Sunday, July 29, 2018

Good and Evil: Constructs of Control

“NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!” exclaims Cardinal Ximinez as he barges into the room. “Amongst our weaponry,” he continues, “are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms…” (Spanish Inquisition Sketch). That’s how Monty Python’s Flying Circus portrayed the Spanish Inquisition; however, the monarchy of Spain utilized the Spanish Inquisition to maintain control of its subjects and seize title and property from those convicted of heresy. This example of men creating and using good and evil constructs to control others is only one of many cases.

Whenever anyone exerts authority over others, such strategies exist. In Rome, the emperor and regional leaders targeted Christians as scapegoats during times of crisis. In Nazi Germany, the government blamed the Jewish community for their ills. During the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian regime killed over three million of its own citizens. Sadly, this continues today. Through defining and classifying behaviors and activities as good or evil, those in power or those who seek authority use the consensus of the majority to force conformation. When people fail to conform, the controlling forces brand them as outlaws, sinners, and heretics, demonizing and dehumanizing individuals or groups. As we employ critical analysis of political claims, we limit the ability of those who attempt to wrest power through creating good and evil constructs based on the propagation of ignorance, skewed analyses, and hate.

Because hate is a forceful emotion, it is susceptible to exploitation. This manipulation can be subtle and nearly imperceptible. Those vying for power capitalize on emotion to establish control or to sway general opinion to their advantage. The minister for propaganda and public education for the Nazi Germany government, Joseph Goebbels exclaimed, “Bolshevism is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself” as he warned the Nazi party members of an alleged Jewish conspiracy (Historical Film Footage). Such propaganda pitted the German populace against the Jewish people by dehumanizing an entire race. Goebbels built on historical mistrust and hate as he led the efforts to eradicate Jewish and other “non-German” associations.

Those who manipulate hate will often reduce the target to something less than human, disassociating any empathy the population may feel. The Khmer Rouge expressed their dogma of devaluing humanity through the slogan, “To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss” (Cambodian Genocide). Hate and indifference are close cousins, pushing people to accept utterly vile atrocities as common.

Although many Americans support President Donald J. Trump, he has also employed these tactics. His advocates argue he is only “telling it like it is”; however, Mr. Trump’s controversial statements have continued from the onset of his candidacy and throughout the first years of his presidency. The president’s proponents suggest he is not dealing in hate and that he is just being honest despite his use of terms that demonize whole populations. When leaders use speech to devalue a group of people, they are setting up a construct of good versus evil as a tool to manipulate the governed. They are establishing an environment where people embrace actions they normally would not.

Despite similar conclusions held by many, the facts do not support the President’s statements that Mexican immigrants are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” (Walker).  Mr. Trump also claimed, “Every day, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities. They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.” According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, almost half of Americans also believe immigrants make crime worse (Flagg). Certainly, if immigrants are the cause of such atrocities, we must make every attempt to intervene; however, critical analysis does not justify the president’s assertions. The immigrant population has increased almost two fold since 1980, while the crime rate dropped by more than fifty percent through the same period.

Although many believe the president is being tough on crime, his claims suggesting MS-13 gang members take advantage of weak immigration law to swarm American cities are exaggerations. Hannah Dreier, with ProPublica, reports that MS-13 members have not made any attempts to circumvent immigration laws. In fact, most MS-13 members in the United States were recruited after arriving in the country. Additionally, contrary to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claims that MS-13 is a brutal, drug-trafficking, multinational gang, Ms. Dreier further explains gang members meet at night because they have to support themselves through working menial jobs during the day. Some attend their high school classes since few members of the gang are adults (Dreier). Although the gang is an issue for local police departments, it is not what the Trump administration claims.

