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Posted by Rick · March 20th, 2005 · 2 Comments

The United States is in serious trouble. Probably more trouble than most of us know — even those of us who recognize the warning signs. And it’s difficult to know what to do about it, because as Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

When we have become our own enemy, it’s difficult — it may be impossible — to change the tide. Because the first problem is getting “us” to listen.

There are, at least, two reasons why this is true.

The first reason is that we usually do not do — or even passively support — something unless we believe what we are doing or supporting is right. And when we think we’re right, even getting us to consider the possibility that we’re wrong is a major task. This burden is difficult enough when it involves one of us making a mistake; stick us in the middle of a bunch of others and “groupthink” takes over.

Ironically, in the same year that Walt Kelly’s Pogo: We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us book came out — 1972 — psychologist Irving Janis coined the term “groupthink.” As a Wikipedia article notes,

Groupthink is a term coined by psychologist Irving Janis in 1972 to describe one process by which a group can make bad or irrational decisions. In a groupthink situation, each member of the group attempts to conform his or her opinions to what they believe to be the consensus of the group. This results in a situation in which the group ultimately agrees on an action which each member might normally consider to be unwise (the risky shift).

Janis’ original definition of the term was “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.” “Groupthink,” Wikipedia (last visited March 20, 2005).

The United States has fallen victim to groupthink. Anyone who dares to offer a different view than that embraced by the mob is automatically labeled a monster. In another blast of irony, this is easily recognized as projection. For nothing is more monstrous than mob rule. Mob rule is the source of lynchings. It’s the source of all the bad things movies show us where a group of people decides to take the law into their own hands. Mob rule is man’s instincts run wild and unchecked. It is irrational.

The Founders of the United States understood this. That’s the reason they drafted a Constitution of the United States which placed limits upon the collective power of the people.

“Collective power of the people”? What the hell does that mean? (I know you’re asking that, because of the second reason it’s so difficult to get anyone to listen, which we’ll get to in a moment.)

The collective power of the people is simply this: the government. We don’t think about this very often anymore, probably because it’s no longer taught in schools, but “we the People” created the United States of America. The government didn’t just spring fully formed from its own brain. We created it. That’s why we call the Constitution the Constitution. The word “constitute,” which means “to set up: ESTABLISH” and even “to make up” (as in “create”) has the same source as “Constitution.” (See “constitute.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (last visited March 20, 2005).)

And the restrictions of the Constitution of the United States are needed even more today, when “the people” have largely abandoned their right to control the direction of government. In the 1700s, the Founders of the United States fully understood that pure democracy was as bad as — occasionally even worse than — dictatorships, monarchies or oligarchies.

But today — and this brings us to our second reason it’s difficult to get people to listen — a small group of people literally control our government. Our government.

And here’s the second reason why it’s so hard to get “us” to listen: those who rule over us do so practically without limitations because they’ve ensured that we’re no longer taught that it is our government. Whether it’s because we’re taught — and I fall into this often myself — to believe that our government is “the enemy” of which we need to beware, or whether it’s because we believe the government is our benefactor, or for some other reason — whatever the reason, we’ve come to think of the government as something that exists independent of us.

In a sense, that’s true. Clearly the government is not the same thing as any one of us. But the government is a creation that is in some sense a representation of us. I don’t mean — or at least don’t just mean — that the government “represents” us in the sense that it stands up for us. Of course, when we say that government “represents” us, we mean that it stands up for our interests. But I also mean that there is a sense in which our government is supposed to be “us,” in the collective sense.

And we have essentially abandoned that principle. Sure, we vote. Even if you don’t believe that the votes were properly counted, you have to acknowledge that large numbers of votes were cast. But what happens after the vote?

Most Americans treat the vote kind of like a credit card, or a checkbook. Every four years, they decide to whom they’re going to give it. (Why and how they make their decisions is for another article.) And then they go home, park themselves in front of the TV and bitch and moan about how terrible this, that, or the other thing has become. Or, worse, they go back to Church tickled pink because they mistakenly believe Christ is back in charge where He belongs; that’s more the norm these days when Christians allow themselves to be placated by platitudes, whilst the real actions of the government leaders who they think are doing G-d’s work is actually anything but Christ-like.

