I must admit that I don’t understand some of the postings I get on Facebook – and I am referring to those which are filled with hatred toward Muslims, Muslims as a group and not toward an individual Muslim who might have personally offended them. This has been referred to by Rabbi Joshua Stanton as E-Islamaphobia. I think if I put on my psychologist’s hat, that many of them are driven by fear – fear of the unknown, fear of the different, or fear of a potential terrorist.
Now fear is an extremely powerful emotion, and we can see its use being spread nightly if we choose to tune in and watch the Republican nomination process. Protestors are threatened with violence or are subject to actual violence if they dare to even just show up at a Trump rally. America is no longer great, and will probably dissolve into the status of a third world country if immigrants are not removed or walls built is the rallying cry.
Research has indicated that the brain responds more quickly to the perception of something fearful than it does to something rewarding. This only makes sense from an evolutionary point of view because if we didn’t recognize potential threats very quickly we may not live long enough to reproduce. The presence of imminent threat is a far more powerful motivator than is the promise of some future reward for most people.
We are inundated with information to an extent never before experienced– and remember, information should not be confused with either truth or facts. Before Gutenberg we had hand printed bibles; today we have newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the internet, twitter, Facebook, and text messaging from the over 1.75 BILLION phones around the world. This leads to something referred to as “attention economy” – that is, there is so much information out there that in order to capture our attention people with a message will do whatever it takes to grab our interest. And frequently this “whatever it takes” are info-bits (unverified, and frequently deliberately falsified) that are designed to frighten the consumer. Whether the seller is promoting a product, a service or an ideology, fear sells – better than sex, apparently.
And Muslims are not the only things that scare us to death. The Internet is only too willing to acquaint us with all the latest hazards that we may encounter. There are the 5 foods that can kill us, artificial sweeteners that will poke holes in your brain, sexual predators lurking behind every bush, bad guys with guns who are looking to assault us, climate change which will see us fried like a chicken nugget, asteroids crashing into earth, and illegal immigrants who are going to take our jobs (those who would like to be a cab driver please raise your hand now).
Hatred and anger are, I believe, secondary emotions caused by the underlying driver – fear. Men especially, are taught at a very early age to not show that they are not afraid lest the bullying or torment to which they are subjected be continued and increased. Boys who cry after first grade are labelled sissies, or crybabies, or soft and become targets. It is acceptable, especially for men, to demonstrate their anger in public. Form a group, light the torches, arm yourself and you will be safe. Drowning Pool which has the lyric “Driven by hate, consumed by fear” (in their song “Bodies”) has it backwards I think. We are driven by fear and consumed by hate.
If we are taught that it is wrong, or cowardly, or spineless or gutless or unmanly to demonstrate fear, then we will substitute a more acceptable feeling in its place. And frequently, that acceptable feeling is anger or hatred.
So, the next time you see someone who is angry, or expressing sentiments of hatred toward a person or group, ask them, “What are you afraid of?” And perhaps more to the point, the next time you feel anger or hatred toward a group ask yourself, “what am I afraid of?”