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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Cautionary Tales

I mentioned The Wave by Todd Strasser and The Children's Story by James Clavell the other day when reviewing Dominion.  

The Children's Story is short enough to be read in one sitting 0f about 15 minutes.  One short sitting.  The skill with which the "teacher" manipulates the children could last a lifetime if nothing was done to counteract the teachings.  And it is done so gently.  

The premise is that the U.S. has lost a war with a nameless enemy.  The country has been occupied, and the education system is a prime target for peaceful cooperation.

Below is the beginning of the story.

The Children's Story by James Clavell
The teacher was afraid.
And the children were afraid. All except Johnny. He watched the classroom door with hate. He felt the hatred deep within his stomach. It gave him strength.
It was two minutes to nine.
You can read the rest online here.   Or order a copy to keep.

To summarize:  At 9:00, new teacher arrives; she is beautiful and kind.  The old teacher is dismissed.  

By 9:23, the children, even Johnny, have been essentially re-educated.  Not only in this classroom, but in all the classrooms across the country, quickly and painlessly....

What is the moral?  We are all subject to various forms of propaganda and brainwashing.  It can be done through fear and punishment, but it can also be done through patient, gentle manipulation and rewards, especially with children who are separated from their parents.  Without threats or stern authoritarianism, the beautiful teacher dismantles one belief system and makes room for another.  The children are primed, and without input from their parents, will gradually accept all of the new mindset eagerly.

Thinking that we are immune to such manipulation is foolish.  Even if individuals don't succumb (through either the carrot or the stick methods), they are tempted--especially as more and more people accept the situation.

Separating children from their parents and treating them kindly and "logically" is a smooth first step.  

The Wave, however, begins as an experiment in a California high school.  When discussing the rise of fascism in Germany that culminated in the Holocaust, many students couldn't understand how/why the general German population went along with it.  They were adamant that they would never have participated in such behavior and would have protested.

The teacher then initiates an experiment to show the power of peer pressure, forming an organization called The Wave.  The Wave has a membership card, a symbol, a salute; the members feel special.  They recruit others.  However, in the process, individuals who voice opposition are viewed as a threat....

Both stories are excellent examples of how manipulation, propaganda, the feeling of being special by belonging to a particular group, and peer pressure can have tremendous influence and power.  

Following a leader, any leader, without question can have catastrophic results.  The idea can be extrapolated to illustrate what can happen to certain sports teams, or cheer leading squads, or religious groups, or any organization with a strong or charismatic leader.  

Two cautionary tales worth examining.  

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