● Franz Neumann, explaining the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany, argues that anxiety plays a role in people’s decisions to elect particular authoritarian leaders, which Neumann calls “Ceasars” (3). He also claims that conspiracy theories play a role: “just as the masses hope for their deliverance from distress through absolute oneness with a person, so they ascribe their distress to certain persons, who have brought this distress into the world through a conspiracy” (3). ● Tom Pyszczynski uses his “Terror Management Theory” to explain American’s reactions to the 9/11 attacks. He says that human culture generates values and world views that counteract anxiety about death by allowing us to believe in immortality, whether literal or symbolic. However, these beliefs makes us vulnerable to manipulation and cause us to be hostile towards individuals or groups that disagree with us. ● Neil Strauss explains why a contemporary person, identified as Jen Senko’s father, changed under the influence of political commentary on TV and radio. Strauss reports that, for psychological and neurological reasons, people can be manipulated into “a state of alarm” (13) because we are “prone to cognitive distortions and overreactions” (14) in response to “inflammatory rhetoric and imagery” (14).
Why, how, and under what conditions do fear and anxiety become a significant force in politics? In your analysis, discuss the theories and the examples in all three essays, and test the theories by applying them to other authors’ examples. (This is similar to how Strauss applies Pyszcynski’s ideas to Jen Senko’s father.) For example, can Terror Management Theory and psychology and neurology be used to explain the rise of Nazism before World War II? And, can Neumann’s ideas or the neurology and psychology reported on by Strauss help to reveal something about the American reaction to the 9/11 attacks? Your essay must explicitly use and refer to all three essays in the reading set. In developing your argument, incorporate ideas that support your position as well as ideas that disagree with your position. Your essay must quote and/or paraphrase and work directly with material from all the readings in this reading set. In addition, define and employ key terms that seem to be central to the arguments of your sources and, therefore, to your argument as well. Primary among these key terms are fear and anxiety. For additional key terms, see the glossary of terms at the end of the reading set. You must attribute any material that you summarize, quote, or paraphrase to its source (using the page numbers of the reading set for quotations and paraphrases). Your own ideas and thinking are necessary and important. However, you should base your essay on the information contained in the set of readings, not on your own life experience, on outside readings (including the internet), or on courses you have taken. You may only receive assistance with writing your paper from employees of UMass Boston—not from friends, relatives, or outside tutors. Plagiarism in a portfolio, whether it is in the new essay or in one of the supporting essays, will be treated in the manner as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct, which can be downloaded in PDF form at:
Your portfolio must contain an essay that is at least five full pages (double spaced in 10 or 12 point type) that answers the question above; at least 15 pages of supporting papers, each one attached to a completed Certification Form; and a completed Portfolio Submission Form. The exception to the 15-page supporting-paper requirement only applies to new transfer students who have not yet completed their second semester. Review details on our website, http://www.umb.edu/wpe
University of Massachusetts at Boston Colleges of Education and Human Development, Honors, Liberal Arts, Nursing and Health Sciences, Global Inclusion and Social Development, School for the Environment, Advancing and Professional Studies, and Science and Mathematics Writing Proficiency Evaluation (WPE) October 2019 WPE Portfolio: Fear and Anxiety in Politics To be submitted on Friday, October 18, 9 AM-4:00 PM In the Writing Proficiency Office, CC-1-1300 Table of Contents 1. Neumann, Franz L. “Anxiety and Politics.” TripleC. 15(2): 612-636, 2017. First published in The Democratic and the Authoritarian State: Essays in Political and Legal Theory, by Franz Neumann; edited and with a preface by Herbert Marcuse. New York: Free Press, 1957; republished 1964. First delivered as a lecture in 1954, titled “Angst und Politik” when Neumann was awarded an honorary degree at the Free University, Berlin. 2. Pyszczynski, Tom. “What Are We So Afraid Of? A Terror Management Theory Perspective on the Politics of Fear.” Social Research, Vol. 71, No. 4, Fear: Its Political Uses & Abuses (Winter 2004), pp. 827-848. Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 3. Strauss, Neil. “Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear.” Rolling Stone, October 6, 2016. Web. An alphabetical glossary of terms appears at the end of the reading set. Articles reprinted with permission Notes: It is essential that you include in your essay specific references to all the required essays. You must attribute any material that you summarize, quote, or paraphrase to its source (using the page numbers of the reading set for quotations and paraphrases). Your own ideas and thinking are necessary and important. However, you should base your essay on the information contained in the set of readings, not on your own life experience, on outside readings (including the internet), or on courses you have taken. You may only receive assistance with writing your paper from employees of UMass Boston—not from friends, relatives, or outside tutors. Plagiarism in a portfolio, whether it is in the new essay or in one of the supporting essays, will be treated in the manner as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct, which can be downloaded in PDF form at: https://www.umb.edu/life_on_campus/policies/community/code. The consequences of violating these policies are serious and may include suspension or expulsion. Your portfolio must contain an essay that is at least five full pages (double spaced in 10 or 12 point type) that answers the question above; at least 15 pages of supporting papers, each one attached to a completed Certification Form; and a completed Portfolio Submission Form. The exception to the 15-page supporting-paper requirement only applies to new transfer students who have not yet completed their second semester. Review details on our website, http://www.umb.edu/wpe October 2019 Portfolio S October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 1 of 18 Anxiety and Politics Franz L. Neumann1 On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. But with the end of the Second World War anxiety has not disappeared from the world. On the contrary, it has become even greater and more frightful; it has begun to paralyze nations and to make men incapable of free decisions. Anxiety is, or ought to be, a central problem of the sciences. Anxiety impairs the freedom of decision, indeed it may make such freedom impossible—only a fearless man2 can decide freely. The discussion of the problem of anxiety should be open to all the disciplines, not reserved to any one of them, for the great concern of science is the analysis and application of the concept of human freedom. My task today is to discuss the problem of anxiety in politics. […] The following propositions seem to me more or less acceptable. One must distinguish between true anxiety and neurotic anxiety. The difference is of considerable consequence especially for the understanding of the political importance of anxiety. The first, true anxiety—thus appears as a reaction to concrete danger situations; the second—neurotic anxiety—is produced by the ego3 , in order to avoid in advance even the remotest threat of danger. True anxiety is thus produced through the threat of an external object; neurotic anxiety, which may have a real basis, on the other hand is produced from within. […] [A]nxiety, feelings of guilt, and the need for self-punishment are responses to internal threats to basic instinctual demands so that anxiety exists as a permanent condition. The external dangers which threaten a man meet the inner anxiety and are thus frequently experienced as even more dangerous than they really are. At the same time, these same external dangers intensify the inner anxiety. […] [S]everal important consequences for the analysis of political behavior seem to follow immediately. Anxiety can play very different roles in the life of men; that is, the activation of a state of anxiety through a danger can have a beneficial as well as destructive effect. We may perhaps distinguish three different consequences: (a) Anxiety can play a warning role, a kind of mentor role, for man. Affective anxiety may allow a presentiment of external dangers. Thus anxiety also contains a protective function. For it permits man to take precautions in order to ward off the danger. (b) Anxiety can have a destructive effect, especially when the neurotic element is strongly present; that is, it can make man incapable of collecting himself either to escape the danger or to fight against it; it can paralyze man and degenerate into a panicky anxiety. 