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Standing Alone

by on May 5, 2017

                                                                     Standing Alone

                                                                  by Marco M. Pardi

“Strength in numbers is the delight of the timid. The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.” Mohandas K. Gandhi. (1869 – 1948) Young India 1926.

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All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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I’ve never taken part in any demonstration or march for any cause, preferring to act behind the scenes if I do at all.  I have, however, observed such events and listened to participants.  Of course, on a mass, public scale these events are interesting, and it is interesting to note the degree of apparent solidarity, even if temporary, that arises at least for the duration of the events.  Perfect strangers moments before become entangled arm in arm, even rising to the defense of those in the group singled out for attack by counter-demonstrators.

I am far from the only social scientist who, in listening to participants, discovered fundamental ignorance of the issues among the demonstrators.  For some, that feeling of solidarity was more important than the accuracy of their claims.  In a very few occasions I became aware of efforts within the groups to refine and hone the central message, trimming the more extreme and indefensible positions taken by a few.

But I take a more in depth interest beyond the events themselves and wonder at the circumstances to which these participants return once the event is over.  The private university where I completed my graduate work has long been ranked an “elite school”, and the stunning tuition even for undergrads supports that view.  The Spring of 1970 was a season of protests.  Students gathered in “the Quad” chanted slogans, waved crude signs, and railed against “The Man”.  Some were focused on the Viet Nam war, some on the Draft, and some on the “Capitalist system”.  The war and draft protests were old news, but I wondered at the young students, apparently straight from some elite high schools (the undergraduate university entrance exams were quite daunting) and attending a university where the yearly undergraduate tuition was over half the cost of a decent home.  They were yelling about capitalism, but who was paying their bills?  (My graduate school costs were covered by a full academic scholarship, but my out of class duties included: working with profoundly autistic children; analyzing – in situ – the survival strategies of K-8 children in hard core inner cities; analyzing – in situ – Black Militant gang leaders and their gangs; assisting in development of cross-cultural projective techniques; and teaching undergraduate classes in Anthropology while writing a 265 page thesis.)

So I wondered, do these protesting students fly home on breaks to their gated communities and rail at “the Man” who is paying their costs?  Do they object to their all expenses paid summer vacations in Europe?  Of course, this population is only a very small part of the various groups protesting today. And I suspect students from universities of this type are largely pleased with the direction of American politics today.

So what to make of the massive crowds now turning out across America in protest against “the Man” and his policies?  Looking within the crowd at individual faces, each of them belongs to a person existing in a social matrix preceding and following their temporary sojourn in the crowd.  Do they return home to find the members of their matrix in agreement with them?

In late childhood and early adulthood I often heard the admonition to anyone going to a social gathering: Don’t talk religion or politics.  Now, we can add climate change.  But looking more deeply, we can see attending any social gathering, including family,  as entering the proverbial minefield.  Much has been written lately about the hardening polarity fracturing a superficially homogenized society.  This polarity reaches down through the roofs of our own homes.  Compounding this is an ever growing list of seemingly innocent topics which can blow up in your face: same-sex marriage; renewable energy; charter schools and school choice; health care; animal welfare; immigration and labor; abortion, and the list goes on.  And, an unreasonable amount of blame for the new climate of conversational hostility has been directed at technology such as the various “social media” devices so many people have – as if these devices suddenly loosen long held inhibitions against vile behavior. What I am not seeing or hearing is very many people saying, Just because I have a device does not mean I have to use it against someone or some topic in a vile and disparaging way.  Instead I’m hearing and seeing far too much incitement to act in a hostile fashion, either through a device or in person, from our “leaders” and the craven writers who pen their speeches and construct their political attack ads.

Another phrase we have become accustomed to is: Divide and Conquer.  But too often we take that only at the macro level; divide a country against itself and it falls.  We seem to have forgotten the phrase which characterized the American Civil War: Brother against Brother.  Although I’ve not seen any hard data, I have seen anecdotal reports of marriages in deep distress or in failure at least partially attributable to the kaleidoscopic messages of hatred and dissention coming from our leaders today.  The 2016 presidential election season was often unbearable, except for those addicted to programs like the Jerry Springer show.  Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t think there has been a Real Housewives of Washington D.C. show on………yet.

