The Idiocy of Crowds

I’ve never been a fan of mass political rallies and protests. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when these gatherings are well-organized and effective. But the majority of those I come across, whether on the right or the left, appear disjointed, ill-informed, and counterproductive. Take for instance the two biggest rallies/protests that occurred in Washington D.C. this weekend.

First we had ANSWER’s (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) anti-war protests on Saturday, March 20, 2010 that provided us with such gems as this:

Ah yes. Obama that lying politician. I find it interesting that these protesters are holding up a sign about Afghanistan and calling the president a liar when at no point during his campaign did Obama indicate that he would begin an immediate withdraw of troops from that country. On the contrary, Obama repeatedly stated during his campaign that he would order a surge in the country along the lines of that which occurred in Iraq.

But idiotic mass movements never let facts get in their way, nor nuance, as you can see below:

Talk about hyperbole. I have no problem with a decently-informed anti-war movement that objects to U.S. occupation from a number of valid positions. But one invalid position that strikes me here is this simplistic chant that implies the United States is running around maliciously killing “kids” in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is just ridiculous. It seems like these protesters just want to rehash the Vietnam War protests for every new conflict that arises.

And is it just me or is that last clip more an anti-U.S. protest than an anti-war one (which I find interesting as many of the protesters in this clip appear to be middle class white kids). Or perhaps we’re dealing with people who are simply anti-state?

Sigh.

Well let’s move on to the next big protest that happened the very next day: the whacko conservatives rallying against Obama’s healthcare bill:

I seriously don’t know where to start here. Not only did many of these individuals seem to be drastically uneducated about the bill they were protesting against, but many also seemed to harbor ridiculous feelings of racism and xenophobia (for example, “Ameristan”). Almost all of those interviewed appeared to have no legitimate complaints of their own (take for instance their parroting of tort reform as a solution to healthcare reform) and seem only to repeat the talking points and political slogans of FOX News and Ron Paul.

Now I realize that it would be too demanding of a protest movement that the majority of its members be experts in the area they are protesting. But on the other hand I feel like these people sound have some semblance of nuance and background in what they’re talking about. How many of those anti-war protesters would you gather have a basic understanding of the geopolitics of Iraq or Afghanistan? How many of those anti-healthcare protesters do you think had any idea how the healthcare bill would work and/or had any inkling of the true meaning of what socialism, communism or fascism is? My feeling is that very few of these protesters had any conception of the basic facts and arguments surrounding the issues they were rallying for and/or against.

To me, these people are using these protests as an outlet to find meaning and take action in their lives. This often times leads them to view the issue in terms of black and white, good vs. evil, us against them. And this dualistic thinking can sometimes be a good thing–take for instance the civil rights movement, the progressive movement of the early 20th century or the Vietnam War protests. However, it is always a powerful thing. And when something this powerful is applied to situations and issues that require a higher deal of nuance and critical-thinking, the populace and the individual are hurt: the debate becomes disorganized, with areas of gray being ignored and opportunities for compromise shrinking.

So my basic plea here is: if you’re going to organize a protest, make sure it’s one that’s informed on the basic facts and arguments of the issue, steer clear of hyperbole as much as possible and try to remember that, in most cases, the people you’re protesting against probably aren’t evil spawns of Satan but individuals who simply disagree with you on a philosophical level or are just ill-informed on the subject. President Obama is not the Islamist second coming of Hitler, and the Iraq war (which I think, for the record, we should never have undertaken for a number of reasons) and the Afghanistan war are not imperial wars of subjugation.

Nuance people! Nuance!

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3 responses to “The Idiocy of Crowds

  1. The crowds at most rallies are no different than most other individuals who have little knowledge of the facts of many issues. hey parrot talking points of pundits and others how lead them like sheep and use them for their own purposes. It’s a reflecton of the degraded nature of our political debate. It’s easier to have othera think for oneself, than to think for oneself. Yes, in a lrge crowd this is obvious. For individuals it’s the same. We just don’t see the signs.

  2. Keep in mind that it’s the middle class young people who have the time, money & education to involve themselves in protests such as opposition to the activities in Afghanistan which was basically true of the initial opposition to war in Viet Nam. But also keep in mind that it was these protesters that forced the U.S. government into reconsiding how it was going about its illegal activities & galvanized a significant sector of citizens into challengning the covert and untruthful efforts of the governemnt

  3. Another great example is the proposed NASA budget to cut the Constellation Program and hand human spaceflight to the commercial sector entirely. It is a complex debate and it seems few people in the aerospace community are taking the time to analyze the issues. I have many friends who are greatly disturbed about this idea and get emotional about the “Death” of NASA while at the same time there are those that think this could be the best idea since sliced bread. What about the middle ground? Commercial space offers the promise of affordable space access yet is years away from demonstrating any capability in human rated vehicle systems. NASA is still our only ticket to orbit and without the successful development of the Ares vehicles to replace the shuttle program we will be stuck buying rides from Russia for the foreseeable future. I think the underlying fact is that we need Constellation to ensure our continued dominance in space but we need commercial solutions to phase NASA out of the human transport business and into new fields of science and engineering. Space is the new frontier of economic development and commercial enterprise. It would be a shame to see the US drop the ball while other powers are forging ahead with space development.

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