Tuesday, March 26, 2019

We create the things we most fear - reflections on 13 years of blogging 1

This post is an initial follow up on my last post, Initial reflections on thirteen years of blogging. There I said "Over the next few weeks, I plan to reflect on some of the past events and my associated writing here and on my other blogs". This is the first follow up post. I will keep each post short, centred on  a single idea.

Back on 23 May 2010 in Sunday Essay - threads in Belshaw thought, I provided an update on the evolution of my own thinking over time. I think that the post does draw out some of the evolving threads in my thinking. While my core framework remains the same, my views have continued to evolve.

 One thread in that May post was the way our mental constructs, what I call mudmaps, affect our view of the world. A second was the way that our views can affect the behaviour of others through a process called mirroring. I think that we are in that position now in some of our current debates.

In my brief writing on the "War on Terror", I suggested that the mental construct, the rhetoric attached to it, was misleading. A war implied a structured conflict between two sides. That was not the case. However, in applying the rhetoric and in forcing other people to respond. to it, we actually risked creating a war  by creating the very thing that we feared, a structured response that took the rhetoric and used it to it;s own ends.

I think that we are now in that position in the currently confused discussion on race and racial prejudice with its constant emphasis on the past and current evils of "whites", on the need for society to protect itself from right wing aka white extremism. As someone involved in country politics over a long period who sits to some degree on the right of politics but who also straddles from left to right, I have been amazed at the way that rhetoric and response has created patterns that I never expected.

 In the "war on terror", the West's response helped create the demon so painted. Now, I think, we are doing it again, but in the opposite direction.

Brief Update 28 March 2019

I wanted to provide a brief update before moving on.

Remember in this post I am not talking about whether particular views or episodes but the way in which particular mental constructs, particular forms of rhetoric, can actually create the thing attacked. In this case, the growth of certain right wing political views.

It does become complicated because of the emotional and value overlays involved in discussion. Take some of the discussion and responses around that Al Jazeera sting on One Nation.

Former Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste called the story unethical. I think that's right. It's like what we have come to expect from certain Australian media outlets. It lowered my opinion of Al Jazeera as a serious media outlet.

At a second level, it told us little that we did not know before, although the sheer stupidity in getting caught is a bit mind-blowing. But then, and you may call this a personal bias, I have long thought of One Nation as distinctly unprofessional and silly. Here former One Nation David Ettridge made a remarkably lucid point.

Interviewed by, I think, the ABC's Patricia Karvelas, he said that the whole thing would have little impact on the One Nation vote because it played into an already established trope, Ms Hanson and One Nation as victim of the main stream media and parties.

I think that is probably right, although PK was a bit incredulous. You see, we are not dealing with a conversation or even a conventional political debate, but views expressed by two groups that are now disconnected. And, my argument is, we have created that second smaller group through the frames we have adopted.     


Anonymous said...

Nope. Sorry. I've read this post, plus extension, several times now - and you're suggesting what?

For my money, in any population, there will always be outliers and dissidents (defined to be "not us") - and they will exist, and flourish, then wither away, and maybe then rise again, without any input from "us".

A Bell Chart of "acceptable human behavior" wouldn't have any real meaning without including the inevitable outliers. The definition of "acceptable human behavior" provides a measure - but it does not in any sense actively "create" the outliers.


Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, kvd. You are right, I think, in your description of of outliers and dissidents.You are right when you say The definition of "acceptable human behavior" provides a measure - but it does not in any sense actively "create" the outliers. You are right when you say that views rise and fall. As part of that process, a view that was once marginal may grow in strength and become mainstream. Support for the Australian republic is an example. This was a fringe view in the 1950s, whereas today it is mainstream.

I was talking about the importance of rhetoric and the relationship between rhetoric and action. In the war on terror you had rhetoric that was associated with, used to support, actions. Keeping it bald without evidence, my argument is that the war on terror actively created the thing that was feared, that was to be defeated. It did so in part by legitimising the very thing that was feared. Those on the other side turned the rhetoric on its head arguing that it actually proved their point.

In the second case we are dealing with, we have two groups. We have the real outliers, that previously insignificant fringe with extreme views. These previously paraded in their dozens with their swastika arm bands. Then we had a bigger group who felt dispossessed in some way, under threat.

The form that the attack on the first group took gave them credibility as a threat that fed into their own perceptions of themselves. But the views also expressed by the "progressive side' that does, I think, dominate much reporting and analysis alienated a much bigger group that saw themselves as under attack changed the parameters in two ways. It created a bigger field for the extreme fringe, but also gave them them an additional mental justification. They were defending the oppressed,

The war on terror fed into this by creating an enemy - Muslim extremism - that they could both attack and copy.

You will be aware that I have written a little on the pernicious effects of racial stereotyping. Ideas and beliefs are always set in a social construct. I explored the pernicious influence of Social Darwinism, the way that this played out in events. I have explored the way that scientific discoveries have invalidated the very concept of race. And yet race is back and it comes as much if not more from the "progressives"

We need a new approach and I can't see it happening at this point.