I-Day


Saving the country seems like an awfully big job to lay at the feet of one man, but maybe that’s just how things work. Take the civil rights movement. Folklore has it that Martin Luther King, Jr. made it happen, and that Rosa Parks helped. I hate to think that’s true, but it might be. Sure, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman made a brief appearance, but they didn’t contribute so much by what they did as by the fact that they got shot and buried under a dam. Nobody thinks they were vital. Even Rosa Parks wasn’t vital; she just made good P.R. I know this because she wasn’t the first person to get arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus; she was just the one selected to be the focus of the boycott. Why her? Because the first person was pregnant, single, and under eighteen. Oooh, bad P.R. Way bad P.R.

If, instead of individuals pulling together to accomplish a great work, history really is about charismatic visionaries and their expendable followers, that doesn’t leave a lot to be said for the rest of us. We can go along with someone else’s program or not, but we don’t ultimately matter. At best, we’re like individual privates in the military, mostly nameless, always expendable, and frequently dead. There were hundreds of thousands of WWII privates. Name five. There were a few hundred generals. Again, name five. See what I mean?

A part of me rebels against that. Maybe it’s a vain part that isn’t worth keeping, but I think of myself as more than somebody’s lackey. I also think that, well, if that’s the way the game is played, I don’t want to play it.

Maybe Obama truly is Kennedy and Roosevelt all rolled into one, and maybe we would be screwed without him. But that points to another of the problems with the charismatic leader theory of history. I mean, how can we trust that such leaders possess the goodness and wisdom to lead us someplace desirable? Look at Hitler. Germany adored him, and you know what happened to Germany. You might argue that Americans are smarter and more virtuous than Germans, but where’s your evidence?

I think those old Germans were simply people like us only in worse shape. They considered the future bleak, they felt desperate, and Hitler convinced them that he could restore them to greatness. No, I don’t mean to compare Obama to Hitler; I just mean to point out the danger of falling in line behind charismatic people. If you’re an optimist, you either have to trust charismatic leader types a lot more than I do, or you have to trust the thinking of the masses a lot more than I do. Maybe we really will prosper again someday, and maybe Obama really will be responsible for making that happen, but I hate it that we’re betting the farm on him because the next guy we bet the farm on might lead us to hell (which is pretty much what the last guy did). It makes my species look more than a little bad if this is the best way we can come up with to run things.

5 comments:

Bill said...

"No, I don’t mean to compare Obama to Hitler; I just mean to point out the danger of falling in line behind charismatic people."

I think you totally have a point in the comparison, not that Obama is like Hitler, but that there is great potential danger in blind fanaticism. Believe you me, I got my share of that over the last week. In fact, that has always been my most major reservation about Obama: the way in which many people blindly and idealistically follow him.

Pantheist Mom said...

I've been busy visiting and traveling so it was nice to return and see so many posts of yours!

Interesting - though I think the fact that people blindly follow a charismatic leader is a (negative) reflection on the masses rather than the leader him/herself. The time to worry is when the leader encourages followers to close themselves off to other opinions, as with Hitler. I don't see that with Obama, so don't see much of a connection between the two other than they have both been described as charismatic. In fact, one of the reasons I like Obama is that he doesn't seem to consider compromise/finding middle ground a bad thing, as have so many of our past presidents.

Pantheist Mom said...

By the way - meant to comment on the Rosa Parks/Claudette Colvin thing. I was the youth director for the teens at our UU church several years ago and I described this whole story for them, which led to some interesting discussions. She had the same internal fortitude and strength, but was too young, too black, too emotional, and too pregnant to be the NAACP spokesperson. Without wanting to take anything away from Rosa Parks, the idea that Claudette was abandoned and Rosa Parks was taken up seems a bit orchestrated to me. I suppose it's necessary, when wishing to launch a campaign to change the very culture of a nation.... But still. I always felt sad for Claudette.

Snowbrush said...

You make good points PanMom (in view of my last post, maybe you won't mind me shortening your name--ha).

. The time to worry is when the leader encourages followers to close themselves off to other opinions, as with Hitler.

Yes, very true, but a great many people seem all to ready to throw their own thinking out the window in favor of hero worship.

I'm glad that you heard of the other arrestee. Most people haven't.

All Consuming said...

"If, instead of individuals pulling together to accomplish a great work, history really is about charismatic visionaries and their expendable followers, that doesn’t leave a lot to be said for the rest of us. We can go along with someone else’s program or not, but we don’t ultimately matter. At best, we’re like individual privates in the military, mostly nameless, always expendable, and frequently dead."...- This made me think of Jesus..and the whole debacle.

Here is a book I feel anyone who gives a...well, anyone who feels they are capable of seeing more than 7 sides of an issue should read...tis short, tis eloquent, and does not preach at all, in fact...it's very well written....'Illusions: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Messiah- Richard Bach'....it's just a story...no more no less...

And to return to the original theme...yes, charisma can be a terrible thing, a curse, a blessing maybe...depending on your point of view, I have friends who now are awaiting, as they have literally said, Obamas 'crucifixion' by the media when he doesn't live up to the expectations of the masses. He cannot live up to what is expected, because of the legacy of such an appalling fat messy sloppy dish, he has inherited. But, I can only hope he will try his best, and I believe he will try to do that. And I thank all the Small Gods, the Large Gods, and any other sized ones that we have not had to suffer yet another generation of 'Bush's'.