The Fear Bubble

The Bogeyman

Facebook can easily become an echo chamber, only showing you posts that its algorithms think will reinforce your worldview (and thus keep you engaged). This can result in a very skewed perspective of the world. On the other hand, Facebook does offer a window into the perspectives of people who don’t think like you do … if you actively seek this out.

I maintain friendships across the political spectrum. People are more alike than disalike, no matter how some might try to accentuate the differences. I do have some conservative-leaning friends and think they’re generally reasonable people. If they were unreasonable and not open to my gentle, loving prodding I might have turned away from them. Some of the less reasonable indeed have made it to the Facebook “unfollow” stage, where I remain connected to them but don’t get updates from them. I like to maintain a window into their worldview because I think it’s important to understand how people think, especially people with whom I sometimes disagree.

It was peering through this “window” that I began to notice a startling personality trait that many conservatives share which came to light after last week’s United debacle. While almost all of my left-leaning friends immediately faulted the airline for its brutal treatment of a paying customer, there were more than one conservative friends who defended the airline. In their view, the senior-citizen doctor must have done something to deserve getting the shit kicked out of him. He argued with authority, he was disruptive, so he earned what he got, their thinking seemed to go.

How can this be? How can some people side with authority in spite of ample warning signs that authority is wrong? Is it part of their personality, their religious upbringing, or some combination? I’m not entirely sure, but there seems to be a class of people who are almost completely authority-driven and these people are conservative people. It doesn’t matter what the orders are, you follow them. No gray area. Everything is good or evil, black or white.

When I look at the appalling treatment visitors to this country have been given by some in the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agency, this comes to mind. Orders were given that must be carried out. I think ultra-authority-driven people are drawn to these jobs.

I can also see how, given the right authority figure, people can be convinced to maintain order in ways that are detrimental to others. Germany’s Nazi Party held powerful sway over the German people. At present, Russians adore Vladamir Putin in spite of his looting the country, murdering opponents, and stirring up other lawlessness to bolster himself. Finally, Trump gained the same kind of support from people who were (and are) convinced that there’s a bogeyman behind every tree. Walls must be built, immigrants blocked, and sharia law prevented from taking root here.

A threat is raised and the fearful rally around the strongest authority figure. Oldest trick in the book. I never thought I’d see it here, though. Here we are in 2017 and there are people out there – friends of friends – who are so freaking spooked out of their minds that they have bought into the batshit-craziest fake news stories out there. Honestly, when I see some of these poor folks screaming about ISIS in their neighborhood I can only shake my head.

So, why didn’t these people fall in line behind Obama? After all, being President of the United States should come with some heft, right (well, until recently)? How were today’s fear-mongers able to keep Obama from being their savior? First of all, Obama was too pragmatic to get himself tangled in intractable wars. His job was to get us out of them, which he did fairly well. That meant no jumping with both feat into the ages-old quagmires of Middle Eastern relations, ISIS or no ISIS. The right, therefore, latched onto the Benghazi attack as proof to the fearful that Obama wasn’t going to protect them, no matter that far more diplomats were attacked during Bush’s term.

The other thing the Right did, and this was crucial to their strategy, was to de-legitimize Obama’s presidency, casting doubt on his citizenship and (of course) his race. As long as doubt was sown among the conservative fearful, the Right could drain his authority and keep these poor, petrified folks that they were all alone. As one gun shop owner put it, there was no better gun salesman than Barack Obama.

Somehow we have to get to these people. They are stuck in a “fear bubble,” fed sensational lies by the right-wing media to falsely believe they are under attack. Perhaps if they came out of their bunkers for a bit they would see that the sky is not falling and ISIS is not, after all, roaming their neighborhoods at night.

Can they be reached? It will take a lot of time and effort. One thing’s for sure: American discourse will suffer until they can be freed from their fear bubbles.

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