Attention, Citizens…BOO!

McLean’s magazine has this week reached a new low in journalistic ethics. At least, Canadian journalistic ethics – I don’t think the American media has risen to this point in the last five or six years.

The article in question, the cover story for the week of July 24, is entitled “World War III”, and describes the imminent (if not ongoing) Third World War, which will spread even further across the world, likely when the West least expects itOHMYGOD, IT’S STARTED WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEDIEDIE!!!

There is a theory in social psychology that refers to ‘moral panic’. A moral panic is a mistaken belief that a particular cultural group, or set of cultural beliefs, or even a particular subculture, is dangerous, and poses a threat to the larger social structure.

The most interesting example of an inward-looking moral panic in America (and to a lesser extent in Canada) was the Satanic Panic of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Daycare centres were apparently hotbeds of satanic rituals, and there were more babies being ritually sacrificed in these suburban lairs of pure evil than had actually been born. Sooner or later, isolated voices began to pipe up: “Wait a minute – we’re not finding all these dead babies we were promised. Could it be they never existed?” The absence of evidence was recognized as not being a result of a widespread pattern of ritualistic abuse and a thorough cover-up, but a result of the events never having happened.

What we are experiencing now is a more outward-looking panic, the type that sees the alien beliefs of Muslim Arabs as dangerous. What the Maclean’s article goes to great lengths to point out is that this war (dubbed WW IV by some who regard the Cold War as WW III) is distinguished by an absence of front lines. The threat is therefore everywhere, as the attacks on New York and London illustrate – nowhere is safe, everywhere is the front line. The Home Front has become The Front.

The conceptual difficulty is that in order to maintain the aura of threat, we have to be at war with all Muslims, not just those who have radical interpretations of the Koran. The difficulty currently being experienced in Iran, Afghanistan and now in Palestine is that you can’t tell the ‘good Muslims’ from the ‘bad Muslims’, therefore it’s easier to fear them all.

Fear serves a purpose on a political level – it makes people more dependent on well-established authority, enhances the credibility of the police, the military (in theory, apparently not in practice), the clergy, the government, and, most importantly in this case, the Media. Fear sells, and it sells extremely well.

Understand that news outlets, be they magazines, newspapers, radio or television, are not doing what they do to ‘keep you informed’, or ’empower the citizenry by sharing vital information’. They are there to make a PROFIT. What you need is for something to grab people, to make them fear, but not think. To make them react emotionally rather than rationally, so this source of information is SOMETHING YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT. You don’t want to be the one who doesn’t see the next war coming, do you? Wouldn’t you be letting your family down if you were uninformed or unprepared?

The bias is always toward exploiting the fear we all experience – the fear of armed conflict, the fear of terrorism, the fear of being judged negatively because your home doesn’t glisten, even the fear of appearing unfashionable or unattractive based on a particular ‘ideal’, which outsells even the fear of death on an annual basis, I’m sure.

I’m not saying the world is an ideal, safe place right now – that would be foolish. There are threats, there is danger; for ourselves, for our children, for our planet. What I’m saying is this: think. Just take the few precious seconds you have to exercise your right as a human being to actively and soberly consider reality. Not the reality they give you, but the reality behind that reality: criminals and terrorists attack others because they have been subjugated by the global system of distribution of goods, which places the majority of wealth in the hands of a priveleged few.

That doesn’t make attacking others fair or right, but it certainly makes it predictable – poverty, lack of health care, lack of basic human dignity, it all creates the anger that leads to violence, justified in some cases by re-interpretation of religious doctrine.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes the basic needs of the human animal, and when we make the most basic of these, food and shelter (biological needs) and personal safety, difficult if not impossible to acquire, we breed desperation and anger. When there are people who want more than their share at the expense of others, you have bred self-righteousness. There are much deeper historical reasons for what is happening out there, more detailed than the 30-second sound bite can provide. Don’t buy the shallow’analysis’ the news outlets spoon-feed us. Check on Aljazeera once in a while to hear the other side – just as biased, but in the other direction. Somewhere between the translated words of the MBAs in Marketing of Maclean’s and Aljazeera is the truth, and you have always had the power to decide what that is for yourself.

