Prophets have never been popular. Real prophets aren't sideshow acts; they don't tell the future, they critique the present. Prophets are people who perform the thankless task, so crucial to any society, of destroying our delusions. They speak up when everyone else in the crowd is perfectly willing to go along with whatever insanity the leadership is suggesting at that moment.
They are always greeted with groans, accused of spoiling the party, labeled as unpatriotic, irreligious or worse. Prophets are rally-killers. They serve as the conscience of a society, so it's no wonder they are universally muzzled, laughed at and treated with powerful meds.
In the Old Testament, those who pointed out where and when the chosen people had strayed from their pathway commitments were often stoned for their troubles or ignored, mocked, forced to live with lepers, associate with outsiders and in general shoved to the fringe.
Thirty centuries later we still don't like to be told that we as a people are making mistakes. We still marginalize those nagging, irritating voices who insist on "always seeing the cup as half full." We're too polite these days to send them to live with lepers, but we are no more open to honestly considering their criticism than the ancient Hebrews were.
Three groups in our town this week seem to be filling the prophetic, nagging role. In all three cases, they are pointing out unpleasant truths about our situation, truths well-documented and thoroughly verified, but because the tribal leadership is hell-bent on a destructive policy course, any group that insists on opposing that course draws down on itself the full wrath of the community.
And always they are marginalized. We get exasperated at them. We certainly don't want them at the negotiating table raising their blasted unanswerable questions. But on closer examination, we need to listen.
The Sage Council is one such prophetic group. In the face of the unified boomer community's demand for an extension of Paseo del Norte, the Sage Council continues to point out just how few clothes that project is wearing.
In fact, it's naked. And distressingly, Sage has the facts on their side. Even the Mid-Region Council of Governments' study of the matter concluded, much as Sage has been arguing, that Paseo will cause more traffic problems than it solves.
But the leadership of our city wants that boondoggle road built out to the Rio Puerco, so it treats its opponents, like Sage, as if they were childish simpletons who are best ignored for their own good. We should be listening—before it's too late.
Then there's the Stop the War Machine! assembly of prophets. Their signs say "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Iraq=0; USA=2000." They stand before the City Council raising an issue most Albuquerque civic fathers would prefer to ignore, the incredible threat to our future safety posed by the fact that Kirtland Air Force Base is where the largest concentration of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world is being stored.
This is not a convenient topic to bring up. After all, Albuquerque is currently busy trying to keep Kirtland from being closed. If the 2,000 bombs and warheads stockpiled there were to be moved somewhere else (or, God forbid, decommissioned), then there really isn't much justification for keeping that fat federal cow in our pasture, is there? And nothing is as sacred in this town as the nuclear federal cow.
So the reaction to Stop the War Machine! has been not to deal with the reality of which it speaks. (How can you argue with the probability that if there are really terrorists out there, getting into the atomic fireworks in Kirtland's bunkers probably is a mighty tempting course of action?)
Instead, our leaders chuckle patronizingly about just how naïve the resolution is; how out of touch it is with our realpolitik. The resolution to be debated at City Council serves mostly to provide a clear warning to this city's residents that our government is engaged in a mammoth gamble about nuclear weaponry and its relative safety or security ... and we are the patsies, the pawns, the sacrificial lambs being offered up.
There is yet another group of prophets here, pointing to yet another uncomfortable, troubling issue that our civic leaders wish they'd shut up about. These are the voices crying out about the mixed waste landfill at Sandia, and the head-scratching determination to deal with its chemical dangers by the simple expedient of covering it with dirt.
When the state environmental authorities and the Sandia nuclear engineering gurus are in agreement that burying the containers in that dump is the best way to nullify the poisons they contain, why must a bunch of nagging prophets insist on raising questions about the wisdom of this?
Could it be that the leaders are ignoring the recommendation of a panel of experts they asked to study the matter? Could it be that the decision is being made simply on the basis of cost considerations, not public safety considerations? Could it be that once again prophetic voices are being marginalized, when instead they should be getting our full attention?