Sam Smith, 2012 - During a solar eclipse on January 1, 1889, an American Indian named Wovoka claimed to have had a dream in which all his fellow native Americans were taken into the sky as the Earth opened up and swallowed all the whites upon it. The earth then returned to its natural state as a land where native Americans could live in peace.
The ghost dance culture would sweep across the tribes of western America as the dancers were losing their last hold on their beloved lands.
- The early 20th century Maji Maji rebellion in Africa was spurred by a medium who offered medicine he claimed would turn German colonials' bullets into water.
- Sometimes the strange and the rational are mixed as in America's first Great Awakening, both an expression of excessive evangelicalism and of nascent equality that would help to lay the philosophical groundwork of the American revolution. Unlike the hierarchical assumptions of the Enlightenment, the Awakening taught that under God all were equal, a principle that even attracted Benjamin Franklin, though he certainly didn't care for the theology behind it.
- And sometimes the bad times produce not just the strange but the disastrous, as with the rise of Nazism.
Typically, such strange phenomena are a reaction to events that have overwhelmed many and led them to seek solace in a simplistic and seemingly comfortably symbolic solution.
- Unhappiness in the wake of World War I, a war whose mass killings help set a new low value on human life.
- The collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.
- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, and a large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.
- The use of negative campaigning, a contribution to modern politics by Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi campaigns argued what was wrong with their opponents and ignored stating their own policies. Sound at all familiar?
- The collapse of the country's self image, falling from world leadership in education, industry, science, and literacy.Like Ghost Cult dancers in the 19th century, World War II Pacific Islanders wondering where their cargo was, Africans beset by German colonialists, and Germans beset by economic and cultural decline, Americans today face an extraordinary assemblage of change, discouragement, challenges and uncertainties.
Add together climate change, the erosion of democracy, the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, the decline of America's position in the world, rapid changes in both technology and social values, and the collapse of conventional conservative and liberal politics and we're lucky to have a reaction no stranger than that of the Tea Party movement.