Brogan: Fear and loathing in the 21st Century

A confusing political environment grows fear, not speech

John Brogan, Columnist

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Hunter Thompson, a political columnist and prominent author in the late 20th century, wrote extensively on the federal government over the course of decades. One of his most famous battles was with Richard Nixon, whose policies and character Thompson fiercely criticized.

Thompson wrote the article “He Was a Crook” in 1994 for Rolling Stone Magazine, in which he discusses his relationship and feelings on Nixon only a few months after the president’s death. The article underlies a sense of brotherhood amid the hatred for a political figure he publicly ridiculed, speaking to a complexity and depth in their relationship based on heated ideological differences.

He starts the article by quoting Revelation 18:2: “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”

Thompson’s quotation of biblical literature to introduce an emotionally complex story highlights the intricacies of human relationships. The human condition can often not be defined by data and facts, civility and rule of law. Sometimes the world of art, music, literature and other dimensions of a religious ethos define a situation or memory. The world of creative expression alongside activism and rebellion against the overreach of power is necessary in times of geopolitical crises, as well as in the remembrance of those times in the past.

“1984” by George Orwell has spiked on the Amazon books list. Fear of “Big Brother” and the absence of truth in favor of manufactured reality has become a cogent fear in 2017. Present is fear of Muslim faith, radicalization, the changing climate, nuclear war and the remnants of a Cold War era. Artistic creation has throughout history been a tool of expression during times of heightened public distress.

The Trump administration has placed an executive order banning certain Muslim nations, without apparent indication for why seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) were chosen when there are more predominantly Muslim countries in the world; according to the Pew Research Center in 2010, there were 50 Muslim-majority countries.

The ban has been framed by the administration as a way to combat terrorism. However, Trump’s campaign rhetoric about a “Muslim ban” and fear of radicalization can’t be set aside as separate from the ban ordered on the seven Muslim-majority countries. There have also been comparisons drawn to the “America First” movement of the United States in years prior to its involvement in World War II.

Similar to persecuting and categorizing people by religious faith, there have been explicit attempts to undermine scientific research with the censorship of political persuasion. The Communications Director for Trump’s transition team at the EPA, Doug Ericksen, recently called for a mandate that some existing scientific literature on the EPA’s website must undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.

Since then, his claim has since been retracted and the literature remains available to the public. The use of profiling and fear-mongering through religion is an act of mental suppression through fear, and the censorship of peer-reviewed scientific data has the definitive purpose of promoting a specific framing of reality, even if that perception is not objective truth.

Amid this fear and anger have been protests and public outcry. Scientists rushed to collect the data on private drives in order to preserve their content and authenticity. The ACLU, protesters and lawyers sat in airports helping travelers coming into the US from the seven countries who were being detained when the ban went in place.

Another way of protest is the refusal to not create and speak an artistic voice. Especially with tools for communication with smart phones and internet, we can reach thousands of people in seconds with our authentic voices. Whether private companies like Google and Facebook are collecting data on our speech is irrelevant if we refuse to let go of our originality; our creative and human spark.

Thompson commented on the “full realization of the American Dream” when he wrote “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” equating the saturation of greed and mindless exuberance he witnessed on the Vegas strip with the ultimate fantasy of the “Greatness of Americanism.” Orwell’s main character in “1984” works for the Ministry of Truth, where he edits newspaper articles and speeches from politicians after-the-fact to fix any mistakes or information Big Brother wanted lost from history. James Baldwin discussed his sexuality and difficulty as a queer black man in the United States as well as Europe in “Giovanni’s Room,” and Alice Walker wrote poetic verse describing words of wisdom through a complex metaphorical lens.

The list of voices goes on and it’s as important today as ever to allow creative voices to be heard. Scientific literature, fictional and biographical literature, faith, poetry, music and art can bring people together in a powerful way that transcends the categorization of people into groups and “others.” Protesters shouldn’t fear documenting what they’re witnessing and should continue posting to social media sites and other outlets. The refusal to allow the legally mandated segregation of people based on group identity should be evident and plastered all over the media.
Keep writing, playing music, listening and engaging with people and our communities. The need to foster the arts and take in the questions asked by our predecessors seems to be only more important as we continue through the year.

John is a transfer student at CWRU who also works in the solar energy field.