An Appeal to Youth

Republican comes in the dictionary just after reptile and just before repugnant.” This, from Julia Roberts, ‘America’s Sweetheart.’

Pat Robertson tells us that “Haiti made a pact with the devil when it broke away from France.” Hence, the earthquake. This, from a clergyman.

A face in a crowd, close to the burial services of a soldier, brandishes a placard: Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Liberals claim, “Bush is another Hitler.” Conservatives disagree with them and claim, Obama is another Hitler.” Both agree that America is not the America they once knew-but for different ‘reasons.’

A pundit sees racism everywhere. Another pundit sees racism nowhere.

And so on.

Opinions are like heirlooms. They are handed down from generation to generation. They die hard. Many, live-on for centuries. None are as recalcitrant to change as those about politics. The ‘common man’ and academicians often share the same opinion. For example, many educators are still focused on the evils of colonialism as the root of all geopolitical evil despite a half-century of the creation of sovereign states in Africa and Asia, along with sprouting island nations throughout the world. Occasionally appearing on television, there is a young college professor who teaches the politics of his grandfather, my contemporary!

Time-honored hatred for the wealthy also continues. It even takes the form of guilt among the wealthy. Rarely are distinctions made between earning money and stealing it. Many detractors of ‘the filthy rich’ enjoy a life that was considered luxurious when I was their age. That does not deter them from perpetuating the class warfare their fathers and grandfathers waged. Ironically, many of them share the same characteristic of dishonest businessmen that give trade a bad name: greed.

Politically, the “Little Guy” is still poster boy for just about every political party, especially at election time. Although ‘little guys’ (a.k.a. ‘real’ people) constantly exploit each other as they trade goods and services on a daily basis, they are one in their enmity against employers and corporations qua employers and corporations. They make no effort to distinguish between honest business and exploitation.

Youth is especially vulnerable to pre-packaged political opinions, including unrelieved skepticism. There is a fine line between skepticism and the responsibility of making a judgment. Skepticism is an integral part of the American way. That is as it should be. But skepticism is not an end in itself. It should serve as a filter for truth, not as a tool to avoid the responsibility of judgment. Skepticism often takes the form of propaganda. Comparing American presidents to Hitler betrays an inherited political prejudice, fueled by hatred. The same is true of people who display ugly placards to express their opinions. As with all types of prejudice, political bias severely distorts reality. Even sweethearts and clergymen are subject to delusions.

The quotations cited above, are all the more startling because they have been made by American celebrities! Given their access to education and broad exchange with other people, they should know better. It is mind-boggling to grasp the enormity of the gap between their opinions and reality.

The multiplicity of societal attitudes available to us on talk shows, documentaries, and other communication tools, can be better understood when we free ourselves from the illusion that current events are first-time events. When viewed from an experienced and informed perspective based on reason, seemingly new issues and heated controversies are revealed as recycled opinions. When debates disintegrate into hate-filled circular arguments, it’s time for Julia and Pat to examine the source of their opinions.

If you are young enough, you’ve probably noticed that debates tend to revolve rather than evolve into even the slightest resolutions. If you are young enough, you probably have noticed that during a debate no one says, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” let alone, “You’ve changed my mind about that. Thank you.” If you are young enough, you may be able to distinguish fact from opinion. If you are young enough, you may engage in evolutionary debate in which debaters are seeking the truth together, not merely scoring points.

Remember, please, that minds close easily, but it is almost impossible to re-open them.

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