On anger, fear, and elections

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November 1, 2010 by 8junebugs

It’s not anger, in particular, that I find so offensive. It’s trumped-up anger about, say, things that aren’t true, or things that offend someone’s sensibilities but are not, objectively, any of that person’s damned business (like what I do with my body, and/or with whom).

Or violence. I find that pretty damned offensive.

For an informed voter, I act like a freaking ostrich shoving its head in the sand in the run up to an election. I’m perfectly capable of ferreting out the truth about candidates’ positions online without listening to the crap ads that, if we’re lucky, on either side of the debate, contain 5% truth.

I cannot handle it. I do communications for a living and I respect my audience(s). It incenses me to watch ads specifically scripted to appeal to the basest fears of people who already have enough troubles. It infuriates me to see inaccurate or out-of-context information shoveled at a citizenry that the ad creator (or the person paying for the ad) thinks is too dumb to check the facts.

And the dog whistles. The bloody dog whistles so saturated with privileged hatred for anyone who is (or might be) other…it stings. I wish there were a better name for the concept so it wouldn’t be in any way related to puppies.

This election cycle, even more than 2008, is highlighting the flaws in our humanity, the worst being that we are inclined to develop our own Truth and stick to it, regardless of facts proving that Truth is incorrect (I know this was recently supported by another study, but I can’t find the newer link).

Fact:

  1. something that actually exists; reality; truth
  2. something known to exist or to have happened

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but facts are not subjective.

Politicians and activists in this election cycle are doing their best to convince people of the opposite…and a lot of people want to believe it. It’s empowering to think that you can make something real by believing it hard enough, isn’t it? When you’re trying to engage a bunch of people who are, in the grand scheme of things, generally powerless, it’s an incredible tool of persuasion. If someone’s lost a lot — a job, a house, retirement funds — it’s really, really easy to access their understandable fear of losing even more. Tell them the other candidate will try to take more away, and you’ve got them. The fear of that loss opens them up to whatever suggestion you make, even if you lie to their faces.

You can convince perfectly intelligent people that your support of big business is good for them. You can get them to think that businesses trying to profit will always pay a fair wage, even without a law requiring it (my employer probably would, but I’m well aware of how unusual that is). You can even get them to scapegoat populations who possess even less than they.

Fear is that powerful.

Fear appeals, typically, are most effective when the target feels some sense of efficacy. “Ooga booga!” doesn’t work by itself–you need “Ooga booga + Do X to allay fear and feel safe!”

X = “vote for this guy right here, the one who looks like you and prays like you and knows what you want to hear, and all will be well”

(Y = Why not?)

That democrats are struggling to counter this is no surprise. When facts and reason can’t counter resistance, we don’t know what to do. We hold to the belief that people are, by nature, reasonable. We expect that we can present facts to voters and have that be enough. Although we point fingers as much as the other side, we really do try to point them at the (predominantly white, Christian, male) legislators who voted or signed orders the produced certain results. We think that should be enough.

We suck at real scapegoating.

I’m not afraid of immigrants or LGBTQI neighbors/teachers/teenagers or even of ZOMGsocialism. I am very, very afraid of a country so far gone that fear trumps facts…and would-be leaders who capitalize on that.

So I’ll vote tomorrow, and I’ll be disappointed…much like 1994 (although we were better equipped to rebound then…economically, regardless of party politics). And I’ll hope for better in 2012. I’ll hope that the people all fired up to “Take back the nation!!!!11!!!” or whatever snap the hell out of it and consider taking it forward instead.

I’ll hope for the best…and expect significantly less.

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