Catastrophic Thinking and the Left: Is There an End in Sight?

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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?

There are 23 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I think there is a relevant component that I didn’t address in the OP. I don’t just have concern with people who cause their own suffering (since we all do this at one time or another); I’m concerned about the disruption this is causing in the country, the way it is probably slowing down the President and his actions and even how debilitating it is for those of us who simply can’t identify with their hysteria. If we can cause a crack in this obsessive fear, maybe everyone will benefit.

    • #1
  2. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Barry Goldwater was going to Blow Up the World in 1964 if he was elected president, and 16 years later Ronald Reagan was going to do the same thing. the moment he took his hand off the Bible at inauguration, if voters were foolish enough to elect him over Jimmy Carter.

    Since we are not now in Year 37 of the post-thermonuclear apocalypse, it’s safe to say the left’s hyperbole of the time was slightly overblown. But when you base your actions on emotion and are trying to fire up support among other people who let their emotions drive their actions, pushing catastrophic thinking is always going to be part of the mix, and the rise of the internet and social media has simply magnified the number of voices pushing those ideas. The main question is how many people not ruled by their emotions are willing to simply tune out the 24/7/365 cries of impending doom, and how many other people are making those claims simply because they think they can scare the public into doing what they want, and how many actually believe the claims they’re peddling?

    If you get  enough people (and enough voting results) that decide to ignore the fear-mongering, and enough people for whom engaging in that stuff is just a way to try and gain power, the latter people eventually will tone down the hysteria levels if they find it’s not working. But those who have truly bought into the hype are simply going to keep claiming end times are near if we don’t do exactly as they tell us.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    If you get enough people (and enough voting results) that decide to ignore the fear-mongering, and enough people for whom engaging in that stuff is just a way to try and gain power, the latter people eventually will tone down the hysteria levels if they find it’s not working. But those who have truly bought into the hype are simply going to keep claiming end times are near if we don’t do exactly as they tell us.

    Your whole comment is a thoughtful one, @jon1979. I just wonder what results would tell them it’s not working? For example, what kind of message would winning or losing in the mid-terms give them? Since we’re not going to do what they tell us, I guess we’ll have to learn to stop listening. That’s so darn hard to do.

    • #3
  4. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Hey Susan – Instapundit just linked to your post. Congrats!

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    Hey Susan – Instapundit just linked to your post. Congrats!

    Cool! Thanks for letting me know, @tigerlily!

    • #5
  6. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Your whole comment is a thoughtful one, @jon1979. I just wonder what results would tell them it’s not working? For example, what kind of message would winning or losing in the mid-terms give them? Since we’re not going to do what they tell us, I guess we’ll have to learn to stop listening. That’s so darn hard to do.

    It took three consecutive presidential election losses for the Democrats’ progressive wing to agree to ratchet  down its anger in 1992 and allow Bill Clinton and the more moderate Democratic Leadership Council to have a say in the tone of that year’s election campaign. You can argue whether or not Clinton had any intention of following through on his campaign promises from ’92 … at least until the 1994 midterm debacle forced him to triangulate back to the middle. But the progressive wing by ’92 was willing to allow Clinton to have his Sister Soljuah moment without barely a peep of protest, because after 12 years out of the White House, they were willing to suppress their normal attacks, if that’s what it took to get back into power.

    That’s probably the timetable we’re looking at here, if it does happen. The alarmists certainly aren’t going to change their tone before 2020, because they don’t think their ideology cost them the election, and if Trump wins there, the dire warnings of cataclysms to come will run at least through 2024, because just the thought of Trump sets them on edge. Pence or whoever ran then would likely have to win before we’d finally get a few people deciding alarmist rhetoric isn’t working, and some other strategy needs to be tried for 2028.

     

    • #6
  7. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Your whole comment is a thoughtful one, @jon1979. I just wonder what results would tell them it’s not working? For example, what kind of message would winning or losing in the mid-terms give them? Since we’re not going to do what they tell us, I guess we’ll have to learn to stop listening. That’s so darn hard to do.

    It took three consecutive presidential election losses for the Democrats’ progressive wing to agree to ratchet down its anger in 1992 and allow Bill Clinton and the more moderate Democratic Leadership Council to have a say in the tone of that year’s election campaign. You can argue whether or not Clinton had any intention of following through on his campaign promises from ’92 … at least until the 1994 midterm debacle forced him to triangulate back to the middle. But the progressive wing by ’92 was willing to allow Clinton to have his Sister Soljuah moment without barely a peep of protest, because after 12 years out of the White House, they were willing to suppress their normal attacks, if that’s what it took to get back into power.

    That’s probably the timetable we’re looking at here, if it does happen. The alarmists certainly aren’t going to change their tone before 2020, because they don’t think their ideology cost them the election, and if Trump wins there, the dire warnings of cataclysms to come will run at least through 2024, because just the thought of Trump sets them on edge. Pence or whoever ran then would likely have to win before we’d finally get a few people deciding alarmist rhetoric isn’t working, and some other strategy needs to be tried for 2028.