1 Franz Leopold Neumann (1900-1954) was a German political theorist who was forced to flee Germany in 1933. By 1936 he became a member of the Institute of Social Research that was then in exile in the USA. In 1942, he started working for the Office of Strategic Service, a precursor to the CIA, and served as a consultant for the Nuremburg Trials. 2 Neumann uses the masculine singular “man” and “he” to refer to all people. This is an out-of-date writing convention that is no longer considered correct. 3 Neumann makes use of Freudian theory here. The ego, according to Freud, is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. It ensures that our primitive and instinctual impulses can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. (Source: verywellmind.com) October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 2 of 18 (c) Finally, anxiety can have a cathartic4 effect; man can be strengthened inwardly when he has successfully avoided a danger or when he has prevailed against it. One may perhaps even say (although I cannot prove this) that the man who has conquered anxiety in coming to terms with a danger, may be more capable of making decisions in freedom than the one who never had to seriously wrestle with a danger. This may be an important qualification of the proposition that anxiety can make free decision impossible. […] Anxiety and Identification5 How does it happen that masses sell their souls to leaders and follow them blindly? On what does the power of attraction of leaders over masses rest? What are the historical situations in which this identification of leader and masses is successful, and what view of history do the men have who accept leaders? Thus the question concerning the essence of the identification of masses and a leader stands in the center of group-psychological analysis. […] The extraordinary difficulty in the comprehension of grouppsychological phenomena lies first of all in our own prejudices; for the experiences of the last decades have instilled in us all more or less strong prejudices against the masses, and we associate with “masses” the epithet “mob,” a group of men who are capable of every atrocity. In fact the science of group psychology began with this aristocratic prejudice […]. Man in the mass descends; he is, as it were, hypnotized by the leader (operateur) and in this condition is capable of committing acts which he would never commit as an individual. As the slave of unconscious […] sentiments, man in the mass is degraded into a barbarian: “Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian—that is, a creature acting by instinct. He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings” (Le Bon). […] As is frequently true in social-psychological studies, the descriptions of psychological states are adequate, the theoretical analyses, the answers to “Why?” are inadequate. From the outset, Freud sees the problem in the way in which we have put it, namely, as that of the identification of masses with a leader—an identification which becomes of decisive significance particularly in an anxiety situation. […] Thus I would like to establish two fundamental types of identification: [affective and nonaffective6 ]. […] Nonaffective loyalty is transferable; personal loyalty, on the other hand, is not. The former always contains strong rationalist elements, elements of calculability between organization and individual, and thus prevents the total extinction of the ego. But I believe that one must also distinguish two types within affective identification. One may call them co-operative and caesaristic7 . It is conceivable (and it has probably happened in short periods in history) that many equals identify themselves cooperatively with one another in such a manner that their egos are merged in the collective ego. But this co-operative form is rare, limited to short periods or in any case operative only for small groups. The decisive affective identification is that of masses with leaders. It is […] built upon a nearly total ego-shrinkage. It is the form which is of decisive significance for us. We call it caesaristic identification.8 4According to Freud, a catharsis is an emotional release that is linked to a need to relieve unconscious conflicts (verywellmind.com). 5 According to Freud, identification is an unconscious mental process by which someone makes part of their personality conform to the personality of another, who serves as a model. For example, hero worship is a kind of identification. 6 “Affective” involves moods, feelings, and attitudes; “non-affective” doesn’t involve moods, feelings, and attitude. 7 Caesarism is a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.) Based on the political philosophy of Julius Caesar. 8 Caesaristic identification—When a person identifies with a dictator (such as Hitler). October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 3 of 18 Caesaristic Identification and False Concreteness: The Conspiracy Theory in History Caesaristic identifications may play a role in history when the situation of masses is objectively endangered, when the masses are incapable of understanding the historical process, and when the anxiety activated by the danger becomes [aggressive] anxiety through manipulation. From this follows, first of all, that not every situation dangerous to the masses must lead to a caesaristic movement; it follows, further, that not every mass movement is based on anxiety, and thus not every mass movement need be caesaristic. Thus it is a question of determining the historical conditions in which a […] mass movement under a Caesar9 tries to win political power. However, before we describe these historical situations, I may perhaps point to a clue which will frequently permit us an early diagnosis of the […] character of such a mass movement. This clue is the view of history which the masses and the leaders employ. It may be called the conspiracy theory of history10, a theory of history characterized by a false concreteness11. The connection between caesarism and this view of history is quite evident. Just as the masses-hope-for-their deliverance from distress through absolute oneness with a person, so they ascribe their distress to certain persons, who have brought this distress into the world through a conspiracy. The historical process is personified in this manner. Hatred, resentment, dread, created by great upheavals, are concentrated on certain persons who are denounced as devilish conspirators. […] It is a false concreteness and therefore an especially dangerous view of history. Indeed, the danger consists in the fact that this view of history is never completely false, but always contains a kernel of truth and, indeed, must contain it, if it is to have a convincing effect. […] It is my thesis that wherever affective (i.e., caesaristic) leader-identifications occur in politics, masses and leader have this view of history: that the distress which has befallen the masses has been brought about exclusively by a conspiracy of certain persons or groups against the people. With this view of history, true anxiety, which had been produced by war, want, hunger, anarchy, is to be transformed into neurotic anxiety and is to be overcome by means of identification with the leaderdemagogue, […] to the advantage of the leader and his clique, whose true interests do not necessarily have to correspond to those of the masses. Of course, I cannot provide conclusive proof, but I believe that by pointing to certain historical events I can make clear the connection between this view of history and caesarism. […] The existence of a total antisemitism can perhaps be better understood if we start from the Policy of National Socialism [Nazism] and seek to understand the role of antisemitism within the political system. I can sketch the problem only in its broadest outlines. Germany of 1930–33 was the land of alienations and anxiety. The facts are familiar: defeat, a tame, unfinished revolution, inflation, depression, nonidentification with the existing political parties, non-functioning of the political system–all these are symptoms of moral, social, and political homelessness. The inability to understand why man should be so hard pressed stimulated anxiety which was made into nearly neurotic anxiety by the National Socialist 9 Caesar – A dictator. 10 Conspiracy theory of history – the idea that key developments in history are brought about by people who work together in secrecy to cause them to happen. 