People, this is self-destructive! Would you give a blank credit card to your children? Would you sign all your checks and hand them over to a stranger, just because he or she seemed like a nice person? Even if that stranger acted like she or he sincerely cared about you? Of course not!

So why do we do it with our congressional representatives, or our President?

It’s time for Americans to get out from in front of the TV — or at least grab pen and paper, or the telephone, and write your congressional representatives during commercials. Tell them, instead of being told, how the country needs to be run.

And hold them accountable when it isn’t run the way you want. Because you are part of us. And wouldn’t it be so much better for our Nation if we weren’t our own worst enemy?

Categories: Constitutional Issues


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mike // Mar 21, 2005 at 8:46 am

    I am constantly bothered by the fact that the Christian population is so completely ignorant of the fact that they are a mob and in fact that they are the same type of mob that would have had Christ crucified in the first place. The irony is stark to say the least and yet completely lost on them.

    People seem to be under the misguided line of thinking that our leaders are in fact looking out for our best interests. I doubt this. We live in a world where international cooperation is more important than ever and yet we go around the world wielding military power with what I construe as imperialistic goals in order to control the rest of the world (and by the rest of the world, I mean the rest of the world that has useful natural resources).

    The People should be outraged that our votes cannot be counted and verified in a timely and accurate manner. The People should be outraged that Halliburton is making huge financial gains at The People’s expense. The People should be outraged that protests fall on deaf ears. The People should be outraged that war can be waged on false evidence and that they people that used this evidence to justify war are still walking around free. Perjury is a crime, and at the Presidential level, it is a crime that is a substantial order of magnitude worse than any other perjury that I can think of because the victims of these lies are both domestic and foreign, and they are lies that our children’s children will still be paying for.

  • 2 Ray // Mar 21, 2005 at 11:56 pm

    I hadn’t ever thought of the name of the Constitution with that sense. It’d always just been a name.

    My friend Alan is sensitive about identifying with our nation or government using terms like “we” or “our.” Seems like a reasonable sensitivity. Unifying with a group in language trains a sense of unification with a group in thought. As long as the group you’re identifying with is a good one, you can be happy. I’ve stopped saying things like “We’re waging war in Iraq.” It’s not pedantry. The distinction is important. I am not spraying bullets through people. Nor am I, for that matter, having the core of my soul eaten away with terror about bullets coming back at me.

    But shouldn’t I have some identification with this administration? Aren’t I at all to blame for this administration’s behavior? No, not really. I put effort into discouraging this administration’s power. But only so much. I voted against Bush. I encouraged others to do the same. I speak out against the war. But I could do more, it’s true. If while travelling some oppressed person were to take my life because I was a US citizen, that’s assigning me more guilt than I merit.

    What of the troops themselves? Current groupthink will attempt to eat anyone alive who suggests that the troops may be doing more harm than good. But can anyone deny that the troops are responsible for their own actions? Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Certainly there’s an array of forces pushing the troops to perform as the commanders dictate, and an array of forces pushing the commanders to dictate as they do. But when you squeeze the trigger, it’s your decision to kill. I won’t belittle the forces at work. Sadly, many of the troops are probably misled like those supporting the war from in front of their TVs. But unlike those of us in the home audience, the troops have their lives on the line. And their sanity. And their freedom from agony. And they’re being pushed to kill by the war supporters who are safe at home.

    I am not a US soldier fighting in Iraq. I’m glad I’m not. I don’t have to intentionally kill and I don’t have to fear being killed or being maimed for life without the realistic ability to opt out. Deciding not to kill and instead trying to fight the forces that push you to do it would only destroy you in a different way. But, still, you are responsible for your actions. Pure hell.

    Anyone who cares about the troops will save them from this. Caring for these people is not the same thing as wanting them to go killing and dying. It’s the opposite. “Support Our Troops — End The War”

    Try this on for size: Find a way to test groupthink susceptibility and correllate it with the parties subjects voted for last election or whether they support the war. If you’re the kind of person to think of the political population as two fiercely-opposed masses, you’ll probably put your money on the other political party having greater groupthink susceptibility. It’d be interesting to see what would happen to that money.

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