Fear Itself

American president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Time and time again this quote has proven true. The Cold War is a prime historical example of fear taken to the extreme. When looking for a modern example, look no further than your smartphone

There are hundreds of things you should be scared of and it’s always there, all the time, thanks to 24-hour coverage by social media. In the past, horrors of war or other events came at a much slower pace. Today, the use of smartphones has enabled us to have the world at our fingertips in an instant. But should this wealth of knowledge make us scared?

When used by politicians, the answer is yes. We should be scared because that’s how they make us like them. The idea of fear tactics isn’t new and it will never go out of style. A politician’s only promise that he or she needs to uphold is to protect the people. Protection and security is our most primal instinct and we are drawn to those who keep us safe.

In the age of smartphones, everything we think we should fear is instantly available. Which means there is plenty of material for a politician to work with. Donald Trump is the world’s leading example in using fear as a tool. Fuzz Hogan, a contributor to the website Behavioral Scientist, says that “Last year’s election in the United States, whichever candidate you preferred, showed how powerful fear could be in rallying citizenry in unhealthy ways.” He describes how our response to fear has changed with the advancements in technology. Our brains once only had to fear what was in front of us. The introduction of global fears has left us in a type of drunken smog where we don’t know which threat is the real one to our person.

So of the thousands of things to be scared of, which ones should we actually fear? The threats that get extensive media coverage are the ones that we pay the most attention to. It’s easiest for political leaders to focus on foreign affairs, because the people they are rallying are less likely to have a personal stake.

It seems as if our focus on foreign countries has made us forget about our struggles at home. Recently Parkland High School in Florida, USA was the victim to a mass shooting. In America, school shootings are more common then they like to admit and so many of them get swept under the rug when a foreign country can be forced into priority.

Lots of Americans like their guns and lots of them do not. It’s a divided country that kills more of its own people than foreign extremists do. So why the lack of change? Events likes these that happen on home soil certainly get plenty of media coverage. The witnesses to these events, however, don’t control this media. It’s hard to be overheard amidst the terrified talks of foreign nuclear threats.

While social media is rapid, what is often misunderstood is the new generation’s aptitude for it. Those who remember the cold war also remember a time before smartphones. In their case, they can remember when worldwide news wasn’t readily available whenever they wanted. Because of this, the older generation isn’t used to handling this wealth of information. The youth of today who can text before they can talk are the ones whose voices will be heard amongst the chaos. As Steve Denning, a contributor to Forbes magazine says “They are at home in the world of social media and at ease with mobilizing support among strangers.”

The younger generation doesn’t fear a war that can’t kill them. Like our ancestors, they fear the threat that is right in front of them. Social media is a second nature and they are able to see the difference between real threats and ones used for political gain.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This will always be relevant. Generations have come and gone that knew fear, but our current one is a unique kind to be born into a constant, global state of it.

 

 

Torture and the Media

From my reading of the texts, the main conflicts arise from how torture and uncomfortable topics are handled in the media. From Ayress’ public account of her rape and torture to the archived methods of torment in Villa Grimaldi.

It’s clear that the media was not afraid to publicize these stories (although the articles are too short to fully explore this idea). I want to know more about the publication problems that were encountered. Were there oppressive censorship laws? Did journalists seek out victims or were they too afraid of the regime to bother?

Finchelsten’s chapter What is Populism in History talks about how populism governments make themselves appear to be outside the regular government, and that those who opposed to the “real” nation were the “real” bad guys. What was the journalistic opinion? Were the South American journalists targeted? Or were non-latin journalists the only ones available? Like how Ines Antunez snuck out Ayress’ memories and sought the help of foreigners.

Finally, who’s choice is it to publicize the discussions of rape? These stories do not hold back on garish details when it comes to how the prisoners were tormented, but what did they omit (if anything). It was talked about in the readings how there were potentially pornographic responses to the instances of rape. Were journalists within their right to ask about these stories if they knew they had happened? Victim’s were tortured through physical and verbal abuse regarding their sexuality, so is it ok to ask them to relive these tortures for the sake of a complete narrative?

You’re Either With Me, Or Against Me: the Death of Healthy Debate Within The Modern Era of Mass Misinformation

Every morning I like to lay in bed reading the news of the day, enjoying the peace and quiet of my apartment before begrudgingly forcing myself out of bed to face the chaos of the outside world. I usually avoid scanning over the comments on these articles as they are often a place void of healthy debate and mostly full of immature tactics such as name-calling. Recently, I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t be ignoring what these people are saying. It demonstrates how much trouble we’re really in. To my dismay, the art of the healthy debate is dead.

My pessimism is generated not only from what is being discussed in the news, but how it’s being discussed by the public. From personal experience, it seems that this kind of toxic discussion is not only present in comments on articles online but has made a home in many other parts of political discussion. It appears both ends of the political spectrum, the left and the right, are alienating themselves. This “us-versus-them” dynamic is creating an aggressive political climate that is lacking constructive debate over policy.

People assign themselves as “left or right”. Then, rigid like the roots of a tree, “plant” themselves on one side of the political fence and refuse to move (all the while cursing those on the other side). In their unwillingness to allow their world view to be challenged by obtaining information from varied sources, people have made themselves vulnerable. Many people don’t demand better policies as they only care about the party itself. Blind faith has allowed citizens to fall into the popularity trap. It doesn’t matter what the right does because it’s not left, and vice versa.

