I know this guy from the neighborhood named Joe. I’ve known him for a long time. He used to live in (conservative) Upstate N.Y. and moved down to the southern part of the state during high school.
Joe’s a nice enough person, very friendly. He smiles a lot and likes to joke around. Most people find him pleasurable to be around. For years, I didn’t know much about his philosophy of life. He worked hard and liked to have fun. He’d occasionally ask me my opinion on a particular issue and I’d let him know how I felt. We’d differ on some issues and agree on others just like my interactions with a lot of people.
Joe likes to read. He reads a variety of subjects – from history to physics to political opinions. He’s commented a few times over the years about how much he’s learned from me. He’d realized one day that he had a very limited viewpoint on important issues facing humanity and that I’d helped him open up new avenues of thought for him to pursue (his opinion).
I’ve spoken to him about personal things like how not to allow your mind to control your behavior, showing compassion for all living beings and how to see through the obfuscations of people who manipulate everyone around them.
And, I’ve also spoken to him about communal issues like the Occupy Wall Street movement; the clever manipulation by corporate media to convince the masses “to shop until you drop” to further corporatocracy; the insidious plan of society’s rulers to program us to accept violence, diminishing civil rights and various other commandments from the dogma of the state religion and, especially, how corporations have blocked “the people” from instituting the machinery of democracy and evolving into a more civilized society.
He admitted that he used to watch FOX Propaganda Network for (mis)information along with occasionally perusing the other, less iron-fisted, purveyors of corporate bile like CNN and the old school “major” networks. He started reading a larger selection of books including some by self-described “liberals” and seemed to parrot adolescent cliches less often than previously.
Then, one day he started reading about Libertarianism. He liked how they attacked the “enemies of freedom” (the right to make as much money as you want) and were warning us of the dangers of a federal government that expected to service the infrastructure of the nation through taxation. It “felt” good.
He started talking about how government was getting in the way of business to thwart entrepreneurship, limiting opportunities for the talented in society and suppressing inspiration. It “felt” right.
He started showing less tolerance for those who, through no fault of their own, were unable to work as hard or as often as others. He started to express anger at having to work hard so that less fortunate people could sleep late and stay at home without working as hard as he did. It “felt” empowering.
He expressed dismay that people were being lied to about environmental concerns as a way of limiting economic opportunities. He decided that the EPA was nothing less than a group of Socialist agents trying to suppress economic development and that the country was under siege by unpatriotic traitors looking for a handout.
I sat down with Joe one morning and we spoke for about an hour and a half about these things. When I suggested that he may be falling victim to corporate propaganda and going back to obeying the dogma of Fundamentalist Capitalism, he growled that in a Socialist society everyone would be expected to work harder for less money than in a Capitalist society, that the “liberal media” was at fault for misinforming the public, that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and that everyone on the planet wants to be like “us.” (I told him I hadn’t even brought up Socialism and wasn’t trying to “push” anything other than compassion and tolerance).
When I asked him how Socialists had gotten such a strong hold on corporate media, what Socialist countries in particular he was using for a comparison and how “the greatest country in the world” could allow millions of children to suffer from a lack of food, millions to live in the streets, hundreds of millions to be legally poisoned by wealthy businesses and corporations to have more HUMAN rights than actual human beings have, he grumbled that I was too idealistic and didn’t understand how the world operates.
Eventually, I reached a point of frustration and realized that I had no chance of helping Joe see the folly of his new worldview. I told him that I appreciated the fact that he had the right to his own views – as long as they were HIS views, not someone else’s.
As time has passed since that discouraging morning, I’ve come to realize that the manipulators, as wicked as they are, have the much easier task of planting seeds of hate, greed and fear among the populace and that the educators – those who attempt to further creative thought, compassion and tolerance – will be scorned by those who haven’t learned anything from history no matter how long we continue to suffer and inflict that suffering on others.
Unfortunately, this is far from being an isolated example of life in the United States. It’s just another story of an ordinary Joe sleepwalking through an ignorant existence.