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American Cultural Shifts: Chapter 2-Hate!

Seneca, one of the great Roman Stoics, left behind insights that have influenced philosophers and academics throughout the ages. One of his most controversial observations concerned politicians and religion. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Seneca was pointing out the subtle interplay between deeply held beliefs, human emotion, and politics. His artful way of playing with words was, as Picasso might say, the lie that shows us the truth.

The notion that leaders and politicians manipulate the beliefs and emotions of their constituents is hardly a revelation. As long as there have been politicians, there has been manipulation. The best politicians learn how to manipulate their audience’s emotions without appearing to do so. The right words by the right leader at the right time have resulted in political movements that changed the world. Occasionally, those words are upbeat and inspiring. The calm, non-rhotic rhythm of a John F. Kennedy speech, the folksy optimism of Ronald Reagan, the carefully chosen words of Winston Churchill, or the beautiful arcing pitch of Martin Luther King are rare examples of leaders that could deliver an inspirational message while weathering attacks from their adversaries. More commonly, the words used by politicians to stir their audience are ones of fear and hate.

Hate is a much stronger political motivator than love. People feel satisfied when they have something to vote for but are exhilarated when there is something to vote against. Voters may tell surveyors that they are turned off by negative campaigning, but the truth is that they are riveted and entertained by negative politics. They say they hate negative political ads, but they can easily recall exactly what’s in them. Winning politicians know what voters want, but the most effective ones intimately know what voters hate. The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov understood this human characteristic when he wrote, “Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.

Hate does not just appear out of thin air among voters. It is preceded and accompanied by fear. Hate may be the most proximate emotion regarding a political adversary, but first the adversary must be enough of a threat to draw attention. George Lucas cleverly outlined the relationship between fear and hate. He gave Yoda one of the best lines in the entire Star Wars saga. “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” We pay attention to our fears. Fear triggers the most primal portions of our brain to command our bodies to find an escape or to turn and fight. Fear of loss is a motivator two-and-a-half times more powerful than the desire for gain. 

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Culture and Current Events, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Self-Help, Spirituality, True Story