Consider the US. We revel in food. We have industries and movements dedicated to the perfect gustatory experience from molecular gastronomy to cooking shows. There’s even one where children are pitted against each other to create the perfect dish. We do this while half the world starves and our own underclass goes hungry. This is important because I think this is a great example of how ignorance and indifference impact our society. I don’t think it’s deliberate so much as it’s a reflection of our own indifference and self-involvement. But we can take ignorance one step further from self-involved apathy to outright maliciousness. It’s not hard to find people willing to characterize the poor as lazy, dangerous, drug addicted, or crazy. Why would we do this? because, in my opinion, it’s easier than dealing with the institutional dysfunction related to poverty. Cracking the poverty nut is hard. Not because we don’t know how, but because it takes a lot of work. Much easier to say that people are a bunch of lazy degenerates. We vote against anti-poverty measures not because we don’t want to help people, but because we want to stick it welfare queens and gang members. Not only are we ignorant, apathetic, and malicious, but we also take joy in some people’s misery especially if they are rivals. There’s nothing that says “I’m great!” like the suffering of a bitter enemy or even just random passersby. There’s even a word for it. Schadenfreude, “Taking joy in the suffering of others”. In English it’s a little more succinct. Gloating, “Thinking with malicious triumph, satisfaction, gratification or delight”. It’s as much biological as it is cultural, though I’ll spare you the lecture on neuropeptides. To a lesser degree and marginally more healthfully, it’s even the basis of much humor. Though, admittedly, I never got much out of “The Three Stooges” and similar acts. But it’s in stand-up, sitcoms, romcoms, shock jock, coming of age, and other subgenres. Schadenfreude is not the basis of all humor, but you get the idea.
For whatever reason, believing the worst of someone is a deep-seated part of the human experience. It begins with apathy, and it ends with burning torches and pitchforks. My theory is that it’s a way for people to externalize their problems. As in, “my problems are being generated by external forces beyond my control, and I am happy when those nebulous forces are weakened or fail”. But that’s my opinion, you want actual evidence talk to a shrink. Regardless of why and how, it’s everywhere you look.
When speaking about politics it’s relatively easy for one politician or politically aligned group to engage in character assassination through this process. In fact, one could argue that this is the definition of a successful politician. Victory comes by making yourself look superior to the loser and reveling in it. The problem is when people begin to believe in the labels and name calling and forget that it’s just another kind of theater. Misinformation begins to enter the fray and fragment the conversation. Instead of collaboration, we get bloodsport and, before you think it’s some nebulous force acted upon us from the outside, I would remind you of every pastime and entertainment ever. The powers that be didn’t turn politics into bloodsport to get what they want, they did it because we demanded it. We’re hungry explicitly for misinformation because it validates our schadenfreude and it validates how bad we think things are or will be. We want to believe that Obama is a secret muslim, socialist, Kenyan, terrorist sympathizer, working toward any number of anti-american causes. And we want to see him fail. Because failing means America will be strong, and if if America is strong then it’s the kind of place where awesome people like me will succeed. We believe this because, in my opinion, because it’s far easier to believe than to acknowledge a complex truth of entrenched systemic issues inherent to a complex modern society. For our own sense of laziness, we delve as deep as we can into a mountain of absurdity. The worse things in life are the more inclined we are to believe the nonsense.
Take for example “socialism”. How many people know what socialism really is? I’ll tell you. Socialism is collective ownership of a means of productive activity. Communism goes one step further and forbids private property. No modern state has ever successfully converted to communism despite what they call themselves. A few have made a socialist transitions to no good end. Typically by “collective” most people read “state” which wasn’t the original intent of the socialist movement but, be that as it may, what has Obama done that is socialist? Nothing! Consider his signature accomplishment Obamacare. For Obama to be a socialist in this regard he would have to nationalize every aspect of the healthcare industry. He didn’t even craft a single payer system which itself isn’t even socialist. When it comes to health care, there’s only one truly socialist organization in the government and it’s not even Medicare. It’s the Veterans Affairs. The hospitals and clinics are government-owned and the staff are government employees. It’s the only true socialist program I know of and I dare anyone to try to get rid of it.
We could go down the list of absurd things that people believe; that people are desperate to believe. You can even go to the other side and look at people who are desperate to believe in saviors, and forces that will bring about some utopia. Personally I think that’s harder because of the perpetual disappointment. But whether you believe in some coming utopia or in the imminent apocalypse you’re wrong. The world won’t change because you wiped away the slate with divine retribution or revolution. It’ll change because a great deal of people made a conscious decision to work really hard at making their little corner of the world a slightly better place.
So why all this “Obama is a socialist” paranoia? Because it’s easy and it works.