In Howard Zinnâ€™s book, Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice, Chapter 1 entitled, â€śIntroduction: American Ideology,â€ť begins with a discussion of a few instances in history where groups of people believed that other races and social classes were inferior to others (Zinn 1). The end result of these instances was that many, if not all, of the inferior people were killed (Zinn 1). From these occurrences, Zinn concludes that our thinking does not merely spark debates, but ultimately is a variable of life and death (Zinn 1). He also believes that although we live in a democratic country, the ideas of ethical behavior that were formulated by our forefathers has condemned us to accept them as right, without questioning why they are right (Zinn 3). These ideas were not framed by a group of conspirators, nor were they accidental; these ideas were a result of natural selection in which ideas were encouraged, financed, and pushed forward by those who were in power or by those who had great influence on the general public (Zinn 3).
Although these beliefs were written off as correct, Zinn believes that if we decide to reexamine these beliefs, and see that they are not â€śnaturalâ€ť ideas, we have come to a major turning point: we are examining and confronting American ideology (Zinn 5). These ideas that are expressed in â€śIntroduction: American Ideology,â€ť are very sound because they help me to see why it is important to challenge the status quo. If I sit back and just allow people to feed me information about one fact or another, and I just absorb it all in, then I may not really be formulating my own beliefs, but accepting someone elseâ€™s. There should be a deeper meaning to what I believe further than what someone has dictated to me to be correct. I should ask intuitive questions about why someone views something as correct, and by that process, I might begin to clearly see their idea as acceptable.
Oftentimes, many people, including myself, suppress what they believe in because as Zinn mentioned, these dissenting ideas are most often drowned in criticism because they are outside of the â€śacceptable or popular choicesâ€ť (Zinn 4). By doing this, those who believe that their idea is right, maintain power. In a real world example, you may be hanging out with a group of friends at a party when all of a sudden, your friends start smoking marijuana. Everyone but you is an avid believer that smoking it is cool, and is acceptable because everyone else is doing it. You have never smoked marijuana a day in your life, but under the circumstances, you fall into peer pressure when a joint is passed your way. In this instance, you know you believe that smoking marijuana is wrong, but you suppress your beliefs since every single one of your friends is doing it, and by speaking up, your belief will most definitely be covered in criticism.
The end result is that your group of friends maintains power over you, and will find it that much easier to influence you to smoke marijuana again. Metaphorically speaking, a great representation of how Zinn portrays the ideas of those in command is through â€śweeds.â€ť A weed is a plant that overtakes the area in which it is located. Once it begins to grow, unless someone is willing to take the time to go and remove it from the area, it remains there. Likewise, the ideas that are seen in â€śIntroduction: American Ideology,â€ť are like weeds because they are established and passed off as right to the general public.
Once these ideas are in place, they are hard to get rid of, even if many people dissent them. It must then take a strong group of people to try to â€śuprootâ€ť the ideas, and replace them with what the public believes is right. Moving forward, I can use the information that I have written about and apply it to my own life. I should begin to feel comfortable in challenging what I do not believe in, rather than being neutral about the issue because as Zinn mentions, in this day and age that we live in, neutrality is seen as a sign of acceptance in the way things are now (Zinn 7). I now see that I should begin to be my own self, and not just another grain of sand on the beach, living by the status quo.
Zinn, Howard. Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.