How do good-hearted people let bad things happen? Ah, there’s a question. We love to judge from afar all those who sat passively by while the Holocaust, Apartheid, Genocide and the other horrors of human history raged around them, but fail to see those same forces at work close at home. Could the schools teach us something so useful as this? Learn to recognize the warning signs of leaders at work manufacturing consent, numbing outrage, silencing protest and hell-bent on carrying out their agendas regardless of the consequences? Well, no, because many schools are based on those methods! But here in the Free Zone of the Internet, I offer my own little lesson, a five-step primer about how people in power get good people to comply with their dubious agenda.
Here’s how it goes:
STEP 1: Secrecy. Keep the people in the dark, ignorant and uninformed. When the truth comes out, decent human beings will feel some remorse and say what they always say: “We didn’t know.” Or some, more honestly, “We didn’t care to know.” In either case, an ignorant constituency is one that can be molded and manipulated to the leaders’ whims.
STEP 2: Fear. Create an explicit or implicit threat—“If you break the conspiracy of silence, we will go after you. Your job, your reputation is at stake. Play it safe and shut-up—or else.”
STEP 3: Lies. When convenient, lie. “Yes, we found nuclear weapons in Iraq.” “Everything is fine, the slaves are happy to be working on the plantation.” “ The system is working well, just trust us.”
STEP 4: No recourse. Give the illusion of a proper procedure and channel of communication and then close them all. Then slap their hand if they protest and scold them for not going through the proper channels.
STEP 5: Don’t rock the boat. Create the sense of emergency when normal ways of doing business are suspended. Or keep it going far past the actual emergency—Code Orange forever. “Yes, there are elephants everywhere in the boat leaving big piles of steaming manure, but all the more reason to sit still and don’t rock it.”
This is my summary of the malevolent forces consciously at work to keep people with decent values and good intentions from speaking their mind. I’ve lived through 8 tortured years of the Bush junta expertly employing these methods and now am struggling with a similar atmosphere closer to home that I won’t make public just yet. But meanwhile, how to effectively keep it all in check and even turn it around?
STEP 1: Refuse ignorance. A doctor can’t heal without symptoms. Recognize them and publicly name the disease. As soon as we have language for something, we have the possibility of grappling with it.
STEP 2: Organize. People fear alone and take it on as their personal problem. When five people admit their common fears, now it’s an issue. Safety in numbers is as true today as it was yesterday— one outspoken person can be fired, 25 is more difficult.
STEP 3: Expose and Spread the Word. “All I have is my voice to undo the folded lie” said W.H. Auden and if we keep the voice silent, we abdicate its responsibility. While we have the luxury of an uncensored Internet, we have a powerful tool for getting Truth out instantly and far and wide.
STEP 4: Civil Disobedience: By all means, try the offered channels. When they shut down or show they were never opened to begin with, create your own channel. The truth must out.
STEP 5: Eject the Elephant: Refuse to sit quietly in a room filled with elephants or Emperors with no clothes. Call them out. When the elephants are in the room, there is no room to dance. And the naked Emperors are just plain unsightly.
And speaking of dancing, my daughter (bless her caring, socially conscious heart!) sent me a timely video which you are kindly requested to watch. 3 minutes long and well-worth it.
It’s a lot of pressure to be the first to stand up and only one in a thousand of us is up to the task. But more important—and still courageous—is the first follower. Or rather co-equal dancing partner. Look what happens in those three minutes and imagine those folks as your community members when things start to go awry.
When the elephants in the room see everyone dancing, they’ll go out and join them too. So strip off your shirt, start dancing, invite someone to join you, open the door and let the elephants out. That’s my plan, at any rate. I’ll let you know how it goes.