With this more interpersonal view in mind I recommend to the reader the following site: foodfaerie | A topnotch WordPress.com site

(Let me know if it doesn’t load for you)  When you open this site you will find the third installment of a fictional tale dealing with exactly the subject I’ve been discussing. I suggest you go back through to the beginning to more fully understand the dynamics.  It brings to mind the phrase, Art imitates life.

My purpose in bringing this site to your attention is the reality that we are seeing friendships of long standing and sibling/parental/child relationships fracturing into individuals for whom tolerance of the others is based on a mechanical or simple biological connection, not a felt philosophical connection.  Communication narrows to the non-controversial subjects and avoids any potentially threatening depth.  Family dinners – those still occurring, are coming to resemble the social gatherings I spoke of above; an increasing number of topics are off limits so superficialities can create the illusion of solidarity.  How many are sitting at the table thinking to themselves, If it were not for the links of biology, I would not be here among these people.

Standing alone can be painful.  In the extreme it can be deadly.  Yet, dictatorships, of all stripes, know fully well that a population that does not dare talk is a population it can fully control.  When all the frogs in the slowly warming water wait quietly for someone else to jump out and turn off the heat they are all cooked – together – for what that’s worth.

 

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7 Comments
  1. Thank you, Marco; whenever you recommend my blog, I find that the readership increases sharply.

    This is a work of fiction, but it reflects what I see going on around me. The tension between the two primary characters is easy to write because it is so like my own reality. There are subjects in my household which, while not strictly verboten, must be approached with great care if an argument is to be avoided. Sometimes it is worth the effort, more often it is not.

    The current political climate has put a strain on my marriage; we will survive, but I’m not sure at what cost to me as an individual. I watch in dismay as it brings to an end a friendship which has lasted several decades. That we are on opposite sides of the political fence is acceptable, but that he insists on calling people who think like me “snowflakes” and “libtards” is not. I have other friends who do not agree with me, but we manage to keep our differences civil.

    My daughter and granddaughter participated in the Women’s March in Washington DC; my upset being that they did not think I would be interested in joining them. It was socially and historically significant, yet I am not sure they knew why they were marching. As you say, it was more important to be a part of the whole than to understand why that whole existed. Mob mentality? While it was a peaceful march, I imagine every soul who walked that distance did so for reasons of their own; for my own reasons, I wish I could have been one of them.

    • Thank you, Rose. Your writing is so important on so many levels. And, as writers, we often have the feeling of standing alone. I think many of us would find ourselves to some degree in your writing. Of course, the solution must ultimately come from the individual. But you do a very valuable service in presenting us with the mirror in which we can see ourselves, and those around us.

  2. Ray Z Rivers permalink

    Perhaps it is the nature, the conduct, and the tone of the debate and not the debate itself that is at issue. We all hold beliefs on some matter or other. And on those matters we have come to conclusions based on consensus, an analytically derived truth, an historical record, gestalt or some kind of divine light. Shaking the foundation of these beliefs naturally requires energy and that involves some kind of conflict – it is unavoidable. But it doesn’t have to be nasty or deceitful.

    Protest marches are like going to church. Singing from the same hymn book gives the song (and the message presumably) volume and depth – even if it is only that same old song. And songs as with all things, diversity is better – meaning mixing-it-up with blogs, petitions, letters to the editor, conversations and protest marches is likely to be more effective than any one vocalization by itself. But singing alone or in company? It only matters that we sing.

    • Thank you, Ray. Your comments actually boost my spirits. I feel there is an undercurrent in the official, societal messaging which encourages us to withdraw into ourselves and remain quiet. And I think it is there for a purpose. But your comments buoy my sense that perseverance is important, even when it comes with social costs. I have considered letting my license for this site expire at the end of this month. But I feel a solidarity with you and Rose as writers and will not just quietly withdraw.

    • Ray Rivers is a prolific intellectual who writes on many topics of national and international importance. His column is on line at the Burlington Gazette in Canada. Marco

  3. “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

    Marco, I am unsure of the author of this quote, but it is one that comes to mind after reading this post.

    • Thank you, Dana. For some reason your comment did not come straight tome, but I found it by other means. Thank you for speaking up.

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