A long time ago, in a land far away, I would go down to the Golden Buff Newsstand on Broadway in Boulder, Colorado where I would peruse news and opinion from around the world. This was back in the 60’s, and it was probably pretty odd at that time for a store in the United States to have rags from New York, San Francisco, London, Capetown, Cairo and Helsinki, all under the same roof. The status of the University of Colorado as a major research facility, and the presence of NOAA’s National Center of Atmospheric Research made the selling of these papers profitable, and their availability enhanced my exposure to other cultures while still at an impressionable age.
For a young, west Texas born country boy, this exposure provided startling revelation. Not everyone thought the same as we did. Morality, it seemed, was flexible and dependant on geography.
Over the years since I’ve continued the habit of following opinion pages of various newspapers. The more the merrier. Newfangled technology has aided my efforts considerably and I can now read English language versions of publications from around the world without getting out of my pajamas.
Fast-forward some 40 years from Boulder, and here I sit behind the glowing plasma screen of a laptop, prowling news and opinion stories on-line and musing on the same cultural differences that so startled me as a youth. What had its start in a smoky newsstand has led me to spend a great deal of time visiting various venues spewing differing opinion; radio, television, print and on-line sources, as well as listening to a variety of speakers around the world. It also encouraged me to spend time reading various tomes to learn how and why things happened from another perspective.
Morality and Patriotism
So history has been as much of a passion as news gathering. I’ve found that, with the combination of historical knowledge and an understanding of opinion, it becomes easier to see how societies led by charismatic leaders can be bent to a purpose. I’ve also learned that these purposes, and the actions demanded by them, have the potential for great good… or for great evil.
Probably the most well known recent example of this is the Third Reich. Adolph Hitler was very convincing, and German society was in a mood to be convinced. The resultant evil is undeniable, and also is abundant proof of how easily whole societies can be led to evil behavior; how they can be led to believe that there is good in something history will certainly judge to be evil.
"Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship,
or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
That was Hermann Goering testifying at the Nuremberg Trials. Pretty dramatic observation. With a bit of pause we can remember scores of similar, if smaller scale tales to tell—some old and some modern. A short list just might include:
- Salem witch trials
- French-Algerian war
- The People’s Temple (Jim Jones)
- Civil wars in Congo, Sudan (twice), Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique and Nigeria
- Khmer Rouge
Are we Sheep?
What is it about people that allows for this blind following of an articulate orator? Is it arrogance? Ignorance? Theology? Lack of understanding? Whatever it is, it can obviously be dangerous.
We are seeing a great deal of sheep mentality in the Obama craze, and just like with George Bush, it is reactionary rather than reasonable. The followers of Shrub suffered (still suffer?) from the same myopia, and I think our country has suffered greatly because of it. Dubya felt morally mandated to behave as he did. He believed he was divinely led. He followed his convictions. A little moderation would have gone a long way back then, but there was none.
He was wrong in so many ways, and some damn bad things have happened in the world because of it. The actions of the Bush administration enabled and caused atrocities. Of that I have no doubt, although I’m just as certain that some of the folks reading this will doubt my patriotism because I dare to speak these words.
Now the pendulum has swung. The over-action of the right-wingers has fomented an overreaction by the left. Will the results be as evil? Possibly. I fear we’ll see over-action in this administration, at least to some degree, if in an opposing direction. Unless the Obama cult can find moderation, America will suffer further.
A majority of voters in modern America, I think, display sheep mentality—chasing after ideals and following dogma rather than thinking for themselves and using reason. Sound bites uttered by shrill, emotion-provoking pundits rule the culture. The television news offers them all they feel they need to know, and thus we run from crisis to crisis.
It doesn’t have to be that way, but we’ve allowed the growth of a media that foments it, because it’s good for ratings (profits) when the people are afraid. Folks following narrowly focused opinions have nothing with which to compare them. Fear is the result. Everything is polarized, and attempts at moderate, fair coverage fail to reach an audience. We are selectively ignorant.
This is why we never see a quality candidate rise to the top of the ballot for either of the major parties. Just as Goering understood, people ignorant of the truth can be led like sheep. Everyone needs to have the benefit of a Golden Buff Newsstand. A little exposure to alternate cultures could go a long way.