11 False concreteness is a logical fallacy that treats an abstraction (an abstract belief or hypothetical construct) as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. For example, the “war on poverty” is not a literal war. Someone who behaves as if it is a war (such as by sending in soldiers to shoot people) would be suffering from false concreteness. October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 4 of 18 [Nazi] policy of terror and its propaganda of antisemitism. The goal of National Socialism was clear: the welding together of the people with the charismatic leader, for the purpose of the conquest of Europe and perhaps of the world, and the creation of a racial hegemony of the Germans over all other peoples. But how was the people to be integrated, despite all cleavages of class, party, religion? Only through hatred of an enemy. But how could one settle on the enemy? It could not be Bolshevism12, because it was too strong; the Catholic Church could not be so designated because it was needed politically and loyalties to it were anchored too securely. The Jews remained. They appeared in the public consciousness as powerful, but were in reality weak. They were relative strangers, and at the same time the concrete symbols of a so-called parasitical capitalism, through their position in commerce and finance; they incarnated a supposedly decadent morality through their avant garde position in art and literature; they seemed to be the successful competitors sexually and professionally. With all this the thesis of the Jewish conspiracy had the element of truth necessary to permit this view of history to become a frightful weapon. It would be mistaken to want to construe a connection between the socio-economic status of a person and his antisemitism; that is, to claim that the academically educated person is more immune than the uneducated, or the poorly paid more immune than the better paid. What is correct, however, is that there exists a connection between loss of social status and antisemitism. The fear of social degradation thus creates for itself “a target for the discharge of the resentments arising from damaged self-esteem”. This leads us to the analysis of the historical situations in which anxiety grips the masses. Situations of Collective Anxiety, Identification, Guilt We have distinguished three strata of alienation. The psychological stratum remains no matter what social institutions man lives in. It creates potential anxiety which man in the mass attempts to overcome through ego-surrender13. This affective identification with a leader is facilitated by the notion of false concreteness, the theory of conspiracy. But so far we have not yet said when such […] mass movements are activated; that is, when potential anxiety can be activated in such a manner that it can become a cruel weapon in the hands of irresponsible leaders. In order to get at this problem we must take into account the two other strata of alienations: the social and political. Alienation of labor: it is the separation of labor from the product of labor through hierarchal division of labor which characterizes modern industrial society. Probably no one doubts that the division of labor as well as the hierarchical organization of labor have shown a steady rise since the industrial revolution of the 18th century. German romantic psychology of labor calls this the “de-spiritualization of labor” (Entseelung der Arbeit). […] While the so-called new middle class does labor which—to remain with the language of German psychology of labor—is “more de-spiritualized” than that of the industrial worker, and although his average income probably lies below that of the industrial worker, he yet holds fast to his middle class ideology and customs. Thus he refuses to take account of the inevitability of the process and—as in Germany before 1933—becomes the social stratum most susceptible to Caesarism. […] Behind the mask of competition, which must not necessarily have destructive effects if it rationally organizes society, there hide in fact relations of dependence. To be successful in present-day society, it is 12 Bolshevism – the communist form of government adopted in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.(Source: Google) 13 When a person surrenders their ego, they give up their decision-making capacity to another (such as to Hitler). October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 5 of 18 much more important to stand in well with the powerful than to preserve oneself through one’s own strength. Modern man knows this. It is precisely the impotence of the individual who has to accommodate himself to the technological apparatus which is destructive and anxiety-creating. But even where genuine competition is effective, no effort will help if crises ruin the merchant. The inability to understand the process of crises, and the frequent need to ascribe blame for them to sinister powers, is an additional factor in the destruction of ego. This psychological process operated in the so-called “old middle class” of Germany before 1933. But—to repeat—it is hard to see why fair competition must have destructive functions. In every society that is composed of antagonistic groups there is an ascent and descent of groups. It is my contention that persecutory anxiety […] is produced when a group is threatened in its prestige, income, or even its existence: i.e., when it declines and does not understand the historical process, or is prevented from understanding it. […] Social alienation, i.e., the fear of social degradation, is not adequate by itself. The elements of political alienation must be added. […] As a rule one is satisfied (above all, in the American literature) with defining abstention from voting at elections as political apathy. But I have pointed out elsewhere that the word “apathy” describes three different political reactions: first, the lack of interest in politics, say the opinion that politics is not the business of the citizen because it is after all only a struggle between small cliques and that therefore fundamentally nothing ever changes; then, the Epicurean attitude toward politics, the view that politics and state only have to supply the element of order within which man devotes himself to his perfection, so that forms of state and of government appear as secondary matters; and finally, as the third reaction, the conscious rejection of the whole political system which expresses itself as apathy because the individual sees no possibility of changing anything in the system through his efforts. Political life can, for example, be exhausted in the competition of political parties which are purely machines without mass participation, but which monopolize politics to such an extent that a new party cannot make its way within the valid rules of the game. This third form of apathy forms the core of what I characterize as political alienation. Usually this apathy, if it operates within social alienation, leads to the partial paralysis of the state and opens the way to a caesarist movement which, scorning the rules of the game, utilizes the inability of the citizen to make individual decisions and compensates for the loss of ego with identification with a Caesar. The caesaristic movement is compelled not only to activate but to institutionalize anxiety. The institutionalization of anxiety is necessary because the caesaristic movement can never endure a long wait for power. This is precisely what follows from its affective basis. While the non-affective mass organization, such as a normal political party, can exist for a long time without disintegrating, the Caesarist movement must hurry precisely because of the instability of the cement [i.e, the emotions] that holds it together […]. After it has come to power it faces the need of institutionalizing anxiety as a means of preventing the extinction of its affective base by its bureaucratic structure. The techniques are familiar: propaganda and terror […]. It must, however, not be overlooked— and our introductory remarks about alienation and anxiety had no other meaning— that every political system is based on anxiety. […] Summary It is time to summarize the results of my analysis: 1. Psychological alienation—the alienation of the ego from the instinctual structure, or the renunciation of instinctual gratifications—is inherent in every historical society. It grows with the growth of modern industrial Society, and produces anxiety. Anxiety can be protective, destructive, or cathartic. October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 6 of 18 2. Neurotic, persecutory anxiety can lead to ego-surrender in the mass through affective identification with a leader. […] 3. An important clue […] is the notion of false concreteness, the conspiracy theory of history. Its peculiar danger lies in the kernel of truth that is contained in this view of history. 4. The intensification of anxiety into persecutory anxiety is successful when a group (class, religion, race) is threatened by loss of status, without understanding the process which leads to its degradation. 5. Generally, this leads to political alienation, i.e., the conscious rejection of the rules of the game of a political system. 