Delusion (dee-loo-zshun), noun: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument
Since you are reading this, you know the world did not end at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, as several hundred thousand people around the world were absolutely, positively certain it would. And in this belief we have a perfect example of a "pathetic delusion." And it is a testament to the power of delusion that those who were utterly convinced that they would be carried up to Heaven in the Rapture will, neither disillusioned nor deterred, eagerly accept without question their leader's facile explanation of why it did not happen, and begin printing up fliers for whatever new definite, absolute date is subsequently set for The End.
Of all the wondrous traits, gifts, and abilities possessed by humans, none is more fascinating--and at times more powerful and destructive--than delusion. We all delude ourselves to one degree or another. Most delusions are basically harmless and provide a path-of-least-resistance alternative to dealing with the often uncomfortable complexities of reality. Delusions can be comforting, and protective of our egos, and offer us the inner validation that life too often does not provide. As long as delusions are kept within ourselves, they are largely benign...sometimes downright pleasant.
But when the delusions dictate that we insist that others share them, they can and often do turn malignant. The stronger the demand to spread the delusion to others, the more disruptive and destructive they become. They metastasize into the equivalent of black hole into which fact, logic, all rationality, all common sense, and too often all compassion and all common decency are sucked in and destroyed.
We live in a world of rapidly proliferating malignant delusions, fueled by the hate mongers who wield them like a weapon in order to achieve some personal agenda--usually power or wealth and most often both. Politicians, self-appointed pundits, and religious fanatics are drawn like magnates to any spark of religious, cultural, and racial delusions they recognize in others, and fan them until they become raging wildfires which sweep across society, destroying everything in their path.
Our technology is largely responsible for the exponential expansion of destructive delusions. Email is the equivalent of a laboratory petri dish for the growth of astoundingly, patently, egregiously, incomprehensibly harmful nonsense. There seems to be some built in naivety in humans that says that if they read or hear something, somewhere, regardless of how blatantly illogical it sounds, it must be true, and they pass it on to others.
I am truly, sincerely, deeply astounded by how this can possibly be. How good, decent people can so willingly become complicit in spreading blatant or poorly concealed hatred and lies. I have a number of good friends...and even a few relatives whom I love dearly...who will send me forwardings they accept as true without question, but which leaving me numb with disbelief.
Adding to the insidiousness of current malignant delusions is the fact that we have a black president, a fact which opens wide the doors of racial tensions that have existed in this country since our founding. Between the lines of every political attack on the Obama administration are writ clear, in gigantic block letters printers call "Second Coming" type, the message of intolerance and hatred. That we are also engaged in a war against terrorism largely waged by Muslim extremists is, to those fanning the flames of delusion, wildly serendipitous. It allows them to spread fear and hatred against not only a president with a strange--and Muslim-sounding--name, but to tie him in with terrorists.
Those given to malignant delusions do not draw their conclusions with velvet brushes or fine-tipped pens: they use 18" wide paint rollers, and the only color in their pallet is...ironically...black.
The old saying about fire--that it makes a good servant but a cruel master--is equally true of delusions. And alas, far too many people willingly serve that master.
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