Kneeling and the Flag, Police and Race, Guns, etc. — Understanding What’s Behind the Controversies

By | March 19, 2019

Along the lines of my previous post, I share here my attempt to understand a certain perspective different from my own.

In the U.S., we’ve had quite a series of serious, deep controversies ongoing over the past several years. What has been most concerning about this to me is how it’s not just that different sides have different ideas about how to solve problems. Rather, it seems that the different sides have different beliefs about reality itself—massively different views about what is true about the world.

I always try to understand what is behind controversies. What is it that is motivating people? Why are they so concerned and passionate? I regret that so often all the endless banter only scratches the surface and usually seems to just deepen the divide, inciting anger rather than changing people’s minds and leading to any solution.

One of the major current threads of controversy was sparked by the shooting of Micheal Brown, a black, man by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO and the subsequent protests and demonstrations. Out of this came the Black Lives Matter movement to which many responded with “blue lives matter” or “all lives matter”. Then there was the election of Trump, immigration crackdown, and many susequent protests. Some pro football players began taking a knee during the national anthem, and while they insist their specific intent to honor the military, their actions incited outrage from many Americans. Why? It’s one thing to disagree, but why is there so much fury?

As I understand it, one of if not the most common personality types is one which disposes a person to a view of the world as a dangerous place1. Now this is of course true to an extent, but it’s the degree to which this danger is perceived which is at issue. I believe there are people who view the world as being full of evil forces which are constantly working to break in and bring some kind of destruction or even death. It’s as though the dam could break at any moment if it’s not vigilantly guarded and maintained.

The thing is, this belief isn’t so much rational as it is emotional. I suspect people viscerally feel this fear. Fear is one of our most primal emotions, one which triggers the “fight or flight” state of one’s brain which literally bypasses the rational part of ones mind.

On a global scale, the sense—felt belief—is that there are countless people in the world who are trying to break in to our country to abuse us. This could be terrorists who are trying to kill us en masse, people smuggling drugs, or simply people trying to take our jobs.

If this is your view of the world, what brings you peace and the sense of security you desperately sense a need for? On a global scale, in the U.S. it’s our military and perceived strength. The U.S. military is literally our savior. The flag and national anthem are all icons of our national religion, signs inspiring worship of our heroes and saviors who bring us peace through their sacrifice.

On a local scale, the enemy are the criminals, those perceived as lazy, anyone with different beliefs, and even any different at all. Our heroes and saviors are the police. They are the ones who maintain order, enforce the law, and protect us from the forces of evil in our immediate world.

Assuming this is true, so many of the controversies begin to make sense. Trump claims there is a crisis at our border with Mexico, one which requires us to spend billions on building a wall. From what I understand, there isn’t a lot of hard data to support the claim of a border crisis. But this doesn’t matter. So many people just feel—intuitively sense—the threat. Of course there is a crisis! There obviously must be criminals pouring through our border. No matter what the experts say, there are drugs and crime in our country, and there are people here illegally and so are by definition criminals… I mean the threat is obvious. And of course the Muslim travel ban was wise—there are countries filled with terrorists who are trying to attack us.

Obviously Obama was weak and put our country in great danger by dialoging with and being open to people of other nations such as those in the Middle East. I mean you can’t negotiate with terrorists. There’s no dealing with them; we simply must destroy them. Making a deal with Iran? It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Obama is a Muslim himself and conspiring to make the U.S. a Muslim country or at least allow terrorists to infiltrate our nation. Thank goodness Trump is now president; he set the Iranians right—we’ve got to make sure to be strong and let them know who’s in charge here!

What about football players kneeling for the national anthem? It doesn’t matter that they say they respect the military. In people’s minds, they aren’t demonstrating 100% total allegiance to the U.S. Remember, the world is full of powerful forces who want to break in, capture, control, use, and abuse us. We must be absolutely united and devoted. Any question or possible sign of disrespect makes us weaker. And that weakness may be the crack which causes the dam to crumble, allowing the forces of destruction to rush in.

And of course our police must be respected—the are the keepers of our peace and security after all. Sure, there might occasionally be a bad cop, but as a whole, the police are our heroes. As an institution, they can’t possibly be in the wrong. There can’t be any systemic problems. The system and institution are what saves us! The people complaining about the police must just be criminals or somehow related. Obviously the bad guys will be upset because the police are doing their job. Race must just be a smokescreen. I mean slavery ended over a century ago, and the civil rights movement ended discrimination a good fifty years ago. What more can they want?

We (the good guys) have to have guns in order to protect ourselves from all the bad guys. I mean, if we can’t have guns, only the bad guys will have guns, and then they’ll get us for sure! Obviously voter id laws are necessary to prevent criminals and cheaters from rigging the system. And of course we don’t want criminals to vote, even if they’ve served their time, because obviously they’ll support weakening laws and enforcement. And we can’t let people compromise our morals, otherwise we’re certain to face the consequences of our actions if not God punishing our country himself.

In addition to fear, I theorize that a majority of people are resistant to change2, making them more disposed to conservatism. This is especially true for those who haven’t personally experienced negative consequences of the current status quo. So for example, one might argue that certain government systems and/or effect minorities to a greater extent than the majority white population. But if you’re not a minority who has experienced this, you may be skeptical of doing something different because you trust the way things have been done and you fear the potential personal consequences which you imagine (or have been told) might occur with a change. If this is true of a person, then I would expect them to resist change. This could be directly opposing it, but it can also so up in sentiments such as, “Let’s not be too hasty” and “We need to study this further”. Often this is a means of alleviating one’s anxiety by pushing the change off into the future which feels less scary since it’s separated by time. The problem is that, left up to people who possess this sentiment, the time never comes.

Of course there are other reasons which influence a person toward a certain perspective, such as being in a community where people think the same, only listening to media from one point of view, and living in an area where minorities don’t exist. Nevertheless, I theorize that the emotion of fear may be one of the primary factors behind the conservative side of many of these controversies.

I suspect that in most cases, all the facts in the world aren’t going to convince someone who possess a fear based perception of the world. If we want to open them up to the possibility of changing their point of view, we have to address their fear. Is there some way in which we can help them to feel safe and secure enough for them to be open to other views of police, racism, immigration, foreign policy, etc.?

1. It’s been suggested that the most common Enneagram type is 6.
2. Some information I’ve seen suggests that approximately 3/4 of people are MBTI Sensors. This personality trust what they have tangibly sensed as opposed to theoretical possibilities. I infer that people like this would be more likely to desire things to remain the way that they have been.

photo credit: Waving Flag via photopin (license)

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