(while we’re waiting for Mr. Rogers to show how wrong I am, I thought I’d return to a more political bent)
In my line of work, I’ve come upon the “UN is evil, with black helicopters” crowd. People in central PA (and all over the US), are *sure* that the UN is going to take us over as soon as they hear about a law they don’t like. And yes, if you know about the UN, you know how damn funny that is and how that it would never happen. These people have watched Red Dawn too many times (oh yes and they did remake it with, wait for it, North Korea invading).
For my international viewers and folks younger than me, this was a horrible movie made in 1984 in the fevered Reagan years. The plot was that the Soviets, Cubans and Nicaraguans invaded small town America. No nukes at all, we have soldiers too inept to fight teens parachuting into Colorado. It’s like watching stormtroopers on Endor. This movie is a wannabee’s wet dream to the nth degree; those folks who are all sure they would be just great soldiers, but golly, they can never find time to actually join the military. It’s just too hard to be that responsible and ”grown-up”.
The most recent eruption of this silliness is the idea that something called Agenda 21 is going to end the American Way. As always, all of this is dependent on willful ignorance and ginned up fear. Agenda 21 is a VOLUNTARY and NON-BINDING way to plan for sustainable development. It is not to return everyone to subsistence farm standards, not to make them give up all of their possessions or to make them pool their money together so they must live communistically (recognize this? 🙂 ). It is a plan that has four parts: dealing with the poverty and inequity in developing nations; protecting the environment; supporting the rights of children, women, indigenous peoples and local authorities; and supporting the spread of useful technology and knowledge by education.
Now, all of this sounds good to anyone who wants people to have an equal chance at life. It sounds like poison to a lot of Americans (many self-identified Tea Partiers) who are sure that Agenda 21 will take their stuff! They are desperately afraid of the “government” coming to take their land and telling them what they can do on it. Well, if they’ve been paying attention (not), they know that this happens already. We have eminent domain, we have regulations on where certain types of business may locate (no slaughterhouses beside schools, no bars near schools) etc. They do not realize that Agenda 21 does no such thing. It advocates a fair and just world for everyone, and no it doesn’t force it on *anyone*. These people who are afraid of the UN and this Agenda 21 think they want absolute and unfettered freedom but when it comes to their house, they sure don’t want a tannery in their backyard or a lawless society. They are, like many willfully ignorant people, hypocrites.
They are indeed fearful but against no actual threat, just baseless claims and lies. There are those who want to keep them fearful and that fear nebulous. Much like religion, the far right wants people to be scared of “them”. It’s a great way to keep people under your thumb. Make “there” too scary to go to visit, make “them” less than human and out to get “you”, etc. A lot of these people want to believe what they are told.
I personally have the hypothesis that it’s mostly people who grew up thinking that the US was some kind of “chosen people” and when that was proven not the case, their fantasies of exceptionalism sickened into classic paranoia(thinking that others are out to get you and that you are important enough for them to do so). These people have of course infected others. And it doesn’t help that these people want to be told what to do, supposedly to get back to that delusionary “eden” they imagined the 1950s to be. I think many of us who were born in the late 60s saw just how screwed up our nation could be and never bought into that idea.
Bob Altemeyer, a professor from the University of Manitoba (he got his degree in PA at Carnegie-Mellon) did an excellent work on authoritarianism (not only Americans fall victim to it.) I definitely recommend reading it. It does a great job on showing why some people are like these anti-Agenda 21 folks. I feel this is a great basis on showing why there is such a negative reaction to anything that isn’t “us” for those people who glom onto things like Agenda 21 as the evil menace. Authoritarianism needs an “other” to hate. For all of their claims of libertarianism and freedom, many Americans are just more authoritarians, nothing “special” just very human.
Postscript – Professor Altemeyer has also done a review of the Tea Party movement in the US. It is very well-done.