“Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire
None of us are born to hate. We come into this world innocently, having no concept of “us versus them”. We are born with survival instincts of course, and they soon mature enough to make us wary of our older brother or perhaps a mean toddler in daycare. Further along, our ability to “hate” begins to set in – whether it’s high school rivalries, noisy neighbors, the in-laws, or Bill Belichick. But these are really more like annoyances that are easily settled over a cold beer or two.
Politics is a slightly different story and a cold beer or two could easily make things worse. Politics create policy and policies guide our society – quality of life, availability of opportunities, and even personal safety are all linked back to politics. Because of this, our political leanings reflect our idea of survival and a viable future. Opposing political views can be seen as a threat and can easily direct our ire to people that we don’t even know. Our parents often get us going down this path as they bestow us (intentionally or not) with their hand-me-down political biases at the kitchen table. Unfortunately, once we dip our toe in political animosity we begin to subject ourselves more to the readily available influence of others (vs. our own experiences and understanding) and this makes us vulnerable to their agenda and the pushing of their causes. All too often they wrap their agenda in rhetoric that portrays theirs as ours – and it rarely is. The pushing of political agendas almost always includes half-truths, exaggerations, flat-out lies, and manipulation. Political agendas also typically include an “us vs. them” component which creates resentment as two sides push for opposing policies. We are human and we are malleable and the steady drumbeat of divisive messaging can take its toll.
For these and many other reasons, the Republican and Democratic parties are each collection points for much that divides us, and increasing inflammatory rhetoric (from many corners) is pushing the two parties (and us) further and further apart. The graph below shows the recent levels of hate between Republicans and Democrats. A sudden increase in our hate appeared around the year 2001 and has been ramping up ever since. There were many things from that time period that we could blame: SCOTUS handing George W. Bush the election, the drum-beat of war after 9/11, a questionable Iraq war, the John Roberts Supreme Court expanding corruption, President Obama’s election(s), the creation of the Tea Party, minority rule, an obstructionist congress, and of course economic disparity and economic difficulties for many of us. But what probably did the most damage was the added noise and divisive messaging that started to come along with these things – it is no coincidence that this same time period saw the drastic rise in social media and politically motivated news outlets on the web and on cable television. Much credit for today’s divisiveness goes to Fox News and other conservative news outlets as well as the never-ending stream of conservative pundits that show up everywhere – their misleading and destructive rhetoric is well documented and the idea that “both sides do it” is provably false. Facebook is another major contributor where people from around the world can brazenly and easily manipulate millions of us with a few keystrokes and a button click.
So, things happened, events were exaggerated, policies and ideologies were misrepresented, heartstrings were pulled, emotions were played with, and we have been convinced to hate each other. The graph only goes to 2016 – imagine what it looks like now…
Prius Or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide – By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler
Those heartstrings and emotions of ours truly do make us vulnerable and they are often purposefully used against us. History has shown that there are always plenty of folks out there who shrewdly use fear, deceit, and divisive language to herd the rest of us around as they please. They are quite good at creating a “threat – haven” environment where they first create the illusion that others are threatening our way of life or even our survival and then they create the illusion that they have a safe haven for us and that only they can understand us and protect us. These folks understand that fear is one of our strongest and most primitive emotions and therefore one of our weakest points, and they play it, and us, perfectly to get what they want out of us. What follows is a general overview of some of the psychological tendencies that we all share and how they can be and have been, used to exploit us.
When we are exposed to significant threats (real or otherwise), we tend to “run home to momma” and instinctively retreat to things that we find familiar or comfortable – our core social foundations such as family, home, tradition, nostalgia, heritage, religion, sports, music, and probably even peanut butter sandwiches. These core social foundations are extremely important to we humans because, for deep psychological reasons that are well beyond the scope of this article, they subconsciously provide both meaning and purpose for our existence, and holding on to them helps us to feel safe and that we are an important part of society. Unfortunately, when we are being herded along by others, these are the very things that we are persuaded to believe are being attacked and this makes us subconsciously translate this non-existent attack into an assault against the very meaning of our existence – and we don’t handle that well.
When fear or threat cause us to recoil from the greater society, we reduce the scope of who we choose to associate with and the ideas we choose to accept. Fear tends to distort our judgment of others – making us invent faults in those that are different from us and disregard the faults of those that are similar to us. In fact, there is ample research that shows that, when threatened, we subconsciously back away from anyone that is different than us and that we can become indifferent to any harm that comes to them. In some cases, we will even lash out at them. It is important to point out that we do all of this even when we don’t consciously view them as threats, they only need to be different – scary stuff.
