Why is swearing bad? Why is the act of speaking using “swear” or “curse” words somehow distinct from the act of speaking with other words? Why is it that some words are worse than others?
To an outsider, it often appears as though there is no middle ground in the gun control debate in the United States: the left want weapons restricted or outright banned and the right wants even fewer restrictions than currently exist. The ferocity of the debate is both completely understandable and enormously perplexing. On one hand gun ownership is enshrined as a civil liberty. On the other, by global standards the United States is very developed economically and has rule of law, which makes fervent gun ownership advocacy seem extreme at worst and unnecessary at best.
Political ideologies are systems of thought that we use to orient ourselves politically in “mass society.” They aren’t very old, actually, as they date from the 1600s at the earliest. Ideologies perform the vital function of allowing many different people in a democracy to agree on a few key concepts, allowing them to vote in elections and support particular politicians and parties. There are, broadly speaking, three ideologies:
- liberalism – the first ideology, which emerged in the UK in the 17th and 18th centuries
- conservatism – the most amorphous ideology which emerged as a counter to liberalism but is best defined contextually in relation to the other two ideologies
- socialism – originally a hybrid of liberal and conservative views.
Though we live in a world where these three ideologies have mutated greatly and would be, in some cases, unrecognizable to their earliest supporters, we still all adhere to these traditions today (again, broadly speaking). And that’s a problem.
This is what White America thinks:
Black Americans deserve to be shot by police officers. Black Americans deserve this because
- Black Americans are dumb: whether because of genetics or because of a long history of social problems, or both; black Americans do things regular Americans never do, like getting angry with police when the police rightfully stop them or ask them questions, or like reaching into their pockets when they’re being interrogated. I mean, who does that? If a cop has a gun on you, don’t reach for something!
- Black Americans should know better: black Americans watch the same news I do and yet they keep getting themselves into these positions and making stupid decisions. I mean, why can’t they avoid these situations all together?
- Black Americans are rightly suspected by the police more than other Americans as they have a long history of causing trouble in the United States; think of all the riots that have occurred throughout the years. How many of those were predominantly black?
- Black Americans make everything about race when it doesn’t have to be, so they are creating their own circumstances here. If black Americans didn’t make such a big deal about of race, cops wouldn’t be more alert to black Americans. If black Americans didn’t protest, police wouldn’t have to put on riot gear.
- Black Americans just don’t know how to behave properly: if black Americans had assimilated and became true Americans, this problem wouldn’t exist. It’s because black Americans don’t really know what it’s like to be American that there’s this problem.
- Black Americans are inferior: I mean, don’t we have centuries of history to prove that?
Black Americans deserve what they get. If they’re going to behave this way, they should expect to be shot by police. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just telling the truth.
It feels like we’ve reached peak conspiracy, at least online. It appears that people will believe anything. Birthers. Chemtrails. The Illuminati. The flat earth theory is somehow back in vogue for chrissake. Some of this is just the internet: it gives public voices to previously private beliefs and acts as an echo chamber of those beliefs. But it feels as though, in spite of most of us having more access to more information than at any other time in history, people are more credulous than ever. Everywhere there are people claiming they believe in something demonstrably false. And not just a few people. They believe with every ounce in their body. They believe so strongly they denigrate those who do not believe the same things. And they don’t just believe, they evangelize. What the hell?
Superstition, belief in the unreal and belief in thoughts being made reality have always been human characteristics. We humans are far more inclined to believe something that fits with our existing view of the universe than something that doesn’t. When I knock on wood, I believe on some level that this act is having an actual effect on the world – that it can determine whether or not my hope comes true. This made sense once upon a time, when we didn’t know enough about the universe to know otherwise, to know better.
Literacy was supposed to change this, to make all of us better people, more credulous and more capable of critical thinking. It did not. Public education was supposed to do what literacy could not, but likewise did not. Improved access to higher education was supposed to succeed where widespread literacy and public elementary education failed, making us less superstitious, less gullible, less prone to believing we can will reality. It did not. And the internet was supposed to open up the world so that information would be democratized and we could all reach our potential as smart, rational, critical thinkers. So far it has not resulted in that world. (#Dontreadthecomments)
Though each of us has access to more information than ever before, it feels like anti-intellectualism is as strong a human characteristic as it’s ever been. Some superstitions might be dying out, but they are being replaced by more widespread beliefs in fanciful nightmares about how the world supposedly works. Conspiracy theories have been around for a long time, but they appear more widely believed than ever before (though that could be just a result of the echo chamber that is the internet).
Why is it that, when we have more information at our fingertips than any previous generation could have even imagined, most of us still believe nonsense? Many of us cannot figure out the difference between a fact and an allegation, between the truth and an appealing lie, between a verified story and an unsubstantiated rumour?
Perhaps the trendiest electoral strategy for populists in North America in the last decade or so is the appeal to “Taxpayer Rights.” The idea is that you, payer of taxes, supporter of society and civilization, are not getting your money’s worth under the current (and past) administration. The populist, the champion of the rights of taxpayers, will change all of that. There will be new levels of accountability, efficiency and transparency if you elect the populist (and their party, where applicable).
The rise of Donald Trump has been one of the more unexpected events in recent U.S. electoral history. If you throw your mind back to 2015, Donald Trump becoming the official nominee of the Republican Party, for President of the United States of America, was something that no one was thinking was actually going to happen. He ran for President in 2000 (well, he ran for the nomination of the Reform Party) and withdrew the February prior to the election. In the summer, 538 pointed out that never in recent U.S. history has someone who was a front-runner a year and a half out in an election cycle ever won the presidency.