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Saturday, June 11

John Batchelor wants to know why so many Americans are fearful

John Batchelor Show Recording Studio

John Batchelor's end of his discussion last night with Michael Vlahos about what he sees as rampant fear of immigrants in the USA was a bona fide rant. He wasn't to be mollified by Vlahos's attempts to be reasonable (Well, people do need time for assimilation). John didn't want to be reasonable. He'd been building up a head of steam on his show ever since Donald Trump's political campaign jelled and last night he blew his stack. Given that Americans are themselves immigrants it was "ridiculous" and "nonsensical" to be so frightened of immigrants.

John did concede that Americans blaming immigrants for all things bad tha happen in America is an old tradition.  But I don't think he wants to hear about the American Muslims for Trump advocacy group, or that some of the staunchest Trump supporters are found in the Indian-American community. (That is, Indians originally from India, not the Rez; the ones on the reservations have been complaining about immigrants to this land ever since the Pilgrims arrived.)

Far be it from me to attempt to reason with a good rant but I will tackle the deeper issue that John and Vlahos touched on, which is fear in America. There, John was in questioning rather than ranting mode: Why have so many Americans become greatly fearful of just about everything?

I can answer John's question in one sentence. It's because the human brain has a little blip. It can't tell the difference between visual and actual experience.

So one doesn't need a scientific study to peg the marked increase in fear in the United States from the era in which all manner of violence was first deposited, in living color, in the American living room through news broadcasts and fictional TV dramas.

Would it be the same for movies? I think it depends on how many movies a person watches.  

And I note that to spend a few hours watching RT broadcasts about news from Europe is to realize it's not only Americans who've become more fearful; I'd say fear is now heading toward epidemic levels in many parts of the world. 

The Issue of Control

I can't remember the name of the person who mentioned the blip of the brain (although I could probably find it without much trouble) or his scientific/medical specialty but he spoke of it, in passing, during an appearance on a PBS TV show some years ago. He was intent on outlining tactics for replacing negative thought patterns with positive ones and saw the brain's blips as being useful to this task if one was creative. So he didn't get into the issue of control as it applies to the brain confusing visuals for the real deal.  But I suspect control is at the bottom of the problem as it applies to fearfulness.  

Certainly the brain has a great deal of control when it imagines a scene; not necessarily so when an experience is thrust on it. It's been pointed out many times that children aren't traumatized by learning about even the goriest accounts in the Old Testament. I think that's because the act of imagination provides children with enough control to insulate them against the feeling of helplessness that can arise when confronted with an actual violent incident or image of such.

I think it's the sense of helplessness, not necessarily the violence of the images per se, which the brain perceives as the worst threat, and thus experiences a kind of existential fear if the violent or otherwise disturbing images are virtually unrelenting.

Of course this argument can be open to dispute when one considers there are people who can scare themselves out their wits by reading a horror novel. But I think for repeat readers of the genre that after imagining itself into a lather their brain rather enjoys the adventure in creative control.

Would these observations imply that people blind from birth don't know nonspecific or existential fear? Such fear existed before television and movies but I'd say the blind would be free of the kind of fear that arises from the brain continually confusing the violent images shown in media with actual events.

Does this visuals-related fear possibly manifest in something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Well, how could it be 'post' if it's a never-ending part of a person's life?  But I'd be willing to speculate that the fear could be something like battle fatigue, if a person watches a lot of TV that shows violent or threatening imagery.

Ironically John Batchelor is a solution

So what is to be done about the problem? John Batchelor is in the worst position to intuitively understand the problem because he doesn't watch television. However, his radio show is actually a solution because Monday to Friday it brings the audience important news in auditory rather than visual form.

There are additional solutions. Ideally, if you want the fear levels in the USA to quickly subside, cover the TV screen in every American domicile and everywhere else television is ubiquitous, such as hospital rooms.  And don't cheat by watching TV news shows and violent dramas on the internet; blank out the visuals so you're only taking in the audio.

The TV screen cover wouldn't have to be permanent and could be as simple as a large square of cardboard or construction paper taped over the screen, so it can be easily removed for less disturbing shows.       

But what would happen to children raised in a household where every TV screen had a cardboard in front of it?  That's an interesting question, isn't it? I guess if they were raised from birth with the cardboard they wouldn't really think anything about it. But if installed later in the child's life he might become obsessed with wondering what horrors await behind the cardboard. So that could be just one more fear for the American child to deal with, especially if told never to touch the cardboard unless mommy or daddy is present.  

All right, that's enough silly time. Everybody knows the basic approach to the solution -- finding ways to limit the diet of disturbing images without making a federal case out of it. 

The rule of thumb for dealing with the brain's blip is to ask yourself whether you'd like to be actually experiencing the scenes in a TV drama or nightly news show. If not, give your brain a break. Learn to rely more on your ears than eyes for getting your broadcast news and entertainment.     

Above all, awareness 

The cumulative effect of violent imagery constantly shown on media conveys a world descending into violence. From the brain's point of view this is a violence that nobody can control because it can materialize from the act of pressing a button on a remote control or phone. Consciously, we know that's not true. The task is to make sure we also know this at the unconscious level, if we're not to be ruled by fear. 

How to make sure? Simply by becoming aware that this is something we need to know and deal with.  


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