The continued propagation of skewed analyses greatly affects people’s perspectives. In this manner, the Trump administration has worked to fulfill an agenda of isolationism, aggressive authoritarianism, and intolerance. Using a marketing trick, Donald Trump continues reiterating his claims until people believe them to be true. Once the majority accepts his allegations, the charges have staying power. The journal Intelligence recently published a study suggesting “some people may have an especially difficult time rejecting misinformation” (Hambrick). Regardless of the facts, the president has successfully increased support for much of his controversial agenda including a wall along the southern border of the United States, restrictive travel bans, and punitive trade policies.

Through controlling the definition of good and evil, the powerful manipulate what others do and believe. Leaders often resort to manipulating hate and fear to change how the governed perceive good and evil. By propagating ignorance, they control how others act. Through misrepresenting or limiting access to the truth, leaders shape opinion. We must combat manipulation through critical analysis and establish appropriate responses to the issues we face.

References

Cambodian Genocide « World Without Genocide -. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2018, from http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/genocides-and-conflicts/cambodian-genocide

Dreier, H. (n.d.). I've Been Reporting on MS-13 for a Year. Here Are the 5 Things Trump Gets Most Wrong. Retrieved June 27, 2018, from https://www.propublica.org/article/ms-13-immigration-facts-what-trump-administration-gets-wrong

Hambrick, D. Z. (2018, February 06). Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News. Retrieved June 27, 2018, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cognitive-ability-and-vulnerability-to-fake-news/

Historical Film Footage. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2018, from https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_fi.php?ModuleId=0&MediaId=192

The Spanish Inquisition Sketch. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2018, from http://www.montypython.net/scripts/spanish.php

Walker, H. (2015, July 06). Donald Trump just released an epic statement raging against Mexican immigrants and 'disease'. Retrieved June 27, 2018, from http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trumps-epic-statement-on-mexico-2015-7

Facing and Overcoming Fear

    “You came in second” my brother yelled. After a pause and a laugh, he finished his declaration with, “to last!” My heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out of my chest as I sat thinking about my first competitive race. The loud crack of the starting pistol startled me; I dove in. As the shock of the cold water nearly overwhelmed my ability to remember what I was doing, muscle memory from long afternoons of swim practice took over. The 50-meter length of the pool seemed to extend for miles. I couldn’t breathe; the seconds crawled as I followed the black line painted on the bottom of the pool. I swallowed my little oxygen reserves with a loud gulping sound. At the end of the pool, I turned around. I had made it halfway but I still could not breathe. Gulp! The gulping echoed in my ears. My hands sliced through the water, and the gulping kept pace with each stroke. I kicked madly as my heart throbbed in my chest. Gulp. Finally, I could see the base of the starting blocks – the end of the race. I reached madly for the edge of the pool, pulled my face from the water and sucked in cool, sweet oxygen. I didn’t drown, and I didn’t finish last.

Years earlier, I walked with my father down the sand toward the crashing surf. The loud roar of the waves was overwhelming to this four-year-old. It seemed we had to yell to hear each other. My dad picked me up a few steps into the cold ocean water as he waded through the waves that were barely above his knees. We continued to move deeper into the ocean. My father held me close to his chest as he leapt through the waves that crashed against my back leaving my hair and face dripping. He pushed farther into the surf. Finally, we emerged from the breaking waves to enjoy the relative calm of the ocean swells. It was a peaceful, serene moment. We waved to mom who was watching nervously from the hard wet sand. When it was time to return to shore, my dad had to work his way through the crashing tide again. Suddenly, a large wave broke over my father’s shoulders tearing me from his arms. Time seemed to slow down as I tumbled in the surf and rolled with the wave driven sand. The silt suspended in the water sparkled gold and yellow hues as it reflected the sunlight. I could not breathe; the seconds seemed to stretch for hours. I gulped for air. Briny sea water burned as it filled my sinuses. I struggled to breathe. Gulp! My heart pounded deep in my chest as I thrashed against the tide. Suddenly, my dad’s hand gripped my arm, and he yanked me out of the water. I inhaled and coughed, breathing deep relief as oxygen again filled my lungs, but the fear of drowning consumed me.