Fake News Image

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Sure, politics has always been deeply dividing as a person’s political beliefs are often a large part of who they are. And true, disagreements over major political opinions have often created friction – but this over-aggressiveness seems to be preventing actual progress and change. But why is this occurring? Has this always been a consequence of democracy? Is this a recurring cultural phenomenon that has been placed under a magnifying glass by social media – and the ability to comment, sometimes anonymously, on news articles?

In their book, Liars! Cheaters! Evildoers! – Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics, Tom de Luca and John Buell discuss the rise of malice in current American political debate. They state that the growing divide between the left and right has its roots in the 60s. The Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War ear have had a major impact on political discourse. Minority groups have been gaining a platform on the political front and are challenging the historically “conservative” way of life.

The rise of movements like Black Lives Matter, the increase in LGBTQ rights, and a more sexually free and racially diverse Western society is pushing previous boundaries. This seems to have increased fear on both sides of the political spectrum: those who fear that their way of life is being threatened, and those who believe their rights are being denied by allowing the current way of life to continue. It doesn’t help that both sides are being radicalized by one another (If you support BLM you hate white people! If you support Trump you’re a bigot!).

I believe we are reaching a boiling point as society is coming to terms with the fact that these extremes cannot coexist. This paranoia has caused aggressiveness out of desperation, and this desperation has eroded the ability to see the “other” as a fellow human with a difference of opinion and unique perspective on life.

So where do we go from here? How can we create better political discourse if now all the other side has to do is scream “fake news” when they don’t like what they read? Is it possible for people to view political matters through an impartial lens, one that isn’t clouded by race or “left” and “right”? Many people are willingly keeping themselves in a bubble consisting of only information from their end of the political spectrum – how do we pop that bubble? How do we restore the art of healthy debate in modern society? If we can dissolve the tendency to reduce each other down to simply “left” or “right” stereotypes and attempt to look at the larger mechanisms at work, we might be able to create a future that is more inclusive and eradicate the recent trend of demonizing the “other”.

Italian Populism, Two Sides of the Same Coin

The upcoming Italian election features two populist leaders who became famous through the entertainment industry. The Five Star Movement, founded by actor and comedian Beppe Grillo, is poised to make a push in the upcoming Italian election.  The party is an alternative to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. He became a prominent figure in Italian politics by running on principles such as anti-corruption and elitism but has since contradicted them after spending time as Prime Minister.  The five Star movement now carries the message of anti-politics, anti-elites and anti-corruption that the voters want.  The comparisons that can be made about the groups are palpable, although FI and Silvio Berlusconi are now political professionals.

Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi are more similar than they want to believe, Berlusconi has changed but his political rise and populist origins are eerily familiar.  Both leaders had immense fame before entering into politics which helped them build an audience that could be converted into political followers.  Berlusconi got his start working on cruise ships telling jokes and singing and now owns Italy’s three largest private T.V. networks that he uses to spread his message.  Grillo, too, is a product of the entertainment industry – a comedian, satirist and impressionist who was a frequent face on Italian national T.V.  Both men also use video formats to communicate to their constituents, Berlusconi through his T.V. networks and Grillo through his YouTube channel.  The leaders held public spotlight before entering into politics making it easier for them to amass supporters.

Italy has a long history of embracing populist style leaders who used popular media to appeal to the common man.  Inoslav Besker characterizes the two leaders’ approach as ‘populism, anti-party attitudes, demonization of opponents and an approach to the public and to politics focused on the leader.  Silvio Berlusconi started as an anti-politician and has described the politicians in Italy as to have never ‘worked’ a day in their life.  Unlike them Berlusconi has worked for his status and is thus shows himself as a worthy leader.  Grillo also despises the political class and refers to politicians as ‘zombies’ and ‘corpses’.  He would have one believe that he is not a politician and that his FSM isn’t even a political party.  They also share the similar sentiment that the political system in Italy needs to be reformed.  Grillo proposes bans on candidates convicted of crimes and limiting terms in office.  Similarly, Berlusconi, positions himself as a business man who is not at all like the politicians and that proportional representation needs to be replaced with a majoritarian system with more emphasis on the role of the Prime Minister.

Despite these anti-political origins, something changed once Berlusconi took power.  He became the very elite that he campaigned against causing him and his coalition to lose the favour of the public.  Berlusconi used his time in office to create laws that protected his own business interests instead of promoting the small business entrepreneurship of which was his platform.   The once anti-political populist who emphasised how corrupt the politicians and elites were became the embodiment of what he once despised.  By embracing the throngs of political leadership, he contradicted his original message and alienated his followers.  He created a political vacuum that afforded the opportunity for a party to propose the same anti-political message except this time he is the politician.  The upcoming election provides the perfect backdrop for an inquisitive look into the state of Italian politics, with the Five Star Movement polling so high, do they offer something new or is it the similar story of using the populist message for personal gain.

The Five Star Movement winning 25% of the votes in the 2013 election showcases a wider issue in Italy, the public’s distrust of politicians causes them to elect anti-government populists.  A positive feedback loop is created when an anti-government party is elected, they become the government causing the need for more anti-politics parties.  The Five Star Movements success means that they will become serious politicians, contradicting their platform.  After winning the election with not much of a party structure, clear leadership roles have been created and the founder has stepped down being replaced by Luigi di Maio.  Beppe Grillo once said his party was not even a party, but one look at the Five Star Movement, you can see that is changing.

By: Riley Bowman