6. The […] mass movement, once it has come to power must, in order to maintain the leaderidentification, institutionalize anxiety. The three methods are: terror, propaganda, and, for the followers of the leader, the crime committed in common. It is my contention that the world has become more susceptible to the growth of […] mass movements. […] Hence there remains for us as citizens of the university and of the state the dual offensive on anxiety and for liberty: that of education and that of politics. Politics, again, should be a dual thing for us: the penetration of the subject matter of our academic discipline with the problems of politics–naturally not day-to-day politics— and the taking of positions on political questions. If we are serious about the humanization of politics; if we wish to prevent a demagogue from using anxiety and apathy, then we—as teachers and students—must not be silent, we must suppress our arrogance, inertia, and our revulsion from the alleged dirt of day-to-day politics. We must speak and write. […] Only through our own responsible educational and political activity can the words of idealism become history. What Are We So Afraid Of? A Terror Management Theory Perspective on the Politics of Fear By Tom Pyszczynski14 Fear and anxiety are two of the most intolerable emotions we humans are capable of experiencing. People will do almost anything to avoid being afraid. When, despite their best efforts, these feelings do break through, people go to incredible lengths to shut them down. Ever since Freud’s seminal theorizing, psychologists have been fascinated with the role that fear and anxiety play in both normal everyday behavior and serious individual and social pathologies. This article will focus on a theory, and the very large body of research that supports it, that suggests that fear and anxiety are inherent aspects of the human condition. But although all animals—including humans—experience fear when they are faced with clear and present dangers to their survival, only humans experience anxiety, a more diffuse form of fear in which it is not always obvious just what it is we are afraid of. It is becoming increasingly clear that this core anxiety inherent in the human condition plays a role in just about everything we do. 14 Pyszczynski is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado. His research is focused primarily on Terror Management Theory, which he developed with his colleagues Jeff Greenberg and Sheldon Solomon. Terror management theory is concerned with the role of self-esteem and cultural belief systems in providing protection against core human fears, especially the fear of death. He has also conducted research on how people fool themselves into believing that their biased views follow logically from the available facts and on the role of self-regulatory processes in depression and other psychological disorders. October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 7 of 18 I am not suggesting that anxiety is the only psychological process that needs to be understood if we want to understand why people do the things they do. But a complete and well-rounded understanding of the human condition requires that we comprehend the roots of this anxiety and how it affects us in ways that we have no way of becoming aware of through simple introspection. Because the source of this anxiety is usually obscure, kept hidden from our awareness, it is extremely difficult to control its effects. This lack of awareness of the source of our fear and our resulting inability to introspectively15 observe the way it affects us make it an effective a force with which politicians, religious leaders, and just about everyone else can manipulate us. TERROR MANAGEMENT THEORY (TMT) TMT [Terror Management Theory] starts with a consideration of how human beings are both similar to, and different from, all other animals. We start with the assumption that, like all other animals, humans are born with a very basic evolved proclivity to stay alive and that fear, and all the biological structures of the brain that produce it, evolved, at least initially, to keep the animal alive. This, of course, is highly adaptive, in that it facilitates survival, and an animal that does not stay alive very long has little chances of reproducing and passing on its genes. But as our species evolved, it developed a wide range of other adaptations that helped us survive and reproduce, the most important being a set of highly sophisticated intellectual abilities that enable us to: a) think and communicate with symbols, which of course is the basis for language, b) project ourselves in time and imagine a future including events that have never happened before, and c) reflect back on ourselves, and take ourselves as an object of our own attention-self-awareness. These are all very adaptive abilities that play central roles in the system through which humans regulate their behavior—usually referred to as the self .These abilities made it possible for us to survive and prosper in a far wider range of environments than any other animal has ever done, and accomplish all that we humans have done that no other species ever has been capable of doing. However, these unique intellectual abilities also created a major problem: they made us aware that, although we are biologically programmed to stay alive and avoid things that would cut our life short, the one absolute certainty in life is that we must die. We are also forced to realize that death can come at any time for any number of reasons, none of which are particularly pleasant—a predator, natural disaster, another hostile human, and an incredible range of diseases and natural processes, ranging from heart attacks and cancer to AIDS. If we are “lucky” we realize that our bodies will just wear out and we will slowly fade away as we gradually lose our most basic functions. Not a very pretty picture. TMT posits that this clash of a core desire for life with awareness of the inevitability of death created the potential for paralyzing terror. Although all animals experience fear in the face of clear and present dangers to their survival, only humans know what it is that they are afraid of, and that ultimately there is no escape from this ghastly reality. […] So humankind used their newly emerging intellectual abilities to manage the potential for terror that these abilities produced by calling the understandings of reality that were emerging as a result of these abilities into service as a way of controlling their anxieties. The potential for terror put a “press” on emerging explanations for reality, what we refer to as cultural worldviews16 , such that any belief system that was to survive and be accepted by the masses needed to manage this potential for anxiety that was inherent in the recently evolved human condition. 15 Introspection is the process of looking into oneself. 16 Worldviews are the shared values and assumptions on which rest the customs, norms, and institutions of any particular society. For example, “you may think that it is possible to have complete certainty about some knowledge or that it is presumptuous — even dangerous — to claim certainty about anything of consequence” (Ken Funk, Oregon State University). This belief would be an important part of your worldview. October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 8 of 18 Cultural worldviews manage existential terror17 by providing a meaningful, orderly, and comforting conception of the world that helps us come to grips with the problem of death. Cultural worldviews provide a meaningful explanation of life and our place in the cosmos; a set of standards for what is valuable behavior, good and evil, that give us the potential of acquiring self-esteem, the sense that we are valuable, important, and significant contributors to this meaningful reality; and the hope of transcending death and attaining immortality in either a literal or symbolic sense. Literal immortality refer to those aspects of the cultural worldview that promise that death is not the end of existence, that some part of us will live on, perhaps in an ethereal heaven, through reincarnation, a merger of our consciousness with God and all others, or the attainment of enlightenment-beliefs in literal immortality are nearly universal, with the specifics varying widely from culture to culture. Cultures also provide us with the hope of attaining symbolic immortality, by being part of something larger, more significant, and more enduring than ourselves, such as our families, nations, ethnic groups, professions, and the like. Because these entities will continue to exist long after our deaths, we attain symbolic immortality by being valued parts of them. Because the beliefs and values that make up our cultural worldviews are abstract linguistic constructions, and because there are a virtually infinite number of possible cultural worldviews, our faith in them, and thus their effectiveness in managing anxiety, depends heavily on consensual validation18 from others. When others view the world or ourselves in the same way that we do, it suggests that our view is right. […] [W]e need other people to agree with our worldviews and selfconcepts in order to maintain faith in them. A long line of research in social psychology supports the important role played by such consensual validation. But again there is a rub: when we encounter others who view the world or ourselves in ways that are different from our own views, this threatens our faith in these constructions and undermines their effectiveness as buffers against existential anxiety. As a result, we need to avoid such disagreements at all cost, and when we do encounter them, we need to put these people down to minimize the threat posed by their differing views of reality. Throughout history, people have put down those with different worldviews by viewing them as ignorant savages, by converting them to their own worldviews […] and, if all else fails, by simply annihilating those who have different beliefs about the nature of reality. What better way to show that our God is better than their God? If we simply exterminate those who are different, the threat the deviant others pose neatly evaporates. To summarize, TMT posits that the juxtaposition of a desire for life with awareness of the inevitability of death gives rise to the potential for paralyzing terror, which is managed by a dual-component cultural anxiety buffer. This consists of a cultural worldview that imposes order, meaning, and permanence on existence, and self-esteem, which enables us to view ourselves as important contributors to this meaningful and eternal reality. The effectiveness of both cultural worldviews and self-esteem depends heavily on consensual validation from others, and those with different beliefs, values, and perceptions undermine this effectiveness, thus leaving us vulnerable to the core anxiety that is inherent in the human condition. Cultural worldviews and self-esteem are thus vitally important for relatively anxiety-free living, and people go to incredible lengths to maintain and defend them, because of the protection from existential anxiety that they provide. EMPIRICAL SUPPORT To date there have been more than 250 experiments that provide support for various aspects of TMT. […] 17 Existential terror. The fear we feel when considering our future non-existence. 