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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Herding The Sheep

In the year 2000, it was John McCain, a Republican who played this role. He was the self-described "maverick" of the Republican. The Democratic Party counterpart to McCain was played by Howard Dean in 2004. Two Democrats played this role 2008. These candidates were Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. And in 2012, Republicans had a few candidates playing this role. These candidates included Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, and Ron Paul. In the 2016 election, it is possible that Bernie Sanders could be the Democratic representative to play this special role and who knows what Republican(s) will do the same? What role are we talking about here? The role is that of representing the outliers of a major political party during the primaries with the purpose of preventing their followers from leaving their respective parties.

Sometimes these outlier candidates become mainstays of their respective parties. Both John McCain and Howard Dean did just that by becoming the Presidential nominee in McCain's case and party chairman in Dean's case. But the purpose of these outlier candidates is to prevent the outlier voters from leaving their respective parties. What tells us this? A simple comparison between the candidates' primary speeches and their actions after the nominees has been chosen. 

In the end, what the two major parties' outlier candidates do is to preserve the Two-Party system by reducing the number of voters who end up voting for third party candidates. My guess is that most followers of these outlier candidates end up voting for the party's nominee of the outlier candidate they supported while the rest will either vote for third party candidates or end up not voting. In this way, the Two-Party system is saved.

The result of preserving the Two-Party system is that those who control the two major parties, which are those who contribute the most money to the parties and the campaigns,  rule over our political and economic systems. In other words, while the Two-Party system rules the status quo remains the same and nothing changes, including the current direction of our country.

However, controlling the vote is not the only way to direct the sheep. Co-opting groups is another way. Co-opting a group is where protesters are being used rather than heard. They become used in that they begin to accomplish someone else's purpose than their own. Groups are vulnerable to being co-opted when friends and allies are not fully vetted. It isn't that one must be a purist while protesting; it is ok and can even be beneficial to demonstrate in heterogeneous groups. My first protests, both of which saw hundreds of thousands of participants, included all sorts of non-conservatives, namely Democrats, who quickly quit protesting after they gained control of the House. 

But as with revolutions, such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Egypt's revolution, groups and movements can be hijacked and used to fulfill the goals of others including maintaining the status quo. This is the fear of writers like Arun Gupta (click here) and Cory Morningstar (click here) as they looked at the sponsors of the then upcoming climate change protest. We know that seriously addressing climate change will require major structural changes in society. So, they ask, how can a protest that is sponsored by those interested in maintaining the status quo initiate the necessary changes to reverse the damage our way of life is forcing on our world? The worst case scenario for this last protest is that people went out thinking they initiated a change when, in reality, they reinforced the structures whose way of business attacks our environment. 

We need to achieve a balance here. We need to protest in heterogeneous groups because being purists limits our numbers to insignificant levels. At the same time, we want to succeed at accomplishing our goals, not someone else's. And this is the dilemma groups have. On the one hand, the purist's tent is too small. On the other hand, you don't want to end up in another tent.

Of course, there is a third way to herd the sheep. That way is to steer sheep away from a particular direction. This occurred during the Occupy encampments when at least saboteur disrupted a protest. I remember being in one of the Occupy encampments during a particular protest where a saboteur deliberately provoked a security guard into action and one of our protesters paid for that by being sprayed at point blank range with pepper spray. That protester could not open his eyes for around 20 minutes after being sprayed. As for the protest, it was terminated at that point by security. And it is possible that some were discouraged from joining us because of the incident. I witnessed other incidents of interference as well.

We should note the strong efforts of some to control many and to stifle a fuller democracy. And so far, their efforts are paying off because our way of life primarily consists of the accumulation of things and profits. Martin Luther King Jr. described our society as 'thing-oriented' society in his speech against the Vietnam War (click here):
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Even if they had the ability to deliver, neither major political party has the will to implement the kind of revolution which King foresaw as being necessary.  And so we are herded, like animals into chutes, by voting for candidates of the two major parties and thus maintaining the 'thing-oriented' society which King opposed. Those who venture off to work for a 'person-oriented' society are sometimes wooed by candidates from the major political parties while at other times are marginalized. Those who think differently are sought and courted by outlier candidates. They are first seduced into following the candidate and then consoled into biting the bullet by voting for their candidate's political party even if they have to hold their nose to do so.

In the meantime, we will be encouraged to congratulate ourselves for small victories while the basic structure of our thing-oriented society remain in tact.

So is Bernie Sanders the newest outlier candidate? Only time will tell. The same goes for events like the latest climate march that just occurred in New York City. Did the protest call for a necessary change from being a thing oriented to being a person-oriented society so that we can reduce our ecological footprint while ensuring a reasonable chance for more to have a sufficient lifestyle? Again, only time will tell. But if we see time telling us what we don't want, then we need to abandon those candidates and groups designed to prevent change.

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