I was sitting in the coffee shop, working on my second cup of starter fluid, when Reg stormed in, red-faced, with steam pouring out of his ears.
“Have you seen this?” he demanded, throwing some sheets of paper down on the table.
“Have a seat, Reg,” I said. “Ask Angie for a couple of ice cubes to cool you down.”
“This is no laughing matter, Ace,” he warned. “Look at this thing. It’s a disgrace!”
“What is it, Reg?” I asked.
“It’s supposed to be the first quiz in my boy’s high school civics class,” he said, “but it’s nothing but a piece of partisan propaganda! Every damned question on there is a deliberate slap at the administration! It’s brainwashing, is what it is! It’s a blatant attempt to portray the president and his administration as undemocratic, and by God I won’t stand for it!”
“My gosh, Reg,” I said. “Let me take a look at the thing. Is it really that bad?”
“It sure as hell is,” he bellowed. “Take a look for yourself.”
* * * *
QUIZ # 1: The Differences Between Democratic and Totalitarian Societies
With the opening chapter of our textbook, we discussed the differences between a democratic society and a totalitarian society. The quiz below contains ten pairs of statements. Write “democratic” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which describes a democratic society, and “totalitarian” in the blank space for the statement in each pair which describes a totalitarian society.
1.A. In a _____________________ society, the free flow of information is essential so people can make informed decisions. Every effort is made to see that the public receives the most complete and most accurate information possible.
1. B. In a ____________________ society, many important decisions are made in secret, and vital information is hidden from the public. The government propagandizes its own citizenry.
2.A. In a _____________________ society, open debate and dissenting views are not only welcome but promoted because everyone is considered valuable, because everyone is entitled to a voice in decisions affecting all, and because testing ideas and opinions ultimately results in wiser decisions.
2.B. In a _____________________ society, people who express views contrary to those held by people in power are attacked as unpatriotic, ridiculed, dismissed from government positions, and effectively denied a voice in the media.
3.A. In a _____________________ society, the right to know the charges against you, to be represented by effective counsel, to be given your day in court in a timely manner, and to have a fair trial before a jury of your peers are all guaranteed to every person accused of a crime.
3.B. In a _____________________ society, certain prisoners can be held indefinitely, imprisoned without being charged with a crime, denied the opportunity to counsel, and denied a chance to defend themselves in an open court.
4.A. In a _____________________ society, prisoners are recognized as human beings, worthy of basic levels of respect and dignity. They are treated humanely and granted fundamental rights, regardless of their crimes.
4.B. In a _____________________ society, certain prisoners are demeaned and degraded. They are treated with contempt, tortured, and brutalized.
5.A. In a _____________________ society, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, and conversations are their own affair, protected from governmental intrusion except in limited, specified, carefully supervised circumstances.
5.B. In a _____________________ society, people’s private reading, writing, correspondence, and conversations are subject to secret government scrutiny, with little or no control over whose privacy is invaded, or why, or when.
6.A. In a _____________________ society, the right of citizens to assemble and to protest.peacefully is valued and protected.
6.B. In a _____________________ society, citizens are hindered or barred from peaceful protest. Legal obstacles are created to frustrate their protests; they are harassed, intimidated, even arrested when they attempt to make their contrary views known.
7.A. In a _____________________ society, the leader is subject to the rule of law and constrained by the checks and balances of the legislature and judiciary.
7.B. In a _____________________ society, the leader ignores or dismisses inconvenient laws, and is unchecked by the legislature and judiciary.
8.A. In a _____________________ society, every effort is made to extend the right to vote, to remove obstacles to voting, and to ensure that votes are counted accurately.
8.B. In a _____________________ society, the right to vote is curtailed, obstacles are deliberately created to deny certain classes of citizens the right to vote, and voting irregularities may be ignored.
9.A. In a _____________________ society, the state maintains separation of church and state, protecting an individual’s freedom to preach or practice a religion, or to have no religion, while refraining from promoting religion in general or certain religious views in particular.
9.B. In a _____________________ society, the state either suppresses the freedom to worship, or promotes the religious views of those in power.
10.A. In a _____________________ society, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the common good, protecting the weakest citizens, increasing access to opportunity, and rewarding effort and merit rather than birth.
10.B. In a _____________________ society, decisions on taxation and expenditures are made with the intent of promoting the interests of the powerful, protecting their lives of privilege, increasing their share of the nation’s wealth, and passing their wealth and privilege on to their heirs.
FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Based on the distinctions above, the country in which you are
now living would best be characterized as a _____________________ society.
* * * *
“I don’t know, Reg,” I said. “Those look like pretty standard distinctions to me. And I don’t see any reference to political parties, or to specific political decisions there. What makes you think it’s an attack on Mr. Bush and his administration?”
“Because all the ones that are supposed to be identified as ‘totalitarian’ are obvious references to things the president and his people have done to keep us secure, you numbskull!”
“So what are you saying, Reg? That totalitarian societies are safer than democracies? That you’d rather be safe than free? I’m having a hard time following you here.”
“Listen, Ace. The president is just doing his job. And I’m going to see that this loose cannon does his. Or loses it.”
“You could just tell him to switch the definitions in each pair,” I suggested. “Maybe that would give you something you’d be more comfortable with. How did your boy do on the test, by the way?”
His face turned grim. “That’s what really cheeses me off,” he said. “He aced it.”
© Tony Russell, 2006