Kathleen and I inserted ourselves when we were 24 years old into the most autocratic, terrifying society that I believe has ever existed: Idi Amin’s Uganda.
We traveled the country in 18 days. There was hardly a night without gunfire. Dead bodies might be found anywhere. We had to hide our vehicle in jungle before stopping it in order to eat our sandwiches or dying children with inflated bellies would surround us.
What the authorities hated most was … education. Anybody who appeared educated was killed. We had to pretend to be stupid.
We drove the country east to west slowly then high-tailed it back to our home just across the eastern border in Kenya. When others in Kenya heard of our folly, they besieged us with requests for the few rational friends and colleagues still living in Uganda.
We took dog bones for a medical worker in Mbarara. We delivered magazines to a jailed journalist from Philadelphia in Masaka. In Jinja we delivered letters to an aged British hydrologist who was almost bed ridden. In Kampala we delivered two dozen Bibles to Bishop Luwum, who was killed a week later.
All of this was thanks to my amazingly self-built “safari vehicle.” I took up the floor board and buried the contraband beneath small packages of flour and sugar, so that when the soldiers stopped us I could bribe them before they found anything suspicious.
It worked brilliantly.
Our last delivery was in the far southwest of the country in one of the few boarding schools that still survived, probably because it was so close to Rwanda. We thought it was staffed only by whites and we had “stuff” for two of the white woman teachers who hosted us in their home.
Unfortunately, several days before we arrived the high school boy’s “graduating class” – normally around 400 and which was then around 40 – were taken to the soccer field and machine gunned dead by soldiers.
No sooner had we arrived the teachers’ home then we were introduced to the single remaining black male teacher for the school, who the white women teachers were hiding. He begged us to take him away with us. Refusing was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was his death sentence.
I got to know Ugandan soldiers very well in those 18 days. They were proud, dirty, barbaric and above all, completely uneducated. If Idi Amin told them that the sun would rise in the west, they would face that way for reveille and when the shadows fell off their faces onto the ground they would swear their faces were being sunburned.
Empowered, the ignorant are deadly. Why those who are brainwashed are so difficult to bring round was brilliantly explained by E.O. Wilson in a series of articles and speeches in the mid 1990s that was first published in The Atlantic then as a book, “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.”
I’m condensing tomes of Wilson but I think he would agree, because I heard him say it to me in a speech in Chicago: “Our society is now mortally threatened because we have empowered the ignorant.”
I don’t think Wilson concluded this bitterly, or petulantly and certainly not vindictively. He is a scientist. It’s up to us to realize what that means.
First, why are so many Trumpians ignorant and proactively so?
The ignorant are ignorant because we made them that way. Allocating education by wealth – through legacies, property taxes or gifted scholarship – bifurcates over time. The educated become more educated, and the ignorant, more ignorant.
They are proactive because they’ve beaten the odds. Smart is supposed to be better than dumb. Now, it’s not. What dumb ass is going to abdicate the throne?
Why is this so dangerous?
Virus and vaccines, nukes and handguns, hurricanes and wild fires, refugees and population growth…
We need science and reason and intelligence if the human race is going to address these challenges. The ignorant are incapable of doing it, so they actively decide not to do it.
We have to think about this holistically. Don’t start parsing the people you know or met into one category of another. We’re all the single human race. We are defined not by our parts but by our extremes. If there are dangerous ignorant, so are we all.
We have to make the ignorant smart and this may take another generation, especially of sacrifice from the privileged. It starts on November 3. It starts not so much with defeating Trump as with defeating education funded by property taxes, defeating economies and taxes augured by the privileged, defeating health and policing reserved for the rich. There are thousands of down ballot candidates and hundreds of ballot initiatives.
It starts with the privileged consciously and wondrously voting against their perceived privilege. Up to us, not them.