"The Rise of a Moral Panic"

A good piece by a doctor of geography (to include culture and politics, he notes in his bio) on the irrationality attending our current debate.
The classic example of a moral panic involves a society losing its mind over witchcraft, as when more than twenty innocent people, mostly women, were hanged or otherwise killed following the Salem witch trials of 1692. In general, a moral panic concerns something that would be bad, perhaps horrific, if real, but whose reality is imagined or exaggerated to the point of social hysteria, and the popular reaction to which leads individuals and institutions to abandon reason, evidence, and common sense....

It should be obvious from history that uninformed or illiterate attacks on odious people like Gorka or Lord lead inevitably to uninformed or illiterate attacks on good people. Perhaps CNN dismissed Lord on a pretext, or perhaps it finally just no longer thought he was worth the trouble. And the Vitézi Rend is an obscure bit of knowledge, easy for dilettantes to posture over because so few others are equipped to challenge their “expertise.” The okay sign is a different matter. It is familiar, common, mundane. What does it say that so many repeat the myth of the “white power” sign? One possibility is that people have no confidence in their own understanding of the sign; another is that they acknowledge that it used to mean “okay,” but are willing to surrender such a common expression to extremists instantly when challenged. Both possibilities are disturbing, because they suggest that we lack the mental tools and strength to respond to this phenomenon. When pressed, we will sacrifice our culture and our way of life. Charlottesville demonstrated, at least for the moment, that we are not willing to cede control of our streets to white nationalism. But if we cede control of our rhetoric, of our intellectual spaces, and even of our ordinary language, the real battle will be lost.
Lord is a TV personality, and I don't watch television. I don't know that Gorka is an "odious" person, though; I've never met the guy, but I know a guy who knows him and who tells me that Gorka's been badly mistreated. The press hates Trump so much that they're looking to hate anyone associated with Trump, and if there are things they can misrepresent in a way that makes that guy look even worse than Trump, well, then that guy becomes a weapon against Trump.

That's a part of the irrationality that the author is rightly describing. Just this week, I noticed that the press was describing the transcript of the President's remarks as being that of his "rant." In addition, they left out a very significant piece of evidence contradicting the "moral panic" picture: the benediction by Alveda King, which was attended by a very warm reception from the crowd. The benediction itself is an appeal for unity and brotherhood not divided by things like race; the crowd's embrace of King and her message would seem to suggest -- at minimum -- reconsidering the panic that these are all 'racists' or even 'Nazis.' It is unclear to me if they simply cannot see the evidence that is right in front of their eyes, or if they are actively rejecting that it could be true or real, or if -- I should not like to believe, but it is possible -- they are actively suppressing exculpatory information in order to further the moral panic.

There is cause for concern about a rising confidence among true white supremacists. As noted here recently, I've seen a Klan flag being flown openly when I had never seen one in decades. It is right and proper to oppose such things, in a rational but committed fashion.

Nevertheless, one must avoid the irrational excesses that are becoming all too common. I meet Trump voters every day when I go out in the world around me. I buy gas from them, I have other sorts of businesslike exchanges, I overhear their conversations in line at the grocery store. This panic is out of order. The harm it is causing is worse than any potential harm from the handfuls of genuine Klansmen and Nazis scattered here and there across a vast nation.


raven said...

"It was the press more than any other body which fanned disagreement into a flaming hatred and fanned it without pity, without scruple, without truth,and without care for the consequences."
General Tuker, Eastern Command, India, 1946.

The carnage that followed was truly horrific, even in respect to the "normal " atrocities found in war. This was not about territory or control, but about causing the "other" as much misery as possible-
no horror was so sickening that the next could not eclipse it.

ColoComment said...

I think this writer tries a bit too hard in her opening para., but other than that....


Grim said...

That post is linked, C.C., under "further the moral panic." She's talking about deliberately inciting one via the giving of attention to fringe characters who couldn't ordinarily merit it.

It's possible to read this as a conspiracy: the media ginned up coverage; the police withdrew protection to enable violence; the mayor and governor then declared a state of emergency; the police then drove the one set of protesters into the worst elements of the counterprotesters, and then did nothing to stop the consequences. The press then went on this moral panic for weeks, leading to a substantial up-spiral of national concern about white supremacists and Nazis.

You could read it that way. She's kind of trending in that direction.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I do get tired of Salem witches in America being the victims that everyone immediately thinks of, given that there were hundreds in England and thousands in the rest of Europe.

Grim said...

Indeed. You might like this old post about what people get wrong about witch-burning. It's a surprisingly poorly understood phenomenon.

Christopher B said...

The fact that the pattern of police stand downs appears to repeat over and over in locations controlled by a certain political party, most recently in Berkeley (again), certainly gives the impression that the orders are deliberate and the order-givers know they are not going to be held responsible for the violence that results.

Christopher B said...

One possibility is that people have no confidence in their own understanding of the sign; another is that they acknowledge that it used to mean “okay,” but are willing to surrender such a common expression to extremists instantly when challenged.

or people are afraid to call out the absurd claims of politically correct "experts" for fear of becoming a target.

Grim said...

It's an interesting situation. The police are time and again standing down or, as in Virginia, actively creating situations in which violence is likely (and then not stopping it). But on the other side, the President just pardoned a law enforcement officer for aggressively violating a court order that was aimed at forcing him to respect what a Federal court interpreted as constitutional rights (4A rights re: racial profiling). The intent, clearly, is to get the other police nationwide who are on his side to feel comfortable being more aggressively unconstrained by the courts.

