The lesson of “the dress”

I honestly can’t believe I’m taking the time to write about this stupid dress. However, I think there is actually a “moral to the story” worth noting. While the internet, radio, and even TV is ablaze with morons arguing over whether the dress is white/gold or blue/black, those of us with at least half a brain and a minimum of a second grade understanding of digital camera operation simply ran the image through photo editing software to get a definitive answer that is affected neither by our screen’s display quality, nor the potential limitation/bias of our bodies. But before the spoiler, the lesson…

The case of the dress perfectly highlights the foolishness and power of prepackaged opinion sets, and how they can be used to control even a fierce, national level of debate. The dress debate only has two sides: white/gold and blue/black. Everyone that has weighed in on the argument has been presented with the same two sides up front, chosen a side, and commenced defending it to the death – quoting fake stories about the “actual” dress, citing fake science, and making up their own totally fabricated, meaningless analysis. This same type of behavior can be seen in debate of politics, foreign relations, economics, and nearly any matter affecting national policy decisions in what amounts to a carefully controlled “democracy.” This is something Noam Chomsky has spoken on many times.

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”


So we had the usual kind of debate going on, which illustrates a very important and pervasive distinction between several types of propaganda systems. To take the ideal types, exaggerating a little: totalitarian states’ propaganda is that you better accept it, or else. And “or else” can be of various consequences, depending on the nature of the state. People can actually believe whatever they want as long as they obey. Democratic societies use a different method: they don’t articulate the party line. That’s a mistake. What they do is presuppose it, then encourage vigorous debate within the framework of the party line. This serves two purposes. For one thing it gives the impression of a free and open society because, after all, we have lively debate. It also instills a propaganda line that becomes something you presuppose, like the air you breathe.

-Noam Chomsky

Most recently, we saw this in the national dialog over police brutality: you are either 101% in support of all police action (brutal or otherwise) or you’re an ungrateful, anti-police terrorist that is inciting the killings of police. People with the ability to see the world in shades of gray know this isn’t the case, but it is how the debate is/was framed in our society.


As good old Gee-Dub Bush said, you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists. There’s no room for people questioning an illegal US war on a country with zero connection to 9/11. If you do, you obviously loved 9/11 and you want the terrorists to win – those are the only two choices. Likewise with the Ukraine conflict, you either accept that Russia is the aggressor and everything is playing out as described in the NATO narrative or you’re a crazy conspiracy theorist that believes in the Illuminati (though in this case that tide is quickly turning under massive amounts new evidence coming to light). Even that useless skin bag of hot air Giuliani is playing the prepackaged opinion set game as he claims that Obama doesn’t love America because Obama doesn’t unapologetically support and worship each and every one of American’s (often illegal, immoral, or just plain stupid) actions both past and present. There is no middle ground in a black/white world. You either subscribe to opinion set A or B.

The fact that this national dialog/debate control tactic usually involves complex issues that the majority of people are incapable of truly wrapping their minds around sometimes make it difficult to show people the functioning of the prefab opinion set system. However, this totally irrelevant dress debate makes it quite easy to demonstrate. Why? Because just like in the more complicated debates over actually relevant issues, reality doesn’t match either opinion set. The dress is actually light blue and gold/brown.


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