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Ignorance, Fear, and Prejudice Walk Hand in Hand

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Witch Hunt (Part III of Fear)

The night is black, without a moon
The air is thick and still
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torchlit hill

Features distorted in the flickering light
Faces are twisted and grotesque
Silent and stern in the sweltering night
The mob moves like demons possessed
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best

The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill

They say there are strangers who threaten us
Our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness to danger us
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand

One of my favorite rock bands is Rush. They came into being in the early 1970s and have been touring since. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to see them in concert many times, and I always love their music talents and song writing. Not just a band that has been together these many years, but they are consummate professionals, complete with dazzling virtuosity and skill. Many of their songs range from topics as science fiction to psychology.

As I watch the news during the week, or listen to people talk, I hear a lot of fear. Fear of change. Fear of difference. Fear of other religions. Fear of other cultures or races. The list can go on. President Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself”. From what I see watching stories covering presidential campaigns and debates, this idea is alive and well.

Which all lead me to reflect on one of my favorite Rush songs, ‘Witch Hunt’. A song set during the Salem Witch Trials, a dark time of our early nation’s history. Women accused of witchcraft without evidence, sentenced to harsh punishments, even death. The mob mentality was in full effect. Fear guided decisions. Fear of something different or even as trivial as behavioral quirks enabled injustices to be carried out without hesitation. The lyrics to the song are poignant and striking, forcing listeners to think not only of what happened hundreds of years ago, but also topics of recent memory.

History tends to repeat over the years, or so the cliché states. But it’s also true. Fear guided responses have occurred many times over the years. A quick check of memory over the last hundred years brings to light the imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans during World War 2 or the infamous McCarthy trials during the “Red Scare” in the 1950s. Even more recently opinion and policies pushed through congress in response to fear of terrorism. Other countries have many other examples that are not that hard to find either. Every day it seems like something happens to reflect this outdated model of thinking and living. Even in the churches of many denominations, fear warps decisions and thoughts, even when invoked in God’s, Allah’s, the Buddha’s name or whatever deity an individual chooses (if any) to worship and believe in.

We should be better than this. We should be more enlightened and accepting. Why do so many people embrace their biases, or their prejudices? I never have seen as much generalization or stereotyping as I do now in my life. There seems to be no middle ground. Everything seems to be black and white, one or zero, with them or against them. No middle ground or acceptance of difference. We can be so much more when we work together. Why do so many people feel that they all need to be the same? I love the idea of multi cultures working together; otherwise, things will be boring. If we embrace our differences instead of cowering behind prejudice, we can get so much more out of life and accomplish so much, not just a neighborhood or nation, but as a global celebration of the human experience. Maybe I’m a naïve dreamer, but the world needs dreamers and visionaries. These people will forever push the human experience to a more enlightened and peaceful existence.

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As I hear the likes of Donald Trump, and others like him, campaigning to deport undocumented individuals, or to build walls up, I hear the recorded mob chanting in the song “Witch Hunt”. When I hear of someone who is one religion diminishing another who is different, I hear the complex drumming of Neil Peart start to play. When I hear someone uttering racial comments or engage in irresponsible stereotyping, or show lack of empathy and compassion, the guitar chords ring in my mind. We should be long past the ignorance and prejudice that exists today. The final lines of ‘Witch Hunt’ will always ring true, and unfortunately may always be relevant to the current events of the day:

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand

Ignorance, fear, and prejudice all work together to diminish the human experience. Our global society will forever be anchored to a lesser state as long as these continue to work together. After all, the ghosts of history are lurking, having been executed, persecuted, or impoverished by those who were afraid and ignorant, which fed their prejudice.

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