This was another interesting column in the New York Times about the history, origins, and power of fear + mob mentality in the U.S. Normal people sometimes don't like sociopaths because they don't like feeling that they are just a patsy to the sociopath's intrigues. They are hyper focused on thinking that the sociopath is the root to their problems. It may or may not be true that sociopaths are to blame for as many problems for which they are blamed. Historically, however, it is this fear, suspicion, and hate of "others" that not only perpetuates negative stereotypes to the utter disregard of reality, but leaves people open to be a further patsy to those who would capitalize off of their fear. These opportunists may include political or religious leaders, bosses and neighbors, and anyone else that would use your fear to drive their own ascension to power, or even turn other people's fears against you. Here are excerpts from the column:
A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers — and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.This is why I am anxious in crowds. This is why I am a libertarian. I think I have a healthy fear of persecution that helps constrain any inclination to persecute others. Similarly, I wouldn't mind if the tables were turned on some of those people who are so sure that they know what's right and best for everyone. Maybe if they were on the receiving end of persecution themselves, they wouldn't be so self-satisfied. But I am glad that with the prohibitions on women wearing face veils in France, protests against a Muslim community center in New York, etc., people who would normally consider themselves open minded, inherently "good" and "wise" individuals with clear definitions of "right" and "wrong" are being faced to stare down the barrel of reality.
Screeds against Catholics from the 19th century sounded just like the invective today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque. The starting point isn’t hatred but fear: an alarm among patriots that newcomers don’t share their values, don’t believe in democracy, and may harm innocent Americans.
Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears — the 19th- and 20th-century equivalents of Glenn Beck.
Most Americans stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry, and only a small number of hoodlums killed or tormented Catholics, Mormons or others. But the assaults were possible because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent.
Suspicion of outsiders, of people who behave or worship differently, may be an ingrained element of the human condition, a survival instinct from our cave-man days. But we should also recognize that historically this distrust has led us to burn witches, intern Japanese-Americans, and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.
Historically, unreal suspicions were sometimes rooted in genuine and significant differences. Many new Catholic immigrants lacked experience in democracy. Mormons were engaged in polygamy. And today some extremist Muslims do plot to blow up planes, and Islam has real problems to work out about the rights of women. The pattern has been for demagogues to take real abuses and exaggerate them, portraying, for example, the most venal wing of the Catholic Church as representative of all Catholicism — just as fundamentalist Wahabis today are caricatured as more representative of Islam than the incomparably more numerous moderate Muslims of Indonesia (who have elected a woman as president before Americans have).
During World War I, rumors spread that German-Americans were poisoning food, and Theodore Roosevelt warned that “Germanized socialists” were “more mischievous than bubonic plague.”
Anti-Semitic screeds regularly warned that Jews were plotting to destroy the United States in one way or another. A 1940 survey found that 17 percent of Americans considered Jews to be a “menace to America.”
Chinese in America were denounced, persecuted and lynched, while the head of a United States government commission publicly urged in 1945 "the extermination of the Japanese in toto." Most shamefully, anti-Asian racism led to the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.
All that is part of America’s heritage, and typically as each group has assimilated, it has participated in the torment of newer arrivals — as in Father Charles Coughlin’s ferociously anti-Semitic radio broadcasts in the 1930s. Today’s recrudescence is the lies about President Obama’s faith, and the fear-mongering about the proposed Islamic center.
But we have a more glorious tradition intertwined in American history as well, one of tolerance, amity and religious freedom. Each time, this has ultimately prevailed over the Know Nothing impulse.
Americans have called on moderates in Muslim countries to speak out against extremists, to stand up for the tolerance they say they believe in. We should all have the guts do the same at home.
I smell change.