Sunday, May 01, 2011

Divide and Conquer

Today, as I was walking to the Ministry to work on my upcoming talk, I had to traverse a stream of people trotting or briskly walking up Pennsylvania Avenue, all wearing t-shirts and/or race numbers labeled "Race for Hope." I don't really know which disease they're hoping to cure by the activity (one would hope it's something to do with reversing the deadly effects of our sedentary life-style), and I admit to having run many such a race in years gone by -- but always for reasons having nothing to do with the putative "cause." In fact I don't really think much of these things. It always seems to me like a Charity Ball -- lucky ducks get to feel better about doing what they like to do, and the fig-leaf for their self-indulgence, the charity, gets the crumbs left over. Maybe.

I assume these "races" actually raise some money for their causes and so guess they do some good. But they also do some harm, I suspect, in the same way that the state lottery does. In a small way, in the mind of the public, they divorce cause from effect, suggesting to people that (even getting them to walk the talk that suggests that) doing something wholly unrelated to a problem will magically somehow address and ameliorate that problem. And while it is true that there are some problems (mostly non-problems actually, like the drug-problem, the Domino Effect, or say the "Jewish Problem") which benefit more from benign neglect than from doing anything, it is not true that actual problems are solved by feel-good diversions. It takes work, risk, commitment, resources, or put simply, sacrifice -- a word we shrink from like vampires from the light.

But beyond the cognitive disconnect being promoted here, beyond the backsliding promotion of magical thinking, it also struck me, in my writer's radar for paranoid narrative, that perhaps there's another vaguely pernicious effect of all this sort of thing. I can almost envision some Evil Genius at the top of things laughing gleefully at such events, seeing how they distract the well-intentioned, divide their energies into many ineffectual causes, and deplete those energies (quite literally) without any risk of actual change to the status quo. It's a pageant of useless good intentions, as opposed to say, a union march or a lynch-mob of awakened righteousness. "Excellent," Monty Burns would say. "They don't even know what hope they're racing for."

For some reason this, and the Reich-Winger's insistence that government power be decentralized as much as possible, reminds me of the fifty or sixty different badges (besides the Star of David) the inmates of concentration camps were labeled with, and how this helped the very few guards to enslave and exterminate the millions.


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