The Cure for Ignorance

by Michael McGinnis

The recent media sensation of some members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Somalia being members of racist organizations has resulted in inappropriate remarks from the some MP's of the Federal opposition parties.

There have been calls to make membership by armed forces personnel illegal in some racially based organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan. There is also a demand that soldiers who belong to racist groups be dismissed from the Forces and that membership in some groups be forbidden to members of the Armed Forces.

In this case, the proposed cure is worse than the disease. It is a very dangerous prospect to pass judgement on the off-duty activities of any group, as long as they are legal for the population at large. The most alarming part of the entire situation has been the extreme position taken by Opposition members who might one day be governing the country. The goal of "political correctness" has turned into a political witchhunt.

If some people are less enlightened than they might be about the value of all people of whatever race or origin, what would these MP's suggest be done? Perhaps send the sinners some brochures and a video on race relations from the Secretary of State Department so they can become reformed? Preachy government pamphlets do very little to change people's behaviour, unless people are already on the point of changing anyway. Or, as the old joke goes: "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the bulb has to want to change."

The best solution to the "problem" of these soldiers in the Armed Forces is to give them some experiences that will help to educate them. What better way to find out that black Africans are real people too, than by living in an African country for several months. Most racial prejudice is based on ignorance, on not seeing people of other races as "real people" with personalities and identities. It is much more difficult to maintain a prejudice when you discover that people of other races have a lot in common with yourself.

Organizations like the KKK are built on ignorance. The cure for ignorance is experience, and life has the strange habit of giving us the experiences we need, even if we don't really want them. The problem situations we're thrown into test how strongly we are attached to our opinions and prejudices. When they cause us enough trouble, or we find they aren't what we want, we naturally exchange them for something better. When people are not behaving illegally and are not hurting others, it is better to give them experiences that will allow them to change naturally, rather than beating them over the head with their shortcomings.

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