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Feelings… Nothing More than Feelings June 7, 2010

Posted by Bill in Current Events, Politics.
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My 83-year-old dad has readily embraced email as a means of communication. He has found several old friends on the internet and regularly emails them, as well as sending bulletins to relatives and immediate family members, neighbors and just about anyone he knows. Lately he has discovered the joys of forwarding email and one of his favorite things to do is to pass along the many right-wing propaganda emails that come his way. He says he doesn’t believe half the stuff he sends on, but he thinks they are funny and wants to see who he can “piss off.” (For some reason I seldom receive any left-wing propaganda emails. I guess I just don’t have the right demographic of email buddies!)

My general practice when I receive propaganda or “Urban Legend” emails is to “snopes” them– verify them on snopes.com or factcheck.org and rebut the claim made with a Reply All email. You would think that people would be happy to receive the truth, but generally they are not. One guy told me that he has decided that the propaganda emails are actually made up by liberals in an attempt to discredit conservatives. “Blah blah blah!” another person told me. “I know all that, but I also know how I feel.” “It’s a perception people have,” my dad said. “Right or wrong, it is what they are feeling.”

He actually hit the nail on the head– people are letting their emotions form the basis for their decisions rather than the facts– and not only that, they want their leaders to do the same thing. During his presidential campaign, Michael Dukakis was sunk by his fact-based question to a hypothetical question about whether he would favor the death penalty for the killer if his wife were raped and murdered. Dukakis responded with a litany of reasons for opposing the death penalty and lost his hopes of the presidency because he had responded factually to an emotionally driven question. Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, knew very well the value of playing to people’s emotions. No matter how many facts his opponents dredged up, they couldn’t counteract his anecdotes of the welfare queen driving away from the food stamp office in a Cadillac or his story of liberating Buchenwald at the end of WW II.

These are very turbulent times. People are hurting financially. They are scared about the future, worried about terrorism and the environment, facing a future in which nothing is certain. In the face of such problems, it’s comforting to believe the emotionalism of rumors, to look for someone to blame, to look for quick and easy fixes– it’s not Americans who are responsible for the economic situation– it’s the illegals or the liberals or the crooks in office! It’s not our foreign policies that are responsible for the way other countries think about us, it’s traitors within our government, the Muslims within our borders. It’s not our financial policies that caused our current economic situation, it’s the tax and spend Democrats. This kind of thinking, however, is counterproductive to solving our problems. Name calling never solved anybody’s problems, even if it does make us feel better in the short run to call the other fellow a double doo doo head. If we want to resolve the many great issues of today, we’ve got to push beyond emotion and look at the causative factors. We’ve got to look beyond the rumors and determine the truth, and we’ve got to work together to try to resolve them.


An Increase in Whackos? September 29, 2009

Posted by Bill in barack obama, Obama, Politics.
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There’s been a lot of talk in the press about the decline of civility and about whether or not there are more whackos now than there used to be. It’s true that emotions are certainly running high in the country right now, as we saw when the nutters, who have been frothing at the mouth since Obama was elected, went off the deep end over Obama’s proposed speech to American’s school children.

I don’t know, however, that there are more whackos than there ever used to be. What I think has happened is that thanks to the internet, the world has become a much smaller place and the nutters have been able to reach out and connect with each other in ways they have never been able to before.

If you look back, there have always been people who were just a little “different.” Every neighborhood had its resident eccentric, its Boo Radley, as it were. The house your parents told you not to go to during Trick or Treat or the neighbor who kept your ball when you and your friends were careless enough to hit it over the fence into his yard.

These people were usually isolated, and because they didn’t know anyone who shared their delusions or their paranoia or their offbeat views, they were generally pretty harmless as long as they were left alone.

The internet has changed all that because now all of these people who thought they were all alone have suddenly found other people who also thought they were all alone, and they’ve discovered that they have things in common.

Suddenly they are no longer alone and they are feeding off of each other. They are sharing experiences and stories and myths and legends. Urban legends have taken on a new life with the easy spreadability afforded by email, list servs and forums. You can find absolutely everything on the net– whatever your beliefs you can find somebody, somewhere who shares them.

Now that the nutters know that there are others who feel the same way, they are finding that there is strength in numbers. In addition, they are picking up new fans as people who do not necessarily share the more extreme beliefs relate to some of the more innocuous sentiments.

Obama’s election is a testament to the power of the internet as the grass roots movement that played such a huge role in his election capitalized on the social media available on the internet to spread his message of hope.

So now all we have to do is find a way to harness the power of the internet to counteract the whackos, and relate to the complacent middle of the roaders. We know it can be done. We just have to do it again.