My feet hurt from watching all the marching going on every night on the news. And everyone who marches seems to be very angry. But just as every time political opponents call each other Hitler they diminish the evil of the real Hitler, so too it is with marching. Too much of it tends to dilute the marches that were organized in places like Selma and Birmingham.
We just got done with a march for science, which, from what I saw on the news, seemed to be mostly self-satisfied, smug people with a commonality of group think. And woe to anyone who may have a varying opinion or even just a nuanced agreement to the premise that is being argued for via taking to the streets with the feet.
It makes me think a little of the scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Please no letters. I fully stipulate that this film is filled with reprehensible and hard to defend scenes. But one scene in particular is simply prophetic in its foretelling of how strident groups, which may have sprung from a logical reaction against a real injustice, in time, devolve into microcosmic mirrors of the totalitarianism they came into being to resist.
In the Monty Python movie, Python John Cleese plays the character of Reg who is the leader of the Judean Peoples Front that wants to overthrow Roman rule in ancient Israel. His group is not to be confused with the Peoples Front of Judea, a rival group who Cleese’s group despises almost as much as they do their Roman conquerors.
During one of the Judean Peoples Front, not the Peoples Front of Judea, clandestine planning meetings, Cleese asks rhetorically and with venom-like anger, “what have the Romans ever done for us?” Someone shouts out “sanitation” — soon a laundry list of civic goods like order, wine, irrigation, roads ensues, pushing Cleese to stop the meeting at his manic best by shouting, “All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
I thought of that scene years ago when Occupy Wall Street marches and sit-ins were all the rage. I saw a sea of young people with cell phones and incredible amounts of leisure railing, like Cleese in “Life of Brian,” against a repressive capitalistic regime which provided the cell phones they used to make reservations in their parents’ basements and provided them the luxury of staying in school and on their parents’ health insurance well into their supposed adulthood.
The ink wasn’t dry on the certification of the last presidential election when hordes of people took to the street. With the recent March for Life being the exception, most marches are filled with angry people screaming angry slogans and to be frank, mobs kind of scare me. Almost every bad thing that happens in the Bible happens at the hands of an out of control mob. Lot’s house was surrounded by a mob. With Moses gone up to Mount Sinai, it was a mob that fashioned a golden calf. And it was a mob that demanded the blood of Jesus.
Which brings us to our word of the day … Deindividuation. Yes, that is a word and it is a word born from the academic study of the psychology of crowds. Basically it is the explanation how individuals who, by themselves, would probably never consider throwing a rock through a window, can be swept up in a mob mentality and pry a cobblestone off a street and smash a storefront in rage. It explains how individuals could be part of the exact same crowd that waved palm fronds one day and screamed “crucify him” all in the same week.
Jesus obviously attracted crowds, but he was never really part of one. It’s a little contradictory I must confess since I am part of the Body of Christ as represented by the billion or so Catholics who the world counts and I worship with a group at every Mass I attend. Yet, if God knows me by name, and if he knows when even a sparrow bites the dust, then when my time comes it will be me alone, standing on my own two stationary feet before God. No sign to hide behind, no slogan to repeat ad infinitum … just me hoping he recognizes me as I have hopefully recognized him, not in any group or organization, but in the eyes of the individuals I have met.