As we withdraw from “the others”, we are greatly relieved when we learn (or are told) that there are others who are suffering along with us. Even without physically interacting with them – just knowing they exist – gives us solace, camaraderie, and a much-needed sense of belonging. All of this is, of course, exacerbated by the internet and social media which creates a 24/7/365 virtual back porch where our new-found group interactions bring us validation, amplification, and even expansion of the fears and the threats that brought us together. Being a member of a group, even if vaguely labeled as “not those others”, provides a sense of safety.
We are especially vulnerable during periods of economic stress or social unrest where many of us “fail” economically or don’t fit in, causing us to start losing hope for the future. This can easily happen in societies that determine your worthiness based on your financial success, fame, and possessions. This results in deeply wounded egos and self-esteem that are easily exploited. It is during such times that our desperation can be taken advantage of and we can be led to believe that certain people and ideas are coming after our jobs, our children’s future, our communities, our Democracy, our Liberty, and even the “American way”. When we are handed someone to blame for our woes then our ego and self-esteem are improved – we really like that and we really really like those who returned our dignity and value to us. While these folks are providing us with a ready-made enemy they are also pretending that they are one of us and that only they can understand us and can protect us. After enough of this messaging, we no longer care what is said, we only care about who said it, and we become eager to support their cause, their agenda, and their policies (no matter what they are) and gleefully vote against our own interests and those of our families and our country.
But the kicker in all of this is that those who are exploiting us in our weakened state are the exact same folks who have tilted the playing field against us in the first place. The people we are blindly following are precisely the people who slowly created the widespread economic disparity that destroyed our future and slowly crushed our self-esteem. These are the people who are taking everything and breaking everything while convincing the rest of us to fight each other over the remaining and ever-shrinking slice of the pie. This is a classic example of an abusive relationship and this is the main point of this entire website.
Any one of us could have fallen victim to trickledown economics, losing our jobs or even entire industries to offshoring, meeting financial ruin because of a bad medical diagnosis, being squeezed into paying for a misdirected college education, drug/opioid addiction, or simply not being able to live up to the very false ideals that our society interprets as “successful”. Sadly, for many of us, more than one of the above applies and most Americans are still fair game to any of these calamities.
So who has been doing this? It is the predator elite and their lackeys – and they have finally openly admitted it (but are still doing it). They are the ones that are crippling our government and squeezing all they can out of America and Americans while convincing us to tag along with them.
They are using fear, hate, and division to hide what they are doing to us while getting our approval of their agenda. They convince us to blame our neighbors while they rob us blind, they tell us to despise our government as they undermine it, they demand that we ignore the science and medicine as they wrongly discredit them. They have us looking all over the place for ideas and people to blame when it is actually they that have caused most of our problems. They know that fear is the best way to control the people of a country and they know damn well that we will follow them over a cliff as long as we think they are “protecting” us. With all this in mind, the “threat-haven” environment mentioned earlier should really be described as “take-blame-protect-control-abuse”.
A good example of how far they will, and can, go is the Tea Party. There is plenty of evidence showing that the Tea Party was hardly a grassroots movement and that it was kickstarted, funded, and manipulated by conservative political organizations and their wealthy donors. Their handpicked toadies, like representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and many others purposefully sow division within our government and across our country.
No matter how important the topic is, it is the identity of the messenger that will determine our opinion.
Many of us now view things with a strictly political bias, no longer caring about what is right or wrong. Our priority is to stay in good standing with our team and we gleefully ignore obvious facts to do so. No matter how important the topic is, only the identity of the messenger will determine our opinion. This rut in which we find ourselves wastes the energy of America and greatly holds back our progress. The idea of America is to have as many of us as possible thoughtfully contribute to our Democracy – that is what will drive us forward. Divisiveness is literally wasting our time – even crippling our ability to solve problems that we must solve for everyone’s benefit, such as the Covid-19 Pandemic, climate change, alternative energies, medical research, etc. Division is literally killing us.
We have been tricked into blaming our neighbors while the predator elite are taking away our money, our political power, our future, and our lives.
Do you really think that the reason there are fewer and fewer small businesses is because of the “takers” in our society – or is it because these small businesses are getting squeezed out of existence by giant companies and a declining customer base?
