Saving us from ourselves
You’re in a room full of people and someone tells a joke. Everyone laughs at the punch line. You don’t think the joke is funny at all, so what do you do?
You laugh anyway. You don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t laugh. They would think something is wrong with you.
You watch a play. Act one is over. You see people smile. You hear loud applause. You think the play stinks, so what do you do? You clap anyway.
Crowd behavior is a powerful form of persuasion. We jump on the emotion of the bandwagon and lose sense of what our brains might be telling us otherwise.
If you are an audience member of a TV talk show, your behavior is controlled. Someone holds up a sign to tell you when to clap and when to laugh, all to make the celebrity on the stage look like she speaks as an authority or says something that must be funny.
Recently a very popular daytime talk show host had a video made of a presidential candidate whom she did not support. The video showed him as the new president, a feeble old man struggling to roll himself in a wheelchair up the stairs that lead into the White House.
In just 30 seconds, the program host managed to mock senior citizens and the handicapped while her controlled audience obeyed the signs to applaud and to laugh.
Whether controlled by signs or by a tidal wave of emotions, watch the Democratic and Republican conventions on TV this summer to see crowds behave like lemmings jumping off a cliff. With all the sign waving, name chanting, and joyful tearing, you would think that either nominee is going to send us deliriously down the road to eternal happiness after he or she is elected.
It makes me wonder why we are so prone to thinking that the next anointed one will give us the keys to the Magic Kingdom. If you look at history, you see frightening examples of societies of people who were so desperate for anyone to save them from themselves and give them a reason to exist that they fell easily into the pit of propaganda.
Hitler raised the collective conscience of Germany, promising his people economic reform and world status. Now we have terroristic leaders around the world brainwashing their followers to believe that the United States is the homeland of the devil and needs to be destroyed, even by extreme acts of self sacrifice.
What scares me is that this country is heading down a pothole filled road where social discontent could result in another civil war, pitting race against race, culture against culture, and the ever increasing numbers of the economically disadvantaged against the wealthy minority.
Unlike the European immigration movement of the twentieth century, many who come to live in America today from foreign countries have, for a multitude of reasons, not assimilated very well with the larger groups of the home growns. Adding to this tension is that some have not learned the English language, which creates an obvious communication barrier between them and native speakers.
This reason, along with cultural and religious differences, has divided us into pockets of isolation that are breeding grounds for civil disorder.
Nineteenth century social reformer and statesman, Frederick Douglass said, “When justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons or property will be safe.”
It seems that whomever I talk to about our country’s current state of affairs, the conversation leads to gloom and doom. Kidding or not, some say they will move out of the country to a more stable environment if current trends continue.
Too many of us have lost hope in our political process and our respect for government authority.
So, here we go. Let’s laugh when we are told. Clap when everyone else claps, and wave our banners and signs to support the next coming of that social savior who will put money in our pockets, free our streets of crime, and bring about world peace.
I will pray for all this to happen so someone can please wipe this cynical smile off my face.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.