School For Zealots: Part One

Copyright © by Len Holman, 4/8/11


  Given the current events in our country and throughout the world, and given the events of history, one can only conclude that somewhere, in some remote place—far away from the prying eyes of satellites hissing overhead—there is a secret school for zealots.  It has apparently been in operation for a very long time.  This school makes the most radical madrasas seem like Sesame Street. One can imagine that Barry Goldwater’s quote is emblazoned over the entrance: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!  And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” This school turns out—and has turned out, for many, many generations—thousands of zealots per year, of every stripe and persuasion, and they are everywhere.  The curriculum is so secret even the Skull and Bones members are envious; even the Trilateral Commission is miffed; even the folks at Coca-Cola’s headquarters don’t guard their recipe as well, but a careful examination of world events reveals certain strands from which can be teased out this school’s curriculum.

  The number one tenet of this school is obvious.  The graduates of this school have been taught NEVER to accede to anyone else’s point of view, no matter how sound the opposing argument is, no matter the evidence provided, no matter anything.  All other tenets of this school are secondary to this main issue. We see it around us all the time, from the insistence of the Tea Party on cutting billions from the budget despite the fact there aren’t enough culverts, shelters, soup kitchens, and steam grates in America to take care of all the people who will be affected this machete-approach to spending.  And let’s not forget the liberals, who insist that everyone who is not like them is a fascist, racist pig, and who KNOW that Ronald Reagan was the Devil. And that’s the end of the story.  No listening, no argumentation, no evidence.  We know what we know and we know the other side is wrong—not merely wrong, not just most sincerely wrong, but dangerously wrong, and if we allow those OTHER people and their crazy ideas to make public policy, it will be the End Of The World. 

  Zealot school doesn’t turn out bigots (that’s a separate wing of the same school), it turns out non-thinkers, but here’s the really insidious part:  these people don’t know they aren’t thinking!  They don’t know because they are not taught to do it.  The school’s job is to train its students to fix on an issue or belief or behavior and stay with it no matter what.  They are taught that their position is patriotic (especially in America or France), or what God wants (just about everywhere), or what some particular country wants patriots to think (you can see there’s a lot of overlap here).  Dictators of every stripe are graduates.  They believe in their own legitimacy, no matter how many people in their respective countries they have to maim, kidnap, torture and kill to stay on their Heavenly-appointed thrones. They do it because they KNOW that demonstrators for more freedom are wrong-headed and pose a threat to the universal order, or which these dictators are the interpreters and stewards.  It’s not just dictators, though.  Western politicians—from the elected rat-catcher in rural Arkansas to the mayor of Marseilles to the city council members of Buenos Aires, to the President of the United States—all are sure that they have a mandate to rule and cannot, will not, conceive that anyone else could do better, or should be given a chance to do better.  When a dictator or elected official is threatened with removal, the Zealot training kicks in and the individual goes into “strike back” mode, for this is what they are taught.  Since argumentation and reasoning are foreign to Zealots, they don’t hear it in others.  What they hear inside their pointy heads is: “You are being attacked by ignorant and dangerous fools!  They want to usurp your rightful position, and you must destroy them!”  And since reasoning IS foreign to them, we have—in so-called democracies—attack ads, innuendo, falsifying records, diverting attention from an official’s own sorry record, and generalized lying so keep his or her position.  For dictators, it’s the army, secret police, intimidation, torture, and a generalized climate of fear and intimidation. 

  One prime example of this is in Cote d’Ivoire, where the ruler has lost an election, refused to step down, is losing the subsequent war, and STILL he remains defiant as troops storm his bunker.  Of course, there is overlap with the general population of zealots here, too.  But zealots can’t operate in a vacuum.  There must be those among whom the zealot plies his or her trade—after all, wolves would starve without sheep.  And of course, WE are the sheep who never bleat unless WE want to be in charge.  The hidden zealot in those people springs to life and the cycle continues.  Would public and private life be better if we could find the Zealot HQ and nuke it into a glowing field?  No, because humans would start another one.  It’s what we do.  Although behaviors don’t fossilize, It wouldn’t shock me to find out that the reason Neanderthals are no longer with us is because they had a mutation for zealotry which, behaviorally, caused them to argue and fight with each other, generation after generation, eventually genetically swamping the more reasoned genes, leaving only True Believers of many persuasions, pig-headedly fighting over some version of one particular truth, ending in someone’s—or some clan’s or tribe’s—death.  After awhile, the zealots have killed each other off, and the reasonable ones weren’t numerous enough to breed enough people for the species to survive the arrival of Homo sapiens.  Of course this all took 300,000 or so years, so if our cousins are a future warning for us all, we still have plenty of time for mayhem before it’s all over, before WE’RE all over.  But in the meantime, if we are to get through the next few thousand years, let alone the next election cycle, we need to institute a New Enlightenment, and that means we’ll have to completely transform the way we educate our children.  So let’s do that:  I have in mind a simple but powerful curriculum, easy to implement but hard to teach.


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