December 14, 2007
UnderdogmaBy Michael Prell
David versus Goliath, the American Revolutionaries, the "Little Engine That Could," Team USA's "Miracle on Ice," the Star Wars Rebel Alliance, Rocky Balboa, the Jamaican bobsled team and the meek inheriting the earth.
Everyone, it seems, loves an underdog.
We begin life tiny and helpless, at the mercy of those who are bigger and more powerful than us; parents and guardians who tell us what to eat, what to wear, how to behave -- even when to sleep and wake up. Then we encounter schoolteachers and professors who work us, test us and assign grades to us that could shape the future directions of our lives. After school, we emerge into the workforce where we face new Goliaths; bosses and supervisors who interview us, hire us, set our incomes and hold the power to promote or fire us.
The reason why everyone loves an underdog is because everyone knows what it feels like to be an underdog, to be a David in a world full of Goliaths.
So, if we are naturally predisposed to side with the underdog, does it follow that we are also predisposed to heap scorn on the "overdog," or those who hold greater power?
Such a doctrine of favoring the weak over the strong elevated to the level of a societal imperative could be termed underdogma, if you will. Underdogma is the belief that those who have less power are virtuous and noble -- because they have less power -- and that those who have more power are to be scorned - because they have more power. Put in its simplest terms; Underdogma is an automatic gag reflex to power.
And evidence of this reflex is all around us.
Today, almost half of Americans blame our own President for the attacks of 9/11, while the self-confessed architect of those attacks is characterized in the American media as "thoughtful about his cause and craft" and "folksy." Gay activists protest those who protect gay rights (America, Israel), while championing Palestinians, who outlaw and execute homosexuals. Environmentalists focus their rage on America, even though China has eclipsed the US as the world's #1 emitter of greenhouse gases. And Amnesty International, priests, rabbis, Jimmy Carter and activist groups on five continents have somehow found themselves on the same side of an issue as Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
What is the common thread? Reflexive opposition to power and automatic support for the underdog -- even when those underdogs fly planes into buildings, bury homosexuals up to their necks and stone them to death, open an average of one new coal-fired plant each week and use child suicide bombers to kill innocent civilians.
This "axis of power" -- between the haves and have-nots, the underdogs and overdogs -- has superseded traditional notions of Left and Right to become the central pivot point for the defining issues of our time. From the war on terror to racial and religious strife to the environmental movement, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the war between old and new media, China and Russia's "New World Order," the role of the United Nations, the ascendancy of radical Islam and the dramatic rise of anti-Americanism in the years since the US became the world's only Superpower.
Underdogma is also not limited to the political realm. We find it in the delight we take in the misfortune of celebrities, in small-town protests over "big box" stores, and in the underdog advertising methods used by Madison Avenue to sell us everything from shampoo to new cars.
Underdogma is all around us. It is at play in virtually every corner of our lives. And, while the Western world increasingly exalts the meek and apologizes for its own power, the self-described enemies of the West - radical Islamists - are operating under a fundamentally different and structurally more potent belief system.
Our sworn enemies operate under no such delusions. To the Islamists; strength and power are lauded, while any sign of weakness is not simply frowned upon - it is considered an open provocation for violent attack.
What they know, and what we must learn, is that the West's empathy for the underdog -- leading some in the West to tolerate, excuse and even celebrate the violent actions of Islamic terrorists -- is viewed by these Islamists as despicable weakness and clear justification -- even provocation -- for violent jihad against the very underdogmatists who stand up for them.
America was founded on a pioneer spirit of achievement and a belief in American E xceptionalism. It is a belief that transformed a once rugged, untamed colony into the greatest, richest, most powerful and culturally vibrant nation in world history. America is home to liberty and equal opportunity, where the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in our constitution and where our people are free to create, to succeed and to enjoy the fruits of our labor. America created manned flight, the mobile phone, jazz and lunar travel. We pioneered hundreds of life-saving medical advancements, enjoy a remarkably high standard of living, and we are a beacon of opportunity and freedom to people around the world who often find both in short supply.
Further thralldom to underdogma is suicidal. Compassion should never involve self-destruction. The American spirit is the antidote to underdogma, if only we have the will to recover and honor it.