OPINION – It’s more than a bit unsettling how easy it is to persuade people to abandon their sense of reason and their principles.
We’re seeing this play out in the wake of the murderous terror attacks in France 10 days ago.
Fear of terrorism has been ingrained into the American psyche since the 9/11 attacks 14 years ago. Our conditioning has allowed the public to surrender essential freedoms that were gradually secured over the course of nearly a thousand years for a false promise of security.
But we’re not safer and we’re certainly not as free as we were just a generation ago.
We allow our privacy, our free speech and our right to due process to be abridged in ways that expand government power over us without actually making us any safer.
The new normal has acclimated us to being fondled or electronically strip searched like inmates before being allowed to board a plane or train or to attend certain sporting events.
We stand by as our government claims authority to indefinitely detain, to torture and to carry out extrajudicial assassinations on anyone, anywhere in the name of national security.
Only the fact that the drone strikes are happening to others far away who don’t look or talk like we do keeps us from questioning too closely whether they deserved to die. As long as we believe they had it coming, we can continue to blindly trust that the people pulling cognitive rank on us are telling the truth when they say it’s protecting us.
Crisis has always spelled opportunity for power seekers. It’s a formula that has clearly stood the test of time.
A toxic combination of fear and misinformation can influence an astonishing number of otherwise decent people to embrace inhumanity in ways they wouldn’t have believed possible. More often than not, that willingness to shed our humanity is based in the notion that an “other” is threatening us with annihilation.
The role of the “other” typically takes the form of an implacable foe that is either less than human or superhuman in its capacity for evil. This kind of irrational fear is what enables people to utter words like “extermination” without any sense of what they’re actually advocating.
The fear they feel is sincere. They simply do not recognize when they are being emotionally stampeded through incomplete or distorted information. Fear trumps their ability to reason.
The key to recognizing when we are being manipulated through fear starts with understanding how the different tiers of media appeal to their intended audiences. It has everything to do with the level of understanding of the person to whom the information is directed.
For instance, journals like Foreign Affairs and New Republic are speaking to a more highly sophisticated audience. The style is more nuanced and analytical than would be found in lower tiers. There is little focus on celebrities and other unimportant matters and more focus on ideas and policies.
There are other excellent emerging online sources that are not as well known that still disseminate analysis and commentary with minimal spin or manipulation.
Most of the mainstream media is found within the second tier.
This would include most of the major networks and figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Media figures at this level are more likely to be star-struck and prone to engage in yellow journalism.
This tier of media caters to the partisan-minded and typically sticks to the left/right paradigm that is favored by the political class.
The next tier of media speaks primarily to the fear and enemy-driven. This is where much of the highly sensational debate over Syrian refugees and Muslims in general is taking place today.
The demagoguery at this level is unapologetic and highly emotional. To be thought of as a spittle-flinger is considered a badge of honor rather than an epithet. To question the conclusions of the demagogues who dominate this tier is to invite accusations of treason and disloyalty.
A person can gain insights and even truth from media sources within any of these tiers but critical thinking skills are necessary to avoid being bamboozled.
On the matters of refugees and Muslims, it’s essential that we recognize when we are operating on understanding that is our own and when we are simply repeating another person’s talking points.
Extremism is a personality disorder that is hardly limited to a particular religion or ideology. It can infect anyone who allows himself to succumb to total, self-destructive hatred.
The guy who’s fearfully loading rifle magazines while watching the nightly news, anticipating a terror attack that statistically will never touch him, is part of the problem.
The world has real problems that must be confronted but the solution we seek requires a better way that relies upon wisdom – meaning knowledge properly applied – rather than fear as its dynamic.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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