Sometimes I visit the CNN website just to see at what news the world is looking. The headlines are a bit amazing to me and help me understand why Americans might feel like the world is burning to the ground.
As of Tuesday, March 16th, here are a few of the headlines.
“Life during a pandemic … ”
“Prepare for severe weather…”
I’m fascinated by what Americans are consuming in the news and what they deem “newsworthy”. I’m also disappointed by just how hungry Americans are to consume negative news. It’s as if we can’t get enough of the cringe-worthy, doomsday, end-of-the world junk. And the media keeps feeding it to us. Or perhaps the media wants to keep us feeling like we’re living in a dismal, dystopian, end-of-the-world, oppressive, suffocating, racist, cruel country in need of major reform.
And this is the key point on which I want to hone in. How many of you, on a day-to-day basis feel the direct affects of anything being discussed in the news? Yes, I’m sure most of us are experiencing some direct impact from the coronavirus, whether it’s simply because we’re wearing masks, or we know someone who’s been affected by it, or a myriad of other reasons. But, generally speaking, as you carry out your daily life, and watch others carrying out their daily lives, are you personally, specifically experiencing dismal, dystopian, oppressive and end-of-the-world events?
Be real here. We like to think we are because it makes life more interesting. But that’s just it right? We’re really unquestionably and incomparably free here in the U.S. Our lives are pretty good. That doesn’t mean some people aren’t suffering or struggling, but that the vast majority of Americans are incomparably more free and stable than those in most any other country in the world.
So, roll with me on this. This blog post is more a stream of thought than anything else. I’m letting you in on my contemplations over the week. I had a realization earlier this week as I was listening to a podcast called Dictators. I’m curious about how dictators of the past came to power. What were/are the proper ingredients that led to the rise of these dictators? Dictators can’t just take over without a citizenry willing and primed for the takeover.
I chose first to listen to a podcast about Mao Zedong, the Communist dictator of China. To say it was fascinating would be an understatement. The slow and steady rise of communism in China really came as a result of Mao’s exploitation of extreme poverty, war, and dictatorial war lords. I was impacted by this reality. China wouldn’t have fallen to communism if it were well-off. The problem that led to the solution of communism was the existence of an oppressive war lord government, an overwhelmingly mistreated poverty ridden population and a country ravaged by war with Japan.
I’ve studied other cultures that have fallen to communism or tyranny, and the common denominator in each society is the same. They all start with dire circumstances, broken economies, physical, mental and psychological oppression, and a society overall in shambles.
Each society was hurting, broken, and in desperate need of someone or something to rescue it. And yet, even with the horrendous circumstances in China, Mao had to work a long time to become the Chinese communist dictator. China was not an easy takeover for him. And that’s with a society primed for the entrance of a dictator.
So, let’s come back to our country. Here we are in America, the wealthiest nation on earth, with heaps of liberty, success, money, excess of everything, industry, the ability to protest and complain about our government to no end, the privilege to whine about which bathroom we get to use or which pronoun we want to be referred to with, pretending like we are in the same hurting, broken, dire circumstances that these other nations were in when they were at the brink of communism.
Really. I sat back and thought about it for a bit. Many people on the right are fearful of a communist or socialist takeover while many on the left are fearful of a fascist takeover. Basically, both sides fear the same thing: the possibility of tyranny. And yet, how many of us, on a daily basis, are experiencing the horrors that many, if not all, the citizens of pre-communist China or pre-communist Russia, or pre-tyranny any country, experienced? How many of us are truly oppressed? I do not mean perceived oppression or even just micro-oppression (I don’t consider oppression to be feeling slighted by someone who said something offensive. Yes, people sometimes say things that are cruel and shouldn’t be said, but being the recipient of such cruelty is not oppression. In fact, calling it oppression minimizes the gravity of real oppression and is an insult to the experiences of those who have truly been oppressed). How many Americans are experiencing real, cruel and suffocating oppression like those who lived in China, Russia, Cambodia, Cuba, Rome, England or any other nation that has fallen to tyranny and arbitrary power?
Friends, we’re pretty overwhelmingly free here. We’re pretty well off. Even the poor in this country have more than the wealthy in many countries. We are not suffering from a devastated or broken economy—despite the coronavirus. The “horrors” people in this country complain about consist of a dad saying his transgender daughter doesn’t have a right to play sports.
And yet, looking at the news, one might think the very opposite of what I just said. One might think that the U.S. is in absolute shambles, in ruins, in dire straights. It’s “burning down”, literally and figuratively.
But is it? Truly, is it? Let’s get real. Have you personally experienced it burning down? Do you feel suffocatingly oppressed? Or, are you able to carry on with your life as normally as you possibly can, relatively unhindered?
Because friends, that’s what most Americans are doing. We’re just living. And yet we’re being told that we’re oppressed, hindered–not free.
This type of reality, where we think those around us are experiencing something that we ourselves haven’t experienced is called, the impersonal influence. It’s a concept coined by a political scientist named Diana Mutz. Here’s the description:
“Impersonal influence is about how people are affected by their perceptions of the collective opinions or experiences of others–things such as the well-publicized results of opinion polls (in the case of others’ opinions), or media’s coverage of the collective experiences of others (such as the extent to which others are experiencing financial problems or are being victimized by crimes). Media content is particularly well suited to serving as a credible channel of information about large-scale collective phenomena. Coverage of the collective opinions (in the case of perceptions of social problems such as crime or unemployment) alters people’s political attitudes in surprising, yet subtle ways. These kinds of effects have important implications for the quality of public opinion and the accountability of political leaders in a mass mediated democracy.”
For example, perhaps the media is saying that the economy is bad. You may not have personally experienced any ill-effects from a “bad economy” but you feel as if you have and as if the economy is bad simply because you hear that it is bad at large. Your worldview then is shaped by a perception of the collective opinion and experiences of others. So, you base your decisions, your vote, your policy preferences, your worldview and more on what you perceive to be affecting the collective at large even if you have not experienced said issue personally.
Which leads me full circle here. It’s as if we’re being told to believe that we, here in the U.S., are in a state of being as horrible and dismal as the state of being pre-communist countries throughout history were in prior to their eventual fall to tyranny. Friends, let me tell you, there could be nothing further from the truth.
But, the tricky part of this is–maybe we don’t have to be. Apparently, it’s no longer a question of whether or not the citizenry is “oppressed” enough to rebel and bring in communism or tyranny. The question now is: can tyranny succeed in taking a citizenry who is remarkably free and experiencing very little tangible oppression but believe they aren’t free and are experiencing real oppression? Is the impersonal belief of collective oppression and misery, despite it not being personally experienced, enough to prime a citizenry for tyranny?
I don’t have the answer to that question, but I have a feeling we’re going to find out…
…sooner than later.
The Liberty Belle