18 Consenual Validation refers to the agreement of two or more perspectives on reality. This is when two or more separate individuals agree on observed events. For instance, when police investigate a car accident they speak to as many witnesses as they can to understand the series of events involved. This investigative process tries to find the elements that the witnesses agree about. (Source: alleydog.com) October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 9 of 18 Most of the most important evidence concerning TMT can be summarized as supporting the following four converging hypotheses: 1) Increasing self-esteem or faith in one’s CWV [cultural worldview] makes people less prone to anxiety, anxiety-related behavior, and less likely to have death-related thoughts come close to consciousness. […] 2) Reminding people of the inevitability of death leads to a broad range of attempts to maintain faith in their worldviews and self-esteem and defend them against threats. […] 3) Increasing people’s self-esteem reduces or eliminates the effects of mortality salience [see footnote] on their self-esteem striving and clinging to their cultural worldviews. […] 4) Convincing evidence of the existence of some form of an afterlife reduces the effects of mortality salience19 on self-esteem striving and worldview defense. […] DISTINCT PROCESS FOR COPING WITH CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS DEATH CONCERNS One thing that has become very clear from our studies of the effects of thinking about death is that the problem of death affects us in very different ways, depending on whether we are consciously thinking of it or whether it is on the fringes of consciousness—what cognitive psychologists would refer to as highly accessible but outside of current focal attention. The clinging to the worldview and pursuit of self-esteem that the studies described earlier document occur when thoughts of death are on the fringes of consciousness—shortly after being reminded of the problem of death and after a distraction; or when death-related words or symbols are presented subliminally, so that people are not aware of them. What is interesting and important to realize about the pursuit of self-esteem and faith in our worldviews is that these defenses bear no logical or semantic relation to the problem of death—what does being a good American have to do with the fact that I am going to die someday? In a logical sense, absolutely nothing, but we are socialized early in life to use meaning and self-esteem as ways of protecting ourselves from our fears and anxieties. On the other hand, when people are consciously thinking about death, they cope in very different ways that do have a logical connection to death. These defenses seem to make sense. We either distract ourselves from the problem of death, by switching the topic or turning up the radio as we drive by an accident scene, or try to convince ourselves that death is a problem for the distant future. We remind ourselves that our grandmother lived to be, that we do not smoke, or we promise to get more exercise, start taking that medicine our doctor has been pushing, or get on the latest fad diet. The point here is that because it is highly accessible but unconscious thoughts of death that promote clinging to our worldviews or self-esteem, it is difficult if not impossible to observe this in ourselves. But the empirical evidence is really very clear now. So let us turn to a consideration of how this core human fear of death affects us in ways that politicians and other leaders can manipulate. DEATH AND NATIONALISM One of our earliest and most widely replicated findings is that reminders of death increase nationalism and other forms of group identification, making people more accepting of those who are similar to themselves and more hostile toward those who are different. For example, in a very early study we found that reminding people of death led them to react more positively toward a person who praised America and more negatively toward a person who criticized America. […] THE AFTERMATH OF 9/11 The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were without doubt one of the most fear-inducing events to ever occur on American soil. In the days and weeks after the attack, it became increasing clear that TMT might have a lot to tell us, both about why Americans 19 Mortality salience is the awareness by an individual that his or her death is inevitable. October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 10 of 18 reacted the way they did to the attacks and what might be motivating those responsible. We addressed these issues in the book In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. This section provides a brief overview of our analysis of the motivational forces that 9/11 set in motion among Americans and describes some recent research that supports the validity of this analysis. The central thesis of our analysis is that the 9/11 terrorist attacks also were an attack on Americans’ psychological equanimity. The bombings themselves were a dramatic reminder of our vulnerability and mortality, and the repeated televised depictions of the planes crashing into the trade center towers, imagining what the thousands of victims trapped inside the building must have experienced, the video footage of people leaping from the building to their deaths, the plume of smoke and the horrified survivors, and the heart-wrenching testimony from the victims’ loved ones all forced us to confront the reality of death and the fact that this could happen to any of us, at any time, almost anywhere. In addition, the attacks on the World Trade Center, a major symbol of American economic power, and on the Pentagon, a major symbol of American military might, and the aborted attack on the White House, the seat of American government, struck to the heart of American culture and shattered the myth that such events simply “can’t happen here.” They also served us with a powerful reminder that there are many people in the world who hate Americans and the American way of life. That the perpetrators of the attack committed these acts of violence as retribution for a myriad of complaints against American foreign policy and the American way of life, and that they did this in the name of their god, made the threat to our cultural anxiety-buffer all the more devastating. Support for the point that the terrorist attacks brought thoughts of death closer to consciousness was provided by a study in which participants were subliminally presented with the letters WTC (for World Trade Center), the numbers 911, or a neutral string of three digits. The subliminal WTC and 911 primes led to a significant increase in the accessibility of death-related thoughts on a wordstem completion task. Another study demonstrated that self-esteem moderated how the attacks influenced the accessibility of death-related thoughts in the month after the attack. Whereas high self-esteem individuals showed high levels of death thought accessibility in the week after the attack, this dropped and remained low two, three, and four weeks after the attack. Low self-esteem individuals, however, who would be expected to be less well-protected against existential fear, showed high levels of death thought accessibility one week after the attack that dropped the second week but then dramatically increased both the third and fourth week after the attack. TMT posits that a lack of self-esteem makes one vulnerable to existential fear, and although low self-esteem individuals seemed to actively suppress death-related thoughts shortly after the attack, this suppression seems to have been lifted so that very high levels of death access were observed for up to a month after the attack. This dramatic reminder of our vulnerability and mortality, coupled with the hateful attack on American culture, left us reeling. The parallels between what we have found in our laboratory studies among people reminded of death whose cultural anxiety buffer20 is threatened and what was observed on a mass scale throughout the United States and much of the world were startling. Very briefly, Americans responded with greatly heightened anxiety and efforts to protect themselves (as found in studies of reactions to conscious thoughts of death). But more dramatically, Americans also behaved in ways reflective of the more symbolic terror management defenses of clinging to one’s worldview and shoring up one’s self-esteem. Increased nationalism. Patriotic sentiment and support for the current government was at an all-time high; shortly after the attack, approval ratings for President George W. Bush hovered between 90 and 20 Explained on the previous page: a cultural anxiety buffer “consists of a cultural worldview that imposes order, meaning, and permanence on existence, and self-esteem, which enables us to view ourselves as important contributors to this meaningful and eternal