Opinion Editorial June, 2023: The Prince of Humbug

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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When I took this month's photo, I couldn't help but think of P.T. Barnum. While Barnum has been labelled "the greatest showman," he was, first and foremost, the ultimate prince of humbug. Indeed, in the stage musical Barnum, based on his life, the lead has a solo number in which he proclaims himself "the prince of humbug."

Where I disagree with the book of that musical is at its conclusion. Barnum, who died in 1891, laments that his kind of humbug has disappeared. I suspect that, in reality, he knew that his kind of humbug would be around for a very long time. It was on show last month in ways that he pioneered.

Barnum had a brief, somewhat successful career in politics. Had he been born a hundred-and-fifty years later, he would have been the most successful politician ever.

Speaking as the UN Secretary-General, last month, he might have rephrased "the global financial architecture became outdated, dysfunctional and unfair," as "And though I feed 'em bona fide baloney/With no truth in it/Why you can bet I'll find some rube to buy my corn."

There is a serious note to my flippancy. This month's photo was taken in India at the Attari-Wagah border crossing with Pakistan. There, every day, a ceremonial border closing takes place. It is always a boisterous affair, but, the day before I took the photo, there had been a terrorist attack from a Pakistani group in Indian-administered Kashmir. This Indian Border Security Force soldier was inciting patriotic fervor more than usual.

Patriotism is one form of a pan-cultural phenomenon: The leaders of any group indoctrinate its members into believing that theirs is the most superior. The notion of "group" is fluid. It can be based on criteria such as place of birth, political beliefs, religious convictions, perceived race, support of an athlete or sports team etc.

Group affiliation has been studied extensively by social scientists. Indoctrination by group leaders has been less studied, but we can easily observe that the root cause of many of our problems is our leaders' use of Barnum's kind of humbug.

An example from last month is Marcelo Xavier. Appointed by Jair Bolsonaro, he was the head of Brazil's agency, Funai, whose mission is to protect the indigenous peoples of Brazil. He was criminally charged with dereliction of duty. That, according to federal police, contributed to last year's murders of Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips. I believe that an equal contributing factor was his indoctrination into the belief that Brazil's indigenous peoples are an inferior group.

Eight days ago, Torbjørn "Thor" Pedersen completed a unique journey lasting 3,512 days (almost ten years). He became the first person ever to visit every country without flying. To put his achievement into some perspective, twelve people have walked on our moon.

I have followed Thor's journey from the beginning. His motto, "a stranger is a friend you've never met," mirrors my own travel experiences. It also acknowledges that we all belong to the same group — one that we need to liberate from humbug.

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