I'm sure you've read about people showing up at these discussions packing heat, and seen the pictures of snarling and pushing participants.
This afternoon at our cafe table, four close friends--all well-educated, well-informed, and fairly temperate--got pretty hot on the subject and the thing is: we AGREE about healthcare reform. But we had slight variations on what must be included, or what model should be allowed or not allowed to become a new system. But safe to say: we were thinking about 96% the same.
So if we could get as stirred up as we did, then I can understand how people with radical disagreements can get very upset. And how people can let themselves be inflamed by bizarre rumors. And manipulated into bug-eyed fury.
It's because basic safety is involved.
Death Anxiety, The Fear of Death
What we're talking about isn't mere financial corruption or tax increases or better schools. It's staying alive. And staying whole. And protecting our young and our old.
Some of the rumors going about are simply insane, and I'm not even going to further spread them by repeating them. But people worried about basic safety for themselves and their families can get crazy pretty quickly. Especially if helped along by political forces that stand to gain by their anger.
When I was living in Varanasi doing my research for Sister India, rioting and terrorist bombing broke out there and shut the city down for two weeks of curfew. The sides there were Hindu vs. Muslim. Never mind that Hindus and Muslims were living together in harmony most of the time through much of the city. But political agitation stirred up violence over symbolic acts, over what an outsider might see as a trifle. Each outbreak then set up a chain reaction of retribution.
(When I set out for India, I didn't expect such fights and living under curfew to become part of my novel, but inevitably they did.)
It's easy to say: go easy, listen to all sides, remember that this is your neighbor who also wants reliable healthcare.
Such restraint is very hard in practice. I do know that inflammatory rumors help no one and can do extraordinary harm.