Do you really think minorities are the reason family farms are shutting down everywhere or is it because of Big Ag sweeping across the country swooping them up or squeezing them out?
Do you really think that scientists are lying to us about climate change? We follow their advice on weather, hurricane tracks, tornado warnings, etc. so why not on climate change? Do we ignore our RMI results? Do we not use the science behind flight, the internet, and medicine? What is it about climate change science that we need to ignore? Could it be that some of us are being herded by politicians and business groups funded by Big Oil? You know the answer.
Do you really think we can’t afford health care for everybody? As a nation, we have never had so much money – it’s just tucked away by the wealthy and never used. Insurance companies are driven by the need to show ever-expanding profits to keep Wall Street happy – they are not driven to keep you alive. They can’t be blamed for wanting our government out of health care – they would lose their billions of dollars in profit that they get for doing nothing other than getting in the way of our health.
The list of questions goes on and on, but one look at where all the money has collected in this country will answer them all for you. Or will it? Those of us that have found shelter in the safe haven probably won’t believe anything that comes from outside or casts our team or its leaders in a bad light.
Things can get, and certainly have gotten, much worse.
Recall that we retreat to group association when we feel that we are being squeezed out of society or when we feel that we and all we hold dear are threatened. In these conditions our ego and self-esteem are in desperate need of repair and we eagerly embrace and even obey the charismatic voices who promise to alleviate our internal subconscious suffering. If candidate Trump had one message, it was “there are many forces against you and only I can save you”. We are empowered when public leaders at the highest levels openly, even if disingenuously, have our back. We believe that such leaders will return what has been taken from us and this is where our fears can be used to control us to dangerous levels. With our new-found power combined with the belief that our very lives are at stake, we are ready to make sacrifices for our protectors, “circle the wagons” for our group, and even strike out at the “threats”. This feeling of power makes up for all the years that we were wrongly cast aside – and we will not let go of this power. Sadly, the psychological “perks” of fear, poor self-esteem, and group association is that they can cause us to do things we normally wouldn’t do on our own
Not only do we identify with the group, but the group actually becomes our identity as we continually strive to reshape ourselves to be more like the people in our group – no matter how radical the group becomes. Being part of an ever-expanding group does wonders for our ego and self-esteem and the lure is often strong enough to pull us away from our core social anchors (tradition, religion, and even family). It is not uncommon to hear stories about families being ripped apart because of the divisive and highly manipulative noise coming out of Fox News and other conservative media outlets.
A somewhat recent example of fear being used to control us, sacrifice us, and further spread the hate are the protests against the effort to stop the spread of Covid-19 in Michigan.
The corona virus didn’t come with instructions and while the world was trying to understand it while simultaneously trying to save as many lives as possible, several hundred protesters thought it was important that they descend on the steps of the Michigan State House in April 2020. They were convinced that the governor’s actions to slow the spread of the pandemic were taking away their personal liberty. They were convinced that temporary regulations were just the beginning of some sort permanent authoritarian state. The protests may have looked like some sort of grass roots demonstration but the protesters were herded there by conservatives including the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund groups, conservative news personalities including Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Jeannine Pirro, and Laura Ingraham, all supported by tweets from President Trump. So it wasn’t really grass roots but it certainly made it more difficult for Michigan to deal with the virus. Similar protests popped up in other cities with support from additional conservatives – further interrupting life-saving efforts.
The Trump rallies are another example that show how rhetoric divides and how people will sacrifice themselves for their group – in this case MAGA. He used his rallies to ramp up divisiveness about mask wearing as the pandemic needlessly spun out of control under his watch, making stunningly false statements such as doctors inflating Covid-19 numbers in order to get paid more. Instead of trying to unify the country during the racial equality protests, he instead fanned the flames and pushed the culture war onto his waiver-signing followers that he had herded to places like his rally in Tulsa, and to a tightly packed crowd in a Phoenix Megachurch (that claimed to have an air filtration system that will supply 99% Covid-free air), and finally in front of Mt. Rushmore, of all places. Trump continued to pack his rallies during the final months of his campaign, never urging his followers to wear masks even though he knew full well just how bad the virus really was. By the end of October 2020 his super-spreader rallies caused the infection of an estimated 30,000 Americans.
The beast is now feeding the beast and predator elite along with the Republican and Libertarian parties have lost control of the monster that they and Fox News have been creating over the past 20 years.