reality.” October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 11 of 18 95 percent. Flags, t-shirts with patriotic slogans, and American symbols of all kinds virtually flew out of the stores. Patriotic songs were sung by major pop stars between innings of the World Series, and massive religious commemorations, political rallies, and rock concerts were hastily organized to celebrate America. This of course is highly reminiscent of research showing that mortality salience increases nationalistic21 tendencies. Intolerance for dissent. Another commonly observed result was the anger and hostility with which those who questioned our government’s response to the attacks were greeted. Bill Maher’s firing from his popular TV show, Politically Incorrect, for making a joke about the attack, was one of several highprofile hostile reactions to those who disagreed with government policy. The oft-parodied question, “Why do you hate America?” was directed at many who raised questions or were reserved in their displays of patriotism. This of course is similar to the many lab studies showing that M[ortality] S[alience] leads to especially hostile reactions to those who question one’s beliefs. Hostility toward those who are different. Another unfortunate reaction to the attacks was violence and hate crimes directed toward Arabs and others with darker than average skin. In Arizona, a Sikh Indian wearing a turban was shot the day after the terrorist attacks, and throughout the country acts of violence against Mexican-Americans, Native-Americans, and those of Middle Eastern descent increased, as did attacks on mosques and other symbols of Islamic culture. Thankfully this increase in anti-Arab violence was not as great as many predicted, but many people from that part of the world felt the hostility and suspicion from their fellow Americans and, to a somewhat lesser extent, continue to do so to this day. Desire for vengeance. One of the most prominent reactions was a desire for vengeance. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Americans support the idea that those responsible should be brought to justice. A majority also supported military action against those less directly involved, like the Taliban, and even against those without any clear tie to the terrorist attacks but who represent an Islamic worldview that has come to be closely associated with the attack, such as Saddam Hussein and the people of Iraq. Of course it should be pointed out that only a small proportion of Muslims actively support terrorist violence. Perhaps not surprisingly, our studies suggest that the desire for vengeance depends on one’s level of identification with mainstream American culture. […] A need for heroes. In the days after the attacks, Americans went to great lengths to show their appreciation and respect for police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and others who serve and protect us. This is similar to the finding that M[ortality] S[alience] increases attraction toward those who exemplify cultural values, act benevolently, or risk their own well-being to help others. A desire to help. Another more hopeful set of responses to the attacks was a widespread desire to do whatever could be done to help. Many stood in line for hours to give blood; sadly, the dearth of survivors made this less useful than most of us had hoped it would be. Donations to police, fire, and other 9/11-related charities went up dramatically. Lou Penner and associates found that charitable contributions of all types, whether or not the charity was related to the bombings, increased in the months immediately after the attacks, but gradually tapered off to normal levels by the end of the year. This is similar to studies that have shown that reminders of one’s mortality increase the tendency to help, especially those charities that benefit one’s own group. Interestingly, a recent study in Iran showed that MS increased the tendency of children to donate money to a beggar. These and other findings provide our first evidence that similar processes operate within the Islamic world. 21 Nationalistic: having or expressing strong identification with one’s own nation and vigorous support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. (google.com) October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 12 of 18 In sum, many dramatic parallels exist between how Americans reacted to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and what research has shown to happen when people are reminded of their mortality and faced with a threat to their cultural worldview. […] TMT AND POLITICAL PREFERENCES Many studies have shown that reminders of mortality increase one’s tendency to like and support those who share one’s political orientation and to dislike and even act violently toward those with different political views. […] FEAR VERSUS FREEDOM In an address to the nation shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush characterized the current conflict as an epic battle of fear versus freedom. This was particularly striking to us because we were just in the process of finishing a paper arguing that one of the major effects of existential fear22 is that it interferes with our ability to change, grow, and develop. A long tradition of research, on TMT and in other areas, shows that fear can interfere with learning, complex thinking, and change. Our recent studies show that reminders of mortality make people long for structure and order, and pushes them to accept quick and easy answers to problems and forego carefully considering all options. For people to change and grow and engage in the kind of open-minded thought and problem-solving that is necessary for growth to occur, anxiety must be controlled. The irony here is that people typically control their anxiety by clinging to their old ways of thinking and prefer simple answers to difficult questions. Sadly, this sort of defensive clinging is antithetical to the kind of thinking necessary for growth, change, and improvement. So ultimately, people are caught between the potential for growth and open-mindedness, but held back by the fears that lead them to cling to old, simple-minded answers that maintain the status quo. Fear truly is the enemy of freedom. ____________________________ Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear By Neil Strauss23 Jen Senko believes that her father was brainwashed. As Senko, a New York filmmaker, tells it, her father was a “nonpolitical Democrat.” But then he transferred to a new job that required a long commute and began listening to conservative radio host Bob Grant during the drive. Eventually, he was holing himself up for three hours every day in the family kitchen, mainlining Rush Limbaugh and, during commercials, Fox News. “It reminded me of the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Senko says. “He used to love talking to different people to try to learn their language, but then he became angry about illegal immigrants coming to the country, that they were taking jobs from Americans, and that English was becoming the secondary language.” Senko is not alone. A California schoolteacher says her marriage fell apart after her husband started watching Fox News and yelling about government plots to take away his guns and freedom. On the left, 22 See footnote 17. 23 Strauss is a journalist who has authored nine books in the field of psychology. His website is https://www.neilstrauss.com. October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 13 of 18 my friend Phoebe has had to physically remove her mom […] from family functions for raging against relatives about the “dark place” this country is going to. “All of these emotions, especially fear, whip people up into a state of alarm and they become angry and almost evangelical about what they believe,” says Senko. “It’s like a disease infecting millions of people around the country.” […] But just how unsafe is America today? According to Lewis & Clark College president Barry Glassner, one of the country’s leading sociologists and author of The Culture of Fear, “Most Americans are living in the safest place at the safest time in human history.” Around the globe, household wealth, longevity and education are on the rise, while violent crime and extreme poverty are down. In the U.S., life expectancy is higher than ever, our air is the cleanest it’s been in a decade, and […] violent crime has been trending down since 1991. […] So how is it possible to be living in the safest time in human history, yet at the exact same time to be so scared? Because, according to Glassner, “we are living in the most fearmongering24 time in human history. And the main reason for this is that there’s a lot of power and money available to individuals and organizations who can perpetuate these fears.” For mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more, your fear is worth billions. And fortunately for them, your fear is also very easy to manipulate. We’re wired to respond to it above everything else. If we miss an opportunity for abundance, life goes on; if we miss an important fear cue, it doesn’t. “The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn it’s not something that’s supposed to make you happy all the time,” says Andrew Huberman, a Stanford neurobiology professor who runs a lab studying fear. “It’s mostly a stress-reactive machine. Its primary job is to keep us alive, which is why it’s so easy to flip people into fear all the time.” In other words, our