Thursday, February 24, 2011

Any questions?

In the mid-1960s, a 24-year-old leader of the Free Speech Movement named Jack Weinberg uttered the famous phrase, "Don't trust anyone over 30!" The quote became a theme for the decade among those young adults who suspected that the powers-that-be were manipulating things in order to keep their power. Weinberg later admitted that he didn't really believe that sentiment, but that he was trying to get rid of a reporter who was asking him questions. The point for many of his generation -- the hippies, mostly -- was to avoid blind acceptance of whatever was being taught. "Question authority," is attributed to Weinberg's fellow radical Timothy Leary, but the lesson was the same -- don't just accept what people tell you, even if those people are important.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've seen plenty of images that have disturbed me. The protests in far-off places like Egypt, Libya, and even Wisconsin have displayed some of the worst human behavior. Mob rule isn't pretty, no matter how you slice it. And when people get in an unruly group, well let's just say they don't usually end up on their best behavior. Mostly, they simply accept what has been told to them and behave like those around them.

I watched a video of a woman yelling at someone she perceives to be a Tea Party member, calling him -- get this -- uneducated and "emoral." Now I'm hardly uneducated. I have a Master's for crying out loud, but I've never heard of the word "emoral" nor would I think about calling someone that when I don't know them at all. I've seen video of journalists who were attacked because they are Americans and America is the reason the world isn't perfect. I've listened to people complain that all union members are thugs. Now none of these people would fit into the 'genius' category, obviously. But could they really be that stupid? My theory: They merely accept what they hear.

If I were some kind of tyrant or an organization leader or anyone with a shred of power, I'll admit it would be tempting to require blind allegiance from my followers. That way I wouldn't have to put up with those who don't trust me because I'm over 30 or those who want to question me because I have authority. It's easy when no one challenges you.

But as a follower, shouldn't I at least be keeping an eye on those who are supposedly in charge of me? I realize that is probably tough at most jobs or at school, but whatever happened to checking to see if what someone says is actually true? Those of us who spend a great deal of time on the Internet realize that some sources simply cannot be trusted. And, when it comes down to it, even those we claim to trust may not be all that trustworthy. Yet I've been given false information by people who didn't bother to verify what they heard (or often misheard). If a speaker on the radio declares something as fact, why shouldn't I question him? If some television preacher states that something is true, why should I believe him without verifying what he says? If my doctor diagnoses me with something serious, shouldn't I seek out a second opinion?

The sad fact is that no one bothers to verify or even question assertions because it takes actual work to do so. Too many of us are too lazy or too busy to seek out the real truth. It's easier to accept what the television talking head or the preacher or the union leader or the lady down the street says. So the mistruths and outright lies flourish right beside real truth. We'll trust anyone whether they are over 30 or not. And the result is too often name-calling, violence, hatred, and foolishness. If this trend continues, and people continue to accept and act upon whatever somebody told them to be true, I fear for this country. I guess that makes me an old hippie.

No comments: