Are You Unknowingly Wagging the Dog?


Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail.

If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog.

Three days after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky, President Bill Clinton commenced Operation Infinite Reach, bombing Khost, Afghanistan and a chemical weapons factory pharmacy in Sudan.

The official narrative will always be that there was actionable intelligence justifying the attack. The timing of it, however, will always generate suspicion. Is it possible that a bombing was carried out with the ulterior motive of distracting the public?

Coincidentally, a movie by the name of 'Wag the Dog' was released right at the same time. The movie is about a Hollywood film director who helps produce a fake war to distract from a president's sex scandal.

The Roman poet Juvenal coined the term panem et circenses, 'bread and circuses', to describe the phenomenon of a public too distracted by entertainment to be civically engaged.

I recently finished reading Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday. It chronicles the story of how billionaire Peter Thiel plotted for years to bring down Gawker after it published an article outing him as gay. He hired a secret operative to scour complaints against Gawker until they could find a potential lawsuit they could push through. They eventually found one with Hulk Hogan suing Gawker for releasing a private tape without consent. Gawker fought back by trying to bury Hogan with legal fees and delays. The conspiracy on the part of Thiel succeeded because Gawker never knew that a billionaire had been collecting dirt on them for years and was privately funding the lawsuit (millions of dollars) against them. Gawker was never even fighting the right battle.

To wag the dog is to let something of secondary importance become the primary one. It is to distract and preoccupy.

The difficultly is in identifying where we are distracted and missing the bigger picture without even realizing it.

It could be something big and complex - things traditionally termed conspiracy theories. More likely though, in our day to day lives the distractions are more innocuous. It's the passive aggressive shame grenade. It's the Facebook post that starts out about one topic, but quickly turns into a debate over an unrelated topic by the 3rd comment. What about major community issues that can never get discussed because a tertiary debate always seems to sideline the actual discussion?

Professionally, we wag the dog by shifting responsibility to others instead of taking ownership ourselves (as John Miller explains in his classic book QBQ: Question Behind the Question).

Spiritually, it can be as deep as the entire life of this world. Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion (3:185).

Our daily grind is overwhelmed with all that we keep up with online. Without taking a break, we'll never be able to rise up and see the big picture to reflect:

What am I doing that I think is important, but might actually be a distraction?