But If I Did Get Superpowers, I’d Like Flight and Telepathy and Super Martial Art Buttkicking Skills

I don’t know if it happens to you, but sometimes I wonder what happened to people I know from high school. Specifically, I’ve occasionally wondered about Erik Prince, a person with whom I was on the track team. We weren’t close or anything, but I talked to him every once in a while. Also, his parents were wealthy and financed my class’s high school graduation party.

A few days ago, someone told me that he owned a com pany that supplied mercenaries to protect people in Iraq. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “that’s interesting. So that’s what he’s doing now.”

And then today, this:

Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, right-wing Christian founder of Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq, champions his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. These mercenary units in Iraq, including Blackwater, contain some 20,000 fighters. They unleash indiscriminate and wanton violence against unarmed Iraqis, have no accountability and are beyond the reach of legitimate authority. The appearance of these paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gave us a grim taste of the future.

(From David Brin’s blog, scroll down a bit in the post and you’ll find it in context)

In a science fiction novel or comic book, this would undoubtedly be preparatory to me getting superhuman abilities and lead to a dramatic confrontation in the halls of Blackwater’s HQ. *

In reality of course, superpowers are not forthcoming and it remains very, very strange to find someone you knew mentioned on your favorite author’s blog as a possible source of theocratic dictatorship.

I’ve got to admit though, that I don’t think that either Erik or Blackwater is particularly likely to try to end democracy. The article that Brin pulls the quote from has a certain conspiracy theory quality to it that I can’t quite pin down. It might be that as someone who is a Christian and comes out of an evangelical background, I don’ t know anybody who’d be for a theocracy. In fact, on the rare occasions that I’ve been in Christian bookstores, I’ve been amused to notice multiple Christian, political thrillers in which the presumably atheistic left puts a dictatorship in place.

If nothing else, US citizens of all stripes share a common anxiety.

* Clarification: For those of you who don’t ever read comics or science fiction, it’s worth mentioning that it’s pretty common to have someone that the main character likes turn up later doing something that they disagree with. It’s a good way to ratchet up the tension. It’s kind of overused though.

8 thoughts on “But If I Did Get Superpowers, I’d Like Flight and Telepathy and Super Martial Art Buttkicking Skills”

  1. I don’t see it as scary so much as inevitable. People tend to marry people of a similar social class. In West Michigan, there aren’t that many people with that much money.

    Once you factor in that both families are reasonably large and come out of a Christian Reformed background, it’s pretty likely that someone would find someone they liked in the other…

    At least that’s been my take on it. But I’ve been aware of that connection for a while. My outlook may also be affected by the fact that all my experiences with Erik were good.

  2. RE: “It might be that as someone who is a Christian and comes out of an evangelical background, I don’ t know anybody who’d be for a theocracy.”

    Seriously, Jim? Take a look around.

  3. I’m not saying that such nutjobs don’t exist. I’m just saying that they’re about as common as nutjobs of any particular political stripe.

    There are also probably people out there who would love to be part of a Marxist political revolution in the US.

    My suspicion is that if you trend to the left politically, you tend to worry more about a theocratic dictatorship. If you trend right, you probably worry about a socialist dictatorship.

    What worries me more than either of those options is when people of either side act as if the extremists of the other side equal the views of the entire other side.

    Thus on rightward leaning blog sites you’ll often find “left = socialism” and on leftward leaning sites, you’ll often find “right = rule by theocracy.”

    The problem I see with this is that it makes it hard for people to engage with the reality of the situation. Reality as I see it is that both sides include people who are reasonable on most issues. They also include a few people who are pretty crazy and probably ought to be closely watched.

    The key point being that when you assume the people you disagree with are largely reasonable, civil society can work. When you assume the other side is crazy and evil, violence will seem like a better option.

  4. It’s looking like your definition of a theocracy and mine don’t synch up. When you said you didn’t know anybody who’d be for a theocracy, I didn’t realize you were implying any form of dictatorship. When I google “define:theocracy”, it pretty much just indicates rule by religious authority. And by that paraphrased definition, I believe the majority of the US is in favor of theocracy, and votes accordingly. Could a candidate win the 2008 election without stating he/she is some flavor of Christian (preferably Catholic)?

  5. What I was trying to say is that so far as I can tell, both people on the left and the right seem to fear dictatorship by extremists on the other side–and accuse the other side of trying to create one on a regular basis.

    With that misunderstanding cleared up, we still might disagree on whether the majority of people in the US are in favor of theocracy.

    I’d agree that you pretty much have to be or pretend to be Christian to get elected to the presidency in this country.

    My assumption about theocracy is that the leadership of the dominant religion is structurally part of the government. In the US we specifically bar that.

    More to the point, there’s a limit to how religious presidential candidates can be and still be electable. To win, you’ve got to win both Republicans and some portion of those with centrist views. Come out as a religious zealot and you lose the center (as well as a lot of Republicans).

    Lose the center and you lose the country. Thus, the only way you can win as a zealot is to successfully hide these views.

    In that sense, I’d argue that theocracy isn’t a major danger.

  6. RE: “My assumption about theocracy is that the leadership of the dominant religion is structurally part of the government. In the US we specifically bar that.”

    We specifically barred it, and then we gradually limboed (in more meaning than one) beneath that bar. The first amendment to the Constitution states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof […]” and yet “In God We Trust” replaced “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956. Two years prior, “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Congressional sessions always open with a Christian prayer. Our nation and its government are steeped in Christianity.

    It looks to me like the majority of Americans wish to keep it that way, and I believe many wish it to be even more so. Perhaps you are correct that most Americans would not support the initiation of theocracy. But if America were suddenly (perhaps by divine meddling?) a Christian theocracy at the cost of our representational democracy, I believe the majority of Americans would not significantly object.

  7. A couple thoughts:

    First, with regards to “In God We Trust,” the Pledge of Allegiance and so on. It’s interesting to note that all of those changes happened during the 1950’s. That’s also the period in which people were particularly worried about communism. The USSR was officially an atheistic state and persecuted religion.

    Thus, the US emphasized that it differed from the USSR on this and it became one of those symbols of how we differ from them. That’s why the Pledge was modified and probably the others too.

    I’d argue that we’ve just passed a wave of religious influence on our society. We’ve had a few of these waves since the founding of the country and they always pass. My impression is that the current one started in the 70’s and probably crested during Bush’s presidency.

    One of the interesting things I’ve been noting lately is the evangelicals who are disillusioned with political power. For example, there’s a minister and former member of the Bush administration who came out with a book saying that evangelicals have been manipulated by the Bush administration. He also accused them of ridiculing religious people in secret.

    I’ve noted this pattern in other evangelicals as well. Bearing in mind that this is largely anecdotal evidence, I can’t prove this, but it seems likely to me.

    Now… To your second point, I’d agree that the majority of Americans wouldn’t work against a theocracy that had somehow become established–at least at the beginning. I suspect this would be because people don’t enjoy getting in trouble with the law.

    On the other hand, if you take a look at how far the Bush presidency has fallen in public approval of late, and, note the recent bunch of attacks on religion by atheists that are getting read and discussed, it seems possible that people would get sick of it even if it became established.

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