Litmus test for hate messages

November 15, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More

At “The Small Business Water Cooler,” St. Louis attorney Rick Massey focuses on topics that can “help ordinary people in their struggle to get ahead in a world dominated and controlled by wealthy corporations.” He is frustrated at the ubiquitous disorienting message of hate, and he proposes a simple litmus test:

Our greatest threat as we go forward is not the Mexicans that come across the border to work so they can feed their families; it is not the gays who would be quietly forming their own families and getting on with life but for the meddling of others that cannot rest as long as they are not telling someone else what he or she can and cannot do; it is not the Muslims that want to build a community center in New York; and it is not that vast crime-wave of people chemically altering their mood by smoking a plant that is infinitely less dangerous than its legal alternatives: alcohol, tobacco, and the abuse of prescription drugs.

The greatest threat we face is that we forget that we are human beings; we will all die someday, and that in the meantime we are all pretty much in the same boat. If we don’t care for one another there will ultimately be no one to care for us.

What happened to our internal system of red flags? What happened to our natural tendency to instantly question the messenger when the message is one of hate, intolerance, and blaming others for problems we can’t seem to resolve ourselves?

Rick raises a good question. Why are so many of us so willing to tolerate messages of hate, intolerance and blame? I have no definitive answer, but my prime suspect is the mass media, which seems to gather bigger audiences with us versus them conflict pornography. The rest of us watch these concocted stories and we get a warped view of the world. If everyone else is doing it, why not? Rick seems to be suggesting a litmus test that is incredibly simple: Severely question messages of hate, intolerance and blame. Really, it’s that simple.

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Category: Social justice

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Jim Razinha says:

    One particular network gives voice to intolerance under the guise of nationalism. Talk radio spews violent, hateful rhetoric and yet people that listen to it don't see anything wrong. Well, many people.

    I've been scratching my head on this matter for many years and I'm at a loss as well. Insensitivity to hate has a long history, here and in most of the places on the world. Maybe there's a gene that is left over from the "keep the band small for survival, so hate anyone you don't know" paleolithic days. Totally hypothetical, but makes me pause after reading about all these other legacy genes that serve no apparent purpose. Perhaps its own natural selection has allowed it to endure.

  2. brian says:

    I'm pretty sure that's what John Stewart was trying to say: the media collectively created this environment.

    It's *not* about one particular network. It's about *all* of them, and what they create collectively. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

  3. Michael says:

    Agreeing with Jim: My father-in-law believed that the only manageable unit of civilization was the tribe. That the farther out you got for that, the more acceptable atrocities were: you can't speak harshly to my family, but you can insult my city, and go ahead, kill as many as you want on the other side of the world.

    He pointed out that it's been this way for 75,000 years, and that only some sort of genetic change was going to change our behavior. I'd like to believe he was wrong, but all the evidence is against it.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Michael: Yes, there is no genetic solution for us, but what if the media started running like a non-profit model, more like the BBC or the best parts of NPR?

      It appears to me that it's always about genetics combined with environment. What if we were not constantly exposed to threatening images of "the other." In fact, what if we were exposed much more often to images and sounds of peaceful cooperation among the various tribes? Consider that there are other societies out there who get along much better than Americans. Think of Norwegians. You won't find meaningful differences in genetics compared to Americans in cultures that get along, but you will find societies that understand that many of America's media and culture traditions are poisonous.

      What if we better saw that many of today's tribes are overlapping in many ways – it's not longer about simple blood ties and isolated villages (think of the deep economic ties we have with the Chinese, despite the geographic, genetic and linguistic differences). And speaking of genetic, what would happen if the media started a campaign to demonstrate that we are all almost exactly the same genetically, and that we are ALL African (and most of us are Neanderthal)? What if we were constantly exposed to Donald Brown's exhaustive list of the our similarities with all other human animals? What if we focused on the commonalities of those who go to church and those who don't, rather than making bizarre cartoons of the often-minor differences? What if the media focused on people getting along rather than cranking out exaggerated threats of attack and danger everywhere. Yes, we can't escape our basic biology, but we are incredibly plastic with regard to culture. We can surround ourselves with good triggers rather than stimuli that trigger aggression and anxious tunnel-vision.

  4. Jim Razinha says:

    People getting along with each other doesn't sell air time, and even if there isn't anything "news"worthy in the same vein, they'll find a way to pervert a benign event- witness the local news teasers wrapped into network shows. 'tis a sad state which we purpose to change.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Americans seem to be incredibly desensitized by conflict to the point where it's the only thing that any longer gets their attention. In many groups, humor consists of jabbing others with criticism or making fun of them and then laughing, claiming it was all in fun. I wonder if we're seeing the effects of many decades of sitcoms, where the entire show consists of put-down/laugh/put-down/laugh/setup-for-next-putdown/laugh.

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