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We’ve become Fanatics - Op-Ed - Paul Morris

Once upon a time, most Americans were reasonable and listened to varied viewpoints before reaching conclusions, but no longer. There have always been fanatics, who refuse to listen to anything that doesn’t fit their worldview.  But they used to be on the fringes and rarely decided elections. Now, they are the majority and it does not bode well for us.

Recently, Bubba Wallace, the only African American NASCAR driver, reported there was a noose in his garage at the Talladega racetrack. A huge uproar followed. NASCAR drivers and crews showed their support by standing behind him before the Geico 500 race. The FBI sent 15 agents to investigate. NASCAR banned confederate flags at races and extra security was provided for Mr. Wallace.  NASCAR andindividual drivers made statements of support for him.  But after an investigation, the FBI determined that no hate crime had been committed. The “noose” was in fact a loop for pulling down the garage door and had been in that garage since at least 2019, months before it was assigned to Mr. Wallace.  NASCAR videos revealed that multiple loops, being used as garage door pulls, were at the same racetrack in 2017. 

This month editors at the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer lost their jobs after staff revolts over an op-ed and a headline. The editor of Philadelphia Magazine, Tom McGrath, resigned after the staff made racial demands regarding stories, they did not like from 2013 and 2015. These men lost their jobs because they had the audacity to publish something that did not toe the politically correct line.

Actor Terry Crews, of the popular television comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, was fired for tweeting “Defeating White supremacy without White people creates Black supremacy. Equality is truth. Like it or not, we are all in this together.” What ever happened to tolerance and freedom of speech?

In 2014, a white Police officer in Ferguson, Missouri killed an unarmed 18-year old African American man. Nationwide protests and riots in Ferguson ensued. However, after reviewing the evidence, a grand jury refused to indict the officer. Rioting resumed in Ferguson after the grand jury’s decision. The Justice Department did call on Ferguson to overhaul its criminal justice system citing constitutional violations.

In 2015, in Baltimore, a video widely viewed showed African American suspect Freddie Gray being half-dragged by officers towards a police van. He died while in custody of the police. Once again, riots ensued. Based solely on the video, people assumed Mr. Gray was the victim of police brutality or murder. However, the trials of the officers revealed a different story. Gray’s wrists and ankles had been shackled.  He was placed in the van but not restrained with a seat belt. The medical examiner determined that Gray died from a single “high-energy injury” to his neck and spine that occurred while being transported in the van.Three officers were acquitted in separate trials.  Finally, the Baltimore District attorney, Marilyn Mosby, dropped the charges against the other officers.Despite the mob’s rush to judgement, none of six charged officers were convicted.

More recently we’ve seen the random destruction and defacement of statues by mobs. The damage includedstatues of abolitionists and President Lincoln, both of whom opposed slavery and fought against it. A statue of Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War Union General, who fought and won the Civil War against slavery and was a former U.S. President, was not spared.  This is truly ignorant, irrational behavior but what we can expect when mobs run free.

What do these have in common? They’re all examples of immediate over-reactions, sometimes violent ones, before all the facts and evidence have been evaluated.Today, too many of us are reflexively outraged by aperceived injustice, without considering the context,alternative evidence or viewpoints.  We have become a nation of fanatics, to our mutual detriment.

Imagine if you were accused of serious crime and on trial with the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence. Would you want a jury of fanatics, who refused to consider all the evidence and context, judging you? I doubt it.  Yet too many of us have become fanatics.

A 2015 Microsoft study determined that average human attention span had fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds; this decrease was across all age groups and genders. Eight seconds is less than that of a goldfish, which has an average attention span of 9 seconds (I wonder how they determined this?). Shorter attention spans would seem to be a likely contributor to our unwillingness to consider all sides before passing judgement.

The media plays a big part in the fanaticizing of America. Large swaths of the media present one-sided, unbalanced views, often lacking context. The biased media outlets are preachers to their congregations, religious in their fervor.

There are still a few balanced news sources, but they are rare.  We must seek out the objective media and ignore, or at least take with a grain of salt, those that are not.  Seek out a variety of views. If we insist uponbalanced news sources, as once were prevalent, the biased sources will be forced to adjust or perish.

But it starts with us, we must be less reactionary, more patient, more reasonable, more willing to consider all viewpoints and context and must insist on the same from our media.

When I was a boy, I saw a plaque which said, “Old Indian saying. Don’t criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” (I know saying “Indian” today isn’t politically correct but it’s a direct quote.) We would do well to heed this.

Paul Morris
June 30, 2020

Published as submitted.


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