James O’Brien makes a very good point here.
If I was to be reading my newspaper every single morning and be told that my very existence was under siege from people I’ve never met and never seen but keep getting told are coming here in their hordes.
If I was to open my newspaper or turn on my radio or TV to hear that everybody who is coming here is a rapist and they’ve got their eyes on our women and we’ve got no chance whatsoever of protecting ourselves.
And unless we do this or do that, or treat them like this or treat them like that, then we’re all doomed, we’re all going to hell in a handcart.
If I was being told it’s time to reclaim our country every time I got out of bed in the morning, I’d begin to believe it, I think, if I didn’t have the knowledge and the insights and the education to know that it is not true.
We atheists are very, very good at telling people they ought to use their reason and think rationally. The most important thing is reason, we say, not emotion; if only those wacky religious people would use evidence and rational thought, they wouldn’t believe in such silly things.
But reason is not enough. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a familiar phrase to describe what happens when your eminently predictable, logical computer is reduced to processing bad inputs, but it’s also true for human beings. We make the mistake of thinking other people’s brains must be inferior or working badly when they reach bad conclusions.
Those wacky Catholics…how stupid they must be to believe in original sin or that Jesus and Mary are watching over them. But Catholic culture actually values education and logic, and they aren’t stupid at all: what they’ve done is reach an entirely rational conclusion built on a set of premises that have been dunned into them from an early age. Their flaw isn’t that their minds are bad, it’s quite the opposite — Catholic scholars think creatively and intelligently from a set of invalid claims about the nature of the universe.
Consider any group you disagree with. Your first assumptions shouldn’t be that the group is a unique vortex of stupid that draws in mentally deficient people who don’t know better, and will be unable to think their way out of a soggy paper bag. Assume that they are a group with the same mental capacity in general as your favorite people. Then try to figure out what foundational ideas are leading them to conclusions you find repugnant.
Look at gun fanatics, for instance. That earlier post about arguments for owning an AR-15 is addressing an entirely reasonable set of justifications for needing a deadly weapon…if you believe you are living in a world in which you and your family are facing an existential threat from hordes of other human beings who specifically intend to do you harm. That guy’s rationale would make a lot of sense if this were the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, and we had to deal with random monsters popping up and trying to eat our brains, and also needed to forage for any wild game to survive.
We do not live in such a world. He thinks we do. GIGO.
As O’Brien points out, if you wake up every morning to listen to right-wing talk radio, or Fox News, or to read Stormfront or white nationalist literature, the inputs to your mind are all skewed. Those outlets are committed to presenting a terrifying picture of the world, in which you, your family, your tribe, your race, your whole damn species is in peril. The brown hordes are coming to replace you…yes, you personally! Your problem with landing a job is not your fault, it’s because that immigrant over there is competing with you unfairly. We once were a great and powerful nation — you know because your grandparents said so — but it’s all gone to the dogs in your generation, because it’s different.
Get that message over and over and over again, and then apply your rational, intelligent, thoughtful brain to the problem, and you’ll come up with reasonable solutions. Kick out those immigrants. Assassinate that politician. Build a wall. Vote for Trump.
The man who killed Jo Cox was not crazy. He was somebody who read and listened and came to what he thought was a necessary solution to a serious problem. He had built a world in his mind that corresponded poorly to reality, because he’d been consuming lies.
Unfortunately, we all live in a world where institutions and media lie to us constantly, and navigating through all the chaos is a difficult skill that none of us have fully mastered and that misleads many of us.