In a World That’s Crumbling, Those Who Would See It Fall Use Fear as Their Primary Weapon
2020 is shaping up to be a hell of a year. Between COVID-19, “Murder Wasps,” plagues of locusts, earthquakes in Idaho, and a President who’s decided to embrace the name “Death Star” for his re-election campaign, it’s pretty hard to find anything about which to be optimistic.
In fact, if we weren’t already quarantined, I’d want to stay in my little hobbit hole anyway. That’s a bunch of scary shit. And it only seems to be getting worse.
On the other hand, I don’t watch the TV news media. I’ve shield myself from it like a pair of Ray Bans shields my eyes from UV rays. I watch Twitter, and occasionally go down rabbit-holes there, but usually I just look at what’s trending, and if it’s something I decide to care about, I do some independent research. I’ll be honest, that’s mostly how I find out about what’s happening in current events.
When COVID-19 first became a story, I heard a few words as I was walking past a TV. I thought, “Okay, that’s something to keep an eye on,” but I didn’t freak out. I was aware of it, but I didn’t ruminate on it.
So when Governor Inslee held a press conference with the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington, I watched the live feed itself (not coverage of it spun by talking heads), and I wasn’t surprised or panicked to find out that the epidemic had gotten to this point. I heard about it a few weeks earlier. It was in the back of my mind, and so I wasn’t surprised. That doesn’t, however, mean I wasn’t concerned.
Because I was aware of, but not obsessed with, the possibility of coronavirus being on par with the Spanish Flu, I didn’t freak out.
After I’d finished watching the press conference—again, listening to the Governor’s and Superintendent’s actual words instead of quotes in a news story—I decided to research the situation. I found that Johns-Hopkins University was the leading authority on tracking numbers. I looked exclusively at their maps to track worldwide cases in the early weeks.
Then came the most important step: I juxtaposed all of this knowledge, with what I knew about history from EARNING AN EDUCATION in order to make an informed decision about my personal response to this global crisis. The “Left-Wing Media” had noting to do with it.
“Murder Hornets.” I love that name so much because it’s completely ridiculous to me. It reminds me of calling raccoons “trash pandas” or snakes “danger noodles.”
On the other hand, my best friend pointed out the other day that the media calling them “murder wasps” or “murder” anything really bugged him (pun intended—you’re welcome). And he has a point. It’s not like this is a new species of hornet or anything. It’s much bigger than we’re used to, and yes, its sting can be fatal, but so can stings from a normal hornet. In my mind, all hornets are murder hornets, so I just think the name is funny.
Again, I had background knowledge. I knew that there were giant hornets. Now I didn’t know HOW big they were until I saw a picture of one with the headline “Shown Actual Size” on the front page of the Spokesman-Review. And no. I didn’t read the article.
I know, I criticize Trump supporters all the time for not reading the full article. Here’s the difference. I see a picture of a giant hornet and a headline that says they’re really that big, along with a byline that says they’ve been found on western Washington, and that’s all I need to know about that situation. I don’t need to be afraid about it. There’s literally NOTHING I can do in response to a giant hornet infestation—except jokingly refer to them as murder hornets and invest in a .410 shotgun (kidding).
On the other hand, if that headline had said, “Trump Orders [insert ludicrous act here],” then I’d do some research. And by research, I mean not only reading that article, but finding one or two other sources, whether it be Twitter, or another periodical that confirm the claims being made. And then I form my opinion.
Again, if I’d read that whole article about the hornets, I’d probably have been more worried about them than I should be. You see, folks, I don’t buy the idea that the media has a “liberal” bias. I think they have a fear bias.
Their Weapon is Fear
There are things in this world of which one should be afraid. Depending on where you live, you should probably be at least a little afraid of things like violent crime, natural disasters, DISEASE, or, you know, tiger attacks.
Fear is a natural response. That’s why it’s so easy to exploit. Look at what happened with toilet paper recently.
What the actual fuck?
I live alone (essentially), and I bought a 12-pack of “double rolls” at the beginning of March. It lasted me TWO MONTHS! There was absolutely no need for the toilet-paper-panic of 2020. In fact, that’s the ONLY TIME I’ve ever agreed with Donald Trump. I actually re-tweeted a statement at the beginning of this thing in which he encouraged people not to hoard. Look, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
A few people started stocking up, and then the media got a hold of the story. People heard there was a shortage of toilet paper, flocked to the store, and ACTUALLY CREATED A TOILET PAPER SHORTAGE.
Now, I’m in no way suggesting that the following is what actually happened, but let’s think of this as a micro-example of what could happen under much more dastardly circumstances.
The CEO of Charmin, (again, Charmin doesn’t have a CEO—they’re a part of a bigger company, I’m sure) sees this pandemic as an opportunity. She has her personal assistant, or a couple of other underlings (I’m pretty sure all CEOs have underlings) go to a few stores around town and “stock up” on toilet paper by buying an absurd amount. She also has other underlings in the regional offices all over the country do that.
Then she or another underling calls the press and tells them that there’s a run on toilet paper.
They go out and investigate, and sure enough, each store they visit is short on toilet paper. They have 24-hours of news coverage to fill, so they blow up the story about this toilet paper shortage.
Once the story hits, people rush out and buy up all the toilet paper. Voila! The CEO of Charmin has just created a feeding frenzy demand for her product, and despite the pandemic, she’s going to have a bitchin’ quarter.
I’m not sure how well Charmin will be doing once this blows over and everyone has enough toilet paper to last them until next Christmas, but hey… unintended consequences are a bitch, right?
So What to Do?
Well, on one hand, I’m saying that for me, personally, I stay away from “media” as much as I can, while still attempting to stay informed. This works for me because I’ve worked for two decades on developing critical thinking skills. So it’s really easy for me to want to say “Just use common sense!”
In fact, you probably hear that a lot.
The other hand has a problem, though. “Common sense” is a terrible thing. Einstein warned against it. He said, correctly, that’s it’s the sum of the bias we pick up before we’re eighteen (paraphrased). Here’s how common sense works: I see that everyone is flocking to buy toilet paper, therefore I must also go and buy toilet paper so I’m not left without.
So don’t use common sense. Use critical thinking. Common sense is often the way to fear. And as Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
One final thing I’ll say about critical thinking… it’s the difference between making up your own mind based on as much data as possible, or just accepting one side of a story. Here’s an example. There’s not a shred of my utter contempt for the President that comes from the media. Not an ounce. I don’t need Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, or any of the other talking heads to tell me what to think about Trump. All I have to do is look at his own words. I read his tweets, and I think, “I hate this man and I wish that he wasn’t in charge anymore.” I hear him during press conferences and rallies—words coming from HIS OWN MOUTH not the media’s—and I think, “This guy is the worst thing to ever happen to America. He’s a national tragedy at best, and a traitor at worst.”
None of that has anything to do with the Mueller report, the Ukrane allegations, or anything else. It’s simply about watching and listening to the slime-ball. That’s all it takes.
On the other hand, If I were to watch MSNBC, my hatred would be more exacerbated, because their job is to make me watch by getting me riled up. I don’t need that kind of blood pressure. And again, Trump’s own words are enough to make me hate him.
Similarly, if I watched Fox News, I’d rarely even hear anything about Trump, except how he’s working to preserve our values and how the rest of the media is treating him worse than any other President. I might not ever even get around to listening to his actual words—at least not the ones Fox doesn’t want me to see.
So I don’t rely on those talking heads to tell me what to think. I’ve put in a lot of time and effort to make myself a worthy citizen capable of thinking critically and making balanced decisions. And that keeps the fear at bay.