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Almost every political discussion focuses at some point on the hysteria of the Left and the bias of the media. Most of us are tempted to throw up our hands and assume that we can do nothing to mitigate the impact of these groups, but I’m beginning to think we can. The solutions rest with understanding the nature of the Left’s catastrophic thinking, grappling with the media’s bias, and finally capitalizing on changes that are already beginning to occur.
To begin, it’s important to understand the nature of the Left’s catastrophic thinking. One source describes it in this way:
Beck and Gellatly (2016) propose that catastrophic thinking is a central feature in psychopathology. Such thinking magnifies both the immediate and eventual consequences of any perceived threat. A variety of disorders can be conceptualized as such: Clients magnify external threats (accidents, attacks, arson) but most notably misinterpret and magnify perceived internal threats. Sensations, thoughts, and emotions are seen as signs of immediate physical or psychological catastrophe. . .
They identify 6 essential ingredients of a cycle that fuels them: Catastrophic Beliefs (‘I’m having a heart attack, I’m dying,’) triggered by a Precipitating Event (heart palpitations) results in both Anxiety Symptoms (shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling out of control) and an Interpretive Bias (‘If my chest hurts, I’m having a heart attack’). These, in turn trigger an Attentional Fixation (‘There’s no other way to look at this!’) and an Attentional Bias (‘I really need to pay close attention to my chest.’) And these attentional factors serve to refuel the anxiety, the interpretative bias, the catastrophic beliefs and each other.
I was especially intrigued by the “attentional bias,” which I believe describes the attitudes of those on the Left who have had extreme reactions to the election of Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, to emerge from this type of thinking, a person needs to recognize that it is delusional. It can be treated through psychotherapeutic techniques, but people need to realize that there are steps they can take to deal with these experiences, that their source of anxiety is not the election of Donald Trump and the solution is not his impeachment, but rather finding ways of dealing with this information.
A large part of the catastrophic thinking on the Left is the media, not just the information they publish, but how they provide it and the cultural environment in which it is operating. One fascinating article describes the role of the media in this tumultuous environment. This statement in particular is fascinating:
In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.
The media also abuses its means of communication in other ways: they focus on the flashy and dramatic; people are unable to filter out what is relevant and what is not; the format is factoids, not extensive, in-depth stories; news is presented in terms of the viewer/reader biases; the reader doesn’t evaluate the worthiness of the story and its relevance. It’s worth pointing out that not only the Left is victim to this approach, but the Right can be as well.
The differences between the media’s effect on the Right and Left are that temperamentally, the Right (even after an emotional reaction to news) prefers to rely on facts and the rational mind (although the Right also suffers from confirmation bias); the Left relies on its emotional reactions to the news. It might be easier, too, for the Right to seek objectivity, since the media’s overwhelming support of the Left is obvious.
So is there any way to reduce the catastrophic thinking of the Left, the influence of the mainstream media and social media? I have a few ideas:
- With the emphasis on wellness in our culture, the damage wrought by catastrophic thinking should be emphasized. Physical health (such as cardiovascular damage and gastrointestinal problems) can result from this type of stress. This prolonged anxiety impairs memory, brain processing and can contribute to depression. Frightening stories can trigger glucocorticoid (cortisol), because people are in a state of constant stress. The strength of the immune system is also challenged. Finding resources to mitigate the stress, such as psychotherapy, would be helpful.
- The #walkaway movement should be promoted in every possible social medium. Its Facebook group has over 100,000 members. When invited, members of the Right should be open to discussing issues with those who are uncertain and possibly in transition to new ideas, without pressure to “join up.”
- The media’s contribution by way of exaggerated reporting, promotion of hysteria, fear-mongering, and distortions should continue to be called out at every opportunity. A Gallup poll indicates that only a third of the US has trust in the media, and it appears to be worsening.
I’ll end with this quote by Eric Reimer:
No one knows what the future will hold, but it is clear that the current state of American ideological organization is a market situation that is unsustainable and shifting. It will eventually find equilibrium, but in the meantime the #WalkAway movement is hopefully one that will wake up more and more on both sides of the aisle to the far-left risks at play in our country and the tenuous fragility of our current political situation.
How can we take advantage of these political shifts?