Don’t give in, don’t succumb to the fear. Big Brother does love you, Big Brother will keep you safe, but Big Brother will take your humanity and your dignity in return.


13 thoughts on “Attention, Citizens…BOO!

  1. Check on Aljazeera once in a while to hear the other side

    You bet! There are also many others, for example, the Islamic Republic News Agency and the China Daily-World where one gets points of view and opinion pieces that help us contextualize what Murdoch and his ilk are feeding us.

    For French-speaking bloggers, Radio France Internationale is very good.

    I have added in my links a group that I called “World Press” where such links are easily accessible.

    I have also started this column on my blog that I shall do my utmost to update daily.

    I am focussing on Palestine and the Greater Middle East. Others could perhaps focus on other hotspots. Together, we may still beat Murdoch & gang! Just a thought!

    To any interested parties, this is an interesting place to start!

    BTW, great post!


  2. Excellent, Flash. It’s good to know that all that sociology training didn’t go for naught!

    As Greg Palast writes here, George Bush offers the following twist on FDR: “We have nothing to sell but fear itself”.


  3. The conceptual difficulty is that in order to maintain the aura of threat, we have to be at war with all Muslims, not just those who have radical interpretations of the Koran.

    No we don’t. But you need to construct this strawman in order to bravely combat the ‘fear’. This is where your conceptual difficuties begin.

    That doesn’t make attacking others fair or right, but it certainly makes it predictable – poverty, lack of health care, lack of basic human dignity, it all creates the anger that leads to violence, justified in some cases by re-interpretation of religious doctrine.

    The imperative for the adherents of Totalitarian Political Islam is religious not sociological. You’ve got it backwards. Haiti is not the source of a imperialistic religious movement.


  4. Actually, Flash, you are quite right:

    To be able to respond effectively to Islamic militancy, the U.S. must clearly understand the reasons why a small but dangerous minority of Muslims have embraced extremist ideologies and violent tactics. These movements are often rooted in legitimate grievances voiced by underrepresented and oppressed segments of the population, particularly the poor.


  5. I never read MacLeans any more. It was reasonable in the old days, but now it is a purveyor of neocon propaganda and the great old columnists like Fotheringham have been replaced with pudgy right-wing boilerplate spouting nonentities.


  6. Sean P,
    I could have been clearer about the ‘strawman’ argument, which you named more precisely than I had. Had the phrase entered my head as I was writing, I would have used it. Thanks for the clarification.

    While I would agree that the religious ideology is the symbolic source of unity, and the religious goal is primary in the minds of the leaders, I think it is particularly easy to collect followers for your cause when they have a sense of being disenfranchised and powerless. Group membership is particularly attractive, especially if you are promised power, and revenge against those who have wronged you. The leaders’ primary motivation may differ from those lower in the hierarchy. It varies, as in any organizational structure.
    Just my thoughts, I appreciate yours.


  7. I think it has to be acknowledged that not all adherents of a given religion are equally as committed – secular interests of money or power are tempting to all but the completely devout. Witness the conflict between Sunnis and Shias as the adherents of different interpretations of Islam, or the fact that only a minority of Muslims (in my view) even consider that Islam supports violent action.

    I do agree that the religious does play a much larger part on a societal level in the Arab world (to generalize, which I am loath to do), but individual variation of commitment renders the idea of a blanket homogeneity untenable.

    Having said that, religion (Christian religion, anyway) still plays an influential part in Western politics as well – I, as an atheist, certainly don’t refuse to take my Xmas holidays. That’s just one example – the debates here in Nova Scotia about the appropriateness of Sunday shopping is another.

    Thanks for the comment, and for kick-starting my brain on a Sunday morning…


  8. I feel a little bad about propogating the WWIII meme on this blog. On the other hand, what will we call it if Afghanistan/Iraq/Lebanon expands into Syria, Iran, and maybe Pakistan.

    (besides calling it The Rapture, of course)


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