Us humans are, well, strange. That occured to me as a read a report on the case of the Marine Sgt. who murdered 16 women and children in Afghanistan. The reporter noted that we have endless information about Sgt. Bales - his background, his problems, his jobs, his ailments. We know where he lives. We know all about his wife and family.
But not a single reporter has told us anything about his victims. What conditions did they live in? What did they have to look forward to? What and who did they leave behind? But, no. Nobody even asked what their names were.
Most of us haven't noticed that. Certainly, I hadn't noticed. How could that happen? Well, it happened because we don't care. We're interested in Bales because he's on our side, and he looks and lives much like us. But we really don't give a damn about Afghani women and children.
We react to things. We react because they form images in our mind. Often we don't really undestand what the images are. We just react. Bales is a westerner, like us. Our minds can build an image of him. But women and children in a village in Afghanistan? Nah. They're not real people.
When I was a child and first heard aboujt politics, I vowed to be a Liberal. I had no idea what a Liberal was. But it formed an image in my mind. The image was generosity,tolerance, broadmindedness. I liked that image.
I later learned that the political term Liberal had no such meaning. I'm sure that some Liberals are broad-minded and generous and tolerant. I'm sure some Conservatives are, too. But those traits have nothing to do with the meaning of either Liberalism or Conservatism.
I doubt very much whether most of our Liberal MLAs have any idea what Liberal means. Ditto for our Conservative MLAs. But it doesn't matter. Most of us don't know, either. But we make do with little cartoon figures in our heads. For some, Liberal means forward-looking, progressive. For others, it means left-wing, spendthrift, maybe weak on terrorism. And Conservative can mean solid, careful with money, or it can mean corrupt and in the pocket of big business.
Whole conversations can take place with one side presenting one image, and its listeners hearing the opposite image. Some Americans see Obama as liberal, left-wing, even socialist. They really do. This is the same Obama who is raising the biggest campaign fund in history - and almost all of it coming from big business. Duh...the bankers must not know he's a socialist.
If I say Arab Moslem, how many people automatically picture a terrorist?
And if I say American Christian?
Do you automatically picture the CIA agents who led the massacre of a quarter million Maya - men, women, and children - in Guatemala? Do you picture the pilots who carried out a terror bombing, largely of civilians, in Cambodia? They killed a half million people, the equivalent of 9/11 every day for almost a year.
When I say French Foreign Legion, do you get an automatic image of random murder and torture and rape of Algerians?
About a year ago, somebody popped into Harper's office and said, 'Got a great idea, boss. 2012 is the two hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812, Let's celebrate it for a whole year, and budget say thirty mil."
Now, that means that 200 years ago, an American army on no provocation at all, crossed the border, killing Canadians, burning towns, and looting as they went. Was that the image that came to Harper's mind? Was that why he said, "Great idea. We'll have a year long party." What a bizarre thing to celebrate. Maybe we should advise Obama to celebrate the anniversary of Pearl Harbour. Or Poland could have a happy year remembering the good old days when Germany hit it from one side, and the USSR from the other.
No. Surely some other image must have come to Harper's mind. But the words don't mean anything, do they? No. They just mean an image. Sounds good. Let's party.. Us people. We just say words and we react to them - but who knows why?
A few months ago, I was watching TV with a small group. On screen was a Canadian military chaplain talking to Canadian troops. He paused, then turned to look at the camera, and said, "I just want all Canadians to know that you soldiers here in Afghanistan are doing an important job."
A man beside me nodded his head. I wondered what image had come into his mind. Important and job are words that surely have meanings. What image had that man heard? Exactly what important job are they doing? I have never heard anyone explain exactly why it is that we sent Canadians there to kill and be killed. What is it? Bringing democracy? You've got to be kidding. But that man saw some image of something we were doing that justified the risks and the killing.
Do you know? Drop me a line if you do.
What this all leads up to is that I got angry reactions recently when I used the words fascist and Nazi. People found it distasteful that I should use those words. Why? I guess it's because I used them as words with real meanings. But we are in the habit of using words without the faintest idea of any meaning, just as sounds that create images in our heads. And those words create bad images, so bad that movements like them can never happen again.
Next time I can't find a good book to read at bedtime, I'll follow up on this. You might be surprised how many eminently respectable Canadians thought fascism and Nazism were good ideas. You might be more surprised at how many still think so.