Pope Benedict XVI found out this week how easy it is to spark outrage with a few simple words, and with words that were actually meant to foster further dialogue, not spark outrage. Unfortunately, reactions such as this are common nowadays. In our day and age, environments of discussion and dialogue and the "marketplace of ideas" have been taken over by radicals and extremists of all creeds, of all religions, of all races, and of all political and social ideologies. Rare is it that you can bring up --for instance, the issue of abortion-- and not have extremists of both sides immediately rising up and railing at their ideological opponents. Then they get so loud and boisterous that genuine discussion and dialogue can't take place, because in a discussion in which everyone's shouting, no one is listening.
Of course, that's the intent of these extremists. They don't want discussions on abortion, or gay marriage, or stem cell research, or whatever issue, because they believe in their cause with an absolute conviction. And with such convictions, to even entertain thoughts that aren't consistent with their worldview is considered blasphemous and an outrage. As a result, much of our society's laws and views are being shaped by the narrow minds of people who won't tolerate discussion on their pet cause. Think of that: Our laws and our views are often not the end result of much discussion and dialogue and a lot of give and take and compromise - rather, they're put in place because one side happened to shout the loudest and be the most annoying. They disrupt our political process and make a mockery of what should be a representational democracy.
Why do these people try so hard to keep their pet cause from being subjected to debates and discussion? One reason is that their political power is tied to that cause. To allow discussion is to invite the possibility that their political power will be weakened, and they just can't have that. Better to nip it in the bud before it gets going further. Never mind that they may actually stand to gain more political power in the long run, it's just that they can't take the chance of losing power. As long as the possibility exists that they may lose power is present, then they can't allow discussion on their pet cause.
Another reason is that their way of life is tied to their cause. It's how they make their living. To question their pet cause is to allow the possibility that they could lose their means of income, so allow discussion on their pet cause invites the possibility of losing their job. When your pet cause has become your way of life, then you’ll try to protect your pet cause so that you always have a job to go to – regardless of whether your cause is worthy or just, so long as you have someone to cut the check come payday.
And yet another reason actually explains a lot of where these people are coming from. For some people, their view has become their religion. Or in theological terms, it has become their idol. I hesitate to use the term "idol" because it conjures up images of a golden calf, or some other type of statuette, but an idol does not have to be a physical object - it can also be an idea. And in today's society, that's what we have: a lot of idol-worshipping of ideas; whether they are political causes, social causes, or certain celebrities, or even instances in which a group of people of a religious faith adopt an extremist position of their faith.
And there are, of course, other examples of this mentality. Just a bit of imagining can help visualize how all this can get VERY hairy VERY fast for our society and its democratic workings. So what does this say about these people who shout down others? The number one thing: they are fearful. They fear the world outside their comfort zone, so they adopt a fortress mentality so that those conflicting ideas stay outside.
This fortress mentality indicates a negative outlook on life of life, and of humanity in general. It also indicates, ultimately, that they have a negative view of themselves. Most people, when confronted with views that don't coincide with our own, will try to learn about those other views. Learning about those other views does not imply that they'll accept or adopt those views. However, the fortress mentality folks feel that that's exactly what will happen if they listen to others who have different views, so it's also about a lack of confidence in their own views.
For the rest of us, this means that fearful people who lack self-confidence are running our society. So what becomes of a society that adopts into its laws the views of fearful people with little self-confidence? It becomes chaotic and confused. Answering the often unreasonable demands of these people does not fix what ails them, they'll just find another new problem to be concerned about, because what ails them does not come from without, it comes from within. And yet, they've gotten so good about telling us what ails them that we keep adopting their fears into our law books. So what to do about this?
This is not going to be quick, nor easy. We need strong and brave leaders who can stand up to these people. Such leaders will have to be not only strong and brave, but also wise to the manipulations and the usual tendencies and tactics of these people so that they can become immune to their manipulations. And such leaders will have to be able to explain to the rest of the citizens on what they're doing, and why. Such leaders will need to be devoted and dedicated to truth - not the variations of truth, or one group's truth or another's; they need to be devoted to truth.
Knowing truth in today's society is not going to be easy, because there are so many people out there who are not concerned with the truth. But if we're ever going to get past fearful people and their extremist views, then we'll need strong leaders to stand up, and we need to support them when they take such stands. Not an easy task nowadays, but entirely necessary if we are going to ever evolve beyond what we've gotten accustomed to in these past few decades.
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