(l-r): 1) Geoffrey Cowan, George Soros. 2) Robert Scheer, Manuel Castells, Cowan, Soros

The main points Soros touched upon in a somewhat toned-down description of the book are worth devoting hours of debate and study to. With a nod to his philosophical mentor (from his days at the London School of Economics), Karl Popper, Soros explained that America’s leaders are misleading society by misperceiving and manipulating reality. “We are bound to be wrong,” and one must understand that you can’t change reality itself, but only the way in which you deal with it. He drew comparisons to Marxism and the Enlightenment, before bringing it home to the war on terror.

The prolific writer, professor, and Wallis Annenberg Chair of Technology and Communication, Manuel Castells set the table with this 3-pronged question: What is the “fertile fallacy” Soros writes of; what is wrong with American society in the eyes of the world? How has it become more a matter of — not who is president — but more profoundly how U.S. leaders envision and execute America’s role in the world?; and what is wrong with American society’s relationship with the media — how does the business of media, and the emergence of blogs and the Internet affect this?

“If you can manipulate reality why be so concerned about the truth,” Soros said, blaming the American public for not taking seriously the series of lies from the Bush Administration so seriously, when in fact, if people manipulate reality the outcome won’t correspond to expectations which lead to a pattern of “unintended adverse consequences.”

“When Bush says our will is being tested in Baghdad,” Soros said, “Its not our will — its our reality.” The more we persist, the bigger a hole we open up for ourselves.

In response to a question regarding last week’s reality-filled GOP revolt against Bush’s call for Congress to pass Geneva Convention-circumventing legislation and Colin Powell’s letter to the president and his cautionary statements this week, Soros was blunt.

“Terrorists kill innocents for politilcal goals. When America wages war, we also create innocent victims, so we’re perceived in the same light as terrorists. It may be difficult for us to understand. But its true.”

Future administrations must learn to balance the function of the U.S. as a global power with the reality of public opinion. Vamping back to the days of FDR, Soros said its time the U.S. refocuses its concern to “leading the world in cooperative action to solve pressing problems. Among these problems, he listed global warming, nuclear proliferation and preventing a “world full of Saddams” — leaders that recklessly abuse people’s soveriegn rights.

Soros, who was a teenager when the Nazis occupied Hungary and began exterminating his neighbors, added: “When that happens, people do need outside assistance to deal with rulers to avoid further abuses and genocide.”

The hour went by too fast, but for Soros it was just another business lunch with this pitch: hear me now and READ me later. Though his statements lacked the detail and urgency — not to mention name-calling — alluded to in reviews of the 260-page book (which I haven’t yet), his colleagues at the head of the table were quick to lend their praise, with the best pitch coming from Annenberg professor and TruthDig editor Robert Scheer: “You can read this in one night.” Scheer no doubt sensed the abundance of free time among the 100 or so speed-reading Comm and J-school students, scholars and profs that surrounded him.

cross-posted at LAVoice.

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