"Just" a Layperson

by Ken Briggs

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It's become a habit to refer to voters who favor Trump and Cruz as "less educated" as opposed to the "better educated" who back some of the others. While educational levels do matter in voter choices, as one factor among many, they become biased when they become associated with political or cultural agendas.

During this incessant cycle of presidential campaigns, I'm seeing a trend toward identifying "less" with "dumb" as a way of linking such voters, and presumably their class, to the surprising support for Trump and Cruz which otherwise, to the upper classes, seems rather inexplicable. That's what ignorance will get you, the covert message seems to say. The unschooled vote for idiots.

Class remains the greatest division in the society, spawning all sorts of strategies to separate the "educated" wheat from the lowly chaff. It's been true in different guises from time immemorial. The Roman Catholic sundering of clergy and hierarchy from the laity has been a powerful reinforcement of this seemingly implacable drive to place lower estates at the mercy of the higher ones. I'd like to deny that a great-chain-of- being pattern is ingrained into life, but Darwin puts a crimp in my wishes. I have occasion to be around horses, "herd" animals who look egalitarian most of the time but exist within a strict chain of command. The older male bosses the other two, a mare who once had her own brood of followers, and a younger stallion who does what he's told or gets swift kicks or bites to remind him.

Nature's top-down system, in my estimation, is rigid and infinitely replicatable but not final in determining the potential in relationships. Unless infused with the most sublime mutual love and regard for the other's dignity, hierarchy become power mongering and status become privilege.

Excessive emphasis on control and power, without the mutual regard, is the danger we as a nation and various religious traditions constantly risk. America is more segregated by class than ever in our history, and my sense that the fear-based impulse to keep pursing that form of injustice is accelerating. The polling juggernaut appears to be hardening a stereotype by implying that low education achievers threaten our stability by casting their lot with extremists -- out of stupidity.

Clearly, the stereotype militates against reality. It both wildly inflates the value of "education" on one's thoughts and perceptions and fails to recognize the enormous wisdom and good instincts among the "common folk," those Abraham Lincoln believed God "loved very much" because "he made so many of them." The generations of Catholic worker immigrants helped make the New Deal possible, however much the "educated" classes disdained it then and now. The legacy of populism has arisen largely from the grass roots rather than the halls of academia. And so on. Now the the stratified classes have less and less contact with each other, however, the easier it is to revive the worst prejudices.

Vatican II suddenly and shockingly brought a degree of laity liberation to the Catholic church. There has been relatively little built on that foundation, but it's there for the development someday perhaps. Churches in general have erected class barriers. Martin Luther King's famous statement that 11 o'clock on Sunday morning was the "most segregated hour of the week." Perhaps a new infusion of spirit can dislodge the privilege and power-incentives behind this sundering of equal human beings and turn churches into centers where domination and submission can be transformed into shared service.  


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