We owe it to ourselves to stand up

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On Sunday morning I drove along Kootenay River Road to cover a news story. The weather was dreary, the sky dull and the cause for the event was grim. A few weeks ago, someone took it upon himself (I’m guessing about the gender, but do females ever resort to this level of stupidity?) to paint a swastika on a concrete block at the old ferry landing.

Serena Naeve had let me know a few weeks ago that at least one swastika had been spray-painted out at the landing, and that a cleansing ceremony would be organized.

When I arrived I took a quick walk down to the water to grab some photos, struck by the beauty of the clouds and reflections on the river, and my thoughts went back to a glorious September day this year when I also took some great shots. What made the scenes all the more spectacular was the new snow and the hoar frost that stood out like coarse hair from the now bare tree branches.

I trudged back up to the picnic site, where Serena had a fire crackling away, and chatted while others arrived in their vehicles. In short order, the group of about 20 had circled the fire and joined hands in prayer, but not before several took the opportunity to speak about how the image of the swastika, an ancient symbol of peace that originated in India, affected them. While we now mostly identify it with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, it has been once again co-opted in recent years by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Of course, we have no way of knowing the motivation of the person who spray-painted the swastika on a concrete barrier, just as we don’t know the reason why some in our community display the US Confederate flag (It is entirely possible that these folks are just fans of Dukes of Hazard reruns.)

But as we stood in quiet thought around that fire I began to think about how we should not ignore the use of these images intended to offend and simply write them off as acts of ignorance. Ignorance, it is becoming apparent, is probably a bigger danger to civilization than evil itself. After all, while it is easy to define Hitler as evil, I suspect most of those who followed his orders did so more out of ignorance than evil.

The rise of the alt right, or its numerous cousins, which looks like it will have a place in the Conservative leadership race, has at its core a sense of disconnection with government and political parties, but it has also shed a light on the deep roots of racism, resentment and bigotry that surely cannot be found only in the US. We over-rate our species when we speak of Utopian dreams and Edenic communities. There are some bad, bad people among us, and in probably greater numbers than we care to think about.

I’ve been wondering how people who complain about “mainstream media” as being an evil somehow think they get better information from typists whose great ability is to sit at their kitchen tables and collect info from sources they agree with, regardless of whether the information is factual or reliable. There is a common argument that if you read enough of these sources then the truth will eventually filter through. If so, why isn’t the same true for mainstream media? Because that’s precisely what informed people have always done—read a variety of sources and reached their own conclusions. But so many of today’s “sources” have no direct information, no education in how to get that information or how to present it and likely no interest in publishing anything that doesn’t reflect their own world review.

The mainstream media is not “a thing” any more than Trump voters are “a thing”. There are countless varieties of each. Is the preponderance of “fake news” or propaganda a new danger? Hardly. But it has become a danger because it has likely contributed to the election of a man to the most powerful position in the world, and a man who thinks disinformation and lies are just fine.

But I digress. Getting together to share a concern about the use of the swastika is a small act, and no one I talked to thought otherwise. But it is important to take a stand, to make a statement and work to ensure intolerance does not gain a foothold in our community. There have been attempts by neo-Nazis and white supremacists to do just that in the not so distant past, and they failed. I hope that in my lifetime no others will be successful.

Thanks to the organizers and participants, I go into the Christmas season hopeful and optimistic, much as I welcomed 2016. I wish our readers happiness, peace and good health, and thank you for your continued support.