The Steady Diet of Fear.
So many otherwise good people turn into hateful xenophobes when watching the news. Television and internet news is focused on fear and harm, because that’s what they think gets the advertising dollars. And they’re probably right. And then, we see people suddenly terrified of the mysterious “others”. The barbarians at the gate. And in fear, they harden their hearts.
This is why I say that it is essentially impossible to be both a Christian and a Trump supporter. Jesus and Paul speak extensively about the hardened heart and how it is anathema to goodness, and Christianity. It makes us behave inhospitably towards one another, ignoring the person in need. Hardened hearts make us cowards – quivering in fear from the brown-skinned refugee who looks like a terrorist, but is in fact simply starving and hopeless.
I know that many people don’t think that the people who fear and hate can be “otherwise good”. But I think that that misunderstands humanity. The people of the populaces where genocides and atrocities happen are not monsters. They’re just people. Just like us. And people with ordinary jobs and responsibilities will do atrocious things rather than lose their livelihoods. Rather than be encircled and regrouped with the victims rather than the perpetrators. It’s a survival instinct.
We have to fight to be good. We have to risk our lives to be good. We have to accept risks to our security and comfort. We have to embrace the unknown. We have to be willing to accept that fear is a normal response to the world, and recognize that our fear is not always rational. We have to see that our biases are instinctual and must be resisted if we are to align them with the truth.
I have it. I admit it. When I am walking alone at night, I am more afraid that a black man will mug me than I am of a similarly dressed white man. I’ve been trained to see blackness as menacing. But I have come to recognize that my fear of being mugged (perhaps rational) needs to be decoupled from my irrational biases about race. We all have racial biases. We need to consciously work to change them. So I make a point to adjust my behavior so as not to act on biased impulses that entrench injustices.
The constant diet of fear reinforces those biases. Fear of dark skin. Fear of stranger. Fear of terror. Completely out of line with reality-based risks. I have the same problem with airplanes. They are incredibly safe, but I can’t stop thinking about flames and vertigo. Because we don’t report the hundreds of thousands of safe interactions. Of smooth landings. Of peaceful refugees. We report on the one-in-a-million that goes wrong. And humans are bad at feeling statistical likelihoods.
I don’t have an answer except to say that all of us should look to see others’ humanities rather than their barbarism. When I see a white nationalist racist spouting hate, I have come to see a frightened child, terrified of the monster under the bed, unaware that it’s not real. That doesn’t make their tantrum less objectionable. But at least I can see them as human.
But understanding a thing isn’t the same as accepting it. Those ideas need to be eradicated. If possible through education. If not, through the courts, through political action. And eventually, as in World War II, if necessary, through combat. Hatred is totally unacceptable. And the fearful children who advance it need to be corrected. It’s a tall charge that will require sacrifice on the part of those standing for inclusion. It will require we face their hateful cowardice with the courage required to act on truth.
And maybe it requires changing the steady diet of fear blasted through the information channels of the modern media age. Advance the stories of goodness. Share.