Drink The Sand

A regular reader asked me to comment on the above dialogue from the movie, The American President.  Here is the transcript:

Lewis: People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

President: Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.

With the caveat that these are “off the top of my head” thoughts, I’d briefly say this. I think Lewis is right and the President is partially right.

Lewis is correct when he says that almost everyone wants leadership and guidance and most of us tend to follow others who appear authoritative. And, if after following we don’t end up where we want, we’ll either drink something else the authority offers or find another authority. I’d only add that usually people never discover they were misled. But I agree with Lewis’ main point—people are starving for someone to lead them, to give them truth and meaning no matter how ridiculous or harmful is the sand they’re given. For particularly terrible examples think Scientology or Jonestown.

I agree with the President that we’ve had illiterate (and clinically psychotic) presidents who many people worship, and I think he’s also right that many people don’t know the difference between competent, virtuous leadership and the opposite. But I think he’s wrong when he says they don’t drink the sand because they are thirsty. We’re all thirsty for truth and meaning.

So I think we often accept horrific leadership both because we’re thirsty and because we can’t differentiate good leadership from bad, truth from falsity.  To reiterate, I’ve only thought about this for a few minutes.

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5 thoughts on “Drink The Sand

  1. I think what we have here is a failure of education/media, especially among the older, more rural and less educated voters. It would be nice if all the money spent on dividing us was spent on uniting us, if that’s even possible in this fast changing world, where brashness is mistaken for leadership.

  2. “So I think we often accept horrific leadership both because we’re thirsty and because we can’t differentiate good leadership from bad, truth from falsity. To reiterate, I’ve only thought about this for a few minutes.”
    You’ve only thought about it for a few minutes and yet, you are already moving beyond mere Belief to attempting the recognizing of reality. To live in belief is more comforting than to live in reality and, in truth even the most diligent seekers of reality have their vision blurred by the things that comfort them, the things that they believe unquestioningly! Good luck on your quest!

  3. To Kevin McKernan:

    Did you truly intend to insult all of rural America and lump us all as uneducated and naïve? Let alone insulting the “older” folks. These older people and rural people you apparently seem to dismiss are some of the ones who saved the world from tyranny in the 40’s. They discovered new and unbelievable inventions. They build great things. They explored space. They found medical cures. They transplanted organs to save lives. They made astounding products in factories and drove productivity to greater levels never imagined. Do you honestly believe because people don’t live in urban centers they’re less educated? Maybe your words here were poorly chosen and that’s not what you honestly believe. If so, ok. We all make mistakes. Both the educated and those less. But the smart person is the one who understands we all have something to contribute. The president of a company makes decisions but it’s the worker in the floor who makes the product. Just because they’re not “educated” to your standard doesn’t make them less valuable or less informed. The list of successful people who lack advanced degrees is long and impressive. Look it up sometime and educate yourself.

  4. ” Do you honestly believe because people don’t live in urban centers they’re less educated?”

    It is by no means an absolute, but on a per capita basis, yes I do believe that. Universities tend to be located in urban centers, though some are located in small urban centers, still not rural areas. Additionally, the way public K-12 schools are typically funded, rural schools’ budgets are a pittance in comparison to higher income areas within urban centers.

    Again, this is not an absolute. Geniuses are all over the world, apparently so few end up in politics.

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