The fear spun-up by President Trump has made things much much worse for our country. As the devotion of his followers grew, so did their (and therefore his) control over Republican leaders. In 2016, Republicans called Trump every name in the book as they were trying to convince voters just how bad Trump would be for the country. By 2020, these same Republicans leaders, and many more, bent over backwards to toss the U. S. Constitution out the window for him. To keep peace with President Trump and his base, they repeated his lies about voter fraud, they took action against states and state officials, and they filed frivolous law suit after frivolous law suit. Each of the law suits was an obvious farce and even Trump’s own appointed judges tossed them out. But these actions stoked the belief in Trump’s followers that the election was a fraud – this reinforced their fear that the Democrats were destroying Democracy. All of this came to a head on January 6th, 2021, as hundreds of people that were driven by fear, emboldened by Republicans, and empowered by group identify, attacked the Capitol building to overthrow the election and harm elected officials. Fear and manipulation was used to support a violent and dangerous a power grab. That is the ultimate use of fear in politics.
With social media, the beast is now feeding the beast and the predator elite along with the Republican and Libertarian parties are losing control of the monster that they and Fox News have been nurturing for over the past 20 years. Two decades of creating fear and hate have allowed Trump to swoop up most of the Republican base. His followers are now on autopilot – eager to confirm their devotion to their savior, they mindlessly ignore actual threats to our Democracy, embrace the next conspiracy, and spread their own hate – all to restore their leader to his rightful spot and to keep their all-important safe-haven, restored self-esteem, and newly-found power intact. To make matters worse, there are significant elements Republican party that have chosen not to heal wounds but to fall in line and continue with fear mongering, divisive, and disingenuous rhetoric about the rigged election, whitewashing Jan 6th, critical race theory, “woke” corporations, and even President Biden’s burger ban. Shockingly, their long standing message to distrust our government is being continued with their pushback against measures to contain the pandemic – directly continuing the spread and killing Americans. The list of people and ideas that we are being told to fear is continuing to grow, making us blind with hate and therefore blindly obedient. Not so ironically, all this is used as a justification to change laws across the nation that actually will allow the Republicans to rig the election. Not so surprisingly, they have the backing of many in the their base because they see all of this as actions to protect them. This will not turn out well.
The Republican Party, conservatives, corporatists, libertarians, and free-marketers (and all their minions) have made us dizzy with failure, fear, hatred, and irrational behavior that is clearly driving American Democracy over a cliff. They convinced us to hate each other so that they can have their way with us. Maybe we should, hand in hand with our neighbors, work together to solve the problems that they have created and if we have to hate then direct our hate toward them. Having common positive goals that we all work toward along with a common and actual enemy may be the only way we get out of this mess – unless it is too late.
There is plenty of established psychology and social psychology understandings behind all of the above…
Studies and experiments have shown differences between liberals and conservatives when it comes to sensitivity to threat, group membership, negative bias, etc. There is ample evidence that even brain structure comes into play as those people that identify as conservatives tend to have larger and more responsive amygdala (the fear processor in our brain) and at the same time, those who identify as liberals showed more activity in their anterior cingulate cortex which is believed to be related to accepting change.
It is also understood that Conservatives are also more likely to lean on tradition, heritage, and well-defined hierarchical structure for both family and society. Liberals, on the other hand, typically have less structure and let their children explore a bit more and learn for themselves.
There is a solid understanding of the importance of group membership and how it can help our self-esteem, form our personal identity, and create animosity towards other groups.
We know just how drastic our ongoing and very subconscious fear of dying can impact our behavior and the manner in which we associate with those who are similar to us or those who are different than us (even those people pose no threat). These studies also show the the dire need for those core social foundations (tradition, nostalgia, heritage, religion, etc.) in helping our subconscious deal with that fear of dying – and therefore the dire need to protect those social foundations from opposing foundations, whether the threat is real or not – can you say “religious persecution”? This only skims over some serious subconscious stuff and diving into this further is well beyond the scope of this article, but there has been significant research to back it up in hundreds of social psychology experiments around the world.
These behaviors are just part of being human, and as you can imagine there are plenty more that come into play in this discussion. None of them are necessarily bad, and if we were left purely to our own devices then humanity would probably get along fairly well. Unfortunately, people have always been under the influence of leaders one way or another. It is especially bad now with social media and the ability for people in Romania to reach all the way to your parent’s basement. If we weren’t being bombarded by non-stop fear mongering and manipulation then these perfectly human traits would probably not conspire against humanity.