biology and psychology are as flawed and susceptible to corruption as the systems and politicians we’re so afraid of. In particular, when it comes to assessing future risks, there is a litany of cognitive distortions and emotional overreactions that we fall prey to. Many believe the amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped region deep in each hemisphere of the brain, is the home of our emotional responses, specifically fear. The author Daniel Goleman has coined the term “amygdala hijacking” to describe what inflammatory rhetoric and imagery are designed to do: trigger the emotional brain before the logical brain has a chance to stop it. This is what both the right and the left believe their opponent’s media are doing to people. […] I have spent the day with LeDoux at his lab at New York University’s Center for Neural Science looking at human and animal brains – specifically, a tiny triangle of nuclei that sits on the amygdala, which is now popularly thought of as the fear center, thanks in part to LeDoux’s research. […] Here’s how it works: The triangle of neurons on the amygdala, known as the lateral amygdala, parses through stimuli coming in from the outside world, looking for, among other things, threats. If it senses danger, then the neurons start firing, signaling the central amygdala to activate a defense response in the body. This whole process is an unconscious physiological response (perspiration, increased heart rate, shortness of breath) and behavioral reaction (freeze, fight or flight), not an emotion. 24 Fearmongering. The action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue. (google.com) October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 14 of 18 “We need to recognize that emotions are not innate hard-wired states […]” LeDoux says. “Emotions are very complicated: They morph and change, and go back and forth, and you can have as many emotions as you can conceptualize.” Fear, then, according to LeDoux, is actually experienced in the conscious mind–the cerebral cortex–where we assemble the experience and then label it as an emotion. […] “What we’re talking about is anxiety, not fear,” LeDoux says. Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future. “It is a worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen,” says LeDoux. So if someone opens fire at a concert you’re attending, you experience fear. But if you’re at a concert and you’re worried that a shooting attack could occur there, that’s anxiety. […] This may seem like a small distinction. But in actuality, it is everything. Because where fear is about a danger that seems certain, anxiety is, in LeDoux’s words, “an experience of uncertainty.” And that uncertainty is the exact lever that politicians regularly use to try to influence your behavior. According to last year’s Chapman University Survey of American Fears, a highly cited study in which 1,500 respondents were surveyed about 88 different fears, Americans are most afraid of corruption of government officials, followed by cyberterrorism, corporate tracking of personal information, and terrorist attacks. These would all be anxieties, according to LeDoux. […] I am in a waterfront Redondo Beach, California, apartment. […] It is clear that no one here is in fear. They are drinking beer and wine, eating finger foods and watching CNN on mute. But they do have a lot of media-fueled anxieties. And as they share them, the mood in the room intensifies, the side conversations halt, the group huddles together and their voices grow strident. “We have Syrian refugees coming in by the thousands, unvetted,” says Chris, who works in corporate sales. Debra, who’s in nursing school, reels off a short list of murders by immigrants. “I worry for me, and worse for my daughter with two children,” she concludes. “I feel like we’re on the edge of doom. We’re destroying ourselves.” “The country is under attack,” says a retired soap-opera actress who requested that even her first name not be used. “There are unspoken agendas. I feel I’m getting pulled along in something that’s leading somewhere that I don’t want to go.” “It’s the end of Western civilization,” confirms Elaine, the crime writer. […] What’s occurring in this meet-up group right now is what social psychologists call the “law of group polarization,” which states that if like-minded people are concerned about an issue, their views will become more extreme after discussing it together. Theoretically, most people here, and in similar meetups around the country, will leave the room not just with stronger opinions but with less empathy for those with contrary views. Accompanying me at the meet-up is Christopher Bader, one of the architects of the Chapman survey. “The longer we delve into fears, the more I see fears as responses to uncertainty,” he says afterward. If October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 15 of 18 there is a crack in human psychology into which demagogues25 wriggle, it is by offering psychological relief for the anxiety created by uncertainty. Because when people are unsure–or made to feel unsure–and not in control of the safety of their finances, families, possessions, community or future, their natural inclination is to grasp for certainty. This is where a good scapegoat comes in. [For example, the idea that] “There’s us–real Americans–then there are Muslims and immigrants,” Bader says. “Fascist governments have risen in times of economic change because they offer simple answers to complicated personal questions. And one of the most popular ways people can have certainty is by pointing to a villain to blame things on.” The crucial combination of uncertainty with perception of an escalating threat has led historically, according to Bader and other researchers, to an increased desire for authoritarianism. “A conspiracy theory,” he continues, “brings order to a disordered universe. It’s saying that the problems aren’t random, but they’re being controlled by a villainous group.” It’s big banks. It’s ISIS. It’s the environmentalists. It’s the NRA. It’s Wall Street. It’s the patriarchy. It’s the feminists. It’s the right. It’s the left. It’s the Illuminati. Choose a single enemy and simplify your life– but know that it won’t make you any happier. Psychologists George Bonanno and John Jost studied 9/11 survivors and witnesses. They discovered that those exposed to the attack became more politically conservative, embracing ideologies that “provide relatively simple yet cognitively rigid solutions (e.g., good versus evil, black versus white, us versus them, leader versus follower) to problems of security and threat.” But, despite this, the political shift didn’t improve their overall state of mind. “On the contrary,” Bonanno and Jost concluded, “political conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism26 and conservative shift were generally associated with the following: chronically elevated levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, desire for revenge and militarism, cynicism and decreased use of humor.” Delving deeper, Jost and his students recently went through more than 100 studies by researchers all over the world, involving more than 350,000 participants, and found similar results. “People who perceive the world as a more dangerous place in terms of crime, disease and terrorism are more likely to be conservative,” says Jost. “And exposure to a terrorist attack – whether it is in the U.S., England, Spain, Germany or Israel – is a significant predictor of a conservative shift.” […] Several of Jost’s conclusions are consistent with a concept that is key to understanding the factionalism, tribalism and nationalism of today: “terror management theory.” One of the most important ideas in social psychology of the past three decades, it is predicated on the notion that as adult human beings, we have a desire to live, yet we know that – at a time and by a cause unknown to us – we are going to die. To manage this existential anxiety, we embrace a cultural worldview that provides us with order, meaning, importance and, ultimately, self-esteem. The effectiveness of this strategy depends on the agreement of others who share our beliefs. Meanwhile, the existence of other people with beliefs and values that differ from our own can subtly undermine the protection this worldview provides. So, according to the theory, when these beliefs are threatened, we will go to great lengths to preserve and defend them. […] 25Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. (google.com) 26 Authoritarianism: the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom. (google.com) October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 16 of 18 One of the related tenets of terror management theory is that when people are reminded of their mortality, whether through questions about what happens after death or bringing up tragedies like 9/11, they can become more prejudiced and more aggressive toward people with different worldviews. […] Senko’s claim that her father was brainwashed by Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and Bob Grant isn’t just anecdotal. There is hard evidence of her father’s transformation from a sweet, passive man to an angry, argumentative ideologue in Senko’s documentary about him, The Brainwashing of My Dad. In some scenes, he is so angry, the viewer feels sorry for him – and concerned for his health. “It was almost like he’d joined a cult or had a new religion,” Senko recalls. “He became enraged