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

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