I saw a bumper sticker the other day which read “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” There are a couple ways to interpret this phrase, and I’ve decided not to look it up online until the very end of this post. I’m getting tired of all the research I’ve been doing for the America Great Series – I just feel like writing now.
My interpretation of the bumper sticker: We all have preconceived notions about things; don’t rely on them – check them out. That’s pretty much my mission with this blog, although I hope all this research & daily writing is honing my skills, and I may make a career at it someday. Of course, my interpretation of the bumper sticker message may be wrong and that’s why I won’t check it out until I’m nearly finished with this post. In this age of computers that fit in our pockets (for men anyway – my wife tells me that useful pockets are a rarity in women’s clothes) we have little excuse not to check out the “facts” we believe. That’s the thing about beliefs though – why would you check out something you’re sure about?
Perhaps this is more an issue of thresholds. I have a high threshold for belief – I want to see the facts. That is one reason why I have a hard time believing everything that is described as “true” by any one religion. This doesn’t mean I’m not a spiritual person. I have been a regular(ish) church attendee for decades and have been involved in lay leadership much of that time. My last stint ended a few weeks ago. I was the treasurer and member of the vestry (governing board) for an Episcopal church. I like the Episcopal Church for their acceptance of a wide range of how people believe. While not official Church doctrine, the following statement sums up the feeling of the place: “There’s a lot of truth in the bible, and some of it actually happened.”
So what does this have to do with the title of this post, “The Centrist Awakening” other than as the potential title of my first novel. I wrote that as a joke, but that could work.
So, you know how in dystopian novels and movies, the heroes and heroines arise from the dregs of the oppressive society that gains control following the calamitous event? Those heroes and heroines beat very long odds and survive perilous situations (well, most of them survive) to lead the downtrodden to victory against their oppressors. And then the book or movie ends. Did you ever wonder what happens after the victory? Well, we have some real world examples.
The Arab Spring began with mass protests following the very public suicide of a merchant in Tunis – a powerful demonstration of the complete desperation he felt over corruption and abuse by those in power. The desperation was shared by the downtrodden masses in other countries and protests spread, especially after the fall of Tunisia’s government. Other governments fell and all of a sudden, the people who were in charge were those who had previously been the losers in the old order. The Arab Spring was just like a post-apocalyptic novel. Of course, the story didn’t end with the victory; we can see what happens next.
I’m afraid the news is not good for the the heroes and heroines of the Hunger Games or Divergent. People who have been oppressed for generations have a difficult time leading, especially if there is a military command still around. If you managed to bring down the government and destroy the military, you will probably find another country ready to step in and begin a new repressive regime, or a terrorist organization ready to take over large sections of your territory and kill or punish anyone with differing beliefs. It’s a good idea to keep your military around, but don’t piss them off.
The other example went very differently. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and subsequent division into many countries had the potential to end in chaos. A couple factors helped avoid that disaster. First, the developed countries in the West were all eager to assist in the transition from a communist to a capitalist system. Unlike impoverished Tunisia, the Soviet Union had a huge military including nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world many times over. It is no wonder that the U.S. and Western Europe were so helpful. After the decades-long Cold War, there was a real chance for peace and prosperity. Western companies were also very interested in developing Russia’s oil industry and selling many of our Western products to its people.
Second, those who eventually came to power in Russia did not come from the downtrodden lower classes, but from powerful government agencies. Putin in particular, as head of the KGB intelligence service, had leadership skills and a ruthlessness that allowed him to steer the country in the direction he wanted. That direction made him and his inner circle of industry leaders wealthy and powerful. Russia did not fall into the cycle of chaos that we are seeing as a result of the Arab Spring largely because the country went from one powerful governance to another and the Western countries overlooked things they did not like because the new Russia was less likely to shoot nuclear missiles at them.
So, again, why “The Centrist Awakening?”
Okay, so while I’m not calling the U.S. a dystopian society, there are plenty of signs this presidential election season that the masses are rising up. The two biggest signs – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. People are angry at the state of the government and country and unlike those post-apocalyptic novels and films, there are many possible targets for that anger.
The conservative media has placed blame firmly on the President’s shoulders for seven years, but also blames anyone in government who is not on the right – or far right – of the political spectrum. The liberals have their own media sources and spread nearly the exact opposite message – be left, or be left out. There are some moderate voices, but they are generally discounted or mocked by those appearing on conservative and liberal outlets. All criticize Congress and their approval numbers are much lower than the President’s. Finally, we can blame the country’s problems on the poor for costing so much money since they won’t take care of themselves, and on the rich for being so greedy and leaving too little money to ensure a good economy and a thriving middle class.
So we Americans can be angry at the President, Congress, those on the left, those on the right and/or those in the middle. We can be angry at the rich and the poor. We can even be angry at political correctness which means that some people are more concerned about not offending someone than solving the country’s problems. While we don’t have a central dystopian government in this country to hate, we have engineered a situation in which just about anyone is fair game.
So, back to the bumper sticker. What if the angry people actually researched the things they believe and figured out whether they’re true or not. One example comes to mind. Early last year, someone on Fox News claimed that Christians could not go into Birmingham, England because the city has been taken over by Muslims and it wasn’t safe. Since my wife & I had a hotel reservation there a couple months later, you might think that I was concerned with that news. I wasn’t, but that’s because I take everything with a grain of salt that comes out of the mouths of guests that appear on the conservative or liberal shows where there are loud voices and disrespectful language. I can tell you that Birmingham is a delightful city and not at all as advertised on Fox News programs, although they should have warned me about how hard it was to drive out of Heathrow, on the left side of the road in the dark. (Fox did retract the Birmingham claim very quickly.)
So what if all these angry people started checking the facts? What if they didn’t just accept as truth the statements that come from liberal and conservative media, or from the candidates’ mouths? There are sites online build to check the political claims – http://www.factcheck.org, for example. If a fact checking movement started, I believe those of us in the middle wouldn’t feel so lonely. I think there could be a movement to the center.
You know it’s an acceptable statement for adults in this country to say “I don’t like math.”? School children pick up on these statements – many made publicly by celebrities – and emulate the sentiment. Now they don’t like math and don’t put a lot of effort into doing well in the subject. Especially in math and science, U.S. students perform poorly when compared to those in other developed and many undeveloped countries in which educational success is a source of pride.
Similarly, I have a problem with the statement “You should never discuss religion or politics in polite company.” If that is considered normal behavior and you are breaking the rules to talk politics, we leave the political discussion to those who have extreme views and media outlets, and the angry masses are only fed the far right and far left agendas.
For this reason, I believe Donald Trump is a blessing. You didn’t expect that, did you? Because he has made this presidential race exciting, it’s harder to escape the discussion, and it’s going to bring in those with centrist views. As this presidential campaign works its way through the calendar, I suspect – and hope for – a growing interest from the political middle.
That could lead to real change in government and real solutions to the problems caused by years of Congressional inaction. Well, it could if there is anyone from the political middle on the ballot from which to choose.
Now let’s check what the bumper sticker really means. Don’t Believe Everything You Think is the title of a few different books, all with different subtitles. The first seems to be by Thomas Kida and was published in 2006; Thubten Chodron published one in 2012. Kida’s book focuses on six mistakes people make such as “We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas” and “We prefer stories to statistics.” Chodron’s book is more of a mindfulness aid by way of fourteenth-century Buddhist teachings. There is also a song by Lee Bryce with that title. So my interpretation of the bumper sticker message pretty much matched Kida’s book. It feels good to confirm my idea. Oh, wait….