Why are politics the way they are right now? We’ve got a Hobson’s choice here in the U.S., and Brexit threatening not only the European Union, but also to the United Kingdom itself. There’s a sharp turn in many countries, and I’m not bringing up the spate of terrorism (which isn’t political in the same sense as the other stuff.)
The main economic and social order that has characterized the post-war (meaning World War II) world — free market economies, democratization, upward mobility — has come under scrutiny at least, if not outright threat. The communication angle to this change can be seen in news media coverage, public relations and public diplomacy, and the rise of user-generated media. There are many more voices in the public sphere than 10 years ago.
An externality (to use a term from economics) of these communication changes is that much media (whether social or mainstream or fringe) has become a contest to gain attention, rather than to add enlightenment and insight. This means rumor dominates over truths, which a lot of people see as wholly subjective. It’s like the comment about being paranoid: That diagnosis doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!
People analyze based on their perspectives, just as always, but now there is a ready echo chamber for conclusions. We seek out fewer alternative opinions in favor of justifications of our own. Why?
My unresearched, and rather seat-of-the-pants diagnosis is fear.
- People who have jobs are afraid they’ll lose them, and with good reason.
- People without jobs are afraid they will never be able to find one, also with good reason.
- People in universities know people who graduate with huge debts and no job, and they’re afraid they will be the same.
- Parents are afraid they’ll never be able to offer their children a better life.
- Liberals are afraid that rich people exert too much power, preventing government from operating effectively.
- Conservatives are afraid larger government will bring less liberty.
That’s a heap of scared.
Americans have the reputation of being confident to the point of brashness, so egoistic that we are convinced we’re the best. We seem to be losing that mojo, and that in itself fuels fear.
Perhaps Frank Herbert can help us here. In Dune, when the protagonist is being tested to determine his humanity, he must conquer his fear. But he doesn’t do this by ignoring it, dismissing it or trying to avoid it. He recites the Litany Against Fear — maybe we can get Mr. Cameron, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, Ms. Merkel and others to chant it together — and respects the fear, but does not let it define him or his actions. It’s worth a try, no?
The Litany Against Fear
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert, Dune. Retrieved July 1, 2016, from http://dune.wikia.com/wiki/Litany_Against_Fear