About a year after the trip to the beach, I found myself standing at the side of an Olympic sized pool.

The high-school aged swim instructor yelled, “Can you swim?”

Although I was nearly overwhelmed with anxiety, I also suffered from youthful arrogance. “Yeah, I can swim!” I replied defiantly.

“Show me.”

I jumped in the pool and began to crawl my way through the water but with each stroke the guy seemed to be farther away. I can’t breathe! Was I moving in slow motion? I swallowed hard against the overwhelming need to inhale. My gosh, I’m going to drown! The chlorine burned my eyes and tickled my nose. My chest heaved frantically. I pulled myself toward the retreating adolescent, as the gulping sound echoed in my ears, and my lungs fought against my will not to suck in the water. Gulp! Finally, the swim teacher pulled me up out of the water and I took a long, deep breath of air. Although I had outperformed my actual ability to swim, my fears had only temporarily taken a backseat to my arrogance. He placed me in the advanced class.

Those overcast June mornings were spent clinging desperately to the pool’s edge while being instructed on swimming form. No one knew I didn’t know how to take a breath while I was swimming. No one could see my fear every time I ventured from the poolside. I was too vain. I couldn’t let anyone know about either. Ignorance and fear embraced each other vehemently.

A few years after that first swim lesson, my closest friends joined a swim team. While they were at practice, I struggled to find ways to occupy my time. Reluctantly, I also joined the team.

After a couple weeks of daily swim practice, it was time for my first swim meet. Our coach only scheduled me for a couple heats, so I spent most of the event cheering for my teammates. When it was my turn to race, I didn’t drown, and I didn’t come in last place. After the meet was over, the coach told us he was proud of our efforts. He dismissed most of the team with a reminder that we had a lot to work on at practice the following week.

Taking me aside, the coach told me he noticed I never took a breath while swimming. I admitted I didn’t know how. Although my ability to hold my breath for 100 meters was impressive, he said I would probably do better if I learned how to breathe while in the water. During the ensuing weeks, the coaching staff helped me learn how to breathe. As I began using oxygen properly, my abilities improved, and my fear of the water decreased. There were even times when the coaches would have me demonstrate proper swimming form to the rest of the team. My confidence continued to grow.

After a while, I had become a strong swimmer, proficient at each of the swimming styles. As we continued to compete, I showed improvement. My coach gradually scheduled me for more races; however, my primary focus was the 400-hundred-meter individual medley relay – this meant I swam four different strokes for 100 meters each. As I raced through the water, my focus changed from worrying about filling my lungs with water and drowning to maintaining proper form and breath. Hearing the muffled sounds of the spectators through the rush of water streaming past my ears thrilled me. I relished the subtle sting and smell of chlorine. I progressed from finishing second to last to placing third and second. Eventually, I improved enough to win almost every race my coach had me swim, and I regularly beat my previous finishing times.

Although I took home ribbons and trophies, my greatest success was overcoming my fear of drowning. We all have fears. Childhood’s fears seem petty when compared to those we face as adults. Notwithstanding the magnitude, fears are real and can impede our ability to do those things we want to do. Through my experiences with swimming, I learned we can overcome our fears if we face them and accept help from those who can guide and teach us. We do not have to surrender to our fear.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Case for Resettling Refugees