and unreachable.” She believes the tactics used by right-wing hosts, combined with her father’s independent streak, caused his shift. “As human beings, when listening alone for long periods of time, we are susceptible to being swayed by a confident voice speaking authoritatively, especially if it’s the only thing you consume,” she says. “So they would say things that provoked my dad to anger and indignation, and once that got going, he’d stop thinking rationally.” […] In 2002, a law professor and former White House adviser named Cass Sunstein coined the term “probability neglect.” It suggests that when people are emotionally stirred by something, especially something they can vividly imagine, they will fear its outcome even if it is highly unlikely to happen. So, the fear of domestic ISIS-spawned terrorist attacks, for example, becomes far greater than the fear of everyday experiences that are much more likely to result in a fatality. […] These are the wages of a 24-hour news cycle, regurgitating constant powerful visuals and reminders of our own vulnerability to dangerous forces beyond our control. Add to this what psychologists call “loss aversion,” which is the idea that people are more fearful about losing something than they are excited about acquiring something equivalent–and often, something even greater–and you have an election in which people vote based not on who’s going to help the country most, but who’s going to hurt it the least. It doesn’t help much that in the past few years, we have entered an even more extreme cycle of news omnipresence, which values shareability over accuracy. Instead of having to turn on the TV or radio to see what’s going on, the news comes to us. Between our phones and browsers, most of us are plugged into a nonstop feed of headlines and opinions that are responsive to our specific interests and fears. “I’ve looked a lot at why we are more fearful now than 200 years ago,” says Margee Kerr, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear. “And one thing that keeps coming up is the immediacy with which we get the news. This makes it feel more emotionally charged. We start receiving notifications on our phone as soon as these disasters happen. So there’s a false sense of involvement that we didn’t have 150 years ago.” […] “The more we see dramatized and traumatic events, the more common we believe them to be,” Kerr continues. “It’s confirmation bias27. We see a shooting on the news and it sensitizes us to pay extra attention to shootings whenever they happen in the future, which confirms the idea that it’s a big problem. Even with dramas, people are bad at remembering what’s real. There have been many studies done where, after seeing a false and a true statement, the next day someone can’t remember which was real and which was fake.” Here’s another recent revolution in news consumption: In an era in which so many news programs, radio shows and websites look like news and sound like news but are actually just theater sets for partisan advocacy groups and commentators, anyone can create a digital ring of fire around his or her belief system that doesn’t allow other information to enter. When people tune all of their radios, TVs, Internet browsers, social-media feeds and mailing lists to the same opinion, they tend to think that a marginalized 27 Confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. (google.com) October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 17 of 18 view is common sense because everyone clearly agrees with it, and any outlet that doesn’t is lying to serve an agenda. This can’t be good for the brain. And, of course, it isn’t. Says Kerr, “Studies have correlated the hours of news consumption with reported levels of anxiety and fear of specific people.” There are two particular ways, among many, in which living with these anxieties month after month can change your brain. The first: “If you look at the cellular level of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus” – the thinking and memory-forming parts of the brain – “when you’re living under constant states of fear and anxiety, you can actually see them shutting down,” says Justin Moscarello, who works in LeDoux’s lab. “They shrink. They wither. And the amygdala actually gets bigger.” In the process, attributes such as conscious decision-making, risk-taking, exploratory activity and logical thinking are adversely affected. The second way: Anxiety can turn to fear. Part of threat detection is learning, and the brain can create a false correlation when a stimulus that’s not actually a threat activates the body’s threat-response system. […] Just last year, researchers discovered a neural superhighway between the specific areas of the brain that represent faces and symbols, and the areas of the brain involved in stress and threat detection. “These sorts of associations form pretty easily but are hard to undo,” says Huberman of Stanford. “Campaign strategists and certain media are taking the opportunity to engage us in a form of strategic neurobiological warfare. They know that it’s very easy to take a symbol or a face and link it to a specific negative outcome, and eventually it moves from the conceptual areas of the brain to the strain terminalis to the amygdala.” So what you get is a completely manufactured anxiety turning into a full-blown fight-freeze-or-flight fear response. […] _______________ Alphabetical Glossary of Terms Below is an alphabetical version of the footnoted definitions in this reading set. Affective [Footnote 6] “Affective” involves moods, feelings, and attitudes; “non-affective” doesn’t involve moods, feelings, and attitude. Authoritarianism [footnote 26] the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom. (google.com) Bolshevism [Footnote 12] the communist form of government adopted in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. (Source: Google) Caesar [Footnote 9] A dictator. Caesarism [Footnote 7] is a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.) Based on the political philosophy of Julius Caesar. Caesaristic identification [Footnote 8] When a person identifies with a dictator (such as Hitler). October 2019 WPE Portfolio Set Page 18 of 18 Catharsis/cathartic [Footnote 4] According to Freud, a catharsis is an emotional release that is linked to a need to relieve unconscious conflicts (verywellmind.com). Confirmation bias [footnote 27] the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. (google.com) Consenual Validation [Footnote 18] refers to the agreement of two or more perspectives on reality. This is when two or more separate individuals agree on observed events. For instance, when police investigate a car accident they speak to as many witnesses as they can to understand the series of events involved. This investigative process tries to find the elements that the witnesses agree about. (Source: alleydog.com) Conspiracy theory of history [Footnote 10] the idea that key developments in history are brought about by people who work together in secrecy to cause them to happen. Cultural anxiety buffer [footnote 20] cultural anxiety buffer “consists of a cultural worldview that imposes order, meaning, and permanence on existence, and self-esteem, which enables us to view ourselves as important contributors to this meaningful and eternal reality.” Demagogue [footnote 25] a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. Ego [Footnote 3] Neumann makes use of Freudian theory here. The ego, according to Freud, is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. It ensures that our primitive and instinctual impulses can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. (Source: verywellmind.com) Ego-surrender [Footnote 13] When a person surrenders their ego, they give up their decision-making capacity to another (such as to Hitler). Existential terror [Footnote 17] The fear we feel when considering our future non-existence. False concreteness [Footnote 11] is a logical fallacy that treats an abstraction (an abstract belief or hypothetical construct) as if it were a concrete, real event or physical entity. For example, the “war on poverty” is not a literal war. If someone behaves as if it is a war (such as by sending in soldiers to shoot people) they would be suffering from false concreteness. Fearmongering [footnote 24] The action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue. (google.com) Identification [Footnote 5] According to Freud, identification is an unconscious mental process by which someone makes part of their personality conform to the personality of another, who serves as a model. For example, hero worship is a kind of identification. Introspection [Footnote 15] is the process of looking into oneself. Mortality salience [Footnote 19] is the awareness by an individual that his or her death is inevitable. Nationalistic [footnote 21]: having or expressing strong identification with one’s own nation and vigorous support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. (google.com) Worldviews [Footnote 16] are the shared values and assumptions on which rest the customs, norms, and institutions of any particular society. For example, “you may think that it is possible to have complete certainty about some knowledge or that it is presumptuous — even dangerous — to claim certainty about anything of consequence” (Ken Funk, Oregon State University). This belief would be an important part of your worldview.
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