Law in Contemporary Society
When reading through these comments on fear and anxiety I can’t help but turn back to the When Fear Turns Graphic New York Times article which is, of course, all about manipulation of fear and anxiety. The article is an illustration of a master manipulator at work, whose detachment (nearing the degree of sociopath, it seemed, his family life being wrapped up in the cultural issues he picked apart) evidently rendered brutally successful results. Although our discussion of the article was limited in class, my take away was something along the lines of: fear is malleable in the right pair of hands, it can be shaped into beliefs and art is an effective means of doing the shaping, at least in Europe. Mr. Segert, the rationalist manipulator, demonstrates the great heights a realist, free from wishy-washy morality or, you know, humanity can reach. He is also a case study in how dangerous pure realism can be.

What nobody brought up in class, and what I am only thinking about right now, is the similarities between the fear building within the population in the article, and the fears of myself and my classmates. Fear seems to be the one thing our class has in common. Reading through the wiki only confirms this point. We are fearful that we won’t do well in our classes. We are fearful that our grades will not be good, or better or best. We are fearful we will not get summer jobs, or real jobs, or that the economy will continue to plummet and we will be left with mounting debt and a set of skills no one wants, needs or values any longer. Fear compounded by each failed piece of legislation and the value of the dollar and the value of the euro, the GDP, the State of the Union, television shows about hot young lawyers and whispers, from upperclassmen, about everything that is about to come next. It is a title wave of fear, and fears that are new to us, which make them all the more unsettling.

The point of the Graphic article, my take away, is that outside forces can shape fear. But there is a second take away, not directly addressed: the people of Switzerland (or at least those voting SPP) can, at any point, open their eyes and see they are being manipulated. They can see that fact and the only thing they need to change it is to simply get over their fear. Get over it. The same principal applies to us, and we have the added benefit of being new to this institution, and not saturated with generations of prejudice and misinformation about the state of affairs we face. But how do we get over it? Jerome Frank suggests lawyers (and judges, I think) approach each element of a case with a “scientific spirit” in order to flush out fact. I think that might be a good place to start.

-- AerinMiller - 04 Feb 2010

Aerin, I'm glad you brought up this article. I found it to be sensational and a little irresponsible. Two points:

  • The analysis of the specific political effect of the posters, in the overall context of the interplay between race and culture and politics, was weak. Admittedly, this could be a function of the article covering too broad a topic.
  • I noticed an underlying pro-American agenda, which seemed to imply that because America hasn't followed the trend of producing explicitly anti-Muslim posters, our country is significantly less racist.

Politicized art can only be one small part of an effective propaganda campaign. Like you stated, looking at these posters, it seemed so obvious that the Swiss voters were being manipulated. To really understand why these posters resonate with people across Europe (if indeed they really do), we need more background information such as the history of these countries, their specific post-colonial legacies, and other societal and economic factors that may compel majoritarian interests to target minorities. Television, newspapers, architecture (hence the symbolic importance of banning minarets), high art and low, and popular culture generally all play roles in framing and shaping political discourses.

In the context of the UK, I think two of the biggest factors in the persistent appeal of the BNP are Britain's declining world-power (both its loss of empire and devolution to Europe) and the somewhat reactionary relationship Britain has with the EU. On the sociological end, Bill Buford's Among the Thugs provides an interesting, if imperfect, analysis on the rise of Neo-Nazi groups and football violence in Britain during the 80s, ultimately citing mob mentality as the culprit. I wonder if anyone can speak to their own experiences in the countries cited by the article?

On the second point, the author seemed to be suggesting that our discourse was superior in that we generally protect all speech, hateful or not, and that our political system discourages extremism: "The dominance in America today of the 24-hour cable news networks and the Internet, the sheer size of the country, the basic conventions of public discourse, not to mention that the only two major parties have, or at least feign having, a desire to court the political center, all tend to mitigate against the sort of propaganda that one can now find in Europe" (emphasis mine). While it is true that America has no referendums preventing Muslims from wearing certain clothing or building certain structures, in the wake of 9/11 and us going to war with two Muslim countries, it seems strange that the author was implying that America, as a society, is on a more post-racial path than its European counterparts. Also, while I can't cite any posters, I do notice a pronouncedly anti-Iranian and anti-Palestinian bias in our news media. I'm curious what other people think about this.

-- EricaSelig - 04 Feb 2010

To pick up on a small point, I think bias inevitably creeps into journalism, because journalists are human and subjective. That being said, I think Iran, between its hidden nuclear enrichment sites, theocratic dictatorship, and crushing of democratic protest and dissent, has done a fairly thorough job of creating bad press for itself. After all, it's kind of hard to spin things like religious police and show trials for treason in a positive light.

If you're curious, NPR recently released a quarterly review of their Mideast coverage. It's a short read, and it directly deals with their efforts to quantify the level of bias in their reporting.

-- RonMazor - 07 Feb 2010



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r4 - 17 Apr 2010 - 17:56:45 - NonaFarahnik
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