That suggests we've entered a phase in which the police will be protected by politicians for performing their duties in ways that are aimed at furthering gains in the political conflict rather than keeping the common peace. My guess is that police who refuse to do this will be cashiered.

"Law and Order" I keep hearing the President say, but it looks like we're seeing some pretty big cracks in that concept. On both sides.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That was a good essay, Grim. I had some similar, though less thorough thoughts a decade ago, repeated in 2015 http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/01/big-bad-three.html

CS Lewis wrote that science was not a successor and reaction against belief in the occult and black magic, but a cousin to them, having grown up at the same time. He did not believe in any sharp break between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance - he thought that was an invention of thinkers who "had the temerity to call themselves the Enlightenment." As he was familiar with every shred of the literature involved, unlike the dilettantes who have succeeded in controlling the narrative since, I tend to accept his judgement in the overview, though later discoveries may modify individual pieces.

He made the observation that we did not stop burning witches because of any moral superiority, but because we stopped believing they could create harm at a distance in those ways. We treat those who we believe harm at a distance (environmental activism comes to mind) just about as severely today, and if we thought the granny next door could do damage with spells against our children would would do the same today.

There is no increase in the number of Nazis and Klansmen. Those folks don't get along well with anyone, usually, and their groups become dormant while they form new groups every year. This gives the impression that there are many more, because there are more groups, but it's the same clowns, repackaged. (Extremists on the left disband and reform in the same way.) For some reason, they think that Trump is going to protect them and make all things good, even though he has been merely erratic, not supportive. Trump is erratic in a lot of things, actually. Follows his gut. Works sometimes, disastrous others. No unified vision.

Don't fall into the trap of trying to defend your decency being mingled with their attempt to borrow your legitimacy. It's an astroturf exercise by the left, to condemn you if you don't condemn them loudly enough, and in just right way. Which you will never manage, because truth is irrelevant in that discussion.

Grim said...

I think I know what you're warning against, and giving the Klan attention seems to be playing into 'their attempt' here. On the other hand, it's not out of my way; the very first post on this blog, some fourteen years ago, mentions the Klan and the importance of maintaining vigilance against it.

Ymar Sakar said...

Anti Fa have managed to fulfill my predictions concerning American death squads. They are still pretty weak compared to BLM's expired Dallas cell however. If I was running their strat ops, they would be much more effective, then again, they weren't created to be effective, but to create the "pretext" for the revivification of Aryanism and the whole theology behind that state religion and white supremacy justification. Cannon fodder will still be fodder, don't worry, that role for the Left hasn't changed yet.

Being able to see the future makes it easier to be calm while the "news" makes everybody lose their heads.

Ymar Sakar said...

I also saw Grim write various posts about the Klan years ago, maybe even 14 years ago. I wrote at the time that the Klan was unimportant because they were no longer supported by the Demoncrats.

If the KKK becomes supported by the secret societies, slave lords, or Alt Right national powers, then they might become an issue. So far, the Left has been ordered to stoke up the flames of white hatred, even if it costs them the entire SJW wing of fodder to do it.

All part of the plan. The fact that the KKK have not responded along the lines of BLM or Nation of Islam, proves my point. They were never much of a threat without the secret societies or slave lords funding them.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Alt Right gave Trum the power to win, not the other way around. A severe misunderstanding of current day power balances in DC and the US.

The Ctrl Left, however, is clearly created by Soros and the power of the Leftist alliance, rather than vice a versa.

ColoComment said...

Well dangit, that'll teach me to follow your links.... Or at least hover the cursor to see where you're taking the reader.... My bad for being lazy.

I suspect that the Left/MSM will drop its affinity for the antifa types as soon as it perceives them (via a nice selection of videos to remind the voter) to be a net negative for the 2018 elections. Or the antifa types will push the envelope of violence to a point that is too far even for the Left to defend. Let's hope that it happens before anyone gets dead.

The Arpaio pardon will be a news one-day wonder: he's an old man, his wife is ill, he's no longer in office, his "criminal" contempt conviction was imposed by a federal (not state) judge (no jury of peers) for "intentionally" (on her determination alone) ignoring a civil order (which "intent" was the basis for his appeal, although he'll not pursue that now.

Notwithstanding how he may have conducted his sheriff's department in the past (which his ~30% hispanic county population apparently strongly supported by re-electing him), at present he's a sympathetic figure and his "criminality" is founded in a very weak "criminal" contempt charge.


Grim said...

There's an even kinder reading of the pardon, in which Trump is using the pardon to forward a Constitutional challenge to the courts; after all, the courts aren't actually empowered to serve as the final arbiter on what the Constitution requires. The executive is a co-equal branch, and has its own 'checks' to use -- including the pardon.

On this view, Trump is really objecting to the idea that the 4A prevents what is being described as 'racial profiling' (although, as with the 'Muslim ban' that actually wasn't aimed at religion, it's really targeting national origin). The argument would be essentially that it's just ridiculous to suggest that, having been charged with enforcing laws against illegal immigration from Mexico, you couldn't take notice of qualities like 'being ethnically Mexican.' Similarly, it is ridiculous to suggest that legal counters to terrorism have to be constructed to ignore the obvious correlation with radical political Islam.

That's a plausible view and I've seen it advocated. But I haven't seen Trump advocate it; it may well be what he would say if he were inclined to frame reasoned arguments, but it isn't what he does say. And this sheriff has engaged in some bad practices at times, although he wasn't being charged with any of that; he was, as you say, only charged with contempt of court.

Anonymous said...

The Trump-haters ave a blind spot and cannot see anything that is evidence contrary to them. Therefore, reasoning with them is not possible. We should give up and focus on suing them.