I have been "out in the field" of public life most of the last 40 years of my life...either as a military specialist, a graduate student, or a parish priest. Folks who have gotten to know me really well tend to speak of me as a "moderate," a "centrist," or "somewhat progressive." This is still fairly confining. About some things (mostly theological), I have long been considered more on the "conservative" side of the spectrum. About social and justice issues, I have often been characterized as being more on the "liberal" part of the spectrum. For me, in person, it really depends on the area being discussed. I am not going to unpack the nearly innumerable issues that impact our culture. I don't like labels...which is why I have enclosed them in quotes above. In general, such labels are judgments from those who look at others, see a difference from themselves, and then apply a label to either castigate the other or exonerate themselves.
When I was in the 8th grade (1963/64 school year), our social studies teacher had us read widely in other ideologies besides that of American democracy. We read that too. We had to read and memorize portions of the Declaration of Independence and be conversant with the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, no one in our school batted an eye to see me (or any other student), reading Mein Kampf on a bench in the common area prior to the morning home room bell ringing (even though we were only18 years from World War II). It didn't cause the least stir to see someone reading De Kommunistische Manifest during lunch hour (even though the witch hunt for a communist under any rock by Sen. Joseph McCarthy was still quite fresh from the late 1950s).
Looking over what our current education system generally requires of students for social studies, civics and world history, I am not surprised if there might be those reading this that have not heard of the two texts I cited above...in their original language (both German). Nor, would I be surprised if the authors would be readily known. Folks older than 50 might know; and, if so, have you reviewed any of that in light of the kinds of conversation and rhetoric being slung around the airwaves and in print these days?
One other question: Would it surprise anyone to realize that, in 1860, being a Republican (then a newly formed party) was considered being a radical liberal; while being a Democrat in that day was to be considered quite conservative? Polarities reverse with time...and with some degree of regularity within the context of ideologies. It was only after a coalition that called itself the Nazi Party came together did Mein Kampf become a manifesto. Before that (it was published in 1925), it was simply another autobiography from a frustrated artist/politico wannabe.
In a similar fashion, De Kommunistische Manifest (published in 1848) was originally written to address the growing separation of workers from industry owners and the attendant low wages paid for almost unendurable working conditions. It was about the industrial situations in Europe...especially in Germany and England. It was hardly a blip in sociological terms until after the Russian Revolution in 1917...when the Manifesto was totally twisted in its meaning to produce what we have historically known as Communism.
- Mein Kampf (My Struggle), by Adolf Hitler, 1925
- De Kommunistiche Manifest (The Communist Manifesto), by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, 1848.
To label someone either a Socialist or a Nazi within the context of American political rhetoric is at the very best totally inaccurate and otherwise incredibly abusive. It reflects naivete on the part of the person doing the labeling regarding both American socio-political ideology and respect accorded to seeing through different developmental filters (see my last blog post). It also indicates a lack of any intellectual depth on what the labeling terms really mean. (signifcant note: Communism and Socialism are very different in ideological grounding. They cannot be interchanged)
Why am I "all up" about what I have said thus far? I was sitting on the veranda of our neighborhood Starbucks late this morning (Thursday, 13 March), after having visited a gastroenterologist and purchasing our weekly groceries. I was dipping into various news venues via the app Flipboard, and I landed on two articles about the same person. That got my attention a bit, so I followed up. The two articles each quoted one Ben Carson, who had been a speaker at the recent Republican CPAC gathering. Here is the quote that got my attention:
I am not sure why this conversation happened, but generally, Ben Carson limits this kind of talk to simply calling all (lumped together) liberals "Nazi."
My invitation to Dr. Carson (he has been a neurosurgeon, and I have no idea regarding his current professional status), would be to read chapter 6 of Hitler's, Mein Kampf, and still be able to say the words quoted above. The title of that chapter is, "War Propoganda." In that chapter, Hitler reflects that the way to get a large group of people to follow an ideology is to speak to the least intelligent element of the population. Raising them to an emotional frenzy will incite otherwise civil people to react emotionally and become part of the movement (I call that "whipping up a frenzy"). What I have just said is a summary statement of the chapter. It is more complicated than that.
My point is three-fold:
- It isn't about intellectual capacity, when it comes to rhetoric. It is the emotional quotient of the general population. Our culture (specifically) is in a place where our angst is easily punched into frantic states both quickly and over the most, otherwise, mundane issues. We have come a great distance in technology and information sciences, but we seem to have "dumbed down" a bit when it comes to our emotional balance and capacity to step back from issues...applying some reflective thought and background research. If Dr. Carson had actually read Mein Kampf, my sense is he would not have been so ready to call names in a public news forum.
- We, as a culture, seem to have misplaced our understanding of the framework of American Democracy. Given the regular abuse in the use of the Constitution in spoken and printed formats, my growing sense is that civics courses have not been taught (or at least attended) for quite some time. All but one of my jr/sr high school history/social studies/civics teachers are dead, but I am sure they would be shaking their heads in shear disbelief regarding what media journalists, pundits and politicians have been doing to the founding documents...not to mention Facebook, and the other social media platforms.
- We have moved from a more localized conversation, that required person-to-person interaction and accountability, to a social media platform that moves information globally literally within seconds (how long did it take to produce nearly 2 million retweets of Ellen DeGeneres' selfie group photo at the Academy Awards?). The technology that creates instant communication continues to develop quite rapidly. We, as a society, have not moved nearly that fast in either adapting to it or adopting parameters of both integrity and accountability in what we share.
I don't pretend to have a solution. I am working on a blog post the comes from a reflection on the Gospel of John. Perhaps it might shed some further light. I am hopeful that, at some future point, we will grow both emotionally and intellectually in ways that will create a civil platform for discourse; invite integrity in relationships; and be less quick to judge those who think or act differently. This won't be easy, because we have developed some unfortunate habits.
Maybe we can simply start by no longer calling each other names.
Love and Blessings,