Meanwhile, we view the rest of the world as a bigger, more distant herd with inferior cattle.
This week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, asked by a reporter to make the case for attacking Iraq, posed a stunning hypothetical: Let's think of Iraq as the moon, he calmly posited. I'm paraphrasing here, but barely.
Of course, it makes perfect sense: If we think of Iraq as, say, the moon, we don't have to think of it as a country of 20 million men, women and children, all walking through their days trying to survive and prosper, just as we do -- buying groceries, eating dinner, playing in the streets, driving trucks, tucking their kids into bed for the night, brushing their teeth, wondering when the bombs will begin to fall.
Our president sells the idea of Iraq as an axis of evil (Didn't I hear him say access? I'm pretty sure I did.) by referring exclusively to its one apparent, lone citizen -- Saddam Hussein. Iraq equals Saddam; Saddam must go; let's bomb Iraq.
No matter that many ordinary Iraqi citizens, even those who oppose their leader, have said that they would strongly oppose an American intervention and that we have little to no support from the rest of the Arab world. The President, by golly, says he will avenge his father by destroying his enemy's country and the rest of the herd just moos right along, straight toward the slaughterhouse or certain stampede.
Internally, the herd mentality trickling down from Washington -- I like to think of it as Holden Caulfield's "phonies," everyone trying to be like everyone else to avoid knowing who they really are -- strikes out at anyone who doesn't meet the currently popular and powerful "faith-based," "family values" litmus test. Single parent? You're probably ruining your children's lives. Better get married. Gay? Obviously you're a child molester. Forget trying to volunteer as a mentor for needy kids as a Big Brother or Big Sister, even though that organization has affirmed your right and fitness to do so. Father knows best, after all, and the grandaddy of us all is Jerry Falwell, prized White House advisor.
Most dangerous is the herd mentality view of young people -- lazy, misguided, directionless, sloppy, sullen, disgruntled robots banging heads and planning crimes. (Unless, of course, they are "saved" -- another conversation altogether.) The theory is the same: If you characterize them all as one big bad guy, you don't have to think about or meet the real needs of the hundreds of millions of them who want a good education, want to be valued, want to be able to make a living when they grow up, want to survive, want to be themselves. Is it any wonder they look at what they're inheriting and are afraid? Round 'em up. Move 'em out.
I was feeling discouraged about all of this the other day when, driving down Ute Pass toward Colorado Springs, I saw the most amazing sight: a rainbow stretching from valley to valley, south to north, its highest point directly above the highway. A few drops of rain, a lot of dust in the air and the brilliant sun came together in this place, at this time, and made a miracle -- an arch of vaporous colors stretching across the sky.
Then I remembered a few years back when, in the little village of Manitou Springs, just down the pass, citizens were warned by the family values crowd to beware of any logo bearing a rainbow. It was a sign, they said, of the hideous homosexual agenda, designed to destroy our way of life.
Who's the dust? Who's the drop of rain? Who's the brilliant sun? Could a rainbow occur without any of them? Who's the cow and who's the cowpoke?
Last Friday night, the full moon rose lonely in the sky. It wasn't covered with Iraqis, but Iraq sure as heck is. I'll tell my children to be themselves and think for themselves at their own risk.
Then I'll just howl at the moon 'til the cows come home.