Follow the leader

TTers speculate on why, for good or evil, we need to be part of the crowd.


Salon Staff
April 21, 2005 9:41PM (UTC)

White House

W's Theocracy II: The Handbasket Stops Here

Karl Northman - 07:07 pm Pacific Time - Apr 10, 2005 - #3554 of 3685

Well, if you want to know where religions come from, looking at "Star Trek" is a good idea. Not looking at any particular story, mind you -- just looking at "Star Trek" and the people who, shall we say, believe in it.

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What, after all, were the disciples except the first Trekkies? No jobs, no women, no life, just an obsessive desire to follow a leader and a narrative. I mean, you know that if Jesus had had pointed ears, all the disciples would have either figured out how to have pointed ears, or there would be something in the Bible where Jesus explained that although HE had pointed ears, it was not necessary to have pointed ears to follow him. (Although in the next world, when the body is recreated perfect, you can have pointed ears if you want.)

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Ray Orkwis - 03:37 am Pacific Time - Apr 9, 2005 - #6608 of 6616

The Germans were no more psychotic than any other nation at any other time. There's an evil part of human nature, right next to the part that allows us to follow blindly, which is right next to the part that says, "If it's not me, I don't care." Some of us fight evil, as some Germans did, but not enough.

This is a cruel world because people are as capable of cruelty as they are of kindness (which is why it's also a sweet world). Look at what happened in Rwanda, what's happening in Sudan. Read Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" to see how it might happen in America. No killing machine as industrial or efficient as Nazi Germany would be allowed in Western civilization, but think about how long it took for apartheid to be overthrown, think about the institutionalization of slavery in this country. People actually bought and sold other people. It was legal and "just."

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The capacity for accepting evil should not be underestimated or forgotten about. This is why we must keep a watch on the ideologues, especially in times of insecurity. What happened in Germany was just an extreme case of people being people, just as every resistance movement, every demonstration against evil, is an instance of people being people. Don't ever believe it couldn't happen here. Remember George Bush telling the cameras "It would be a lot easier if I were a dictator"? No, they won't start building gas chambers, but if they did, and if they started asking people to turn in "unpatriotic" Americans, don't think there won't be a flood of calls.

It was Hannah Arendt, wasn't it, who talked about the banality of evil. Humans are by and large thoughtless, ordinary creatures. That's all it takes to create a nation of followers. Put an ideological, charismatic leader in front of them who can marshal the non-thoughts into action (Deutschland |ber alles; America, love it or leave it; my country right or wrong), and you have the makings of a movement. If that leader is also a madman, then you're in trouble.

Bizarre Hatred of Random Celebrities 4

E Fulton - 02:07 pm Pacific Time - Apr 4, 2005 - #1631 of 1874

Given the Pope-athon, he's a celebrity, and I really think it's totally valid to argue about him and his role in the church here. The Pope pissed me off constantly when he was alive, and whether or not there's some balance of the equities such that we should consider him "good" or "bad" in the aggregate is not something about everyone -- or every Catholic -- needs to agree. There are totally legitimate arguments to be made as to the Pope being flat-out wrong on a lot of things as a matter of Jesus's -- or the Church's -- teachings.

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Without respect to the Pope specifically, I'd also like to hate on any of the blowhards who laud the Pope for having a "clear sense of morality," a "solid moral compass" or similar concepts equating definitive principles and virtue. Having strong, clear feelings doesn't make you right -- it just makes you confident. George W. Bush, the Pope and Osama bin Laden each have very strong moral compasses, but such determination does not make being right or just or good.

To that end, the Pope's positions often implicated two ideas, each at odds with the other, which are used to illustrate this sense of "clear morality," the easiest one to demonstrate being the prohibition on birth control. His motivating principle appeared to promote those lives that he believed God wanted to come into being -- and while I may quibble with his approach to God's will in light of our scientific understanding of reproduction, I don't criticize his motives as necessarily suspect -- but his pronouncements lacked a sense of mercy in the foreseeable damage they created.

The effect of his birth control pronouncements has been continued misery in the developing world. I'm not just speaking of the desperation, squalor and poverty to which many of these children would be born, although I have a hard time not seeing the suffering of children as a major problem that can't be argued away by a casual reference to God's will (which in its circularity with the Pope's will deifies the Pope's position improperly). What I refer to is the health ramifications for mothers in the developing world, particularly Latin and South America. Instead of arguing strongly against, say, marital infidelity, the maintenance of mistresses and the use of prostitutes to further male-dominant culture, the Pope focused on the sin of birth control in his visits there.

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Promoting a refusal to use birth control but being silent with respect to the common knowledge male infidelity has consigned the wives of many men in developing countries to HIV and other STD infections because the men switch over to anal sex, unprotected, of course, and such insistence makes wives less able to put off their unfaithful husbands on pregnancy grounds (or protect themselves on health preservation grounds).

The Pope made decisions to prioritize his pronouncements on sins, perhaps with good intentions, but without empathy or wisdom with respect to the consequences. That's not justice or mercy or good judgment, moral or otherwise -- that's shortsighted dogmatism, and I don't feel like it implicates my loyalty to the Catholic faith or the teachings of the Bible to call it such. The Pope was wrong on this issue, and there are a lot of other examples of him being similarly wrong.

I didn't hate the Pope when he was wreaking this havoc throughout the world, in part because he did a lot of other things that seemed to be much more clearly good, but I will always think he did a lot that was very, very wrong, both conceptually and in effect. Of course, because I'm a Catholic with a vagina, I'll never have an equal chance to impact the values the Church actually espouses as its doctrine, because people like John Paul II have made it abundantly clear that my lifetime will not see a woman priest, much less a woman cardinal, and certainly not a woman pope. To say that women are equal citizens in the Catholic Church is like saying that men are equal partners in childbirth.

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