Friends of Padre Steve’s World
The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”
Hatred is an amazing emotion. I noticed a lot of it comments of a number of people on my Facebook page following the DAESH attack on Paris and their threats against the United States. The bulk of it consisted of meme and statements which demonize Moslems, immigrants, and American liberals. Right now, Moslems, Arabs, immigrants, liberals and homosexuals are the devil to many people. Facebook and other social media platforms allows us to see into the hearts of people that we never would have thought capable of such beliefs. That my friends is the scary part.
Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” History shows us how demagogues can, and do find a convenient devil and then stir the seeds of fear in the hearts of their followers. The tipping point comes when the people that the demagogues demonize become less than human in the eyes of the population.
Sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think and we are just one crisis from pogroms, ethnic and religious cleansing, concentration camps and genocide. Just one attack on the United States by DAESH and the politicians, pundits and preachers, especially of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, will decide that their “devils” must be exterminated.
When they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.
In a Star Trek the Next Generation episode, one called The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. An Enterprise crewman has his career destroyed because his paternal grandfather was Romulan. As the prosecutor damns him for that and accuses him of being part of a plot that never existed, Picard makes the comment, “Have we become so… fearful, have we become so cowardly… that we must extinguish a man? Because he carries the blood of a current enemy?”
During the investigation, Picard is approached by his security officer Lt. Worf, who wholeheartedly supported the investigation. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
Picard pauses and then notes:
“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”
As the investigation continued, Worf too was accused of being a traitor, because of his Klingon ancestry. When the prosecutor was send home in disgrace, Worf returns to Captain Picard. The conversation is enlightening.
“Am I bothering you, Captain?”
“No, please Mr. Worf, come in.”
“It is over. Admiral Henry has called an end to any more hearings on this matter.”
“Admiral Satie has left the Enterprise.”
“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. And then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”
“I believed her. I-I HELPED her! I did not see what she was.”
“Mr. Worf, villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.”
“I think, after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.”
“Maybe. But she or someone like her will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish–spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mr. Worf. That is the price we have to continually pay.”
As I look at the memes and and statements that I see on social media. As I listen to politicians and media pundits sow more suspicion, and incite fear in the people, and as I hear supposedly Christian preachers, demonize people for nothing more than their religious and ethic heritage, I wonder what we have become. To claim Picard’s words for myself I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.