“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world,” wrote William Sloane Coffin, scholar, religious leader and activist.

I thought about that quote as the disaster in Haiti reached a peak in the usual media frenzy about such things. After months of hearing anti-government hysteria from the “Tea Party” and their Republican hangers-on it was more than a little revealing when a family being interviewed on the “Today Show” called for more government involvement in finding their missing daughter in that ravaged country.

“We need more help from the government,” the mother said. “I want President Obama to do more,” said the father, “to help find my daughter.”

I admit that I was a little put off by the father’s insistence that his daughter be the main concern of the entire Obama administration, and without a word about the thousands of dead, dying and homeless Haitians. I suppose if it had been my daughter I might have felt the same way but then I noticed that he wasn’t making any attempt to go there himself as others already had. The next night we watched as rescue teams from Iceland, the United States, Italy, Israel and Turkey continued to pull trapped survivors from the ruble. Really, could anyone be doing more?

Still, I understand the frustration. Even with all the media attention, on TV and on the Web, it’s hard to really understand what’s going on. Every video or picture is like looking through a keyhole that limits our vision while feeding our anxiety. Our field of vision stops at the edge of the screen or the borders of the photograph, yet we know there’s so much more taking place, more that we can’t see, too much for the camera to absorb. This crisis is larger than our understanding, larger than all the efforts to make sense of it.

Part of our problem, I believe, is that nowadays we have become accustomed to being over informed. Google anything and you get tens of thousands of choices, a multitude of pathways to knowing more about your chosen subject, far more than you can ever use. If our real eyes are far too earthbound then the mind’s eye is practically lost in space amid a galaxy of sources.

The other part of the problem is that at least half of them are useless or bogus, more opinion than fact, more subjective than objective, more prejudice than thought. What we find sometimes is a flood of false imagery composed of the prejudices of all the shouters and screamers that populate the information highway.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices,” wrote William James, American philosopher, psychologist and educator. A prejudice, of course, is a preconceived opinion. I like to define it as the abrupt end of truncated reasoning. It’s the bloody stump, if you will, of a thought process caught unexpectedly by the snapping shut of a mind more comfortable in the closed position. Perhaps that’s why so many on the right treat their personal prejudices as open wounds, sources of infection and high fever. If the metaphor can be stretched a bit further it could be that the Tea Party gatherings — celebrations of prejudice — are a kind of St. Vitus Dance, a delirium in motion that chooses to move anywhere but forward.

And now into this volatile mix comes Sarah Palin, ready and willing to rub salt into those wounds. With her appointment to the Fox News stable of demagogues she has finally arrived. Truly the ghost of Huey Long now walks the land.

Andrew Sullivan, an actual thinking conservative, said Palin is now in a position to create an alternate reality without being challenged. She can express, as the Rev. Coffin called it, “the solace of opinion without the pain of thought.” Instead of speaking truth to power she will babble an endless stream of paranoid images to her core constituency of chaotic howlers and be enriched for doing so. Fox has created a market for the dissemination of nonsense. Now that’s capitalism.

It is understandable that traditional conservatives — those who still stand on some semblance of principle — should take offense at Palin’s prominence. She is not a conservative, they said, but merely an opportunist. She will say whatever the writhing crowds before her want to hear (and deny it all later). Worse, she will, and has, cheapened the conservative language by her misuse of it and lack of comprehension, lowering the level of political discourse to parody. If real conservatives must cringe every time she opens her mouth then the fans of the “Daily Show” will have never had it so good.

But the real downside is the damage to free discourse itself. As one blogger, writes, “By submitting to lies and illusions we are discrediting the idea that freedom of speech and action has any value. How dangerous is that?”

Not to fear. The Supreme Court has just made freedom of speech very valuable indeed. By striking down campaign finance laws they have unleashed the wealth and power of corporations to influence elections, terrify uncooperative politicians with limitless cash for their opponents, and generally have their way with government. The wealth that has always ruled Washington now does so openly and without inhibition.

So if Palin can now say anything she wants with no one to answer to but Jon Stewart, corporations can now spend as much as they want in pursuit of power with no one to answer to at all.

How dangerous is that, indeed?

Ronald M. Horvath lives in Camden.