Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
Let’s face it. As far as we know, bigotry has been with us humans as long as we’ve occupied the planet. Its roots are firmly planted in fear of the “Other.” In the old days, the Other lived across the plain or over the mountain. The fear was all too often justified. When they came to town, they killed the men and carried away the women, children, and stuff.
Conflict wasn’t the only form of human intercourse. Even in the Stone Age people of different clans traded, formed alliances, intermarried, and partied together. All that is true, but fear trumps all others as a motivating force.
In many eras, there are societal or self-imposed guardrails that prevent fear-mongering from going over the top. We’re living at a time when truth, sanity, and common sense wither like delicate flowers under the record-breaking heat of irrational and unfounded suspicions.
Today, some politicians have rediscovered fear’s highly motivational power and use it to manipulate people to support themselves. This happens even when the misinformation they deliver is to one’s own detriment. Incredibly, it’s true even when the manipulation literally kills those who believe their schemes.
There are two overriding factors that inflame the situation. First is the fear of loss or of danger. The provokers and exploiters shamelessly say anything to exploit that very human trait without regard for facts or common sense.
This strategy arouses dread that overshadows even observable reality. “The sky is red” is a false but harmless and unthreatening statement by itself. However, add that the red sky is caused by “a gigantic burning meteor racing to strike and destroy the earth next Sunday” and the fear quickly boils up. No matter what the people with telescopes say, some people will panic and start digging futile storm cellars.
The second fear factor is the scapegoat. Blaming the Other — the imaginary guys coming over the mountain to kill you and take your stuff — is a time-honored way to explain why the problem exists and who is the cause. Once again there needs to be no connection between the allegations and the facts, evidence, or truth — but who cares when you’re told the Others are coming to “take your guns and your Bible.”
The perpetrators allege the cause for alarm and they fictitiously name the innocents who they blame for their made-up problem. They invent justifications to forward when they get the inevitable pushback. They try to make “sense” of the senseless. How can they do this? Simple! They mindlessly recite and repeat cherrypicked examples that are true or half true exaggerations and make these rare occurrences seem to be the norm.
Employing this formula they loudly and self-righteously shift the conversation from examining the facts to accepting the fiction. Even the least informed observers of history understand that this scenario is right out of the fascist and autocratic playbook.
The antidote is for each of us to do our research and our own critical thinking. Don’t believe what you hear without researching. Check the “truthiness” record of the source. Compare the information to your own sense of reality. Trust science and evidence-based facts. Question speculative theories, no matter the source, and mostly, understand when you are being manipulated against your own best interest.
Steve West is a social justice advocate and entrepreneur living in Delray Beach.