     

    Sounds about right to me.

    • #7
  8. IrwinChusid Lincoln
    IrwinChusid
    @IrwinChusid

    BREAKING: CNN has uncovered a tape of Trump plotting to herd American Jews into death camps!

    • #8
  9. SecondBite Member
    SecondBite
    @SecondBite

    You know, after so many election cycles where some researcher at Stanford or Princeton or Yale does a study that purports to find that conservatism is a mental disorder, it is sooooo tempting………

    But I am sure the temptation will pass as soon as I am back on my meds.

    • #9
  10. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    All my life I’ve heard catastrophic fates predicted by Experts, detailed with delicious misanthropy. Overpopulation. The Ice Age. Pollution would choke the earth. Oil would run out. Nuclear Winter would destroy civilization. The Ozone layer would evaporate and deadly rays would stream in. And of course, global warming – er, climate change.

    All of these things required the immediate empowerment and intervention of governmental agencies to alter individual behavior. Everyone who advocated passionately for statist solutions could consider themselves a little messiah, out to save souls. But the lack of complete, immediate, total mobilization on the issue leads to despair – we are lost! – and this breeds more misanthropy, and a sullen belief that humanity deserves what it has coming to it. We’re a virus, an infestation on this noble green marble.

    There were dire predictions from other quarters, and they were always specific, geo-political, and based in an understanding of human nature and history. Hence they were ignored by the catastrophists, who preferred grand narratives that repaid our hubris.  

     

    • #10
  11. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    We’ve always said liberalism is a mental disease.   It seems some learn when their fears don’t pan out or they grow up because they have to engage in the real world, but new generations come along shaped by tenured professors, or the young talking heads who look and sound good on TV, or  write B grade scripts, or enjoy the rents of political power who never have to pay for the consequences of being wrong.  So the left never learns, never grows, never goes away because it’s left, a collective, a colony.  Only individuals learn and grow.  Even Clinton’s move to the middle was caused by Newt Gingrich, economic reality Rubin taught him and political reality Dick Morse taught him, and FDR had to end the New Deal to fight a war. 

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jon1979 (View Comment):
    Pence or whoever ran then would likely have to win before we’d finally get a few people deciding alarmist rhetoric isn’t working, and some other strategy needs to be tried for 2028.

    Maybe I’ll just go live in a cave for the next 10 years. Sigh.

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    SecondBite (View Comment):
    But I am sure the temptation will pass as soon as I am back on my meds.

    That’s it, @secondbite! We have to offer them free meds, issued through our benevolent government, to tranquilize them for the next six years! Brilliant! (I know that’s not what you said, but I couldn’t help myself . . . )

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    All my life I’ve heard catastrophic fates predicted by Experts, detailed with delicious misanthropy. Overpopulation. The Ice Age. Pollution would choke the earth. Oil would run out. Nuclear Winter would destroy civilization. The Ozone layer would evaporate and deadly rays would stream in. And of course, global warming – er, climate change.

    All of these things required the immediate empowerment and intervention of governmental agencies to alter individual behavior. Everyone who advocated passionately for statist solutions could consider themselves a little messiah, out to save souls. But the lack of complete, immediate, total mobilization on the issue leads to despair – we are lost! – and this breeds more misanthropy, and a sullen belief that humanity deserves what it has coming to it. We’re a virus, an infestation on this noble green marble.

    There were dire predictions from other quarters, and they were always specific, geo-political, and based in an understanding of human nature and history. Hence they were ignored by the catastrophists, who preferred grand narratives that repaid our hubris.

     

    . . . and of course, @jameslileks, there is no interest whatsoever in checking/measuring whether any intervention made the slightest bit of difference, in spite of spending millions, billions of dollars. We must simply carry on!

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Only individuals learn and grow

    This is very interesting. Most of the people I know of who move from the Left to the Right have made an effort to become educated, to explore their own beliefs and compare them to the other side. They have to be willing to leave the hive. And that is more terrifying for many than what the Right is doing! Thanks, @iwalton!

    • #15
  16. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Susan, I think this is a really good and timely post.  I recently had an unsuccessful interaction with a friend who is catastrophizing everything President Trump does, including walking in front of Queen Elizabeth.  When I pointed out that President Obama talked through the first half of God Save the Queen, and every president makes small errors in protocol, she reacted angrily and eventually deleted the thread.

    However, I think the post would be improved without this passage:

    Susan Quinn: 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.

    Intelligent people on the left say exactly the same thing in reverse about the right, and I can think of plenty of examples to back up either point.  Living in the San Francisco Bay Area I have plenty of friends and acquaintances with left-leaning politics.  I have friends and family who are emotionally reactive in support of Trump and against him, and I know people who are rational and analytical on both sides as well.  We have different core values and unspoken assumptions.