Unstable governments, drug-trade financed gang violence, and religious fanaticism are only a few reasons humans have found to go to war. The combatants are not the only people who are affected since others live in the troubled areas as well. These innocent people often find themselves in untenable circumstances having few good alternatives. As they flee their home to gain safety elsewhere, they become refugees. Those who have the resources to help refugees do not offer aid due to security fears and worries about economic pressures, ignoring their ethical responsibilities to help those in need. It is unethical to refuse to help refugees from war-torn countries because assisting refugees strengthens national security, these displaced people help improve local economies, and, most importantly, it is a humanitarian responsibility.
Groups fighting against resettling refugees primarily argue that the exiles are a security threat; however, when the United States accepts refugees from war-torn countries, the world is a safer place. As the United States provides assistance, stress on resources in other nations is reduced. This helps to ensure ongoing support for the displaced people by multiple nations. Additionally, getting into the United States as a refugee is arduous. Each refugee is selected through intense screening by the Department of Homeland Security. It is an exhaustive process that lasts up to three years. If there is any doubt, a person will not be admitted into the country. As the United States admits good people from war-torn countries, national security is improved because stress in other countries is reduced and only good people are admitted into the nation.
Beside security concerns, detractors also suggest the economy could not withstand the added stress caused by helping refugees; however, since only good, well-vetted people are given refuge in the United States, they are an educated, talented, and industrious community. As entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers, refugees contribute to economic growth and create jobs. The International Rescue committee reports that refugees are nearly 50 percent more entrepreneurial than people who are born in the U.S. (Why should America take in more refugees?). Additionally, the refugee system is set up to help them quickly become independent. These factors help support a community that creates jobs with higher pay than would exist, otherwise. Refugees help improve the economies where they resettle because they become self-sufficient quickly, and they contribute to their communities.
Although national security and economic fears remain the primary arguments against aiding refugees, many believe others will help if they ignore the troubles in distant lands. Nonetheless, helping refugees is a humanitarian responsibility everyone shares. In 1951, the United Nations refugee convention established protections for refugees from being returned to countries where they risk being persecuted. Since life preservation and basic human dignity is easily assured when good people are allowed to live in a secure atmosphere and provided the opportunity to work toward self-reliance, fulfilling this responsibility is easy. As refugees escape the dangers of living in war-ravaged, life-threatening environments, those who help them meet the responsibility to minister to the needs of the afflicted. What is better than saving another’s life? What greater responsibility is there than to help preserve humanity? Through helping resettle refugees, humanitarian responsibility is fulfilled like a modern-day good Samaritan. Humanitarian responsibility is the greatest reason to support the displaced and needy who are fleeing danger.
As humanitarian responsibility is fulfilled, economic growth is improved, and national security is preserved, people become the top priority, and countries accept the ethical obligation to help refugees. When this undertaking is shared by many nations, national and world security is improved. As refugees settle in new communities, they help strengthen and grow the economy. Each person holds a basic responsibility to minister to his neighbor’s needs, and as the needs of the refugee are met, this responsibility is fulfilled. Helping refugees from war-torn countries is the ethical responsibility of citizens of all nations.

(Republished from an essay written for ENG 106-1079 at BYU-I)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Go, Ponder On These Things


“Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” (3 Nephi 17:3)

The things we read or study in the scriptures aren’t going to just sink into our souls by accident. We must ponder on these treasures and pray about them, seeking for the blessing of personal revelation to teach us that we will fully understand what it is that our Heavenly Father wants for us.

Years ago, I knew a man who had given up every comfort in his life so he could devote his time to reading the bible. He sold his house and left his family and friends. He packed everything he felt he needed to survive his chosen lifestyle into a van and moved into a campground by a river. He spent every spare moment of his life reading the bible. He, however, never uttered a single word in prayer. He knew the bible both the old and new testament like no one else I have ever met. However, it was a knowledge devoid of spirituality or even understanding. I often asked him if he had found what he was looking for. Invariably, his answer would be, “not yet”.

I have wondered about him from time to time since then. I have also considered how much more there is to the words found in holy scripture or those delivered to us by modern servants of God than what we may gain through our own efforts and power. Even in a classroom setting, we will never find such great promise if we but rely only on the power and knowledge of man. The fullness of the gospel can only be obtained through the power of God. Only by seeking after it will we “be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of [our] sins.” (3 Nephi 12:2)

I do not want to be like this man who lived in a van down by the river.