    It is tempting to compare our best against their worst, but I don’t think it’s persuasive.

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    However, I think the post would be improved without this passage:

    Susan Quinn: 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.

    Intelligent people on the left say exactly the same thing about the right, and I can think of plenty of examples to back up either point. It is tempting to compare our best against their worst, but I don’t think it’s persuasive.

    Okay, @markwilson. Who would you reference on the political Left who is speaking rationally as a general rule? I would suggest that they could say that about the Right, but that doesn’t make it true. Perhaps in your encounter with people on the Left you have found people who act emotional but then shift to the rational; I haven’t.

    • #17
  18. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Okay, @markwilson. Who would you reference on the political Left who is speaking rationally as a general rule? I would suggest that they could say that about the Right, but that doesn’t make it true. Perhaps in your encounter with people on the Left you have found people who act emotional but then shift to the rational; I haven’t.

    There is a difference between a person’s self-assessment as “preferring facts and the rational mind” — I think almost anyone would make this claim — and the assessment of someone who disagrees with them.  In other words, someone might believe they are being entirely rational, while an opponent might say, if you don’t come around to my point of view (which is based on facts and reason) then you must be stuck on some emotional hangup.

    I don’t read a lot of political pundits and I wouldn’t bark up that tree hoping to find examples of facts-and-rational-mind because that arena is so dominated by partisan politics.  But most of the left-leaning members of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, for example, Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris, and Christina Hoff Summers, fit the description.  The website Vox.com, while woefully underwhelming in their factual knowledge and informed by leftist values, extols the importance of reason and facts.  Read the comment section of a New York Times article and you’ll find a mixture of partisan hatred and “not angry, just disappointed” comments about how the Right and Trump supporters have lost their grounding in facts and reason in favor of an emotionally satisfying personal and tribal support for The Donald.

    There is a mixture, or rather a spectrum, of people on both sides who range from reasonable to emotional.

    Edit; And since one of my recent comments caused offense when it was interpreted using expressio unius est exclusio alterius, there are tons of shining examples on the political right of fact-based, rational discourse, including Ricochet.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):
    Edit; And since one of my recent comments caused offense when it was interpreted using expressio unius est exclusio alterius, there are tons of shining examples on the political right of fact-based, rational discourse, including Ricochet.

    Don’t know Latin except to recognize it. I guess I’m less interested in how people label themselves or even each other, and more interested in what they actually say and do (although I realize that’s exactly what I did). The same goes for what people purport to be or honor, and what they actually write and do. (Can you tell I’m a big supporter of “doing”?  ;-)) BTW, I like your comment to me–it was polite and thoughtful. Also, I’ve heard a little about about the Intellectual Dark Web. Could you tell me a little more about it so I can tap in? Or write an OP?

    • #19
  20. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Don’t know Latin except to recognize it.

    Expressio unius est exclusio alterius means by listing some things, you implicitly exclude everything else.  I didn’t want it to seem like I saw rational thinkers only on the left.

    • #20
  21. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Also, I’ve heard a little about about the Intellectual Dark Web. Could you tell me a little more about it so I can tap in? Or write an OP?

    Generally any conversation involving some combination of Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Sam Harris, Christian Hoff Summers, Dave Rubin, or Eric Weinstein.  They have a wide range of ideologies but they make good faith attempts to explain everything they believe and understand everything their opponents believe.

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Also, I’ve heard a little about about the Intellectual Dark Web. Could you tell me a little more about it so I can tap in? Or write an OP?

    Generally any conversation involving some combination of Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Sam Harris, Christian Hoff Summers, Dave Rubin, or Eric Weinstein. They have a wide range of ideologies but they make good faith attempts to explain everything they believe and understand everything their opponents believe.

    I’ve seen the work of almost all of them . Who knew I was so edgey?! Seriously, it’s a reminder to stay engaged with thoughtful people. Thanks, Mark. 

    • #22
  23. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    I Walton (View Comment):

    We’ve always said liberalism is a mental disease. It seems some learn when their fears don’t pan out or they grow up because they have to engage in the real world, but new generations come along shaped by tenured professors, or the young talking heads who look and sound good on TV, or write B grade scripts, or enjoy the rents of political power who never have to pay for the consequences of being wrong. So the left never learns, never grows, never goes away because it’s left, a collective, a colony. Only individuals learn and grow. Even Clinton’s move to the middle was caused by Newt Gingrich, economic reality Rubin taught him and political reality Dick Morse taught him, and FDR had to end the New Deal to fight a war.

    This illustrates one of the saddest things to me: The term should be Progressivism not liberalism. The word “liberal” and its various forms has been captured and misused by Progressives and accepted as their label by conservatives. “Liberal” was the philosophy of the Enlightenment and is fully incorporated in our Constitution. But the 19th Century Germans and their particular form of secular utopianism has overcome the notion that fallible people pursuing their individual desires in a fallible way could govern cooperatively as opposed to collectively. Sad.

    • #23

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